Sometimes when playing a board game, I simply have no idea what’s happening. Not necessarily because the game is complicated — although sure, that happens too — but because the game doesn’t bother to string together its bones with connective tissue.
Take Vivarium by Frédéric Vuagnat, for example. Vivarium is about exploring a hitherto undiscovered continent brimming with amazing creatures, uncategorized plants and minerals, and zero complications from colonialism. In exploring this new land, explorers select their discoveries from a grid by matching dominoes. Why dominoes? I couldn’t tell you. Presumably the publisher had a few extra pallets of dominoes hanging around at the warehouse.
Not the Archean Supercontinent Vaalbara
Did you know there was a supercontinent named Vaalbara? It’s true. There’s also a board game named Vaalbara. Presumably the board game Vaalbara, designed by Olivier Cipière, is not about the supercontinent Vaalbara, since it existed something like three billion years ago. The supercontinent. Not the board game. That exists right now.
A Deodorant for Excessively Hairy Men
“Northgard” sounds like a deodorant brand. Probably one that smells of pine needles and draugr leather. Northgard: Uncharted Lands, on the other hand, is the latest adaptation of a video game that happens to be considerably more competent than its bastard offspring. Based on Norse mythology in the loosest sense, players are tasked with leading a clan to preeminence. Mostly this consists of exploring terrain, fighting monsters, fighting other Vikings, fighting the winter, and never once setting foot on a boat.
At times, bits of flint shine through the muck. The rest of the time, it’s gone to mud.
The Trance of Trick-Taking
Longtime readers know my blind spots. Trick-taking is a big one. My wife grew up with trick-takers. They were a regular family activity, so she learned their rhythm: the subtle tells, the contrasting modes of pressure and conservation and cooperation, the possibility of someone running away with a hand. When we try a new trick-taker, it doesn’t matter how different or innovative or oddball it happens to be — she settles back in like it’s the same game she’s played a hundred times before.
Shamans, the trick-taking game by Cédrick Chaboussit, falls into the oddball category. But despite a few departures from the normal template, it’s the first time I’ve slipped into the trancelike mindset of the trick-taker.