I think we’re all mature enough to share a secret. Here it is: I don’t like dungeon crawlers. Not in their purest form. Between the discarded bones and mats of moss, the ground is far too dirty for these old knees. I’d prefer a dungeon stroll.
Last year’s Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade by math nerd Geoff Engelstein was a probabilities superstructure. What first seemed simple — picking which of two random numbers your pinball would hit next — was in fact a long con of ever-deepening regrets. But in a good way. It was a take-backer’s nightmare, a niggling reminder that the human brain has proved inferior to a rodent’s at assessing basic likelihoods. It also felt weirdly like real pinball.
Engelstein’s second stab at the system, Ramp It Up!, is better than the original in every regard. So instead of describing Super-Skill Pinball at its most elemental, let’s take a look at those four new tables.
Christian Marcussen is a name I associate with Sid Meier, and not only because both of his published games, Merchants & Marauders and Clash of Cultures, could be described as adaptations of Sid Meier’s Pirates! and Sid Meier’s Civilization. More than that, it’s because Marcussen has a way of taking big ideas and making them… well, still big, since both games are long-winded, but more compressed, more digestible. More distilled.
Clash of Cultures in particular is one of the finest portrayals of the rise, rise, rise, and earthquakes that beset ancient civilizations. It now has a Monumental Edition from WizKids that preserves all the highs the lows of the original game and its impossible-to-find expansion — and, in some cases, smooths out the original’s rougher corners.
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.