While Grant Rodiek is possibly best known for Cry Havoc, it’s his smaller games that stand out as the purest expression of his design ethos. With offerings like Hocus and Solstice — the latter of which was one of the most devious games of last year — Rodiek seems determined to present slick, carefully tested, and, perhaps most importantly, interesting games, often with a footprint smaller than an actual footprint.
Enter Five Ravens. This is Rodiek’s newest game, and it’s easily one of his best yet.
There are about a hundred reasons why Ortus Regni is such a fascinating artifact of board gaming. There’s the historical appeal, for one. Rather than merely establishing itself as a medieval card game, complete with all the modern idiosyncrasies and anachronisms anyone with a knowledge of the Middle Ages has come to expect, it’s a layered thing, descending through multiple eras like peeling back the layers of a dream. It’s today’s imagining of a Late Middle Ages game romanticizing the Anglo-Saxon Period. Twenty-first-century design sensibilities, fourteenth-century culture, ninth-century romance and nostalgia.
“Woah,” says Smart Neo.
Here we are at last, taking a look at the final installment of John Clowdus’s second-latest trilogy of Small Box Games games. This time it’s Hemloch: Dark Promenade, and it’s by far the most interesting of the three.
Another day, another Small Box Game by John Clowdus. This time it’s Seii Daimyo, where much like every other game about Feudal Japan, your goal is to unite the country’s warring clans under a single Shogun.
Fortunately, the execution is more interesting than the setup.
Another year, another trio of small box games from small box games king John Clowdus, proprietor of Small Box Games. Except this time I’m so far behind that he has some other games out, which pretty much makes me a filthy truant, and—
Deep breath. One thing at a time. First up, Cartouche Dynasties. This is a single-deck ditty about building a kingdom in Ancient Egypt. It has nothing to do with either cartouches or dynasties.
Now let’s uncover what else it’s been lying about.
When it comes to board game settings, I’m about as energized by the appearance of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu as by anything featuring zombies — as in, yeah, they’re overdone, but at least they’re easy to design around. Just as zombies provide baked-in behavior (walk and bite, walk and bite), the presence of Cthulhu & Co. means you know what you’re getting yourself into. Hooded cultists, the coastal hamlets of New England, encroaching madness, and the Arkham that isn’t associated with Batman. It’s thematic shorthand for “watch your health and sanity meters.”
It might be possible to say that Fate of the Elder Gods does the setting a service by letting you don the robes of the cultists themselves as you strive to summon your chosen mind-flaying monster, but it’s hardly the first to do so. Instead, we’ll have to settle for celebrating the fact that it’s a surprisingly good screw-your-buddies affair.
There’s something insecure about the title of 878: Vikings — Invasions of England, as though the creators weren’t sure they’d sufficiently clarified their intent. It’s set in the year 878, check. Also there are Vikings, sure. And they’re invading England, right. The only missing elements are motive, opportunity, and outcome.
Clunky title aside, 878: Vikings is a successor to Academy Games’ Birth of America series, which featured the rather-good 1775: Rebellion. And for the most part, it’s as fun as being on the pitching side of a monastery raid.
Mistborn: House War is a bit of an odd duck. Based on Brandon Sanderson’s much-loved series, it sees you taking command of Vin, Kelsier, and the rest of those scrappy rebels as they seek to topple the rapacious Final Empire.
Except, oops, it isn’t about that at all. Instead, House War’s protagonists are the first book’s sub-baddies, the Great Houses who squabble, gossip, and often lend that “rapacious” an uncomfortable edge. And they’d very much like to kill off the heroes of the books.
Every so often, along comes a game sporting a sense of style and rocking a ‘tude, making itself known with a crash and a holler. Much like a toddler who’s climbed onto the counter and tossed a dish onto the floor.
Vengeance forces you to sit up and take note, is what I’m saying. Emulating the likes of Payback, Kill Bill, and the snazzy digital Hotline Miami, it’s the sort of game that sends you bum-rushing into a room packed full of no-gooders, swinging and shooting until they’re dead and you’re barely limping, then hitting repeat until some nebulous concept of revenge has been fulfilled.
It also happens to resemble one of those corpses your protagonist will undoubtedly leave sprawled behind them. But we’ll get to that.