Imagine with me, if you will, a game about gnomes wrestling atop a redcap mushroom, in which the gnomes are discs that push each other across said mushroom. Like a dexterity game, but without any dexterity. Not flicking, just… lightly nudging. Not even shoving. Like the world’s lowest-contact contact sport.
That’s the pitch for Redcap Ruckus. Apparently somebody at WizKids heard it and exclaimed, “I dreamed of this exact moment! Sign this contract right now, before I think better of this decision.”
My favorite moment of our most recent play of Sidereal Confluence arose from one of the game’s weaknesses. Namely, that TauCeti Deichmann’s game of haggling aliens operates best when played with the right sort of person. What sort is that? The sort who embraces asymmetry while still calling the resource cubes by their colors instead of using setting-appropriate titles like “culture” and “life support.” The sort who doesn’t mind parsing large quantities of information while on the clock. The sort who’s willing to negotiate.
Of those three, you’d think the last would present the lowest barrier. Doubly so when playing a negotiation game. That isn’t how it was shaking out. One of us wasn’t interested in trading away his yellows — pardon me, his energy cubes — no matter how favorable the bargain. We offered him everything. Colonies, stacks of cubes, even a rule-breaking couple of victory points, just to see if he would bite. Offer after offer was rejected.
At last, Geoff broke. With all the pent-up fury of a spurned capitalist, he roared through his mask, “Haven’t you read The Wealth of Nations?” By way of reply, our energy hoarder stared at him with glassy eyes. The realization came to everyone at the table in an instant. Not only had he not read Geoff’s Holy Bible, but he also had no idea what sort of game we were playing.
You’ve got to admire the confidence of anyone who slaps “episode one” on their box. That isn’t even the most confident thing about Serge Macasdar’s Seeders from Sereis: Episode I: Exodus. Set in a sci-fi universe that will apparently warrant a total of ten episodes, an impending disaster has forced your people to construct arks to escape to the stars. Each ark is represented by a tableau of cards. Not too unusual. How those cards are acquired, however, is more of a twist.
It’s not that I’ve forgotten Flotilla exists. I’ve just forgotten what you do in it. Something about diving for resources and then trading them? Ships that hold barrels? Colors without meaning?
Apart from its wallpaper, Seastead doesn’t have much to do with Flotilla. It wasn’t even designed by the same duo. Jan Gonzalez and Ian Cooper are on the job, and they’ve gone out of their way to make this foray into Flotilla’s waterlogged world more memorable than the last. They even assigned names to the resources.
When it comes to modern roll-and-write games, one of the system’s most effective tools is the possibility of a shared roll between players. It’s the sharing that matters. Chance still dictates your opportunities. The roll may even be “unfair.” But because it’s shared alike, everybody is on equal footing. At least, until players apply the roll in different ways and begin reaping the effects.
Super-Skill Pinball uses the same trick. Two dice are rolled and everybody makes do with the same results. But two things set it apart. One, it was designed by Geoff Engelstein, the guy who formalized the idea of input and output luck in board games. No surprise that it’s brimming with clever applications of chance. And two, because, again, it was designed by Engelstein, it feels way more like pinball than it has any right to.
Today on the Space-Biff! Space-Cast!, Dan Thurot is joined by TauCeti Deichmann to discuss his confusingly titled real-time asymmetrical science fiction trade game, Faraway Convergence! I mean Constellation Meeting! I mean Sidereal Confluence! There it is. Listen in as we discuss the game’s origins, its intricate negotiations, and how rational actors would easily arrange better trade deals than humans.
Upon critiquing Tournament at Camelot/Avalon, you could say I was eager for Ken Shannon’s next design. When I heard about Ettin, which merged one of my favorite genres with a mode of play I hadn’t encountered before, I was practically buzzing.
After playing Ettin a number of times, I can definitively claim that it’s appropriately titled. As a two-headed monster, it’s not always easy to tell which direction it wants to travel. Although that isn’t always a bad thing. Only when the goofier head is in charge.
Comparatively speaking, Ken Shannon, Jody Barbessi, and Karen Boginski’s Tournament at Avalon is largely identical to their earlier Tournament at Camelot. They’re both trick-taking games with an Arthurian twist, they both tend to go wild halfway through, and as a result of said wildness they both occasionally require minor clarifications. In fact, they’re so similar that it’s possible to blend them together for even less certainty and greater player counts. Most of the time, the only way to identify what belongs to which is to look for the microscopic “A” adorning the bottom corner of Avalon’s cards, like telling apart identical twins via their disparate blemishes.
Which makes it doubly strange to point out that I heartily recommend one and only reservedly appreciate the other. But before we get to that, let’s talk about what all these tournaments are for in the first place.
There’s an old adage I just made up about how you shouldn’t play a favorite designer’s games in reverse, as the process will only result in disappointment. After being totally smitten by Jon Perry’s Air, Land, & Sea, I was immediately drawn to his previous game, Time Barons. Perry co-created this one with Derek Yu, whose name you might recognize from I’m O.K., in which you murder and urinate on video game designers in order to poke fun at anti-game crusader and huckster attorney Jack Thompson. If only Yu’s lesser-known Spelunky had been his defining work instead.
Anyway. I’m happy to announce that my old adage isn’t worth beans. Time Barons rules. With some considerable provisos.
I liked The Expanse. Quite a bit, actually. Now it has an expanse-ion called Doors and Corners. And although expanse-ions aren’t always as interesting to review — especially when they’re a pile of modules that you can add or ignore as you please — this is my comprehensive take on every single tidbit. Think of it like six micro-reviews, beginning with:
New Board: It’s more colorful, but the extra pop unfortunately makes the resource nodes a little harder to see. Then again, it’s more colorful. Final Score: That random spy from near the end of the first season of the TV series. You know, the guy played by the actor who was also Adam Jensen from the new Deus Ex games. As in, I could take it or leave it.
Variable Setup: Here’s my question: Why? I guess if you’re bored of the initial game’s setup, this lets you tinker with that. But the board state can change its mind so quickly and so radically that I don’t really see the appeal. Final Score: Dumb Jim Holden.