Blog Archives

That Magnate Moment

Once again, I struggle to escape from the shade of "Magnates, How Do They Work?" as the best title for anything ever.

James Naylor’s Magnate: The First City is an ambitious opening act, a fact only made more appropriate by its wicked irony. In my preview, I compared it to Monopoly. Plastic buildings, paper money, rents, dice. They even share a setting, focused as they are on unregulated property development. It’s almost as though the entire real estate industry is so shot through with corruption and profiteering that its only natural gamification is get-rich-quick fantasies.

Unlike Monopoly, though, Magnate’s satirical perspective hasn’t been neutered by corporate plagiarism. Instead, it rushes toward a single inexorable conclusion. This will undoubtedly be the game’s most controversial aspect, but to strip it away would be to remove the whole reason Magnate works, both as a plaything and as a statement.

I’m speaking, of course, about that game-ending housing crash.

Read the rest of this entry

Interior Design for Ghouls

I like this art, and wish it had featured in the game more prominently!

What’s a dungeon without a rack of swords? The odd pile of bones? A tasteful corridor-obstructing sheet of cobwebs? In Jeff LaFlam’s Dungeon Decorators, probably not very many points. Depending on which scoring card you’ve drawn, that is.

Read the rest of this entry

Off with Your Head

I think some appreciable percentage of my dislike of cats goes back to Disney's nauseating portrayal of the Cheshire Cat.

The latest trend in puzzle games is to tinker with communication. More properly, limitations on communication. The Mind, The Shipwreck Arcana, Codenames — the last few years have offered plenty of supernal examples. Have the player identify an island in a sea of noise, give them a way to provide limited glimpses of that island to their fellows, and then tell them to shut up. There you go. Puzzle game.

Ben Goldman’s Paint the Roses works in that same space, but according to a rhythm that feels more naturalistic and less constrained than its peers. Behind its pleasing Alice in Wonderland veneer, it just might be one of the finest limited communication games I’ve played.

Read the rest of this entry

Ruination Rumination

So... is RAGE the post-apocalyptic font-daddy for all post-apocalyptic games now?

Everything about Ruination, the post-apocalyptic game of feuding post-apocalyptic maniacs by Travis R. Chance, screams in neon color squiggles that it would be the perfect eccoprotic for a trashy mood. Vibrant colors, thick miniatures, dice. Dice for days. Dice for miles of dusty motorbike trails. This is what the warboys play when Max Rockatansky isn’t helping Imperator Furiosa steal their rigs and breeders.

So why has Ruination left me colder than the wasteland after dark? Witness me as I try to explain.

Read the rest of this entry

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.

Read the rest of this entry

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.

Read the rest of this entry

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.

Read the rest of this entry

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.

Read the rest of this entry

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?

Read the rest of this entry

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.

Read the rest of this entry