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.
We’re used to seeing massively overblown adjectives in game marketing, so much that we probably tune them out automatically. But when Fantasy Flight decided to describe the new big ships for X-Wing as “Huge Ships”, and the play formats that include them “Epic” and “Cinematic”, they weren’t kidding. These things are colossal.
Indeed the Tantive is so enormous that I actually felt embarassed getting it out and putting it on the table, as though I were some rich kid with a box of ridiculously overpriced toys flaunting it in front of his friends.
Which I was, of course, but that just made it worse.
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.
Foxtrot Games’ first release, Relic Expedition, is a great looking game. The graphic design is striking, modern and everything from the color palette to the layouts to the font choices shows good taste. Along with a basic rulebook, it also includes a sort of diegetic, pocket-sized “field guide” for the game’s more granular rules and it features some really nice naturalist-style illustrations of the various animals that menace or harass the jungle-jaunting adventurers. The equipment tokens all look like embroidered merit badges. I even love the company’s logo- a stylized, geometric fox head. But looks aren’t everything, and I can’t very well give Relic Expedition the nod if the quality of the gameplay doesn’t match up with its pulchritude. Continue Reading…
Kickstarter’s sewage flow of dungeon crawling steampunk space marine versus Nazi Cthulhu zombies continues to beg money out of the hobby, Ameritrash is dead and El Grande- one of the best games ever published- is out of print. If you’re not on the mill for one of the expansion-based product lines, you’re behind the curve. Sure, there might be a new Uwe Rosenberg game, but how many times do you need to make cubes of one color turn into cubes of another? Welcome to board gaming circa 2014, where the Cult of the New rat race is at a fever pitch and more and more, the grand history of hobby games is slipping into the past as the scramble is on for next week’s game night sensation. There has never been a better time to drop out, to give the middle finger to the endless streams of detritus flooding the market today, and to get back to playing great vintage games- including those great German family games and Eurogame designs that got unfairly tossed out when everybody got excited about anything with plastic gumball machine figures in the box back during the mid-2000s.
So here is your introduction to my new ongoing series, the Eurogames Reclamation Project. Over the past several months, I’ve been trading and buying my way into some games that I played, enjoyed and passed on before boardgamegeek.com was even a twinkle in Scott Alden’s eye. I’ve been discovering that classic Eurogames- I’m not talking about the funless, post-Princes of Florence style of game that favors following the rules correctly over player interaction and competition- are disappearing from print and are really kind of regarded as past their prime. It’s the exact same situation that classic Ameritrash games were in ten years ago. And just like games that had been shunted off as “old” back then, titles like Fury of Dracula and Dungeonquest, these games are well worth rediscovering in a contemporary context. For my part, I’ve been finding that I actually appreciate some of these games more than I did when I originally played them as far back as almost 20 years ago. Continue Reading…
Making a claim that it is “the one hour wargame”, Ars Victor doesn’t make a very convincing case for itself with its tagline. It’s almost like advertising a title as “the wargame with chits” at this point in the genre’s evolution. There are tons of one hour tactical wargames ranging from any of the Commands and Colours titles to Jeff Horger’s Manoeuvre to Conflict of Heroes to the Pocket Battles series and on through to lesser lights like the Mythic Battles line. This class of game has been very popular over the past ten years and, for many game players, it’s also a class that has become redundant. So Ars Victor, designed by the very enthusiastic Stephen DeBaun, has its work cut out for itself. It needs to prove that it can stand next to some of the one-hour titans, it has to evidence differentiators that set it apart from the pack and if it’s going to be eligible to be considered THE one hour wargame- it’s got to be awesome. Continue Reading…
Cracked LCD- Inside AEG’s Summer Releases Box (Doomtown, Sail to India, Mai-Star, Valley of the Kings, etc.)
Here’s a little “inside baseball” about the games review racket. Most publishers, especially the smaller guys, you need to email or call and ask for press copies. It’s somewhat humiliating in a way, going out with hat in hand to ask for a free game but the game makers benefit from the press more than a reviewer benefits from a free game. But some of the companies have bona fide press lists, and they send out press packages and unsolicited promos. Sometimes, this is a great thing because you get to see games ahead of release and it gives you lots of material for the next several articles. But sometimes, it feels like this huge obligation- particularly if you’re being sent games that you don’t want to cover.
Fortunately, AEG does good press packages and even though I’m pledged to impartiality and I’m not swayed by swag I appreciate their generosity. It shows that they respect reviewers and understand their part in the marketing process. There’s a new AEG box with their summer releases packed in it that I got a couple of weeks ago so I thought I’d just review the whole damn thing in one swing. Continue Reading…
British people of a certain age tend to regard children’s animators Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate as minor deities, so totally did their wonderful conjurations dominate the world of kids TV in the 70′s. Dizzying edifices of imagination and storytelling, built on Firmin’s instantly recognisable art and Postgate’s incomparable animation, they remain a colossal founding pillar of my childhood.
Now here there is a game, a modern game, based on my most cherished of all their creations: Ivor the Engine. It’s here, in my hands. This is going to go very well, or very badly.
Gale Force Nine’s Firefly board game was last year’s surprise hit- for me, at least, because I wasn’t much of a Firefly fan before playing the game. I’m still not exactly what you’d call a “Browncoat”, but I loved the game’s rigorously fan-pleasing attention to bringing forward the show’s space cowboy/pirate concept to the table. I also especially liked that it was very much a game about commerce and crew. “Find a crew, get a job, keep flying” is what it says right on the box and that’s exactly what you do for more or less all of the games two or three hour duration. The Breakin’ Atmo expansion, which was a small box that added some new jobs and supply cards, was a nice low-cost but slight addition. I definitely recommend it for fans, but for those looking for something that substantially changes the game, look no further than the new Pirates and Bounty Hunters expansion. It’s out in stores now for $30 or less and it is money well spent if you find yourself wishing that Firefly had more, well, disagreeable behavior in it. Continue Reading…
Of all the lies that are told in the context of board gaming, the biggest and most odorous are those printed on boxes alongside the legend “playing time”. Yet even amongst this exalted company, Eight-Minute Empire reaches new heights of outrage. Whatever it says on the box, the rules inside freely admit that it’s probably three whole times as much as claimed, and my experience supports that.
Of course, that’s still only twenty to thirty minutes. So I might be over-egging this pudding just a little.