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Space Alert Review


The world of board games is a largely cerebral one, even at the thinnest end. For most games, physical appreciation begins and ends with the tactile nature of the pieces. But just occasionally, you’ll find a game that breaks out of your head and into your body. The first one I discovered was Labyrinth, which made me feel queasy as I planned massive terrorist outrages across the globe. Space Alert is the second. Space Alert gave me indigestion.

After playing nonstop for several hours – a large number of games since most last only 20-20 minutes, I lay in my bed and failed miserably to sleep as stress and adrenaline coursed through my nerves and acid ate away at my intestine. I wasn’t sure if what I’d just experienced was fun or not, but it was certainly powerful, and utterly unique.

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Cracked LCD: Theseus: The Dark Orbit in Review


When I first played Michal Oracz’s Theseus: The Dark Project I scrambled for references to try to quantify the experience.  I attempted to draw some kind of tenuous connection to Mr. Oracz’s previous success, a little game known as Neuroshima Hex. But that failed, apart from the fact that both are highly abstract, tactical games. I tried to parse how a game that I thought was going to be some kind of Space Hulk thing turned out to be so strange,  with unusually restrictive rules and often inflexible gameplay yet with an ample sense of theme and setting. The mechanics were from out of nowhere- I couldn’t draw a sensible lineage to anything other than Manacala, of all things. My initial reaction is best summed up as “what in the hell was that?”

And that, readers, is an awesome feeling.

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Cracked LCD- Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy in Review


In case you haven’t noticed, Polish publishers Portal have been doing some pretty interesting board games over the past several years, reaching back to the widely beloved Neuroshima Hex on through last year’s smash Robinson Crusoe. For the next two weeks, I’ll be taking a look at two of their most recent issues. First up is Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy, a worker placement game with a surprisingly compelling thematic conceit. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Space Cadets Dice Duel in Review




What if Star Fleet Battles, one of the most notoriously inaccessible and complicated games in all of the hobby, were a real-time party game best played at full volume by a large group of rowdy, not-shy-at-all tabletop hooligans? The answer is that it would probably be something like Geoff and Sydney Englestein’s Space Cadets: Dice Duels. In this new title from Stronghold Games, two teams of two to four players each are tasked with commandeering spaceships that looks an awful, awful lot like the U.S.S. Defiant from Deep Space Nine. The high level concept is that each team member manages one or more command stations on their ship, using power generated and distributed by the Engineering officer to accomplish the particular tasks assigned to their post. The goal is to maneuver your way into (or out of) firing solutions and torpedo the crap out of the other team’s ship.  The ship that deals out four points of damage to the other wins the game.

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Now Playing: Lords of Waterdeep

Lords of Waterdeep - a European style worker placement game made by an American company for a fantasy setting

At a pre-Christmas gathering, I ended up chatting to a friend about worker placement games, as you do. He’d enjoyed a lot of Puerto Rico and Agricola with his family but, it transpired, he’d never played Lords of Waterdeep, which I’d been playing loads of on the iPad.

So the next time I visited, I took it round, Skullport and all. We threw in both expansions and played a six-player game. It turned out to be quite a ride: I drew a lord card that got a bonus for each building owned and focused on that instead of quests. As a result I lagged way behind the leader for the whole game, was able to deflect attention away from myself when take-that opportunities came up and then got a truly massive end-game bonus that tied me for the win, only to lose the tiebreaker.

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Cracked LCD- Another AEG Review Rodeo

aeg rodeo

I received another one of AEG’s care packages late last year (delivered to the wrong address, as usual) and I’ve finally gotten around to playing through their most recent review copy bounty. For some reason, I was shorted Cheaty Mages which sucks because I was really looking forward to it, but beggar-critics can’t be choosers.  So here are three capsule reviews of some recent AEG releases.

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Cracked LCD- Eight Minute Empires: Legends in Review


One of the things that I’ve come to value the most about modern board game design is minimalism. Mind you, I still hold a great deal of respect for the sometimes tremendously complex games upon which hobby gaming was built and I still enjoy more detailed, rules-heavy games. But when a game distills the practical essence of a process or even an entire genre down to its barest essentials, I believe what we’re looking at is a highly evolved example of progress in game design. As things get smaller, a lot of dead weight and relatively unimportant content tends to be sloughed off. When minimalist design is at its finest, we get a game like Intrige or Love Letter. Games with zero fat, focused on gameplay rather than elaboration. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Battle for Souls in Review

battle for souls

When I emailed Robert Burke, designer of Battle for Souls to shamelessly ask for a review copy, he responded that he had sold through what the Kickstarter campaign had allowed him to print but he was more than happy to comply. It seems that he had several game reviewers actually decline the opportunity to review the game because of its subject matter. Naturally, I wanted to review it because of the subject matter. And because any game that uses William Blake paintings has got to have something to recommend it. Continue Reading…

Robinson Crusoe Review


Mostly, I’m not a big fan of co-operative games. Games suffer terribly without the unpredictability and skill of human opposition, and the whole genre sometimes looks like a collection of semi-functional attempts to solve this big, blaring problem.

But there are a very few that make my grade. And I’ve noticed they tend to have certain things in common: they allow plenty of scope of individual player decision making in the face of the group, offer some sort of simple AI-like mechanics that make it look like the game is reacting to your decisions and have a deep well of variety to add to the narrative and keep things unpredictable.

But the most important quality of all is balancing the need for transparent mechanics that allow for strategic decisions with a strong wind of chance to make sure the game doesn’t become a mere logic puzzle. Lean too far in the former direction and you might as well be solving co-operative Su-doku with your friends. Too far in the latter and you might as well co-operatively shoot craps. It’s a hard, hard proportion to get right and none of the co-ops I’ve played so far, even my favourites, have quite got it right. Until I played Robinson Crusoe.

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Cracked LCD- Tash-Kalar in Review

tash kalar

If I’m going to be charitable about Tash-Kalar: Arena of Ancients, I’ll state that it’s a highly experimental and sometimes oddly compelling design that feels like superstar designer Vlaada Chvatil test-driving some  new concepts somewhat outside of his comfort zone. If I’m going to be a little more direct about it, I’m going to declare that Tash-Kalar is an awkward and frequently fumbling attempt at applying both conceptual and executive level theme to an abstract game that mechanically is no more specific than Checkers. If I’m going to be dead level honest about the new Czech Games Edition/Z-Man title, I’ll tell you straight up that it is agonizing to play. And not in a good way.

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