It’s no secret that I was mixed on Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game. Here’s my alibi. Sure, you could pin some slight motive for revenge on me. It was wordy in a way I found personally offensive. The interconnected cases were thick like a ball of old cheese. And sure, not every function of its app was what you’d call obvious. But kill? Who, me? C’mon, officer. It was a fling. I haven’t even thought about Detective in two years. I’m back together with the wife and everything.
You wanna know who I think killed Detective? I’ll tell you.
I sat down to write this review. Then I realized that last night’s dinner was unsettling my stomach. During my trip to the gentleman’s closet, I began playing a game on my phone to pass the time. Then, digestions completed silently and rightly, I went to the couch to finish up, because those gems aren’t about to match themselves. Now with an empty belly, I consumed an entire spoonful of peanut butter, scraping the jar clean. Time for a walk through the neighborhood to clear my head. On the way back, I concluded to finally sit down and finish this review.
And therein lies the main problem with Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game. Come on down and I’ll explain.
Portal Games has a thing for tableau building games that occupy three rows. See 51st State, Imperial Settlers, and the other 51st State, all of which were largely defined by how much your economic engine snowballed. If the last round wasn’t ten times longer and slower than the first one, you probably hadn’t adequately snowballed.
At this point, Portal delivering another three-row tableau-builder might feel a smidgen like those games that reappear after a Cthulhu retheme. Slap tentacles on the cards, change some keywords — the draw pile is now Miskatonic University or whatever — and there you have it. No need to come up with new ideas when people will gratefully snap up the latest mind-numbing coat of paint, fumes and all. 51st State in space.
But in spite of appearances, Alien Artifacts isn’t just another three-row tableau-builder. Sure, cards are aligned across three rows, and sure, it’s about assembling a tableau. While it wasn’t designed by Ignacy Trzewiczek, co-designers Marcin Ropka and Viola Kijowska could have fooled me, right down to the factions with ever-so-slightly different advantages. But that’s where the similarities stop and Alien Artifacts steps out from under the shadow of its predecessors. And the most radical aspect of its reinvention? It melts snowballs.
Cry Havoc, a triple-header by Grant Rodiek, Michał Oracz, and Michał Walczak, wants to be one of the coolest things you’ve ever heard about. Hell, it’d like your ears to bleed when you hear just how cool it is. Soldiers dropping from orbit, rampaging machines who’ve never heard of the Turing Test and couldn’t care less, four-armed knockoffs of either the Eldar or Protoss — depending on which you think is a better representation of the ancient grumpy alien trope — and muscle-bound idiots who care for nothing so much as pumping their arms in the air to the catchy beat of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Cry Havoc has all that and more.
But instead of dripping honey into your ears, there are precisely two things I want to say about Cry Havoc. Just two. Not three, not one. Two.
Interrupt me if this is a spoiler, but it’s the factions that do it. Can a review be spoiled? If so, I just spoiled myself.
Neuroshima Hex has been a thing for a while now. Ten years, in fact. When it first appeared on the scene, Portal Games was much smaller than it is now, and Michał Oracz was just beginning to show his prodigy-levels of cleverness at creating distinct factions. In essence, Neuroshima Hex was the broadside that started the war. After all, this was before his wonderful Theseus: The Dark Orbit and the brand-new Cry Havoc, both of which are all about the way their various factions intersect, clash, and resolve their differences. Usually by shooting or eating each other. Sometimes both.
Now it’s ten years later and Neuroshima Hex is still going strong. And I’m going to tell you why it’s the raddest abstract tile-laying game on the market.
Eighteen cards. Four tokens. One pad for keeping score. A single golf pencil.
That’s how I introduced last year’s Tides of Time, Kristian Čurla’s then-unique microgame about the dawn of civilization as glimpsed through the world’s tiniest lens. It was a bijou of a game, as clever and elegant as it was petite.
Now we’ve got Tides of Madness, which at first glance appears like little more than the inevitable Lovecraftifying that has gripped so much of this hobby. But let’s take a closer look.
Occasionally, I’ll stumble across a game that’s so perfectly chaotic, so adept at creating memorable moments through my own fumbling ineptitude, that I have no desire to ever become good at it. Becoming good at that rare unicorn of a game would be to destroy precisely what I love about it. Such a game abhors an expert.
This time, Crazy Karts is that game.
For all those who watched The Two Towers and thought they could do a better job of defending Helm’s Deep — and all those of us who were black-hearted enough to think the same thing but in favor of the Uruk-hai — the sparkled-up second edition of Stronghold is your game. It’s got humans. Orcs. A desperate battle to either hold out until the eighth hour or claim the fortress before reinforcements arrive. The only real difference is that both sides are competent.
The pedigree of the new 51st State: Master Set is a little odd, what with it being a dirtied-down version of Imperial Settlers, which was itself a prettied-up version of the original 51st State. Out with the brain-slamming hieroglyphics, out with the gamiest rules, and in with what just might be the cleanest presentation of post-apocalyptic living out there. Like many other fans of 51st State, I was skeptical that this new edition would be able to hold an acetylene candle to the original. So what’s the verdict?
As those who know me can attest, I abhor repeating myself. Which is why I can’t even begin to fathom doing individual reviews of all the new editions, deluxe boxes, and standalone expansions appearing on shelves this time of year. Thus, rather than subject myself (and you) to a plodding second refrain of things I’ve already covered in the past, what follows is a breakdown of six excellent new versions of older games. Take a look.