It’s the dystopian future and a group of attractive youngsters are the only ones who can stick it to the system. How very Young Adult! If you haven’t heard of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series, don’t worry, neither had I. Nor is any knowledge of the series necessary to play Jamey Stegmaier’s cardboard adaptation. Although that’s largely because this adaptation is more about professional networking than overthrowing the ruling class.
Real-time games are tricky, both to design and play. It’s an inherent conundrum. Most of our hobby lets us take things slow, examine the playing field from a sky-high vantage, and make decisions based on data rather than reflex. For a real-time game to work, it’s necessary to shift the player’s headspace into overdrive without cooking it altogether. Along the way, there are hurdles aplenty to consider.
Pendulum almost clears them. But the thing about hurdles is that almost clearing them still leaves you chewing rubber. Let’s talk about how it misses that final crucial inch.
Genre is a funny thing. What counts as a western, for example? Or noir? Is there a tipping point between horror and action-horror? Do genres inform our artistic decisions, or are they labels we slap onto things to arrange them into tidy boxes?
Even though it hasn’t officially hit retail yet, Jamey Stegmaier’s Tapestry has already proven divisive. Right there beneath its title, it announces its intentions. A Civilization Game, it says, front-loading expectations with a whole lot of history. But if it’s a civilization game, it’s certainly an unorthodox one. Some have called it an evolution. Others seem to consider it a misfire. As someone who’s deeply interested in “alternate” civgames, those that seek to portray the sweep of human experience in ways that haven’t been endlessly rehashed, I’ve picked my side. I’ll put it this way: if civgames were westerns, Tapestry would be Cowboys & Aliens.
I’ll say this right up front: there aren’t many games as pleasant as Wingspan.
It isn’t just the setting, though the idea that you’re establishing a bird sanctuary is certainly pleasant. Nor is it only the gently expressive artwork of Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo, Natalia Rojas, and Beth Sobel. Nor the components, though that birdfeeder has elicited a chuckle of delight from nearly everyone I’ve introduced it to.
Rather, that pleasantness rests on the tenor of Elizabeth Hargrave’s design, from the birds themselves to the way the rounds are structured. This is good stuff. I can’t wait to show you.
Kid games don’t need to be awful.
That’s the design ethos behind My Little Scythe, the father/daughter collaboration of Hoby and Vienna Chou, and a streamlining of Jamey Stegmaier’s Scythe. It’s cute, but there’s still some tension to be found. Lighthearted, but you can still end up with pie on your face. Simple, but not dumb simple. It’s a surprisingly faithful adaptation of Scythe, for one thing.
Even though it remains a fledgling subgenre, I think I can safely anoint myself a legacy game veteran. I’ve played ’em all. Like, all of them. Basically, I’m sick of legacy mechanisms at this point. The sole upside is that my time in the trenches has endowed me with Opinions.
The first commandment of legacy games is simple. No, I mean that literally: the first commandment is simple. Be thou simple. If possible, build on something that was already there. Which is why Risk Legacy and Pandemic Legacy were so breezy to learn, while SeaFall was one learning game after another until you gave up and played its hidden game, which was opening all the boxes early and laughing with wild abandon while you sorted the pieces into recyclables and garbage.
Charterstone is the simplest of them all. And when you get right down to it, it’s the legacy game that I’ve enjoyed the most.
If there are two things I’m wary of, it’s hype and Eurogames. Scratch that, three things: also moths. I hate those dusty-winged buggers.
Those first two reasons are why, in spite of my love for Jamey Stegmaier’s earlier Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia, I was so wary of his newest title, Scythe. The early previews received it with such breathless ecstasy, as though this game of mechs-and-agriculture were some rapturous merger of religion and boardgamery. Not only would Scythe cure world hunger through mechanization and make cube-pushing fun again, it would also look good at the same time. It was all a bit much, honestly.
So imagine my surprise that Scythe is actually one rattlesnake of a game, tightly coiled and packing enough bite to back up all that noise.
It might surprise you to learn that I’m a huge fan of dystopian fiction. Or it might not, who knows. Maybe it’s such a critical component of my being that it bleeds into the open, and upon our first meeting, a stranger will instantly feel the tug of intuition whispering, “This guy likes dystopian fiction.”
Regardless, it was the subtitle of Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia that first drew my attention, because I would love very much to do that. Yes indeed. For pretend, of course. Ahem.