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.
Today on Two Minds About…, Dan Thurot and Brock Poulsen are absolutely going to disagree about the sublime cooperative and solo game Darkest Night. Total disagreement. Friendship-shaking disagreement.
Dan: Wow, that sounds rough. Been good knowing you, Brock.
Brock: Our friendship had a good run, but this is the one! This game will sunder our fraternal bond forever.
Darkest Night was one of the first games I ever played solo. It arrived with a tiny board with jigsaw-puzzle connectors, smoky laser-charred wooden standees, and a napkin for wiping the soot off your fingers when you were done punching everything out. For months it retained that campfire reek, like summers up the canyon, like burning villages, like a necromancer’s grip tightening around a fantasy kingdom’s throat.
It got its grip around my throat as well. With its thickly despairing gameplay, religion-gone-literal subtext, and smoke filling my nostrils, I defeated the necromancer time after time. More often, it was him who did the defeating.
Sadly, Darkest Night was a flawed game, and it fizzled from my table as abruptly as it had flickered to life in the first place. Its central notion — that your heroes were waging a guerrilla resistance and would spend more time hiding than fighting — was undercut by the fact that it was relatively easy to defend a single hero chilling in the corner. This hero could spend every turn searching for keys, which would unlock relics, which in turn would slay evil once and for all. A to B to C to Dead Necromancer, all without leaving the comfort of a single space. So much for guerrilla warriors. More like renegade metal detectorists.
It’s rare enough that a game gets a second chance, let alone when it’s a niche solo title. Based on Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Nemo’s War held a formidable reputation for its brutal difficulty, constant barrage of dice rolls, and tangible sense of setting. It’s Nemo and his Nautilus against an entire world of colonial powers. And, tipping my hand right now, its polished second edition is easily one of the slickest solo games ever crafted.
Things aren’t all right in Hunt: The Unknown Quarry. On a hill (not in a quarry), an old house sits, haunted to the rafters, scratching in the basement, the flapping of wings in the aviary—
And right there, that’s your problem, sir. If you want to build a big house on a hill without attracting your garden-variety haunting, you shouldn’t be installing things like aviaries. Big cages, spooky black-feathered birds — they’re all fun and games until a monster takes up residence and a pack of bounty hunters come calling.
When you’re a force for righteousness like myself, there’s nothing quite so satisfying as driving a holy relic through the eye socket of a foul necromancer. Ah! The splash of his brain-ichor, cold and rancid, soaking the cuff of my tunic!
There are very few games that provide necromancer-slaying goodness quite so well as Darkest Night, one of my favorite solo and co-op games from last year. Its first expansion, With an Inner Light, which added the incentive of quests to get you roaming the map more and just hanging out in the mountains and forest less, was too.
So the question: are the two newest expansions for Darkest Night, On Shifting Winds and From the Abyss, as good as we’ve come to expect from Victory Point Games?
There aren’t many good games out there specifically designed for third wheels — pardon me, for three players. It’s a niche that often goes unfilled, frequently leading to the phrase, “Let’s just wait for Geoff to show up, and then we’ll play something for four.”
No longer! Trieste may or may not be named for the city in Italy (more probably because it sounds like “three” in some magic language), but it’s certainly determined to be one of the best three-player games you’ve ever played. Does it succeed? Only one way to find out.
For this month’s issue of Alone Time, I covered a stellar little game called Darkest Night from Victory Point Games, the “Little Game Company That Could” (no really, that’s their actual self-designated nickname) (no, really, would I lie to you about that?). Well, as much as I loved Darkest Night, now I have to retract some of my praise — because however good it is, I’m never going to play it again… unless I’m also using With an Inner Light, which takes a fabulous game and makes it even fabulous-er.
How does With an Inner Light manage such a makeover? Good question! Let’s find out together.
Remember that scene in the second The Lord of the Rings movie where Frodo, Sam, and Gollum ran out from under their marsh-bush to shoot arrows at the passing Nazgûl and its fell steed so they could do battle? Yeah, me neither. Because instead, they cowered under that bush and shat their britches and hoped they wouldn’t have to do any fighting at all.
Most fantasy games don’t operate that way. Instead of sneaking about, their heroes barrel in with nocked arrows and raised swords, even though any halfway decent dark lord would seize the opportunity to fit them for some shallow graves. Not so in Darkest Night from Victory Point Games. The theme of this one-to-four-player co-op is familiar in one sense — a necromancer is polluting the kingdom, etc., etc. — but this time, your valiant heroes are going to be creeping around on their bellies and praying they don’t attract too much attention, because if they do, the necromancer is going to mosey over and put some serious hurt on their noble bottoms.