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The “Great” Debate

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The excellent Michael Barnes recently conducted an excellent interview with game designer Reiner Knizia. He’s widely regarded as one of the best game designers ever, but his stock has gone up and down around these parts. Currently, it’s up: something I didn’t realise when I waded in to offer a contrary opinion.

The response begs an interesting question: what do we mean when we say “best” in this context? What qualifies a designer for an epithet of “great”?

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Cracked LCD- Tigris & Euphrates in Review

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Oddly, I have never reviewed one of my favorite games of all time – Reiner Knizia’s seminal Tigris & Euphrates. I bought the game back when it was only available as an import, and I have only just last week let go of my original copy. And that was made possible by Fantasy Flight Games’ latest edition, which is I dare say the definitive edition of the game despite the lack of the classic Doris Matthaus illustrations. This is a superlative reprint and it bodes well for FFG’s “Euro Classics” line, which I insist must be at least partly inspired by my Eurogames Reclamation Project.

If you haven’t played T&E, now is the time to do so. It is a tremendous game. It isn’t hard to see the influence of Sackson’s Acquire (another all time favorite) on the design, but where this game really comes alive is in is theme. Sure, you’re just playing tiles to a grid and there isn’t a lick of flavor text but the narrative is bold and the subtext rich. It’s one of the key games that I think really illustrates the difference between theme and setting, the latter of which most people mistake for theme. Pictures, card text, nomenclature are not theme. The meaning of actions and their resonance in our minds, emotions and hearts are theme. Just like in film or novels. The five star review is over at The Review Corner this week. And yes, the Editor-in-Chief’s name  is still misspelled on the header.

Barnes. Weeks. Knizia. The Interview.

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This interview with Reiner Knizia was Steve Weeks’ idea so credit where credit is due. If you don’t know who Steve is, he is likely one of the most divisive and controversial figures in the bizarro world of online board games discussion. He is also a damn fine podcaster and a genuinely funny guy. I’ve known Steve for years and he asked if I wanted to jump in on this talk with the premier game designer quite possibly of all time. How could I resist?

This is one of the high points of my games writing and commentating career. This is a man who has done some tremendously profound work (Tigris and Euphrates, Ra, Modern Art and something like 600 other titles over 30 years) and who has deeply influenced my own views on the games medium. Particularly in terms of theme (as opposed to setting) and reducing subtextual elements and narrative to essential player actions. And he best games are just really damn fun to play too.

I was completely starstruck at first, but once the ice was broken (the “antichrist” moment), I found Dr. Knizia to be very open, very amicable, very assured and very wise. I could listen to this guy talk about making games all day because I think he is one of the very, very few artists or authors working in this field. What he has to say about games is something everyone interested in the hobby or the medium should be listening to, even 30 years into his career and with a churning flood of games on the market sometimes drowning out his finest achievements- games that are still better than anything else out there decades after release.

But of course, the highlight as you’ll here (other than Steve’s hilarious “Dr. Reiner” song) is when he told me that he had read my “Reiner Knizia: Master of Theme” article right here at No High Scores and that he felt like I had completely put into words how he feels when he’s designing games. I was totally blown away to hear someone I deeply respect and admire say, essentially, “you got it right”.

So have a listen right here.

 

 

Jumping the Shark Podcast #235

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Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This week on Jumping the Shark it’s all E3 2015 all the time as the gang chews over a bunch of new Fallout 4 morsels, Brandon laments that backwards compatibility on the One will in no way improve his life, Holly finds great stories on the show floor, and Todd finds himself feeling joyful about games again (PC Gaming Show excluded).

Thanks for listening! (You can contact Brandon at Brandon at NoHighScores.com/@misterbinky, Todd at Todd at NoHighScores.com/@ubrakto and Holly at @winnersusedrugs.)

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Bolt Thrower: XCOM TBG, Steam Sale, Witcher 3

XCOM The Final Team

My Gamerati series is actually running a bit ahead of my columns here, so this week you get another one! This time it’s deconstructing XCOM: The Board Game.

In the sense of looking, sounding and playing like the original video game XCOM is an abysmal failure. And this is a good thing. There’s no way a tabletop game could try and replicate the bizarre blend of strategy, tactics, economics and role-playing that made the original such fun.

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Cracked LCD- Lift-Off in Review

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I went into Pencil First Games’ Lift-Off: Get Me Off of this Planet expecting – and wanting – a Survive! style family game with some mildly cutthroat action to spice up situational cooperation . Featuring a roughly similar high-level concept wherein each player is tasked with evacuating an imminent disaster site, this title delivers all of the above but it is a somewhat more complicated design. The box suggests that it is for ages 13 and up, which puts it more squarely in the hobby zone rather than the family zone, and as such the design comes across as something like an “advanced” casual game that may be especially appealing for those wanting Parker Brothers accessibility with more gamer-facing elements.

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Bolt Thrower: Gears of War, Bloodborne, Witcher 3

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Welcome to Bolt Thrower, the gaming column that blows your head off. If you’re new to the format, here’s the deal: I link something I’ve written elsewhere and then pontificate a bit on what I’m playing right now that’s not in the review queue.

My link this time round is the first of a new series I’m doing for Gamerati. The column’s called Bytes and Pieces and it’s about dissecting tabletop versions of video game franchises. First under the knife is Gears of War: The Board Game.

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Cracked LCD- Soulfall in Review

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It’s been quite some time since I’ve covered a John Clowdus game. For those uninformed, Mr. Clowdus runs a small, DIY-level company called Small Box Games. His best known, most widely played and critically successful game was Omen: A Reign of War. It’s an exceptional Schotten-Totten/Battline descended two player card game with a sort of classical fantasy setting.  Testament to that game’s ongoing popularity, there’s a new “Omega” edition of it, coming along after a few expansions and enhanced editions but this is a smaller box, somewhat scaled back release- which kind of gets the game back to its roots with just a couple of optional additions. But there’s also a new Small Box Game out and if you’re a fan of Mr. Clowdus’ past work then Soulfall is going to be one you’ll want to check out. Continue Reading…

Jumping the Shark Podcast #234

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Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s the week before E3 so Brandon, Holly and Todd are talking about what they want to see from the big show as well as their reaction to Oculus Rift and Fallout 4. Plus, more Witcher 3 lovin’!

Thanks for listening! (You can contact Brandon at Brandon at NoHighScores.com/@misterbinky, Todd at Todd at NoHighScores.com/@ubrakto and Holly at @winnersusedrugs.)

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Star Wars Armada Wave 1 Review

armada-01

The base set of Armada looked to have the makings of an outstanding game. But it was kind of hard to tell for sure. With just three ships and a handful of fighter squadrons to divide between two sides, all you could do was sense the potential rather than experience it for yourself.

A generous first wave of expansions has now arrived. Each contains a variety of upgrades, many of which can, of course, be used on a variety of ships. And all that extra variety does the job. Armada finally plays like the game that it was shaping up to be.

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