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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Sometimes, a little Reiner Knizia is exactly what we need. Emphasis on the “little.” That’s the goal of Criminal Capers, a trilogy of digestible titles designed by the good doctor, illustrated by Paul Halkyon, and published by Bitewing Games via Kickstarter sometime next month.
First up, Soda Smugglers.
Some games are serious. They’re meant to model history, make a point, or get you upset about something you never knew existed. Other games are a frivolous delight. They’re here to be consumed, ogled, roughed up. When a piece falls behind the piano — a question of when, not if — the act of recovering it is as much a part of the game as scoring points. These moments aren’t interruptions. They’re continuations.
Crash Octopus is the embodiment of that latter type of game.
Hello. How do you feel about puns? Your answer may well determine how you feel about The Rival Networks, Gil Hova’s latest game — and a minor Hova all around.
Civilization games face a particular conundrum. It’s a small thing, even a niggle. I wouldn’t even describe it as solvable. It’s just there, always putting up a fight, demanding a reckoning from designers and forbearance from players. Hardly fair that it always pops to mind when I sit down to play one of these things.
That conundrum is movement. Literally, how your units move across the map. To use it as a metaphor to describe Scott DeMers’ Hellenica, imagine an ancient army departing their city-state, well-provisioned and suitably optimistic, supported by baggage trains and ships and combined arms and allies, only to falter exactly one step short of capturing the city of their oldest rival.
Oath is Cole Wehrle’s most off-putting game yet. I mean that affectionately. I also don’t anticipate everybody will feel the same way. Riding high on the goodwill generated by Root and Pax Pamir — and dressed up in Kyle Ferrin’s affable illustrative style — this sure is a beaut for something Wehrle called a “hate letter” to the civilization genre. Would it be rude to accuse such an attractive package of false advertising? Because Oath is so determined to make its audience reconsider their assumptions that it sometimes feels like it’s asking too much.
Sometimes. The rest of the time, I’m glad it asks so much.