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Cracked LCD- Homeland in Review

Homeland_Game_Layout-1024x682

I’m going to skip the usual “Gale Force 9 is so great” preamble and cut right to it, their new release Homeland is the first great game of 2015. It is a title that anyone still playing Battlestar Galactica or caught up in the current trend in simpler social deduction/treachery games should seriously look into purchasing for their group. As with all of GF9’s past releases, Homeland is based on a television series but that doesn’t really matter. The design team- also responsible for Spartacus, Firefly and Sons of Anarchy- understands that theme isn’t just pictures and text on cards. It’s what the gameplay represents and how it represents it. If, like me, you’ve never seen a single minute of the titular show it does not matter. What matters is that it is a stunning espionage game rife with suspicion, paranoia and selfishness in the ostensible name of national security. What’s more, the theme of information- acquiring it, exploiting it, manipulating it and fabricating it- comes across as strongly and as profoundly as any other theme I’ve ever seen in a board game. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Mythotopia in Review

mythotopia

I thought A Few Acres of Snow was decent, but it felt like yet another Martin Wallace game in that it had some really solid core mechanics, a good sense of setting and a “medium rare” degree of doneness. Wallace’s games often also have some incongruously clumsy elements- like putting 16 cards on the table laden with text that players just kind of need to know in order to choose one effectively. It was my hope that Mythotopia would smooth over some of the more flakey elements (including that notorious “Halifax Hammer”) while also expanding the player count to include three and four player count options.

Mythotopia is almost hilariously underdressed in terms of setting. There’s a bit of fluff text that means nothing and a landmass with a couple of islands, lakes and mountain ranges representing some kind of fantasy empire. I almost think that Wallace is playing some kind of actually pretty funny joke here- the territory names are hysterical, the kinds of nonsense words you might have given to a country in a D&D campaign you ran in fifth grade. There is Fadge, which in our games has officially been dubbed the Duchy of Fadge. I imagine the lands of Remise to be pretty depressing. Maybe there is some kind of rivalry between Grimp and Darb? Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Onward to Venus in Review

Onward-to-Venus-box-and-contents

There are two new games out from Martin Wallace’s homegrown imprint Treefrog and I will be covering both with Onward to Venus up first. The other is Mythotopia, a sort of redevelopment of his earlier hit deckbuilding war game A Few Acres of Snow, but this time without the dreaded “Halifax Hammer” exploit and a very lightly applied fantasy setting. Spoiler, I like both games. And both definitely have that Wallace touch- meaning that they have elements that feel oddly underdeveloped given the designer’s talent and attention to thematic details. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Fantastiqa in Review

fantastiqa

Alf Seegert’s Fantastiqa wasn’t a game that I had much interest in, and I actually didn’t even really know that much about it other than it was yet another Kickstarter title with a ton of irritating micro-expansions and it was pulling in twice its retail value in the aftermarket following its release in 2012. I knew it was a deckbuilder, but wasn’t particularly keen on bringing in a new game in that genre with Dominion suddenly getting some renewed interest with the people I play games with. Gryphon Games did a reprint late last year, but they did something unusual with it. They took out a couple of extravagances like the board and pared down the number of cards to create a “Rucksack” edition for general release. It turned up at one of the retailers I frequent and looking it over, two things struck me. One was that it used actual artwork- not unlike last year’s Battle for Souls- and it was fantasy alright but more along the lines of Lewis and Carroll than Tolkien and Howard. It was fairly inexpensive and it was the holidays, so I took a chance.

Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Eldritch Horror in (very late) Review

 

eldritch

When Fantasy Flight Games announced Eldritch Horror, a new game in its Arkham Horror line that appeared to be a simpler version of what had become a bloated shoggoth of a game after nearly a decade’s worth of expansions (including an expansion for all of the expansions), I was one of those people that scoffed at it. Who needs or wants a redevelopment of a redevelopment? Aside from that, at that point I was pretty much over anything to do with HP Lovecraft and the whole Cthulhu Mythos. I’ve been reading that stuff and playing games either based on or inspired by all of it for practically my entire life. In fact, one of the earliest stories I remember from Kindergarten was a book-on-record adaptation of “The Outsider”. Lovecraft fatigue aside, I’ve been burned out on FFG’s house style of flavor text-as-theme and endless piles of cards with overwrought illustrations on them for a couple of years now. If ever there were a game that I didn’t feel had a place in my collection, it was Eldritch Horror. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Return to Heroscape

heroscape

 

I’ve had an unusual relationship with Heroscape, the Hasbro-produced miniatures battle game with modular, plastic terrain that landed on mass-market shelves way back in 2003. I remember distinctly driving around to Target stores across Atlanta that summer once word was out online that it was available. I never, ever under any circumstance shop at Wal-Mart but I had a moment of weakness after coming up empty at so many stories, and of course that was where I found the last copy in town. I opened it in the car and was kind of blown away by what all you got for $40- remember, this was before pre-painted miniatures were a thing and at this time, $50 at a hobby shop would get you a nice big game, but one that was all cardboard and maybe some wood. Flipping through the rules, I was surprised at how the advanced rules had some tried-and-true hobby gaming concepts- line of sight, special abilities, zones of control and elevation.

 

I played it with a couple of friends, whose opinions ranged from “I’m buying five sets of this tomorrow” to “meh, would rather play 40k”. For my part, I thought the game was revolutionary- a thoroughly accessible miniatures game that deftly absolved the genre of its traditional barriers to entry (modeling/painting, terrain, complexity, financial commitment) while offering a truly innovative, almost proto-Minecraft system for custom playfield construction. It felt like the kind of game that makes kids game players, the kind of game that had that X factor, the kind of game that had the potential to be another Dungeons & Dragons or Magic the Gathering. I wrote a review of the game and posted it to Boardgamegeek.com, and it landed me my first job at a magazine. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Imperial Assault in Review

 

angry mob

Uh oh. It’s the angry mob picture. That means that I’m about to issue forth with an unpopular opinion. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Barnes’ Best 2014

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Unlike 2013, where I found myself locked in an introspective debate over what game was the best of 2013 and arriving at a Triple Crown choice of three, I knew what 2014’s Game of the Year was almost literally as soon as I held the box. But we’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s rhapsodize about the year that was and roll out the Barnes’ Best shortlist. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Sun Tzu in Review

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Almost ten years ago, I got a little game published by Jolly Roger in stock at my brick and mortar store, Atlanta Game Factory. It was called Dynasties, designed by Al Newman, and it was a crackerjack little two player Dudes on a Map game that played in less than 30 minutes plus whatever overage that the inevitable rematches incurred. Among my employees and a few of our regulars, it was very much a go-to game, a pick-up-and-play title that was damn easy to teach and with ample depth- and drama- to maintain interest. It is also possessed of a critical quality that defines a great two player design- the parallel curves of game knowledge and skill. Once players know the cards and understand the importance of bluffing against that knowledge, it becomes very much a tense game of nerves, daring and the occasional surprise round that sweeps the board and makes for an exciting finish.

But I had this game figured as one of those more obscure minor releases that would have its time, fade out and be remembered fondly despite a European release in 2010. I never expected to see a new US edition of it, let alone a very nice new issue out by Matagot (the folks that do Kemet and Cyclades) and published in the US by Asmodee. The new edition is called Sun Tzu, and it maintains the original game’s Imperial China setting. Sun Tzu and King Chu are the rivals in a blue versus red struggle for five provinces in the Chinese empire. Everything about this edition is bigger and bolder. It now feels like a natural fit for the Matagot line and fans of modern, innovative Dudes on a Map games will find much to enjoy here. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Sheriff of Nottingham in Review

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I played Hart an der Grenze some years ago with a friend who has since become something of a mover and a shaker in the games business. He kept raving about this “Mexican suitcase game” that was about smuggling goods across the border in tin suitcases. It was also, effectively, a game about customs declarations. It was cute, definitely one of those one-shot “stunt” productions that winds up going out of print and vanishing into obscurity- while going up in value. I didn’t really like the game all that much. At the time, I felt like it was one of those games that had both too much and too little game onto which it was trying to pin its friction and fiction. But it just didn’t engage me. It was back in 2006, so we hadn’t even gotten to Battlestar Galactica and the countless other games that have followed in its wake where straight-faced lying is an impetus.

And now the game is back in a new edition from Arcane Wonders, the folks that do Mage Wars. It’s part of a “Dice Tower Essentials” line vetted by the most popular pundit of modern hobby gaming, Tom Vasel. The new edition is obviously recast with a new setting, handsomely produced with velvety envelopes (with snap closures and screen-printed game logos, no less) instead of the suitcases and the concept is changed so that players are merchants attempting to get illegal goods past the titular lawman of Robin Hood lore. Apples, chickens, cheese and bread make up the legal sandwich. But crossbows, mead, pepper and silk are the items that the corrupt sheriff is looking to confiscate. Continue Reading…

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