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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Valley of the Blings

It's apparently Egypt Week here at Space-Biff!

If I had to pick any two things that strike me as faintly outdated, it would be the funerary customs of Ancient Egypt and pure deck-building games. Probably the first more than the last.

Valley of the Kings from AEG is blend of both, casting you as a pharaoh employing the magical powers of deck-building to fill his final resting place to the brim with enough grave goods to ensure a resplendent jaunt through immortality. Which raises the question: is this commingling of the elderly a positive one, or entirely unholy?

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Red Nile: Crimson Sun

If I were smart, I'd figure out how to blend the grey into the red all the way across. Alas.

Once upon a time, there was a game from Small Box Games named Bhazum. People liked it, or at least they indicated as much by giving it overall positive ratings on BoardGameGeek. It was recently given new life as Crimson Sun, the second entry in Small Box Games’ Kickstarter tripartite, The Nile Ran Red.

All this impressive investigative journalism would be worth a poop in a sock if I’d ever played Bhazum, but I haven’t. Which means I have no idea whether it’s the same game as Bhazum, or updated, or downdated, or anything at all. Instead, all I can tell you are my impressions of the game on its own merits, so apologies to all those Bhazum fanatics that have been sending me hundreds of emails. You guys will just have to go pester somebody else now.

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Red Nile: Lords of the Sand

The header ran red

What’s the first thing that springs to mind when I say “The Nile Ran Red”?

If it’s the story of Moses, then you’re on the same tangent as all my friends. Upon hearing about Small Box Games’ most recent collection (which happens to be entitled “The Nile Ran Red,” in case you hadn’t pieced that together), every single one of them said, “So it’s a game about Moses?” Then they laughed at me, because despite my degrees in history and religious studies with an emphasis on Biblical texts, that thought never once occurred to me, and it really should have. One day, all that education will come in handy! But apparently not today.

Anyway, aside from being decidedly un-Biblical, The Nile Ran Red is actually three separate games, and we’re investigating them one at a time — starting with Lords of the Sand.

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Polis Party!

Debate: blood, or a red-dyed plume? "Both" is not an acceptable answer.

Given the choice when playing a board game simulating a historical conflict, I’ll always pick the losers. Confederacy, Axis, Cavaliers, Optimates, Tories, FARC, Syndicate, Harkonnen. That way, if I lose — then hey, no worries. They were going to lose anyway. Can’t argue with history.

But if, on the other hand, I win… then I’m a wargame genius.

Polis: Fight for the Hegemony is all about one of my favorite historical flashpoints, the decades-long conflict between the Athenian Delian League and the Spartan Peloponnesian League. And yes, while this means I’m shouting “Dibs on Athens!” the instant it hits the table and plotting how to alter history so the overrated Spartans don’t win again, it’s also a great game for a few other reasons.

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