The civilization genre has always been about gluttony. Think back on all those times you shepherded a civilization from tiny settlement to grand empire. When was having more not a good thing? The success of a game-based civilization is nearly always measured in size, stockpile, quantity, output. Even digital civgames, which occasionally fret over issues like expansion stress or population pressure, nearly always treat these issues as minor debuffs on the national scale, and offer solutions as something you can build, research, or buy. To solve the inflation caused by your treasure fleets, spend extra money on more treasure fleets.
Of course, historical civilizations have no such advantage. Too much gold infused into your economy and it sheds its value. Too many stockpiled resources invites theft and pestilence. Too many cities and your borders stretch until invasion or fragmentation is all but inevitable. A soaring population is a hotbed of plague and strife. Even happiness is a double-edged sword. When low, your people revolt; when high, they grow plump and expect new amusements. It’s easy to forget that Juvenal wasn’t being shrewd when he wrote about “bread and circuses.” He was decrying the complacency of the population. In game terms, Juvenal’s Rome had a maxed-out happiness score. It just so happened that max happiness also spelled significant dings to military readiness and civic duty.
Now let’s talk about Gentes.
Somebody made a booboo.
That’s the sad tale that opens John Clair’s Downfall. When the nukes dropped, everything was lost. History, medical knowledge, fourth-wave feminism, a reliable source of pineapple — all gone. Where once stood civilization, now scavengers roam the wastes, dredging up resources with their exosuits, airships, and fallout-mitigating environmental reconstruction technology. With perks like that, it’s almost tempting to go full prepper.
But don’t pour the concrete for that bunker quite yet, because Downfall has some… let’s call them radiation lesions.
Ghosts of the Moor — or Moorgeister in the original German, which sounds like a bodily function run awry — is a dice game collaboratively designed by Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer. It isn’t an amazing dice game, nor is it a game I’d easily recommend.
That said, it is significantly better than I expected. As in, a whole lot. And there’s one key reasons why.
I have a thing for controversial games. If board games can be art in addition to mere product — which is a point I would heatedly defend — then they can also say something about the world around us. National identity, history, aesthetics, social justice, cultural assumptions; it’s all up for grabs. A lot of the time a game will even tell us something without particularly meaning to. Sometimes that thing is even more telling than its actual message.
When I heard that Seth Jaffee’s Crusaders: They Will Be Done had sparked some minor controversy, with complaints ranging from the tone-deafness of its setting to racial insensitivity, I had to get a look. After all, my background is in religious history, up to and including the actual crusades. I’m practically obligated to have an opinion on such things. It’s as reflexive as noshing on potato chips if they happen to be sitting in front of me. Which is why, going in, my assumption was that I’d find the game’s mechanisms compelling but its history uninsightful.
Imagine my surprise when Crusaders tipped my assumption on its head.
I’ve tried meditation. I’ve tried yoga. I’ve tried herbal tea. And to this day, the only thing that helps me sleep at night is the thrill of spaceships blowing each other to smithereens.
There are five resources in Gold West, and every turn shoves about a dozen ways to use them in your face. And yet, Gold West is also one of the year’s simplest, most streamlined titles.
Don’t believe me? I’ll prove it by the most unlikely method possible: by running you through the rules.
You’ve probably heard of the Big Crunch, the theory that the universe will eventually realize that continual expansion is so last eon, and will instead reverse its direction and collapse into a single gravitational singularity.
Eminent Domain: Microcosm is sort of like that, but for card games. And it probably hurts less.