This is the sort of thing nobody ever believes, but I’ve got to tell someone: my weekly gaming group is haunted. The spirit’s name is Ghost Geoff, and through the creaking front door he arrives, always well in advance of Real Geoff.
As of yet we have no idea why this apparition visits our home. Was he murdered in our living room, a secret shamefully concealed by the previous owners? Was the foundation laid above an ancient burial ground? Is he just sort of pissed that Real Geoff is always like an hour and a half late?
At night, he fills my sleeping head with unclear visions, images of places far-off and impossible. I’ve attempted oneiromancy, the divination of dreams, but the visions he sends… well, they’re idiotic, is what they are. If Ghost Geoff wants me to figure out what he needs, he’s going to have to be a lot clearer.
A couple weeks back, I reviewed a family of games from Ignacy Trzewiczek by the name of 51st State, and mentioned that a new implementation of that system was forthcoming. Now it’s here, and a mere glimpse of the original trio’s artwork should provide sufficient indication that Imperial Settlers is going in an entirely different direction. For one thing, the sun shines in this universe. People smile. There’s not quite as much cannibalism.
Is that a good thing? Well, okay, for the inhabitants of Imperial Settlers, sure, of course it’s better. But how about for the rest of us?
I love post-apocalyptic stuff. Mostly because I’d be a pro at surviving the wasteland. Sure, sure, everybody says that. But I really would. Why? Because I’ve planned it all out, see. I’ve got my— well, more on that some other time. A man’s gotta have some mystery to him, you know?
For now, let’s talk about 51st State, a trio of games by one of my favorite designers, Ignacy Trzewiczek of Portal Games, set in the same blasted North American landscape as Neuroshima Hex and The Convoy (which was one of the best two-player games of 2013). This trilogy carries all the staples of the genre: scarce resources, harsh conditions, frumpy mutants… but even so, they manage to create their own vision of the world after the fall. Let’s take a look at all three!
Having grown up in a culture that places about a hundred times more importance on genealogy than basically every other culture that has ever existed, I naturally shied away from Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy, a game about tending your family tree in early 18th century France. It frankly sounded like the second-worst possible way to spend an evening, trumped only by the utter tediousness of a train game that doesn’t include the displacement of native tribes, the breaking of strikes with Pinkerton agents, or the abusing of migrant laborers.
Boy, was I wrong. About the genealogy one, that is, not the train games. Those still suck.
Sometimes life decides to deal me a harsh lesson in expectations versus reality. Like when I remembered how the space marines vs. aliens vs. greys vs. scientist survivors vs. parasites theme of Theseus: The Dark Orbit isn’t reality. Or when I discovered that the same game doesn’t even occupy the genre I was hoping. Yeah, life’s tough like that.
Ignacy Trzewiczek is best known for two things: one, he’s the only boardgame designer alive today whose name is harder to pronounce than Vlaada Chvátil’s (I think. It’s not like I can pronounce either of them); and two, his clockwork brain is responsible for a few recent hits like Prêt-à-Porter, 51st State, and the upcoming Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island. When I heard that The Convoy was set in the same hard-bitten world as Neuroshima Hex, and that it used one of my favorite cardgame mechanics (horizontal area control!), I could neither eat nor drink until I had a copy in my hands. Was my excitement justified? Find out below.