Joel Toppen’s Navajo Wars: A History of the American Southwest, 1598-1864 is the story of the slow-motion apocalypse of a people. The game is, as you might guess from the title, about the Navajo (Dine) people of the American Southwest and their struggle to maintain their families, culture and ways of life in the face of Spanish, Mexican and American encroachment. Long before Kit Carson comes onto the scene during the Civil War to rope the Navajo onto a reservation, it’s clear that this is not a battle the Dine are going to win. This is, quite wilfully, a game about the twilight of these people and your success in guiding their fate is measured by a degree of inevitable failure. The game has much in common with other card-driven wargames in that specific historical beats, personalities and turns of events are unavoidable and your ability to anticipate and mitigate the script of history is critical. But it doesn’t really play like anything descended from We The People.
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.
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.
Everybody Wants to Rule the World, according to a well-known song from a band hailing from my home town. Well now you can experience ruling a small part of it, at least, with Democracy 3.
The new game screen gives you a choice of western nations to choose from, but it’s deceptive: your pick has very little impact on the game. Curiously for a game with this title, the actual different models of democracy like first past the post and proportional representation aren’t modeled at all. Rather, this is a game about the act of governance itself, of raising and spending revenue for the good (or otherwise) of your citizens.
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…
Nintendo’s new Steel Diver: Sub Wars, a freemium 3DS release, is one of the best and most unique games I’ve played in a while. In contrast to the original Steel Diver, which was a quiet, molasses-slow 2D vehicle shooter, the new game is a quiet, molasses-slow 3D vehicle shooter. There are a smattering of single-player, objective based missions with multiple difficulties and medals for performance but the four-on-four team multiplayer submarine battles are the main attraction. Don’t think this is another deathmatch. This game doesn’t care about how fast your twitch reflexes are and there’s not a thousand variations of a machine gun to put in your loadout and there are no killperks or whatever to choose from. What this game prioritizes are patience, suspense, nerve and sheer cunning. Continue Reading…
It was the blind cruelty of mathematics that got me in the end.
Shelter is a game which aims unapologetically for your hearstrings. From the outset where you, a badger mother in charge of five cubs, must help a sick cub before you can leave your flooding burrow, it tries to make you fraught with the responsibility of caring for these helpless little bundles of fur.
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.
My son River (four) has this thing that he does where he will sneak into our bedroom in the morning and steal my iPhone. Usually he’ll play Lego Star Wars or one of the awesome Rayman runners I keep on it- he has good taste in games. Last week, I woke up and I heard him in his room laughing and his sister, Scarlett (two) was in there giggling as well. I had no idea what was going on. So I crept down the hall to spy on them and they were both watching the phone, River tapping it furiously. Then I heard a familiar punching sound and I knew what was up.
They were playing Flappy Bird.
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.