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Vaulting Valkyries!

Somerset and I looked at the box front for a long time trying to determine what it is. We guess "war."

Of all the Small Box Games I own, this was the hardest to find a header for.

Before we start chatting about The Valkyrie Incident, let’s set the stage with some backstory! Shortly after I finished my reviews of Shadow of the Sun and Stone & Relic, John Clowdus, the owner of Small Box Games, proved himself a fine individual by shooting me a quick email. He thanked me for my previous reviews (of course, because he’s a gentleman) (also, you can find all of my previous SBG reviews here) (I don’t expect you to thank me too, but feel free if you’re so inclined), and mentioned that The Valkyrie Incident was another entry in his series of 2-player area control games. That got me all kinds of hot and bothered, seeing as how Hemloch and Omen: A Reign of War are my favorites of his designs.

And now here we are, at the precipice of finding out whether I liked it. Did it measure up to my two favorite Small Box entries? Was it every bit as gripping? Was the box appropriately small? There’s no alternative but to find out below.

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Together for the First Time: Stone & Relic

Joe Diepstraten's art captures the feel of these distant kingdoms perfectly, evoking cold, empty places.

These old stones may contain relics. No telling, really.

My admiration for Small Box Games is no secret, from John and Britt Clowdus’s bold cottage industry business model to their consistently high-quality components and portable boxes (which I haven’t managed to drag along on a vacation yet but absolutely will at some point). My only hangup in this love affair is that I haven’t fallen quite so totally for half of their games — as much as I adored Hemloch and Omen: A Reign of War, I found Tooth & Nail: Factions and Shadow of the Sun a bit wanting. Which is why I’m tickled pink about Stone & Relic, which is every bit as good as my two favorite SBG offerings. Maybe even a bit better.

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Doth This Sun Rise or Set?

Even if the games weren't very good, I'd have to give them props for being so finely illustrated. Very impressive for such a small company.

SBG once against provides great art.

When John Clowdus of Small Box Games announced they were running a Kickstarter for three full games, the question that ran through America’s mind — nay, the world’s — was, “Will Shadow of the Sun be the same as Hemloch, but in reverse?” At least that’s what I was wondering, because although I’ve enjoyed most of the recent offerings from SBG (list of reviews here), Hemloch is probably my favorite of the three I’ve played so far.

I’m pleased to say Shadow of the Sun is absolutely doing its own thing. But since that’s the sort of all-purpose response you could drop about either your son Charles who’s finishing medical school or your son Ted who’s living hand to mouth off a smattering of Ponzi schemes, the better question is whether it lives up to John Clowdus’s other designs. Find out below.

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When Cultures Clash

Okay, problem #1: There are no elephants. Let's just get that out of the way right now.

The thing is, I don’t really like Sid Meier’s Civilization series. I can see the appeal — crud, half the game’s bullet points sound like they were plagiarized straight out of the “This Should Appeal to Dan” playbook. But for whatever reason each Civ experience leaves me wondering what part of my soul is missing and wanting my thirty dollars back. So I was greatly surprised when I genuinely liked the board game version (this one). I didn’t play it too many times because it had some problems, most notably a very long playtime, but it still captured a lot of the things I liked about the Civilization series.

Now I’ve found a Civilization-type game that I love, courtesy of Z-Man Games and Christian Marcussen, designer of the marvelous (so I’m told) Merchants & Marauders. It’s called Clash of Cultures, and it’s one of the best things I’ve played all year. And I don’t mean that as a joke, considering it’s only the eleventh day of the year, I mean from the entire previous year. Find out why below.

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Let’s Smash “Smash Up” Up

This even manages to topple the previous winner of the Best Mash-Up Box Art Award: Small World.

If a box image could sell a game, Smash Up would break sales records.

Ever since prehistoric man daydreamed of riding mastodons to victory over the mighty brontosaurus, there’s been something wonderful and endearing about our crossover fantasies. Fast forward a billion years, and we’ve got Star Trek versus Star Wars, DC versus Marvel versus Capcom, Disney versus Final Fantasy. Children bicker endlessly in “Who would win between…” conversations. Fans gossip about cameos and write reams of bad fiction about romantic meetups between their favorite characters. Even my childhood playtime was dominated by the US Army and G.I. Joes defending the Alamo against the faceless hordes of the LEGO axis. It’s as natural as falling in love with television characters, really.

And that’s what the board game Smash Up is all about — merging two disparate factions into a bizarre alliance and pitting them in a race to overwhelm neutral bases before your opponents do. That means leading an army of leprechaun ninjas in their conquest of the isle of Tortuga, or getting back at the self-righteous dopes at the School of Wizardry with laser-saddled stegosauruses and shambling zombies. Like many crossovers, it’s a fun concept — but does it work? Find out after the jump.

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I’m Fighting Tooth & Nail

You might think he's just a cutie, but really he's trying to warn you that there's a Mummy's Curse on this particular small box. "Do not open," he whispers in the night. "There is only disappointment within. Also a plague."

As with Omen and Hemloch, the art in T&N:F is quite nice.

Back in August, I talked about a pair of exciting two-player card duelers from Small Box GamesHemloch and Omen: A Reign of War — and mentioned that I would be reviewing their newest game, Tooth & Nail: Factions, as well. And then, total silence.

What a mystery! Find out why this writeup has taken me so long below the jump.

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Omen: A Reign of War

"Whuh?—" the Soothsayer yelps. You'd think an oracle wouldn't be so surprised at the appearance of the Omen plaque.

Some of Omen’s lovely art.

Last week I reviewed Hemloch from Small Box Games, which defied my expectations by being a thematic and compact engine designed to churn out excruciating decisions that didn’t come paired with obvious solutions. This week, I’ve been playing Omen: A Reign of War, which tells the story of two of Zeus’ children slugging it out for control of the known world through Greek wrestling… or, better yet, by calling upon all sorts of heroic warriors, sexy oracles, and fearsome beasts to plunder great cities and accomplish godly feats.

So what did I think of Omen? I think it’s excellent! Review done. If for some reason you haven’t been convinced to order it straightaway, I guess I can talk more about it below.

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Taking a Swig of Hemloch

He really does look he's dispensing some advice. Cruel advice, but advice nonetheless.

Hemloch’s Horned Advisor advises you to play Hemloch, lest you get the horns.

The more astute among you have probably picked up on the fact that I prefer board games of the epic variety, and what little crevice I have in my heart for two-player card duelers has already been stubbornly occupied by Summoner Wars. And yet, there’s something about Hemloch from Small Box Games that has captured my imagination. Not only is their company delightfully and intentionally tiny (you can read about it over here), but John Clowdus has a way of filling even the slightest games with an immense range of compelling choices.

Imagine this: The end of an age of twilight is dawning over the city of Hemloch, and as the last member of an ancient bloodline you’ll need to manipulate, influence, cajole, bribe, and backstab to gain the allegiance of the city’s districts before the sun rises. And you’ll be doing it in about twenty to thirty minutes.

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Sentinel Comics #135: Hero… to Zero!

I guess this is kind of a spoiler, huh? Eh, so is the title.

Absolute Zero is decimated by Baron Blade’s first attack.

LAST TIME (SC #134) (you should read this before continuing), Absolute Zero of the Freedom Five was joined by the solar-powered Ra and the mysterious Haka to find and destroy Baron Blade’s Terralunar Impulsion Beam. The good Baron had the decency to establish his base camp amidst the ruins of Atlantis, off the coast of Madagascar, which made for pretty easy pickings for our unlikely squad of heroes. Unfortunately, the moment the Beam was deactivated (and the world saved, incidentally), Baron Blade himself showed up with one heck of a grudge. Already weakened by their attack on the Baron’s camp, our heroes sure are in dire straits, in…

Sentinel Comics #135: Hero… to Zero!

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The Board Game Box Review

After all that effort to remove everything teasable from the shot, I forgot the Skechers. Fine, tease away.

The board game boxes under review on our first installment of The Board Game Box Review!

Okay, I’m taking Space-Biff! across the threshold into true nerd territory. This is nerdier than a sixteen-hour game of Runewars, a GLaDOS pumpkin, or dressing up as characters from RAGE… alright, less nerdy than that last one.

I’m writing this because if there’s one thing I can’t stand (and trust me, there’s at least one thing I can’t stand), it’s poorly-designed board game boxes. That’s right: When the box is too big, too small, won’t play Tetris with other games, or falls apart after a year, it really ticks me off something mighty. And I’m sure there’s at least one other person out there who feels the same way. Cue The Board Game Box Review.

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