At this point, there almost isn’t much to say about Middara that hasn’t been said about a hundred other games.
Four years since it funded on Kickstarter. Preposterous production values counterbalanced by preposterous quantities of miniatures and cards and words. Those words, bound up in a 480-page adventure book, weaving a tale that speaks much while saying little, despite being only the first act of something grander and longer-winded. A gorgeous aesthetic that will certainly leave some people questioning why this fantasy world’s women feel such a universal need to bare breasts and thighs, and others responding that bared manly muscles make all fair. A dice-heavy combat system that’s simultaneously expansive and that’s it?
It’s dungeon crawling as a microcosm. All the excesses and shortcomings and triumphs and stipulations of the genre, compressed — or, more accurately, expressed, expanded, blown outward — into the confines of a single box that could serve as the cartoon anvil in a real-life homicide. Even the title tells you something important. This isn’t Middara. This is Middara: Unintentional Malum: Act I.
Brace for impact.
Look, I love weird social games. How else could Bemused earn a spot as one of my favorite titles of all time? So when G.I.F.T. starts talking about attending an afterlife tea party, meeting the gods of life and death, and being forced to entertain them by stringing silly sentences together in order to stitch your body back together, I’m there. This getup isn’t even particularly illogical. Why shouldn’t a deity want you to debase yourself by assembling preposterous acrostics? Have you seen the world we live in? Makes sense as far as I’m concerned.
But that’s the elevator pitch. In practice, however… let’s get into it.
I have a rule here on Space-Biff! that I take rather seriously, that I always play a game at least three times before I evaluate it. Tokyo Jidohanbaiki is one of the few times I’ll be making an exception. It isn’t a single game, for one thing. Rather, it’s a compilation of eighteen minigames, across multiple player counts, play lengths, genres, designers, and even one that requires you to own another game as a prerequisite. Fifty-four plays and another purchase in order to write about a box that I keep mistaking for gum? No thanks.
But the bigger issue is that, despite being spearheaded by Jordan Draper, an up-and-comer with a captivating eye for design, Tokyo Jidohanbaiki is also an example of why collaborative efforts so often fall flat.
I don’t usually assign scores, but The Estates deserves zero stars. That’s right. Zero. As in nothing. Even harsher, I’ll award its predecessor, the decade-old Neue Heimat, negative eight points. Just for being German. Yeah, I went there.
But here’s the thing: when it comes to The Estates, that’s a stupendously flattering score. Come on down and I’ll explain why.
The first thing you notice about Hermetica is its crisp, unadorned aesthetic. Okay, that’s the second thing. The real first thing is its rectangular box, unlikely to fit neatly on even an obsessive organizer’s shelf. Then you peek inside. The springy mat, the suitably blank hexagonal pillars, the bright penny gem pieces glinting sharply against the grayscale landscape — evocative of a field of ash, perhaps, or the formless realm of thought, awaiting a kindling spark. For an abstract game, Hermetica sure knows how to pick a suit.
Then you notice something else. But that’s going to require more of an explanation.
Cute lets you get away with a lot. Think of Root, burying its class struggles and Foucauldian biopower beneath a gloss of skittish mice and adorably malevolent felines. Its revolution is as soggy with blood as they come, but you could miss it for all the awwwing.
Everdell is like that, except its cuteness isn’t a mask. Peel away the top layer and there’s more cuteness underneath. Animals preparing for winter, gathering berries and assembling shelter and establishing hierarchies and forming families. Feuding, but only playfully. Snuggling close when the first frosts appear. Cute all the way down.
I’ll bet you a silver dollar that I can review Werewords in a single sentence. A sentence that, upon being read, will inform you with total accuracy whether Werewords is just one more social deduction gimmick or the long-awaited incarnation of the One True Deductor.
Every so often, Dan tosses a spare Space-Biff! key to his buddy Brock for a duel of wits they call Two Minds About. Today’s subject is the most important one yet: Dungeon Alliance. It’s got a dungeon, it’s got alliances. But has it got game? Find out below.
Brock: I considered starting this one with a long jokey paragraph, something along the lines of, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have board games about exploring a dungeon? What a dream world that would be!”
The thing is, designers continue to show us that there’s meat left on the dungeon crawl bones. And — more to the point — Quixotic Games’s Dungeon Alliance, despite its occasional cleverness, is guilty of worse crimes than having an unoriginal theme.
But I’m getting ahead of ourselves.
Dan, why don’t you do the thing where you tell us about Dungeon Alliance?
Ah, the Western. I’ve waxed eloquent about it before. It’s easy to do, really. Picture sunsets and six irons at the same time, imagine breaking a horse while breaking ore, and utter silly swears like “goldarn” and “skinny as a sack of deer horns.” For such an iconic genre, there are hardly any games set in the Old West. Fewer good ones.
Western Legends hopes to make up for that deficit. All of it, in fact. How? Well, none other than by featuring a dozen dusty-trails tales rolled into one. And the biggest surprise of all is that it does a decent job of it.