Blog Archives

Gimmick’s Got Game

Dang, I love gray baddies. I could smite them all day.

I didn’t grow up playing many board games. In our household they fell into three camps. There were classic games like Risk and Monopoly, also known as “boring games.” There were the complicated multi-session games my friend Brent played, which required more investment than my periodic visits could provide. And there were demonic games, those that might rupture the fabric of reality like a turgorous pimple and allow the devil’s hordes to pour into our plane. These included ouija boards and face cards.

But then, in between episodes of Duck Tales, a commercial showed me something new. In vivid colors and a thespian’s voiceover, it boasted of something that was as much a mountain of plastic as it was a game. It was mechanized. It made sounds. Its turbulence was part of its gameplay. I had to have it.

That game was Forbidden Bridge. Its commercial was seared in my memory. That Christmas, it became my first encounter with gimmick-as-gameplay.

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Pavement & Haze

Dracula looks like a very attentive doctor who also likes bats and brooches.

I love the gentle irony of Unmatched becoming the flagship property of Restoration Games. You know, the company dedicated to remaking older titles. Yes, yes, I’m aware that Unmatched is a quasi-remake of Star Wars: Epic Duels, but come on — that “quasi” is doing some world championship lifting.

Lest you assume I’m being sarcastic, I can assure you that my affection is genuine. The initiatory set, Unmatched: Battle of Legends, was one of the best games of 2019. My only complaint was that it was a mite too basic. With so many titles passing through every month, I wanted to see Daviau & Co. put their best foot forward. Show us the weird stuff! Go crazy with your characters! There’s no guarantee of any property surviving even a few weeks, let alone long enough to justify additional releases.

Well, I’m happy to eat my fedora, because Unmatched is still kicking. Better yet, Cobble & Fog is easily the most confident set in the series thus far.

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Burn Notice

I normally make fun of how badly I chop up box images into properly sized headers, but I actually sort of like this one. The text "redacts" the identities of the agents. A nifty idea.

When Conspiracy: The Solomon Gambit showed up in the same box as Unmatched: Battle of Legends, I set it aside under the assumption it would be a “lesser” offering from Restoration Games. You know, this wave’s Dinosaur Tea Party or something.

Nope. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Solomon Gambit is a firecracker.

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(Un)Match This

I will confess to this tidbit of juvenalia: whenever I see pained expressions on board game boxes, I mentally categorize them into their bathroom states. Medusa seems fine, but Alice has had way too much fiber, and Sinbad is super relieved that his hemorrhoids aren't acting up.

Being in high school during the Prequel Trilogy didn’t remedy my absent appreciation for Star Wars. Nor did it improve my chances of playing that Epic Duels game the other nerds set up in the journalism room. Don’t get me wrong, the problem wasn’t the game. It was my total lack of interest in seeing who would win between Hayden Christensen and that jetpack-wearing space praetorian who defeated himself by flying into a pit. So hip. I can totally see it. No, please don’t explain it to me.

The motto for Restoration Games is “Every Game Deserves Another Turn.” A lovely sentiment! Especially in an age where far too many releases are forgotten within a month. But what I appreciate most about their work is how they’ve given me a first turn at a handful of games I otherwise missed. Unmatched: Battle of Legends is their latest. And although I never got around to playing Epic Duels, it’s already obvious that this is the superior version. No space wizards, for one.

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Jerkforce, Jerkier

Downforce loves shoving its helmets in your face.

Even a year later, Downforce — or Doucheforce, as my group affectionately calls it — remains one of my favorite comedy games. Revolving around haphazard betting far more than actual racing, it sees its participants buying cars, placing wagers, and then doing everything in their power to come away rich(er). And if you’re playing right, you’ll place unexpected wagers, persuade everyone to hassle the lead car, and then gum up the roadways so that nobody else can pass. There’s a reason my driver is named Gandalf.

Danger Circuit adds more. Just more. And while that’s pretty much what I wanted from Downforce’s first expansion, nobody should hop into this particular car expecting a new engine. Read the rest of this entry

Dinosimple Tea Party

"Or is it civilized induction?" someone says, coyly, arrogantly. "No it's deduction," the old lady replies flatly.

The motto for Restoration Games is solid. “Every game deserves another turn.” See what they did there? Another turn. Yeah. Both hopeful and a pun at the same time. Good stuff.

Dinosaur Tea Party is a remake of Whosit?, minus 1976’s uncomfortable stereotyping of its dinner guests. Apparently. I didn’t investigate the matter. All I know is that this game does plenty of stereotyping of its own — a real triceratops would deeply resent being portrayed in that trilby, and T-rex culture actually demands that any work of art portray them chowing down on raw meat. But the real question is, did this particular game deserve its second turn?

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Ugh. Those smooth racing helmets. Ugh.

At first glance, I gave Downforce a pass. After all, of Restoration Games’ opening catalog of refurbished games from times past, my interest was more piqued by Stop Thief! and Indulgence, in part because I’ve never been partial to racing games.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Downforce is not only the best of the three, it’s also hardly a racing game at all. Instead, it’s a game about being the biggest jerk on the track and coming away filthy rich.

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Some Theses About Indulgence

This is exactly the sort of box cover that screams, "Get ready for some trick-taking!"

A game about the selling and buying of Renaissance indulgences would be fascinating. You could try to guess which sins would need forgiving that weekend, pay the priest, and waltz right off to your fancy sexy parties. But! If you didn’t anticipate your transgressions properly, Martin Luther would lodge a complaint and Teresa of Ávila would slap you hard across the cheek.

Indulgence, one of the three titles in the opening salvo from Restoration Games, isn’t quite that. It’s a remake of Jerry D’Arcey’s Dragon Master, which was a remake of his own Coup d’Etat, which was a remake of Barbu. That’s a type of history too. Fewer assassinations and peasant revolts, one hopes.

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The Crimes They Are a-Changin’

Needs a comma.

My Grandpa owned the original Stop Thief, the one from way back in 1979 before exclamation marks were considered proper for board games. The ’80s overcompensated by adding the buggers to everything, but for that brief moment in time you could utter that phrase with a gruff flatness. Stop. Thief. No yelling. You’re hardly even speaking aloud at that point. Growling it, maybe.

Sadly, the chunky plastic “police scanner” that revealed the location of the fleeing thieves was hopelessly broken. We mostly just pushed the investigators around and pretended they were blasting each other in broad daylight and on public streets with their magnum revolvers. So, in a way, a big stretch of a way, Restoration Games giving Stop Thief! new life — with a shiny new exclamation mark — feels almost predestined, as though I was never meant to escape its gravitational pull.

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