I’ve never played Quo Vadis?, Reiner Knizia’s long out-of-print cult title that, to my great surprise, is not actually about Jesus appearing to Peter on the Appian Way to egg him into martyrdom. Instead, it’s a catty perspective on the Roman cursus honorum. Way to commingle your Latin references, Doc.
Here’s the thing. I might have teased Quo Vadis? back in the ’90s. I might have even chuckled at the game’s new setting. But this remake is so pristinely crafted, so sharp in its social undertaking, that I really can’t do anything other than bask in its warmth. I love it when a good game gets a second chance. Even better when its second go-round is superior to the first. To commingle some references of my own: It is risen.
Question one: Why is this the best title in the whole trilogy?
Question two: Is it “hot lead” like bullets? Or “hot lead” like a tangent you pursue? Or both?
Today, Criminal Capers takes on the mafia. The puma mafia. The pumafia.
Dr. Knizia, you’re a master game designer. Surely you know the value of expertise. So maybe leave the puns to the punfessionals?
Okay, okay. The bones of Pumafiosi are based on Knizia’s own Rooster Booster, which wasn’t exactly the best-received of the good doctor’s catalog. Good thing, then, that Pumafiosi is only partly a remake. This one has layers.
Sometimes, a little Reiner Knizia is exactly what we need. Emphasis on the “little.” That’s the goal of Criminal Capers, a trilogy of digestible titles designed by the good doctor, illustrated by Paul Halkyon, and published by Bitewing Games via Kickstarter sometime next month.
First up, Soda Smugglers.
I’m under no illusion that Babylonia is a perfect game. Far from it. The map has too much detail. Don’t mistake this for a nitpick. The only thing more frustrating than thinking you have one more hex with which to surround a city only to realize the hex in question is beyond the edge of the map is when you realize you’ve misapprehended whether you were looking into the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates or a patch of shadow on the riverbank. In a tile-laying game, these things matter. I might even go as far as to say the map would look better had it been barely illustrated at all, except that would make me sound like Don Draper mooning over a Hershey’s bar.
Everything else, though? Perfection. I’d even call it Reiner Knizia’s finest work. Let me tell you why.
It’s hard to imagine anybody improving on good old Tigris & Euphrates. At over twenty years old it still remains a monument of our hobby, a surprisingly fluid combination of setting and systems, simple enough to learn, incredibly difficult to master.
Yellow & Yangtze is Reiner Knizia’s attempt at besting his own classic. What’s there to change? A whole lot, it turns out. And much of it has to do with that staple of Tigris & Euphrates strategy, the monument.
Want to know the best thing about all these Reiner Knizia reprints? It’s that somebody else is doing the hard work of curating the good doctor’s 500+ games. Rather than picking through every last trifle, experiment, and flub, they’re all being sorted for the brightest, smartest, and most fulfilling of Knizia’s catalog.
The latest in this spree of curated Knizias — remade with gorgeous art by Osprey Games — is High Society. And much like its namesake, it’s elite, holier-than-thou, and oh so catty.
Modern Art is about so much more than just modern art. Oh, it’s about that too, and CMON’s latest edition of Reiner Knizia’s 1992 classic is lavishly produced with work by genuine artists, each with their own distinctive style that makes the identifying colors on each piece’s header almost unnecessary. Does it matter that Rafael Silveira is the orange artist when his portraiture is so unsettling? Or that Ramon Martins is designated by green when he has such a slick take on Asian traditionalism?
Maybe. Especially when Martins defies his oeuvre with something from left field. That’s the thing about Modern Art. It’s a game about maybes and could-have-beens and taste-making and guessing the value of a thing before it’s a Thing.
It also happens to be a sublime merger of play and theme.
In the inaugural episode of the Space-Biff! Space-Cast!, what do Homeland: The Game and Reiner Knizia’s classic Tigris & Euphrates have in common? Listen as Dan Thurot, Rob Cramer, and special guest Mark Henderson attempt to stretch these games like taffy in order to find out. Special thanks to Michael Barnes for changing the conversation about theme and setting.
I’d open with a historical anecdote, but unfortunately my knowledge of pre-20th century Japan basically boils down to the Total War series and that one time I read the first quarter of James Clavell’s Shōgun. Instead, I’ll point out that Samurai is another classic title from Reiner Knizia, along with Blue Moon Legends and Tigris & Euphrates, that has been given new life by Fantasy Flight Games. And much like those others, Samurai is so much more than it first appears.