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.
There’s something perfect about the eco-terrorist baddies of Mark Thomas and Pete Ruth’s SEAL Team Flix. Maybe it’s because they’re a throwback to Rainbow Six, a reminder of the tactical shooter’s spy thriller roots. Or maybe it’s because they’re threatening and preposterous in equal measure, a tightrope act between deadly serious and clowning silliness. Much like SEAL Team Flix itself, come to think of it.
Either way, ring the wedding bells and fetch the preacher, because I’m in love.
James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse occupies a strange place in my heart. The first novel, Leviathan Wakes, I proclaim as brilliant without reservation, capturing a lot of what science fiction does best — plausible speculation and wonderment tempered by existential smallness — without veering too far in the direction of “hard” and becoming a boring high school chemistry lesson crammed with non-characters. On the other hand, main star Captain James Holden is the galaxy’s biggest dummy, pretty much just allying with whichever charismatic leader he’s most recently spoken with. Then again, space Mormons.
At any rate, my enthusiasm for the books — and to a lesser extent the TV show — was enough that the announcement of a board game adaptation aroused my interest. Even better when I learned it would be helmed by Geoff Engelstein, the mind who dreamed up Space Cadets, its hilarious Dice Duel sequel, and the ever-reliable The Dragon & Flagon.
I’m in love with a cube-pusher.
On paper, the pitch for Assault of the Giants sounds downright mighty. Set in fantastical Faerûn, recognizable to many as the principal setting of Dungeons & Dragons, everyone is cast as their own clan of giants, each with their own strengths and… well, “weaknesses” probably isn’t the right word when we’re talking about giants. We’ll call them “lesser strengths.”
Turns out that giants are organized into a continent-spanning caste system, ranging from the high-and-mighty storm giants at the top all the way down to the untouchable hill giants at the bottom. With the old hierarchy crumbling, it’s time for all six clans to come together to have a calm and reasoned discussion about parliamentary procedure and caste reform. That, or smash the pickle juice out of each other until somebody new stands atop the heap.