This month on the Space-Biff! Space-Cast!, we’re joined by Ryan Laukat to discuss his latest game, Sleeping Gods! In the process, we also discuss open-world video games, open-world board games, and how to adapt the former into the latter.
One of my favorite questions to ask fellow historians is “When did the Roman Empire fall?” Not because I have a firm answer — it’s a harder question than you might think — but because our answers say a lot about how we conceptualize historical narratives. It’s easiest to respond with a year. Say, 410 or 476. If we remember Constantinople, maybe 1453. A conclusive final chapter. The end of an era. The opposing answer is that Rome didn’t fall so much as transition; that the Merovingian and Carolingian kings who fancied themselves emperors had no less of a claim than the string of weaklings who had ruled the Empire for centuries. This narrative is more meandering, but still, in its own way, unsatisfying.
And then there’s the answer that one aging professor offered in a course many years ago: “Why are you asking when something imaginary ended?”
I spent a good two years trying to figure out what that meant.
Narrative board games — now there’s a phrase that’ll get me yammering. There’s no quicker way to make my eyelids droop than by forcing me to read a middling Young Adult novel in between rounds of combat. There are exceptions. Ryan Laukat’s Near and Far and Above and Below were both charming enough to stick around for a few plays, even if their marriage of choose-your-own-adventure snippets and Eurogame sensibilities wasn’t entirely harmonious. I enjoyed them in bursts before largely forgetting they existed.
But then there’s Laukat’s latest offering, Sleeping Gods. In sharp contrast with both of his earlier narrative games, this is a landmark title. Not only is this his strongest work by far, and not only is it an entirely smooth merger of narrative and cardboard, but it’s possibly the first time I’ve been persuaded that a narrative game can accomplish something remarkable.