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.
Cute lets you get away with a lot. Think of Root, burying its class struggles and Foucauldian biopower beneath a gloss of skittish mice and adorably malevolent felines. Its revolution is as soggy with blood as they come, but you could miss it for all the awwwing.
Everdell is like that, except its cuteness isn’t a mask. Peel away the top layer and there’s more cuteness underneath. Animals preparing for winter, gathering berries and assembling shelter and establishing hierarchies and forming families. Feuding, but only playfully. Snuggling close when the first frosts appear. Cute all the way down.
I’ll bet you a silver dollar that I can review Werewords in a single sentence. A sentence that, upon being read, will inform you with total accuracy whether Werewords is just one more social deduction gimmick or the long-awaited incarnation of the One True Deductor.
Every so often, Dan tosses a spare Space-Biff! key to his buddy Brock for a duel of wits they call Two Minds About. Today’s subject is the most important one yet: Dungeon Alliance. It’s got a dungeon, it’s got alliances. But has it got game? Find out below.
Brock: I considered starting this one with a long jokey paragraph, something along the lines of, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have board games about exploring a dungeon? What a dream world that would be!”
The thing is, designers continue to show us that there’s meat left on the dungeon crawl bones. And — more to the point — Quixotic Games’s Dungeon Alliance, despite its occasional cleverness, is guilty of worse crimes than having an unoriginal theme.
But I’m getting ahead of ourselves.
Dan, why don’t you do the thing where you tell us about Dungeon Alliance?
Ah, the Western. I’ve waxed eloquent about it before. It’s easy to do, really. Picture sunsets and six irons at the same time, imagine breaking a horse while breaking ore, and utter silly swears like “goldarn” and “skinny as a sack of deer horns.” For such an iconic genre, there are hardly any games set in the Old West. Fewer good ones.
Western Legends hopes to make up for that deficit. All of it, in fact. How? Well, none other than by featuring a dozen dusty-trails tales rolled into one. And the biggest surprise of all is that it does a decent job of it.
Despite being terrible at theoretical math, one of my favorite classtime activities was to take a large number — probably something like 55378008, since I was a hormone-addled thirteen-year-old — and divide it mentally into the smallest possible quantity. Dividing by two or five was easy; three was tougher, but there were tricks. Sevens or other primes usually left me stumped.
Lovelace & Babbage, on Kickstarter right this very minute, is all about the joys of simple arithmetic — with the caveat that it must be done fast.
Disclaimer: No realms are shifted in the process of playing Shifting Realms.
And that’s honestly a shame, because relocatable fantasy dimensions could have added something wonderful to this competent but by-the-numbers take on the gather’n’build genre.
Now that Netrunner is dead, I’ve been thinking more about those first few months of its existence, before the pro scene and a steady march of upgrades left me standing on the highway watching the dust kicked up by its tires as it left me behind. It was one of those games that briefly captured me, gave me a rough shaking, and then departed forever. Years later I would happen across its obituary and stare, unsure whether I was feeling regret at not playing more or relief that I didn’t stick around until the end.
It’s Renegade that brings back those memories. Not because both games feature body-modded individualists peeling away an oppressive system’s layers of defense, though there is that. But rather because they’re both far cleverer than they first appear.
Oh, and because they both positively drown you in terminology. As in, hands around the throat, bathtub of ice water, drowning you.
Oh no! It’s the far future, humanity has spread to the distant corners of the universe, yet an evil black monolith is consuming entire solar systems! Panic in the streets! Science confounded! The only solution is the colonization of planets that happen to match a hand full of cards!
Okay, fine, I can’t confess to having any idea of what’s going on in HOPE. Why are we colonizing planets again? Why do solar systems inhabit three dimensions at once? And what’s with that tacked-on betrayer mode? Do the bad guys really call themselves NOPE? In terms of fluff, it’s no Sol.
Instead, it’s exactly the reason I play lesser-known games.