Let me ask you a serious question. Clear your head, take a deep breath, find your center. Should religious institutions be required to pay taxes? Woah there, cowboy. You have two choices. (A) No. Prayer is an intangible service. (B) Yes. Even God should tremble before the tax collector.
Oh, and just so you know, depending on how you answered, you just outed yourself as either an ultra-capitalist or a showman. And the capitalist answered A.
Welcome to Shasn, one of the most unhinged, perceptive, outlandish, and timely games you might never play.
I have a theory that the hallmark of a heavy economic game is the ability to take out a loan. Not just any loan, mind you. This isn’t some family loan, a hand-wavey Pay me back when you get the chance, son. No, this is the loan a banker makes when he’s got you over a barrel with one hand and is clutching your short hairs with the other. The sort of loan that makes you wonder why you decided to lay track instead of becoming a financier.
Pipeline lets you take out such loans. The first time will wring a gasp-worthy 33% interest out of you, and each additional loan compounds from there. By the fifth visit to Mr. Manager, Sir, you’ll be required to pay back 400% of what you borrowed. Not that you’ll need five loans. But the option is there, tantalizing like an apple in the Garden of Eden.
Does Pipeline live up to its allure? For a while, sure.
There are competing theories about how often you should be able to win a cooperative game. Once every two plays? One in three? One in five, but you can improve that by building a solid deck? Nearly every time, but with graded scores? One in a hundred, because your game is Ghost Stories?
The Shipwreck Arcana — which trucks a little bit in the arcane but not even a titch in shipwrecks — hews closer to one in one. So close that even with the occasional loss, you’re hardly even rounding up.
“Is that actually a Command & Conquer board game?” my buddy asked, breathless with curiosity.
“Even better,” I replied, breathless because I’d just run up the stairs. “It’s Commands & Colors!”
There’s no mistaking what Escape Plan wants you thinking about when you crack open its box. It quotes its influences right there in the rulebook. Heist, Ocean’s Eleven, The Italian Job, Reservoir Dogs, the old Italian Job, the even older Ocean’s 11. This is a heist gone wrong, it tells you. This is a nobody can trust nobody else type of situation. The police are on your tail and they have an order to shoot on sight.
Then, without irony, it hands you a list of errands. “Swing by the Stop-N-Go for baby Tylenol. Make sure you grab a card and some colorful balloons for Fat Moe’s birthday. Then return this book on money laundering to the library for me. But be at the party by five or it’s lights out for you. Oh, and make sure you don’t turn left too often; the car’s tie rod is out of alignment.”
Welcome to Vital Lacerda’s Escape Plan.
I still remember the birthday in high school when my dad gave me a translation of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. Don’t let that fool you into thinking I’m a purist. Adding mecha-gorgons and cyber-hoplites to the mix? That sound you just heard was me at fourteen years old, my squeal of delight echoing through time itself.
So why does Lords of Hellas leave me cold?
Look, I know how it sounds when I say “the box is the best thing” about a game. I know. It sounds dismissive. Like I’m saying the game should be jettisoned into space, where it would finally be put to good use as a hostel for tardigrades. Like I’m saying you should buy the game, toss the components and burn the rules, and then display the hollowed-out box on the mantelpiece as a warning to all who enter that they should not buy this game unless they’re connoisseurs of fantastic boxes.
That’s how it sounds. Too bad. The best thing about Tiny Ninjas is its box.
Sorcerer has a great hook. Never mind that it’s also Smash Up’s hook. You take three decks — your identity, magical lineage, and domain — and shuffle them together to form one big wad of acolytes, demons, and spells. One moment you’ll be playing as a necromantic count from deep in a haunted forest. Half an hour later you’ll be mister flameface the shapeshifter of the lunatic asylum. In theory, no two decks will feel quite the same.
Too bad they nearly always blend together like a bowl of soggy oatmeal.
It’s been a long time since I played the first edition of Ryan Laukat’s The Ancient World. Long enough that the second edition was totally new, like something I’d played in a dream, a game against the gods dissipated into fog upon awakening.
Or maybe it’s just that this second edition is such a vast improvement over the original that it feels entirely new, despite importing wholesale the bones and framework of its former self.
Pax Pamir is one of those historical games that doesn’t demand you perfectly understand its context before you play. The broad strokes will do. Here’s Afghanistan, its dynasty peeling at the edges. There’s Britain, looking to unite local warlords into a buffer state against its rivals. Speaking of which, here comes Russia: expanding rapidly, voraciously hungry, hoping to consolidate their frontier. Three sides, three agendas, one tract of land standing at their intersection.
The twist is that none of those competing agendas are your own. Instead, you’re a tribal chieftain, the local hotshot these empires must rely upon to achieve their aims. Scouting, navigation of local customs and courtly procedure, information and advice — the lay of the land, both literally and figuratively. But you have aspirations of your own. Perhaps even aspirations that might be realized by aiding the right empire at the right moment.
The Great Game, in other words, except played by its middlemen rather than its kings and queens. And although I’ve written about Pax Pamir three times before, Cole Wehrle’s official second edition is different enough that it warrants an entirely new treatment.