Anarchy Reigns!

This makes me want to play Cave Evil again.

Gale Force Nine has been batting a thousand lately, which yes is a sports reference I understand because I’ve always loved badminton, thanks very much. So far, they’ve managed to nail the feel of each and every series they’ve acquired the license for, from Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery, which captures all that show’s themes of corruption, backstabbery, and the reduction of people to playthings; to Firefly, which was about ramblin’ through space because Firefly the television show was about ramblin’ through space. Also smuggling cows.

Now Gale Force Nine has acquired the license to Sons of Anarchy, television’s preeminent motorcycle-gang-as-Hamlet program, and this time they’re proving that they understand the series even better than the series knows itself. For one thing, Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem never transplants its motorcycle gangs to Ireland in search of a kidnapped child, because the board game version has the sense to know that’s a stupid and boring thing to do. Instead, the board game knows how to have fun, every second, all the time — so let’s take a look at my top five fun moments.

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A Wintry New Era for 51st State

Three games. One review. Only on Space-Biff! (and those other places)

I love post-apocalyptic stuff. Mostly because I’d be a pro at surviving the wasteland. Sure, sure, everybody says that. But I really would. Why? Because I’ve planned it all out, see. I’ve got my— well, more on that some other time. A man’s gotta have some mystery to him, you know?

For now, let’s talk about 51st State, a trio of games by one of my favorite designers, Ignacy Trzewiczek of Portal Games, set in the same blasted North American landscape as Neuroshima Hex and The Convoy (which was one of the best two-player games of 2013). This trilogy carries all the staples of the genre: scarce resources, harsh conditions, frumpy mutants… but even so, they manage to create their own vision of the world after the fall. Let’s take a look at all three!

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Terra Terrifica

This is possibly my coolest self-made header of all time.

The central conceit of Terra Mystica is that mystical creatures are reliant on geography, in the sense that witches hang out in forests, halflings love a well-fertilized plain for planting pipe-weed, nomads roam the desert, chaos magicians build their crazy towers in the wasteland (where else?), and dwarves mine the mountains. And because each race is only interested in their own geographical feature, they’re bent on terraforming the entire world until it’s just one unending forest or rolling plain or scorched desert.

Which sounds awful, now that I think about it. Not that it’s going to keep me from transforming as much of the world as possible into lakes so my mermaids can frolic until the end of time.

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Big Ogre, Little Ogre

I was going to crop out the blanket, baby-carrier, burp rag, and pillow, but I decided it was sort of a metaphor for baby intrusion into my board gaming life, so I left it in. ART.

Back in December, I got my hands on a copy of the Designer’s Edition of Ogre. It weighed over twenty-five pounds, took hours to punch out and assemble all the hundreds of pieces, and took up more width on the couch than I do (Lies. I have a Dan the Hutt photo I’ll post here one day. —Somerset). Like pretty much everyone else who obtained a copy, I couldn’t help but post a bunch of very original pictures highlighting just how unimaginably bulky the thing was. You can find them here.

Well, since December, I’ve had a child. Taught her how to fly a kite. Nurtured her into adulthood. Got a pair of degrees from my friendly local university. Written about sixty articles. And still no word on whether or not I liked Ogre. It sat there for seven long months, taking up the entire laundry room, beckoning in the night like a green light flashing at the end of a pier.

Why didn’t I play it? It really comes down to intimidation, or maybe the fact that I can hardly lift the thing without pulling my back, groin, biceps, and hamstrings. All the hamstrings. But now, wonder of wonders, I’ve played it a few times, and I’m ready to tell you what I think.

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COIN Volume III: Afghan Altercation

pictured: a distant plain

It should already be apparent that I’m a huge fan of Volko Ruhnke’s COIN Series. It even led to the formation of my gaming group’s “COIN Collecting Club,” which is our way of code-talking that we’re going to play COIN games all Saturday afternoon. See, the real genius lies in the fact that certain people at our regular game night think it’s a club for the collecting of metal currency, when really we’re betraying each other and occasionally getting pissed about it.

To those certain people, who I’m aware read this site: I apologize. It couldn’t be helped. We just really didn’t want to play with you more than once a week.

Anyway, the COIN Series has already taken us on a tour of drug-war ’90s Colombia and Revolutionary Cuba, and today we’re talking about its headiest subject matter yet: the still-ongoing war in Afghanistan.

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Is That a Province in Your Pocket?

Nope, not crazy about the cover art. "Dude with log!" is surely a board game cliché by now.

I’m always on the lookout for good light travel games, even though I don’t actually, ahem, travel all that often. Maybe I just like small things because they make me feel tall.

Either way, the recently-arrived Province, from Laboratory (no “games” after that; it’s just “Laboratory”), is among the tiniest. The question, then, is whether the gameplay is similarly tiny.

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The Táin Bó Cúailnge, A Reenactment

All Space-Biff! titles will now either (a) contain accents, or (b) be unpronounceable, or (c) both.

The Táin Bó Cúailnge is an epic story of early Irish literature about a battle between the Connacht Queen Medb, bent on stealing the bull Donn Cuailnge because she’s jealous of her husband Ailill’s bull Finnbhennach, and the hero Cuchulain, who’s the only dude in Ulster who isn’t sick with ces noínden, which should only last nine days but sticks around for months so Cuchulain’s antics can be even more amazing. Don’t ask me to pronounce the title or any of the characters’ names. And if you want to know more, I’m sure you can read Wikipedia articles every bit as well as I can.

The Táin is the latest game from prolific print-and-play designer Todd Sanders, whose work we’ve examined many times before. This time he’s tackling the card-driven wargame genre, so let’s see if the game is more comprehensible than either of those bulls’ titles.

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The Index Ran Red

And not a spot of red on the whole thing. Typical.

Another week, another collection of three titles from Small Box Games, and once again the legendary Small Box Games Curse takes effect. Two winners, one stinker, and one very small box.

Below the jump, just click one of the images to be whisked suddenly and immediately to the corresponding article, by the amazing power of special magic that is distinctly not Ancient Egyptian.

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Red Nile: Rise of the First Dynasty

The first non-red header of The Nile Ran Red. Feels like a betrayal.

Much like the ones placed on a pharaoh’s hidden tomb, there’s this thing called the “Small Box Games Curse.” Whenever a set of three Small Box games find their way into my possession, it’s inevitable that I’ll love one, like another, and hate the third (or at least I strongly dislike it — I’m no hater). It always shakes out that way. It’s uncanny. Don’t believe me? Well, this tale has rare proof. Of the first trio ordered from SBG, I loved Omen: A Reign of War (it’s even one of my favorite games of all time!), liked Hemloch, and hated Tooth & Nail: Factions. From the second set, I loved The Valkyrie Incident, liked Stone & Relic, and disliked Shadow of the Sun. There you have it! Incontrovertible proof!

So if the curse continues for the rest of The Nile Ran Red — and there’s no reason to think it won’t, since I enjoyed Lords of the Sand and wasn’t too fond of Crimson Sun — then Rise of the First Dynasty, the collection’s final game, is predestined to be the best!

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Looks more weird than odd, to be honest.

These days, I have less free time than ever before in my life. It’s like a university finals week except every day, including the weekends. And although we hold regular game nights, I just don’t have the energy to play some of the longer games I once enjoyed. Four hours for an epic game full of deceit and wheels-within-wheels plotting and a million components? No thanks, you guys can play. I’ll be here munching on the finger-snacks like a cow at midday.

Which is why I’m playing and enjoying so many shorter, simpler, and more portable games as of late. For example, Oddball Aeronauts, which I previewed a while back, recently appeared on my doorstep in all its finished glory, and it’s exactly what I needed this week.

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