There’s a pleasant familiarity to rondels. Around and around your pawns go, their position determining what you’ll be doing this turn. Why do they complete this circuit, this flat circle of time? Are they fleeing or chasing, running toward or running away? Perhaps there is a deeper reason. Perhaps, if they repeat these rotations to satisfaction before the game is concluded, they will come face to face with themselves at last. Then there will be no more running. Only acceptance.
Or maybe it’s only because rondels are an efficient way to narrow a wide range of options to a digestible handful. That’s the case in Winterborne, anyway.
Longtime readers may recall my appreciation for the solipsistic hellscape that is human language, the inefficient and ambiguous transfer of information generated by whistling air between slabs of meat, often followed by transcribing those whistles via pigment or pixels, and rarely wholly understood by those on the receiving end. Truly, we are the aliens. See also Dixit, Mysterium, and Codenames for a heightened sense of foreignness within your own skin.
This holiday season I’ve discovered a new inducer of existential angst. Co-designed by Alex Hague, Justin Vickers, and Wolfgang Warsch (best known for it’s-a-game The Mind), this one is called Wavelength. And when I’m pondering the Cartesian isolation of my reasoning mind from the remainder of this universe, my time with it has very nearly approached enjoyable.
I’m a sucker for portable card games and a double-sucker for those that can be played without a surface. Never mind that I’ll never find myself in a situation where I’ll actually want to play one. In the car? Motion sickness. On an airplane? Tray table. Eating a meal on the airplane? Then I’m eating, you goofball, not playing a card game. Standing in the Fantasy Flight line at Gen Con? Never again.
But I made a promise to my grandfather that I would find the perfect surfaceless card game, so I grabbed Palm Island and gave it a few plays, all within approximately two meters of a clean tabletop. Still, it felt good to do right by old gramps. He died never having owned a table. The real tragedy was not knowing where to set all the food everybody sent over.
Oh, right, Palm Island. Let’s talk about that instead.
I didn’t actually watch Alien as a kid. Worse: my friends described it to me on the playground. It has been said that nothing is more terrifying than the unknown. That’s preposterous. It’s the half-known that’ll keep you up at night. To grub-form Dan, nothing was more terrifying than the prospect of Alien. Not even, when I finally got up the nerve to view it, the film itself.
Over the past month, I’ve played two separate releases that attempt to adapt the breathless horror that was initially brought to life by Ridley Scott and given an uncomfortable phallic pulse by H.R. Giger. And even though they’re remarkably similar in some ways, one of these games is among the year’s best while the other is merely fine.
It’s both accurate and misleading to say that James Naylor’s Magnate: The First City is a good version of Monopoly. Accurate because it’s a satirical take on unbridled capitalism that would do Lizzie Magie proud. Misleading because the two really don’t have much in common, aside from paper money, city development, plastic houses, and dice. Okay, saying that out loud makes them sound really quite similar. They’re not.
Seriously, they aren’t alike at all. You should keep reading. I promise.
Sometimes — not often, but sometimes — it can feel as though I’ve seen all this hobby has to offer. The cause of such ennui is usually related to a deck-builder set in a licensed property. Event Horizon: The Card Game. Play the gravity drive card to trash your eyes cards. Yawn. Been there, winnowed that.
Every so often, however, something comes along that I haven’t heard before. Marc Neidlinger’s Vindication, for example. Its pitch starts out slow. “It’s an adventure game,” Vindication begins. Already my jaw is unhinging for the father of all yawns. Then Vindication finishes. “By way of resource conversion.”
By all rights, that shouldn’t be enough. I’ve been converting resources since my kids were in diapers, including the one that’s graduated to undies. But somehow, Vindication manages to not only make this idea work, but soar. It’s a strange world where tired plus tired equals really damn good.
Right up front, Cloudspire wasn’t made for me. Even with gobs of ways to play, ranging from a solo mode to cooperative scenarios, plus the regular competitive slugfest that goes all the way up to four factions, I can’t see the appeal. Maybe it’s because I have no history with the MOBA genre. Maybe it’s because I have a thing (a buried, unconscious thing) against poker chips.
Or maybe it’s because I like games that aren’t the board game equivalent of a chocolate syrup truck tipping over in slow motion. You know, a plodding mess.
It’s been two years since we saw a proper Small Box Games release from John Clowdus. Unless we’re counting Kolossal’s printing of Omen: A Reign of War. Which I’m not, in case you were wondering. A professional printing may be glossy, but there’s nothing quite like the home-packaged feel of Clowdus’s limited runs, right down to its too-tight box and ribbon for prying the cards loose.
Thankfully, Clowdus hasn’t lost a step. The North is, at the absolute least, one stylish set of cards, with Aaron Nakahara’s chilly artwork raising the occasional goosebump. It also happens to be a deck-builder. Of course, Clowdus being Clowdus, that doesn’t make it like any deck-builder you’ve ever played before.
Looking back over Tim Fowers’ ludography, one encounters titles like Burgle Bros, Paperback, Hardback, and Fugitive. Small games that defy their size by yielding plenty of play. Bite-sized experiences that mingle with your saliva to swell into a wadded sock that leaves your jaw unhinged and your throat blocked. Except in a good way.
And then there’s… this. If not for the distinctive artwork from Ryan Goldsberry, the large unfolding box, plentiful miniatures, and over-the-top production of Sabotage would feel like a symptom of a minimalist recently disabused of his convictions. This is what happens when the Church of Portable collapses into schism, with Fowers playing Luther and Jeff Krause as that little Oecolampadius fellow.
How strange, then, that Sabotage might also be the best game we’ve seen from this little studio thus far.