“For once, you should fight a land war in Asia.”
That’s how I concluded my review of the first edition of Pax Pamir, Cole Wehrle’s razor-loaded take on imperialism and the Great Game. It promoted Phil Eklund’s Pax Porfiriana into the Pax Series, boggled a fair number of minds with its interlocking spheres of influence and enigmatic victory conditions, and — at the forefront of everybody’s minds, surely — was my top game of 2015.
Now Wehrle is crafting a second edition, one he hopes will be more accessible without becoming divisive the way, say, the second edition of A Study in Emerald was. Little hope of that, I’m afraid. This new edition is indeed more approachable, while recapturing much of the bite, intelligence, and adventure of the original. But fans of the first edition may not want to sell their copies just yet.
I’ve always liked dice games. Loved them, in fact. So why can’t I muster any enthusiasm for Ancient Artifacts?
Ralph Shelton’s Medieval, a reimplementation of Richard Berg’s Medieval, knows enough about Medieval life to understand that it was crummy, capricious, and lasted at least three centuries too long.
What neither Medieval understands is that none of these attributes are desirable in a game.
Root is mighty cool. I wrote as much last week. But that was before trying my hand at everything offered by its first expansion, Riverfolk. What follows are my thoughts on every last additional ingredient it tosses into Root’s already-potent stew of factions. Like so:
Card Holders: These are card holders. If you don’t know how you feel about card holders, then you don’t know anything at all.
Got it? Great. Let’s do this.
The cats are in charge. The noble birds are swooping from their roosts. A gathering of woodland smallfolk agitate in their holes and burrows, whispering, whispering. And a winsome raccoon packs his rucksack and sets out for adventure.
Adorable and ferocious in equal measure, Cole Wehrle’s Root is Redwall by way of A Distant Plain. And it’s both a total delight and the most accessible asymmetric experience Leder Games has produced thus far.
Ah, the stench of the arena. The sharp bite of steel, the tang of blood, the musk of fur and man-sweat barely concealed by a splash of olive oil. Breathe it in. Breathe it, I said. Because this is serious business, this gladiator stuff. Gladiat-ing has never been for the meek.
Carthage isn’t the first game to sashay into the arena, not by a long shot. But it just might be the first arena-smasher that’s actually a deck-building game. So: thumbs up or down? Let’s find out together.
Some games I appreciate for their elegance. Their brightness. Their sheer go-where-nobody-has-gone-before-ness. Others I appreciate because they’re garbage. Delicious, sugary, make-you-look-like-a-tire-swing-got-wedged-around-a-telephone-pole garbage.
See where I’m going with this?
Ever wanted to run your own airline? An airline in a universe where scheduling computers and aviation engineers don’t exist, so you’re in charge of designing planes and booking flights mid-route? On a fifteen-second timer?
Yeah, me neither. But at least Now Boarding makes it better than it sounds.
Vast: The Crystal Caverns always possessed one glaring fault, which was only compounded by its expansion, The Fearsome Foes. What to do when you want to play this beautiful sprawling asymmetrical thing, but don’t want to teach four, five, six, seven separate roles? Much of the time, the simplest answer was also the easiest: don’t. It was the sort of game that quickly established itself as the bane of groups with rotating players, especially since it only truly came to life once the roles were learnt and the interactions between its characters and haunts became second nature.
Vast: The Mysterious Manor doesn’t solve that problem, not fully. Any game with multiple roles is going to require its players to learn those roles, and the Vast series — I think we can safely call it that now — has always thrived on the broad differences between its sides. But The Mysterious Manor is at least going to make the task of teaching its rules faster, easier, and more rewarding than before. And the result just might strike the balance between the sweet, sweet asymmetry that gave Vast its appeal in the first place and the approachability to make sure its players stick around long enough to learn its rhythms.
A dying star. A utopian civilization becoming less utopian as it grows more desperate. A cohesive union splintering into factions. A bitter race to escape the coming supernova. The lingering suspicion that all of this was your fault.
It’s rare that I’ll read the fluff for a board game — if there’s one thing designing a board game doesn’t qualify you for, it’s writing compelling fiction — but Sol: Last Days of a Star almost convinced me to go all the way. Almost. The included mythos book, with its short stories about characters the game never reveals and motivations that are distant from what you’ll actually be doing, was a step too far. All it earned was a quick skim. What does Sol think it is? The Canterbury Tales?
Not quite, but it is something rare: an actual honest-to-goodness science fiction game. With something to say. And systems that actually support its message.