Blog Archives

Bug Wrasslin’

My question is whether the "helmet" of "kabuto" first came from the beetle's horns or the helmet's prongs?

Ask my seven-year-old daughter what she wants to be when she grows up, she’ll say “an entomologist.” Also a robot artist. Still. An entomologist. That probably has something to do with why she shrieked in delight when I showed her the bug cards in Kabuto Sumo. And why she kept insisting we play again and again. Or maybe it’s that she loved shoving things around.

Tony Miller and Kwanchai Moriya, you made my daughter very happy tonight.

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Elegy: The Oxidation Struggle

My daughter read this as "dye-er-gi," which sounds like a Polish dumpling filled with hemlock.

One of the oft-unacknowledged talents of designer John Clowdus is his ability to evoke a complete world in the most compact format possible. I’m not only talking about Omen: A Reign of War, although my affection for that card game has been documented and documented again. Clowdus is also responsible for the messy prehistory of Neolithic, the undying carnival that is Hemloch, the collapsing Bronze Age, and, more recently, the chilly The North. His games are transportations in miniature, showing a cross-section of a world that stretches far beyond the limitations of the small boxes he crams them into.

The same is true of Dirge: The Rust Wars. Returning to Aaron Nakahara’s dilapidated style from The North — with additional contributions by Liz Lahner of Bronze Age — Dirge evokes biomechanical vultures picking over the last scraps of bone in a world that’s fallen apart and won’t be put back together again.

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There’s No Board Games Like Show Board Games

"(This is a dice game)," it should say as its subtitle. In case the dice aren't clue enough.

I’ll confess, I agreed to play Roll Camera! on the strength of its title pun alone. Because it’s about filmmaking, you see, and also it’s a dice game. Brilliant. Now you know the secret. Hook me with a next-level pun and your foot is already in the door.

Thank goodness Malachi Ray Rempen didn’t stop there. He also happens to have created a game that on more than one occasion made me exclaim with delight at its subtle moments of clever design.

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Ceci n’est pas un Jeu de Société

Favorite cover? Favorite cover.

It says so right there on the side of the box for Mind MGMT: “The Game of Calm and Relaxation. Where everyone wins.” Given the portrait that adorns the cover, of a woman partially shrouded by flames and implements of murder, one gets the sense that maybe this game isn’t being entirely forthright with its advertising.

The evidence keeps piling on. Hidden messages. Sinister warnings. Visual references to René Magritte’s La Trahison des Images. Much like the reality- and expectation-bending comic book series by Matt Kindt, Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim’s version of Mind MGMT appears to be one thing only to soon reveal itself as something else. Before long, this state of constant metamorphosis proves to be the rule. You can barely hold it in place for all its writhing.

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Criminal Capers: Hot Lead

This elephant's backstory includes turning the tide on a band of poachers, a watering hole filled with Jack Daniels, and a precinct captain who's had it UP TO HERE with Detective Tusk's hardboiled antics.

Another day, another entry in Reiner Knizia’s Criminal Capers trilogy. After enjoying Soda Smugglers and Pumafiosi — both with caveats — it’s time to ask the big questions about Hot Lead.

Question one: Why is this the best title in the whole trilogy?

Question two: Is it “hot lead” like bullets? Or “hot lead” like a tangent you pursue? Or both?

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Criminal Capers: Pumafiosi

Awww. Look at that wrinkly little don.

Today, Criminal Capers takes on the mafia. The puma mafia. The pumafia.

Dr. Knizia, you’re a master game designer. Surely you know the value of expertise. So maybe leave the puns to the punfessionals?

Okay, okay. The bones of Pumafiosi are based on Knizia’s own Rooster Booster, which wasn’t exactly the best-received of the good doctor’s catalog. Good thing, then, that Pumafiosi is only partly a remake. This one has layers.

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Criminal Capers: Soda Smugglers

I really dig Halkyon's style.

Sometimes, a little Reiner Knizia is exactly what we need. Emphasis on the “little.” That’s the goal of Criminal Capers, a trilogy of digestible titles designed by the good doctor, illustrated by Paul Halkyon, and published by Bitewing Games via Kickstarter sometime next month.

First up, Soda Smugglers.

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Smash Octopoda

My friend Geoff speaks Japanese and says that the kanji indicate that the game's true name is called "CRASHYO OCTOPUSSIO!" I don't think I believe him.

Some games are serious. They’re meant to model history, make a point, or get you upset about something you never knew existed. Other games are a frivolous delight. They’re here to be consumed, ogled, roughed up. When a piece falls behind the piano — a question of when, not if — the act of recovering it is as much a part of the game as scoring points. These moments aren’t interruptions. They’re continuations.

Crash Octopus is the embodiment of that latter type of game.

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The Rival Punworks

Now do Rival Streaming Services!

Hello. How do you feel about puns? Your answer may well determine how you feel about The Rival Networks, Gil Hova’s latest game — and a minor Hova all around.

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Hellenica Handbasket

Armor Guy: "Let's play Hellenica!" Volcano God: "Dooooon't."

Civilization games face a particular conundrum. It’s a small thing, even a niggle. I wouldn’t even describe it as solvable. It’s just there, always putting up a fight, demanding a reckoning from designers and forbearance from players. Hardly fair that it always pops to mind when I sit down to play one of these things.

That conundrum is movement. Literally, how your units move across the map. To use it as a metaphor to describe Scott DeMers’ Hellenica, imagine an ancient army departing their city-state, well-provisioned and suitably optimistic, supported by baggage trains and ships and combined arms and allies, only to falter exactly one step short of capturing the city of their oldest rival.

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