Life’s full of hard knocks, kid. The sooner you get used to it, the sooner you’ll stop feeling blue. Or, as Raymond Chandler put it, “I was the page from yesterday’s calendar crumpled at the bottom of the wastebasket.”
The first thing you need to know about Todd Sanders’ Pulp Detective is that, like all Todd Sanders games, it has an aesthetic of its own, and it’s nigh-on perfect in the right light and from the right angle. Scratch the box while extricating it from the shrink, and it’ll seep an even mix of blood, rye, and chance. That’s right, chance. Liquid chance. Deep like amber but it makes sticky everything it touches. Pretty like a dame who’s known nothing but trouble, but liable to bring that trouble tagging along wherever she goes. Serious as a priest offering confession, but—
Oh fine, I’ll start the review.
It’s a tale as old as time. Boy meets girl. Girl isn’t interested. The town of Stjørdal gets invaded by flesh-hungry undead. Flesh-hungry undead are the only ones who can pronounce “Stjørdal,” so by ancient tradition they now own the town. Boy, with nothing better to do with his misdirected masculinity, loads up on iron stakes and vials of holy water. It’s on.
We haven’t covered anything by prolific print-and-play designer Todd Sanders for a while, but the recent envelope printing of Todd’s solo microgame The Draugr by BoardGameGeek seems like as good a time as any to jumpstart our moldering heart. So listen up, because this one’s lean, gorgeously ugly, and arrives printed on paper you might bring groceries home in.
It’s simultaneously a delight and a bit jarring to see one of Todd Sanders’ games in an actual published box. A delight because Todd Sanders has been one of the most prolific creators of print-and-play games over the last few years, nearly all of them provided free of charge for anyone with a printer and some scissors to slap together and enjoy, and it’s great to see him receiving the recognition he deserves. As always, his designs are crisp and unique, conveying a sense of place with a sort of carefree ease. That goes for both the gameplay and the visuals.
And the jarring part? Well, because the title LudiCreations chose to publish was what you might call a “lesser” Sanders, a perhaps too-simple game called They Who Were 8 that doesn’t quite live up to the bulk of Todd’s work.
One of my favorite ways to spend a quiet hour is to look at old maps. The way ancient peoples framed their world is fascinating, familiar landmarks and settlements emphasized, the in-between and unknown stripped out, the important stuff always at the axis. One of my favorite examples is the Tabula Peutingeriana. The entire Roman Empire is represented, from the Atlantic Ocean to India, thousands of miles of highways presented in meticulous detail, her greatest cities — Rome, Constantinople, Antioch — dominating the landscape with titanic presence. This is a functional rather than a mythical map, as was more common in the medieval period. And yet there are gaps. Entire ranges of mountains appear as little more than hedgerows, distant China is listed simply as “Sera Major,” and the ends of the earth are listed as Hic Alexander responsum accepit usqi quo Alexander — the farthest point in Alexander the Great’s travels.
Odin Quest, one of the latest print-and-play solo titles from the ever-prolific Todd Sanders, evokes this sense of the unknown lurking just beyond the gaze of the civilized world. Here, the wild is ever nipping at the heels of all that has been tamed, and every truth bears the caught breath of an untold secret.
I know a thing or two about pesky neighbors. So when Mr. Cabbagehead goes on holiday and Horace Savoy-Brassica from down the lane swipes an armful of prize-winning radishes right out of his garden, I can empathize. In fact, I empathize so fully that I may have even uttered some of the same phrases that saw use in my house when my neighbor petitioned to have speed bumps installed on our street. Phrases that include such words as “tarnation” and “sasquatch.” Apologies for the foul language.
It’s been far too long since I’ve highlighted anything from my favorite print-and-play designer, Todd Sanders, whose games are consistently interesting, easy on the eyes, and completely free, provided your local library doesn’t charge for printing. The trick is to bring your own card stock and perform the ol’ Thurot eyebrows dance. I’ve yet to meet an octogenarian whose heart won’t go sticky as molasses once my eyebrows have had their way. Mmhm.
Back on topic! Todd’s latest solo game is a ditty called The Court of Xiang Chi, about managing three different clans, navigating the intrigue of the court, and scoring as many points as possible. Oh, and also living in constant fear that those damnable Daemon Princes will show up and whisk away your ministers to serve the Daemon Court. Exactly like it happened in Real History.
Staying up to date with all of Todd Sanders’ projects is functionally impossible — for reference, he’s already finished four games in 2015 alone, and we’re only halfway through the year’s second month. But it’s been a long while since we examined anything by one of the most prolific creators of free print-and-play projects, which means it’s high time we dive back in. This time, the game in question is Do Not Forsake Me (Oh My Darling), one of the winners of the BoardGameGeek 18-Card Minigame Contest.
Yes, you read that right. 18 cards.
The Táin Bó Cúailnge is an epic story of early Irish literature about a battle between the Connacht Queen Medb, bent on stealing the bull Donn Cuailnge because she’s jealous of her husband Ailill’s bull Finnbhennach, and the hero Cuchulain, who’s the only dude in Ulster who isn’t sick with ces noínden, which should only last nine days but sticks around for months so Cuchulain’s antics can be even more amazing. Don’t ask me to pronounce the title or any of the characters’ names. And if you want to know more, I’m sure you can read Wikipedia articles every bit as well as I can.
The Táin is the latest game from prolific print-and-play designer Todd Sanders, whose work we’ve examined many times before. This time he’s tackling the card-driven wargame genre, so let’s see if the game is more comprehensible than either of those bulls’ titles.
Say one thing about Todd Sanders, say he’s prolific. Not only have we seen him tackle airship combat, fantasy sieges, space exploration, warring mages, the Silk Road, and more, now he’s gone and made a game about… um… letters and puns and… bees and… stuff.
Well. I don’t know exactly how to classify LMNOP. Let’s find out together.
Want to hear a secret I haven’t told anyone else ever? I think 4X games kind of drag. I mean, you’ve got to explore, expand, and exploit, and by the time we finally reach that point, I’m all, enough already, but then you’ve gotta go exterminate everyone too. I mean, sheesh!
Alright, alright, put down those torches, you’ll make black spots on the ceiling. And anyway, I’m just being controversial to bait extra clicks. The real problem is that while I love 4X games, I rarely have enough time to get through the exploit part, let alone the meatier extermination bits.
Once again, Todd Sanders leaps to the rescue, this time with Parsex — pardon me, Parsec X, which for the life of me I cannot pronounce or spell properly. Here’s a game that’s 4X, compact, free (to print yourself, anyway), and takes about 30 minutes to play. Oh, and even though you wouldn’t expect a 30-minute 4X game to be any good, this one is actually pretty respectable.