In one sense, True Messiah is the poster boy for why Kickstarter exists. It was funded independently of any major publisher, it’s a little oddball, it stands well beyond the usual circles, and happens to be designed by a newcomer with some digital game design experience but no name in tabletop. A passion project, in other words, and one that likely wouldn’t have been birthed without crowdfunding. This is the very reason Kickstarter was lauded as a platform in the first place.
In another sense, however, it’s also a poster boy for why crowdfunded passion projects that stand well beyond the usual circles aren’t always everything they’re cracked up to be.
Getaway Driver would benefit from a soundtrack of frenetic jazz. Asymmetry is all the rage this year, but few games embrace it quite as wholeheartedly as Jeff Beck’s game of cat and mouse and cat and cat and cat — which seems dire until you realize that this particular mouse is riding five hundred horsepower and knows this city by heart. In other words, it’s free-form, kinetic, and apart from a few minor stutters, a real treat of asymmetric design.
Some folks arrange castle chambers for fun, others arrange castle chambers because they’re about to be smashed to bits by random catastrophes. The people of Disastles — disaster castles, don’t you know — fall into the latter category.
What a peculiar game. Let’s talk about why.
My grandfather once told me that a good idea is about catching a spark, but good execution is about putting in the years. And while it’s possible this attitude is why ole granddad only accomplished two things in his entire life, I’m inclined to believe he was onto something. After all, there’s Heroes of Land, Air & Sea, which has a tremendous idea — a cardboard version of an old-school real-time strategy (RTS) game, complete with base-building, exploration, and heroes leading armies into battle! — it also so happens that it was executed… well, like this.
To this day, Evolution — and in particular Evolution: Climate — remains one of those accessible games I’ll gladly recommend to nearly anybody. Family friendly, beautiful, fiercely competitive, and effortlessly illustrative of its namesake theory, it’s as easygoing or carnivorous as the people you’re playing with. Sometimes both at once.
But after three major iterations from North Star Games, the last thing I wanted was Evolution: Yet Again. Fortunately, their latest project, Oceans, understands its theme well enough to stay competitive. Which is why it transplants its predecessor’s core experiences — clever cardplay and an ever-shifting ecosystem — to not only beneath the waves, but also into an entirely new shape. And although this shift in DNA results in some castoffs along the way, this new form is fitter than ever.
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.