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Cracked LCD- Impulse in Review


Five words sum up Impulse, a new card game from Carl Chudyk and Asmadi Game: deconstructed, minimalist, innovative, stark and idiosyncratic. All of these words could also be used to describe Mr. Chudyk’s previous game Innovation, a cleanly filed-down civ-building design that reduced the genre to little more than the effects of technologies over the course of time. With Impulse, the designer is compressing another sprawl-prone game type into a shockingly compact, lean card game and the results are sometimes baffling, sometimes stunning. Impulse is a 4x (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) space empires game in the vein of Twilight Imperium or Eclipse but divested of a metric ton of fat, fluff and filler. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Reiner Knizia, Master of Theme


Over the past year, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and re-thinking about what makes a game “thematic” versus “abstract. I reached a certain impasse, a level of dissatisfaction with games that were regarded by gamers with the dreadful “dripping with theme” appellation, which almost always means that a game has plentiful artwork, nomenclature and lore regardless of the relative interchangeability of mechanics derived from a stock list of routine processes and procedures. I’ve argued in the past that there are levels of theme occurring at “executive” (illustration and fluff) and “conceptual” (mechanics and contexts) levels. But a few games that I’ve been revisiting of late have caused me to completely rewrite the Barnes Position on theme in games- where it exists, what generates it and what it should be doing as part of a design.

It may surprise many readers, who have bought into a certain online gamer forum party line, that all of these games were designed by Reiner Knizia. For as far back as I can remember- going back to newsgroup at least- the general consensus was that Dr. Knizia was the case study for the pasted-on theme, a layer of pictures and text to impart a post facto sense of meaning or setting to colored, numbered cards or auctions.

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Why the Internet is Full of $#!t About Destiny’s Story

Destiny-Logo-XBox-One-PS4Like many of you, I’ve been playing Destiny. I’ve mostly retired from playing AAA video games for a number of reasons documented here at NHS and elsewhere, but a new game from the creators of Halo was compelling enough to get me to go to Gamestop- for the midnight release, no less- to pick up a copy of this big-budget blockbuster. Because Bungie understands video games better than many other developers. They understand play, and the Halo games have always excelled at providing players with lots of ways to engage their content. Their mechanics are impeccable and their games are thankfully free of the kinds of negative, hateful “let the bodies hit the floor” style violence so common in other popular action games.

But one thing Bungie has never been good at is telling a story.

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Cracked LCD- Eurogames Reclamation Project #4: El Grande

el grande

“The Big”.

That’s what my friend said, translating the title, when we sat down to play El Grande at a convention back in the late 1990s. I really had no idea what we were in for based on the scowling Spanish aristocrats on the board, the wooden tower, the piles of wooden cubes, secret selection discs, mobile scoreboards and of course the rather phallic titular pawn. I played that first game in utter confusion, the lack of clarity afforded by a couple of $12 hotel bar Long Island Iced Teas notwithstanding. I distinctly recall feeling like the game was somehow important and austere, but with a nasty edge when somebody’s caballeros suddenly turned up in your area and took the place over. The next day, I found a copy in the dealer’s room. It was in German and I paid too much for it. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Spurs: A Tale in the Old West in Review


Spurs: A Tale in the Old West, new from Mr. B Games, is a fairly light adventure game with an all-too-rare American West setting and a structure that is pulled straight from Red Dead Redemption and other open-world video games. Each player takes on the role of a western archetype (Lawman, Gunslinger, Bandit and so forth) and travels around a small map to reach quest markers. You might find yourself hunting animals to sell their pelts back in town, tracking down gangs of desperadoes or bringing fellow players to justice that have done bad things like robbing the bank or victimizing local ranchers. Mine for gold, and you’ll be drawing plastic nuggets out of a bag. Try to corral cattle or break a horse and you’ll do so in a die-rolling minigame. You might get bit by a rattlesnake, involved in a brawl with a drunk down at the saloon or get hired to escort a stagecoach from one town to another.

All of the above has likely set many gamers’ mouths to “salivate” because there simply aren’t enough games with this kind of setting, and it’s quite fitting that the game is designed by Ole Steinness (with Mr. B. Games’ Sean Brown). Mr. Steinness was responsible for one of last year’s big surprises, the modern cop co-op Police Precinct. The two designs don’t really have much in common except in one key aspect. They are both fun, unique games with under-represented settings that unfortunately fall short of pushing into “must-play” territory due to some bland design choices and a lack of polish. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Eurogames Reclamation Project #3: Bohnanza


It’s 1997, I’m at Dragon Con in the gaming area at a random table I sat down at, and I’m dealt a hand of cards with German words on them and cartoon pictures of these bean characters. Beans. I start rifling through the cards and the guy teaching the game stops me. “No no no! You have to keep the cards in the order you get them, don’t change the order of them in your hand!” Right off the bat, this game is making a bad impression with the silly bean-people and this bizarre rule that defies the natural instincts of anyone who has ever played a card game of any type. My shirtless, leather bracers-wearing friend that fancies himself a modern barbarian leans over and says “Mike, I don’t know about this one.” I promise him that we’ll play Dungeonquest afterwards. I don’t want him to leave me alone at a table of strangers playing a game about bean farming. An hour or so later, we’re in the dealer’s room forking over the bucks for a copy of the game from a vendor that had some import copies. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem in Review

sons of anarchy

Gale Force Nine’s crack in-house team of Dill, Kovaleski and Sweigart turned out Spartacus in 2012, Firefly in 2013 and now in 2014 they’ve hit paydirt again with yet another TV show-based title. Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem is going to cement this publisher and these designers among the absolute best working in the business today. The GF9 gang has turned in what is quite likely the best crime-themed board game published to date. It doesn’t matter if your experience with Sons of Anarchy is that you’ve followed it since its debut in 2008, if you binge-watched the entire series on Netflix last week, or if you have no idea what SAMCRO stands for. The universal themes of intimidation, exploitation, gang rivalry, illegal enterprise and explosive violence should appeal to anyone interested in the entertainment value of bad people doing bad things.

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Cracked LCD- Korean Dexterity Games (Click Clack Lumberjack, Coconuts) in Review

dex games

One of the things that having small children makes you realize is that simple games where the fun is easy to get to without a bunch of hobby-work. You start to value games that don’t require a significant investment of time or effort beyond the reach of your young ones. My children are four and a half and two weeks shy of three so they are not exactly anywhere in age range of playing Robinson Crusoe or Mage Knight with dad. I try to find them games that I think will immediately grab them, entertain them for 15 to 20 minutes, and leave us all smiling. But I also want games that I can appreciate as an adult game player. Dexterity games- at least some of the simpler, action-oriented ones are often a good common ground. Recently I picked up a couple of Korean action titles published in the US by Mayday Games, best known for producing card sleeves in non-standard sizes, questionable Kickstarters and Crokinole boards of reportedly table-damaging low quality. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Eurogames Reclamation Project #2: Modern Art


Inevitably, the player new to Reiner Knizia’s 1992 masterpiece Modern Art will look at the card on the auction block depicting an intentionally ugly painting and ask “how much should I bid?” I love this moment because it is an opportunity for the theme in one of the most strongly themed games ever designed to come through. This is a game- almost a satire, in fact- about speculative markets, phony hype and artificially inflating the value of worthless things. True, there are a couple of data points on which to hang an estimated possible return on investment, but ultimately the genius of Modern Art is that the players, representing gallery owners, determine what initially valueless bad art is actually worth.

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Cracked LCD- Thunder Alley in Review

thunder alley 2

Thunder Alley is the new NASCAR-style stock car racing game from GMT and in the blink of an eye this 250 MPH masterpiece has become one of the best racing games that I’ve ever played. It’s a brilliant piece of design that nails down the most important elements drivers at Talledega or Daytona experience while also creating compelling spaces for tactical movement decisions and coordinated, team-focused gameplay. It is a design clearly descended from Wolfgang Kramer’s card-driven race designs, wherein cardplay often demands that players weigh the decision to move cars that are not their own in order to gain ground themselves.

This kind of gameplay based around mutual movement also creates an important sense of pace and forward velocity that sometimes feels like you’re right on the edge of losing control. It’s exhilarating, as far as board games can possibly be, to pull off that perfect play where you pull out of the pack with a couple of drafting teammates and put your cars into the lead with tires burning and transmissions screaming in denial. But then on the next turn someone else nudges you out of the way and you fall back. Indeed, rubbin’ is racing in Thunder Alley.

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