I’m picky when it comes to dueling games. To be clear, not every two-player game is what I’d call a “dueling game.” To qualify, it needs to be snappy, brutal, and not overly enamored with Magic: The Gathering. For years, my preferred favorite has been John Clowdus’s Omen: A Reign of War. Now a stranger has wandered into town: Daniel Piechnick’s Radlands. And while it’s far too early to call this particular duel for one side or the other — ask me again in a couple of years — for the time being, this relationship has reached the puppy love phase.
It’s a rare game that can make me laugh out loud. Alf Seegert’s The Road to Canterbury managed it no fewer than a half-dozen times. The setting shoulders plenty of that load. As medieval pardoners, it’s your task to earn some coin from pilgrims as they journey to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket — except you happen to be the most miserable brand of fraud alive. Everything about you is a fake. Your certificates of pardon, the “sins” you’ve convinced the pilgrims burden their immortal souls, and certainly the furball of Saint Felix you’re passing off as a holy relic. Appropriately, the only score that matters is how many shillings you’ve bilked.
When last we looked at Andrew Looney’s latest production of his pyramid system, the results were spotty. Of the four games included in the introductory Nomids set, only one put the system to good use. The rest relegated their pyramids to glorified counters. Better to heed the advice of Sir Benjamin Wyatt: “It’s all about the ‘mids.”
How does the second set fare? Fifty-fifty. But to put that in context, that’s double the score!
Every so often we encounter a game with objectives that feel totally disconnected from its play. Finicky victory checks, unexpected scoring criteria, weird tiebreakers — more an exercise in deciphering a designer’s intentions than sitting down to compete against some friends.
Glenn Cotter’s Fickle is the polar opposite. Your goals are always crystal clear. More than that, everybody else’s goals are clear, too. The trick is keeping your cards in place long enough to attain them. Talk about appropriate titles!
There’s something remarkable about holding an illuminated manuscript. It isn’t just the work itself, the artistry, the history leafed onto the pages. It’s the additional histories that crowd around the first. The scribbled notes. The stain of a fingerprint. The places where the paint has worn thin from dozens of fingers brushing the image of Jesus, or where a self-righteous fingernail has censored Eve’s privates.
Or the killer rabbits warring in the margins.
In true dedication to the apostils of history, Alf Seegert’s Illumination is about the latter. Two monks, one upstanding and the other irreverent, passing the days via the mortal contest of ensuring that their illustrations will endure for an age. How do they conduct this contest? By pitting rabbits against monks, squirrels against hounds, demons against angels. Naturally. How else?
My curiosity for Andrew Looney’s pyramid system began with the discovery of Pyramid Arcade on the shelf of a local game store. Twenty-two individual titles, all crammed together like the stacked pyramids that have been the system’s hallmark for a quarter century. The set was so overpriced that it sat there for three years, unpurchased by me or anyone else. According to the owner, somebody eventually stole it. I’ve pined over might-have-beens ever since.
But time heals all wounds. To make the system easier to break into, Looney recently issued four sets of his famed pyramids, ranked in order of ascending complexity. Today we’re looking at the introductory box. And let’s just say, as far as relationships go, this one’s off to a rocky start.
It’s possible to play Thrive faster than it will take you to read this review.
Yes, that might be a statement of how quickly I have lost. What of it?
When I call Sandy Petersen’s Planet Apocalypse “trash,” please don’t take it as an insult. I mean it in the same way as when I call Petersen’s previous game Cthulhu Wars “trash,” or the 2001 action-adventure film The Musketeer “trash.” These things, these artifacts of culture, they were never going to escape the dumpster. So instead, they leaned into it. They wrapped their feet in banana peels and armored themselves with spent diapers. They forced Tim Roth to swagger around in leathers and feathers, wearing that eye patch, speaking those lines. That’s their whole appeal. To be so bad that they circle around on themselves, like the fathomless plains of hell, venturing not quite into the territory of good, but perhaps into worth a laugh.
I may have tipped my hand there. Oh well. At least I have some serviceable pictures of the game’s miniatures.
Legal trials seem like the perfect setting for board games. Distinct victory conditions, formal rules, the uncertainty that arises from the human element. Crud, defending and prosecuting attorneys take turns, for crying out loud. That’s nine-tenths of a game right there.
Despite all that, I only know of two games about trials. The first, Alex Berry’s High Treason: The Trial of Louis Riel, was largely about juror selection. Individual jurors acted as victory conditions that were picked at the start of each play. Everything after that was about swaying them to your side, one icon and tracker at a time.
Tom Butler’s Unforgiven: The Lincoln Assassination Trial also features icons and trackers. But because this is a military tribunal, every game revolves around the same nine judge-jurors. In place of selecting victory conditions, Unforgiven is about constructing an argument — and although it’s not quite as plugged-in with its subject matter as High Treason, the result makes for one heck of a standoff.
Polyominoes are all the rage. Or at least polyominoes up to a certain size are all the rage, which usually only includes monominoes, dominoes, trominoes, tetrominoes, and sometimes pentominoes and hexominoes.
But where most polyomino games boil down to “polyominoes plus something,” where the “plus something” is the substance of the game, Project L by Michal Mikeš, Adam Španěl, and Jan Soukal is all about the polyominoes, full stop. And the instant I’m done writing about it, I’m never typing the suffix -omino ever again.