I am alive.
My wardrobe is full of spaceships. So many spaceships that there’s barely room for clothes. Most of them live in an enormous box which crushes my shirts out of all recognition when it’s squeezed in and out for play. It’s a good job I play with spaceships a lot more than I wear shirts.
Having a cupboard crammed with spaceships is awesome, but it’s also a little tiring. Each comes with cardboard and plastic that must be meticulously selected and laid out before playing. That was, up until recently, where most of the game was in x-wing, and that’s sad. What was sadder is how often I’d ruin the suspension of disbelief just to make a better list.
So, how ya been?
If you’re reading this, you either still have an RSS subscription or you are ridiculously dedicated. Either way, hat tip!
Obviously there done be some tumbleweeds blowing through this here site, along with a couple of rather lengthy outages. If you ventured here and wondered why the site was janky, or flat out missing, I am sorry about that, and about the rather haphazard theme presentation currently in place. (The old one broke with one of the WordPress updates. Brian did his best to provide a quick fix so that at least the old place remains accessible.) I’d say we’re going to get that fixed, but at this point you know as well as I that we’ve largely moved on to Other Things, at least for the time being. That sucks, but this was always an enthusiast endeavor (as opposed to a career), and these things… well, they’re awesome while they last. And damn was this place awesome.
I’ve been poking through the archives this past week and we put up some amazing constant for those few years we were all active and pushing forward. It was a hell of a thing and, while we made our share of mistakes, I’ll never stop missing that time and all that were a part of it. On the bright side of things, all that fantastic content will remain here and in place for the time being. How long, I can’t say. That’s not so much up to me as, at the end of the day, it’s Bill’s domain and he’s the one who gets the bills. I just wouldn’t anticipate a whole lot of new stuff popping in here going forward, occasional podcast roundups notwithstanding. (JtS does continue on with Brandon, Holly, and me.) If any of the gang drops back in and feels differently about their plans for NHS in 2016, I’m sure they’ll post to say so.
In the meantime, I’ve registered a new domain, ToddsFoolery.com. This isn’t a new venture, or at least it’s not right now. It’s there because I need an online home for all my shit. As I type this, it’s just a re-hash of all my NHS content (with a good chunk of it probably broken in one way or another, given that it’s just a straight import from here), but over the weeks and months ahead I plan to clean that up and build it out as a repository for as much of my written and professional content as I can locate.
Given that all of the pre-NHS outlets I’ve written for through the years have disappeared into the web ether, I need a place I actually own and control and can kinda sorta prove that I’ve been been publishing Things, on and off, for the better part of 20 years. (Not to mention as a way to reference the hundreds of projects I helped publish as an editor for the Pearson Education technology imprint, Que Publishing.) It’s also a place for me to start really mucking around with the nuts and bolts of WordPress, possibly start digging into producing some video, etc. I really don’t know for sure what direction I’ll take it just yet, but as I go forward, if I end up publishing anything new, ToddsFoolery.com will either be the home for it or it’ll be a place where I can link to it.
Although this isn’t meant as a goodbye post, I do want to say that I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed reading the content we’ve posted here as much as I think we all enjoyed bringing it to you. This place had the most amazing audience I’ve ever been a part of (and without question the best collaborators I’ll ever know) and being a part of it will always be a point of pride. I don’t have comments enabled at TF, but if you want to get in touch, please do so any time. You can find me on Twitter @toddsfoolery or via email — Todd at the TF dot com domain. (Or comment here. I’ll keep checking in, but probably won’t post much.)
It’s been a great year for games- and not just because I played and reviewed more this year than I think I ever have before, but because there were a number of really high quality, innovative releases that came both through traditional publishers as well as crowdfunding. My collection has a high turnover rate- I don’t keep games that don’t get played regularly beyond the review period- but this year I found myself constantly struggling with finding space to put new games that I want to keep around for a while.
So of course it’s the last day of the year and it’s time to hand out the Barnes’ Best Awards. This year was pretty tough, and I had something of a dry run with the Win, Place or Show feature I ran over at Miniature Market’s Review Corner. I picked three games there- all three are represented here as well- but I was limited to games that Miniature Market stocks. Which actually cut out my Game of the Year choice. I’m also once again changing the format because I can do that, so that I can make sure that the runners-up get their time to shine. Let’s get right on with it then.
Barnes’ Best Honorable Mentions
These are all great games that I felt deserved at least a curtain call before we hand out the awards and head into 2016.
Broom Service- Like a lot of modern Eurogames, this one made a big splash and then sort of disappeared. It sold out as soon as it came out. It even won the Kennerspiel des Jahres. But it’s quietly shuffled away, out of the limelight. Which is a shame, because this is a charming family game with a toothy edge- and a really cool “brave witch”/”cowardly witch” mechanic driving the action. I still love this game, and I find myself trying to get folks to play it quite a lot. If only my kids were just a little older.
XCOM– It’s kind of been shunted off to the side now, but Eric Lang’s “other” 2015 release was a compelling, innovative game that used an app that everyone worried would be obsolete ten minutes after it was released. This was a cool co-op that tried a few new things…and scared away the old folks. It definitely qualifies for a spot on the list.
Blood Rage– And here is the Eric Lang game that everyone liked. Blood Rage is a stunning piece of design work, demonstrating a level of discipline and restraint rare even in the hybrid sector. It’s more Eurogame than Ameritrash in many ways, but it is just about as bloody and breakneck as any other game out there. A great production rounds out one of the best packages of 2015.
Space Cadets: Away Missions– Dungeoncrawlers were a dime a dozen in 2015, but this is the one that had the most heart and the most fun to offer. The golden age sci-fi setting paired up with a couple of exciting, innovative mechanics made for one of the year’s best examples of the genre.
Argent: The Consortium– Level 99 doesn’t make bad games, I’m convinced. But Argent: The Consortium is the best thing they’ve done to date. This is a heavyweight worker placement game that dares to be openly confrontational, competitive and cutthroat. Rich with detail and narrative, Argent would be the best Harry Potter game of all time…if they had the license.
Evolution– Dom Crapuchettes took a Russian card game design and built a surprisingly narrative, thematic game on it. Evolution is really quite simple, but just like in biology things can get complicated pretty quick. I love how this game effectively creates a different biome with each play. The Flight expansion only made it better.
Magic: The Gathering: Arena of the Planeswalkers– After much angst over whether or not Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro would support this sort of sideways resurrection of Heroscape, the deliverable was a top-notch mass market game with plenty of fun right out of the box. It of course did leave me wanting more, but this game has nowhere to go but up. If the powers that be will let it.
Risk: Star Wars Edition– 2015 was the year that Star Wars returned, and this $25 mainstream title completely surprised everyone by turning out to be a redevelopment of the old Queen’s Gambit design from the Phantom Menace. But this time, the action is set during the three-layered Battle of Endor that closes out Return of the Jedi. Simple, fun, full of drama and loads of Star Wars love.
Before I get into the “big” awards, I want to hand out a special merit badge for Most Improved. This one goes to Star Wars: Imperial Assault. I did not like the core box when I reviewed it late last year. I didn’t feel like it captured any sense of Star Wars, and I didn’t care for the Descent-derived mechanics. After a great mini-campaign expansion (The Twin Shadows), numerous villain and ally packs, and a new Hoth addition, I’ve come around on it. Not quite 180 degrees, but when my friends ask me to bring it over I don’t cringe. Both the skirmish mode and the campaign have improved greatly with more content
Now, the Barnes’ Best Awards for 2015.
2nd Runner Up
Warhammer Quest: Adventure Card Game– I’m kind of surprised that this little game beat out some of the above, but pound for pound this is one of the best card games on the market. It blows its competitors out of the water by offering a rich, challenging dungeoneering experience with meaningful cooperation, interesting mechanics and a genuine sense of that old Warhammer Quest atmosphere. I keep coming back to this game- specifically the Delve mode- over and over again and I come away satisfied every time. It’s the game that I wanted the Lord of the Rings LCG and Space Hulk: Death Angel to be. It’s also the game that I wanted Pathfinder to be. Adam and Brady Sadler completely knocked it out of the park on this, and I think with expansions it will be a game we are talking about throughout the next year.
1st Runner Up
Shadows of Malice- I don’t think any game touched me in 2015 quite the way that Shadows of Malice did. I requested a review copy of this game from one-man-band Jim Felli almost exclusively because it looked so different than anything else from the graphic design to the concepts to the gameplay. And it is very, very different. It’s lean, spare and minimalist but it somehow manages to evoke the same kind of storytelling and engagement that a great D&D campaign or a game of Magic Realm might. It’s a little awkward, a little alien but once you dig into Mr. Felli’s unique vision, an incredible adventure game like no other unfolds. Compared to other, similar designs this game felt like something on the vanguard- daring, risky and challenging.
BARNES’ BEST GAME OF THE YEAR 2015
Cthulhu Wars- It’s something of a Cinderella story for this $200 gorilla because I never thought I would cover it- let alone own it. But Sandy Petersen and his gang agreed to send me one, and I’m glad that they did because it turned out to be my favorite game of the year. It was also the most surprising game of 2015- it wasn’t bloated or underdeveloped at all like most crowdfunded games. Instead, it was lean and quick, managing to feel both old school and forward thinking at the same time. Of course, the production was just insane, with HUGE plastic figures that managed to pop even my miniatures-jaded eyes. Above all else, Cthulhu Wars provided some of the most fun sessions I had all year and I’ve found myself counting down the days until the next wave of expansions ships- I can’t wait to see how the other Great Old Ones, maps and other features work in this system.
So that’s it folks, everybody go home. Wait…what’s this then…apparently there is another. I’m so sorry, there has been a mix-up. One of the games of 2015 is upset because it did not get a medal. So I’m going to go ahead- on behalf of my children, River and Scarlett- and invite this game up to get the MOST AWESOME GAME OF 2015 Award.
Ladies and Gentlemen, LOOPIN’ CHEWIE!!!!!!!!!!!!
This one is over at Miniature Market.com’s Review Corner– a write-up of Stronghold Games’ latest Survive! title. Having rescued the classic Parker Brothers family game from languishing out of print, Stephen Buonocore and his gang are now moving on to applying the Survive! concept to a new setting. Geoff Englestein (who did the excellent Space Cadets as well as the tragically underplayed Ares Project) and his family have turned in a very respectful update to the original game that adds some fun new elements.
I can’t say that I prefer the setting because I like the old “Escape from Atlantis” business. But the new material works and it is totally in the spirit of the original game. My five year old son LOVES it, he asks to play it every day…so I’d say it’s a great choice for a family/kid-friendly title.
Hidden movement is the most under-used mechanic in all of board gaming. You can count the quality titles that use it on the fingers of one hand. Fury of Dracula, Letters from Whitechapel, Scotland Yard, Nuns on the Run and that’s about your lot.
Specter Ops still does’t take us on to the second hand. But it expands the genre with a style and energy that has to be played to be appreciated.
Innovation in game design seems to be in short supply nowadays. Yet you can find it in unexpected places. Take all those wargames that use the same basic rules but have new units, maps and mechanical tweaks for different battles. Playing through these franchises can reveal an ocean of wonder inside those tiny details, making history come to life.
So, just because Temple of Elemental Evil is the fourth game in a series doesn’t mean it’s not going to feel fresh and clever. However, in honesty, it’s going to need to pull out all the stops to impress. A sense of staleness was already present in the last Adventure System game, Legend of Drizzt, back in 2011.
It’s often not the rules or the components that make a game. With Skull, it’s the little noises. The tut of tongue against teeth. A soft sigh. A full-throated chuckle. Ambigous sounds uttered before a card gets flipped over and all hell breaks loose.
Skull is a bluffing game. Everyone starts with four cards , three showing flowers and one a skull. You place one face down, maybe more. Then you start wagering with other players to see how many flowers you think you can flip.
All the discussion about “great designers” that we had a couple of weeks ago left me dissatisfied. Rather than just throwing out names that I thought were good or great, I wanted to put some meat on those bones, some rigour to the process. It wasn’t hard to do. And I found the results startling.
We’re talking about my personal opinion here. What I wanted was a way of recognising people who had form for producing stellar games, regardless of how many games they’d actually produced. Now, I rate pretty harshly because I’m of the opinion that games are supposed to be good. Fun is what they’re for, so a game you’ve enjoyed is merely average. To earn a higher rating, it has to show me an impressive time.
A while back I interviewed Volko Ruhnke, the designer of Labyrinth and the COIN games, for a feature about political games. I knew it wasn’t going to be a long feature, so I ask for quick, snappy replies.
He gave me a 4,000 word essay.
I couldn’t use most of it as intended, of course. But from a gamer’s point of view, much of what he said was pure gold. Comments touching on mechanics, emergent theme, the relationship of gamers to gaming and that of gaming to reality. It would have been tragedy to let it go to waste.
So I recycled it for Shut Up & Sit Down. Enjoy