Want to hear a secret I haven’t told anyone else ever? I think 4X games kind of drag. I mean, you’ve got to explore, expand, and exploit, and by the time we finally reach that point, I’m all, enough already, but then you’ve gotta go exterminate everyone too. I mean, sheesh!
Alright, alright, put down those torches, you’ll make black spots on the ceiling. And anyway, I’m just being controversial to bait extra clicks. The real problem is that while I love 4X games, I rarely have enough time to get through the exploit part, let alone the meatier extermination bits.
Once again, Todd Sanders leaps to the rescue, this time with Parsex — pardon me, Parsec X, which for the life of me I cannot pronounce or spell properly. Here’s a game that’s 4X, compact, free (to print yourself, anyway), and takes about 30 minutes to play. Oh, and even though you wouldn’t expect a 30-minute 4X game to be any good, this one is actually pretty respectable.
Sometimes I think it’s kind of sad that mechs are built for war, live out their short existence fighting one another, and then die in battle. Then I remember it’s actually awesome.
Meanwhile, Cryptozoic Entertainment is still in a whirlwind frenzy of making board games out of licensed properties, including the relatively recent mech-war PC game Hawken. What’s more, in order to capture the frenetic excitement of mech combat (we assume, since nobody’s done it yet; maybe it’s boring), they’ve decided to make it real-time. I know, I was thinking the same thing: huh? Well huh no more, because I’ve got the lowdown on what’s going on with the inspirationally-titled Hawken: Real-Time Card Game.
Poop just got nonfictional. I’ve always preferred an assassination strategy in Summoner Wars, and now two of my three favorite factions — both of whom are among the slipperiest, most low-down assassins of all — have just received their second summoners, and entire sacks of tricks, traps, and mean horribleness to go along with them. This time, the nomadic Cloaks and the probably-also-nomadic Jungle Elves are having a go, and their appearance on my doorstep means another duel with Somerset.
Cryptozoic Entertainment has eked out one hell of a niche for themselves. Their business model consists mostly of building games around licensed properties and then selling said games to the fans of said properties, and not bothering to worry about how little they’ll appeal to everyone else.
I’m saying this because the same is essentially true of Adventure Time: Card Wars. If you looked at the header image and thought — or better yet, shouted aloud, possibly while fist-bumping your Jake plushie — “Adventure Time Card Wars?! Mathematical!“, then this game very well may be your cup of tea. And on the other hand, if you muttered something like “Why’s that kid got a hat with cat-ears on?” then, well, you might as well move along.
I don’t make suboptimal moves on purpose. Okay, that’s a lie. If I’m teaching a game, or a friend seems like they need a win, or the current best move will just piss off everyone at the table, then sure, I’ll intentionally make a less-than-ideal move now and then. Just to keep things breezy. But not when I’m playing solo games, because nobody will get angry because I’m winning or store a grudge for next game or flip my handcrafted game table. When I’m playing alone, there’s simply no reason to take any move other than the best one I can see at any given moment.
That is, until I played Freedom: The Underground Railroad. Let me explain.
It wouldn’t be a Tuesday in February without a look at another print-and-play title from Todd Sanders, or at least that’s what my grandma used to say once the dementia had really dug in its claws. Our previous features of Todd Sanders’ work have mostly focused on his solo and two-player efforts, but today our topic is They Who Were 8 — or They Who Were ∞, if you’re an altcodemancer — which is a four-player team-based microgame about a jealous pantheon of gods as they seduce, give birth to, and conflict with one another. Just another day at the Mount Olympus office for these guys.
Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything, but I’m convinced abstract games are among the toughest to design. Your mechanics and rules have to be razor sharp, you’ll imbue it with whatever scrap of theme you can manage, wrap it up to look pretty even though some will complain about how it’s “just a board and some pieces,” and then sit back to endure the inevitable goofballs wailing about how they don’t get it.
Now and then though, you’ll get something amazing. In this case, that something is Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends, the latest from famed designer Vlaada Chvátil, and it’s a monumental achievement of abstract gaming.
What would you do differently if you knew “Swedish Furniture” would be the cause of your death? How would your life change? I don’t know about you, but I’d probably never go near an IKEA again — and that would really suck, because that’s where I spend my lunch hours.
Okay, that was an easy one. How about “Snowed In”? Or “Bad Blood”? Ooh, or what about “Goat Thong”? How in the hell are you going to avoid that?
By the year 1882, the Old Ones have already ruled the planet for seven hundred years. They sit upon the thrones that may have otherwise held human occupants, and their whims and appetites are law. All of humanity is a plaything, a subject, the victim of powers beyond their comprehension. For the foreseeable future, as with the known past, there is no hope that mankind might cast off the shackles of eldritch oppression, might seize what is theirs and awaken to a new dawn.
That is, until the invention of dynamite.
This is the bleak world of A Study in Emerald by Martin Wallace, an inverted — or rather, a perverted — take on the era of Sherlock Holmes, full of all the real-world romance of anarchism, but without all the unnecessary guilt over exploding royalty. Since they’re, y’know, aliens.
If you follow Space-Biff! with any degree of closeness, first of all, thank you. One day when I am Emperor, I will remember your loyalty. On an unrelated note, regular readers probably will have also noted my love of portable games, the kind that can be taken on road trips, camping, or long flights, or played in hotel rooms and restaurant booths with equal ease, all without resorting to that infernal Uno.
Uno — *Shudder*
Well, step aside pretty much everything else, because I was recently sent a copy of one of the most transportable games I’ve ever played — so portable, in fact, it doesn’t even need a playing surface. Yes, you read that right: no need for sticky airplane tray tables, awkwardly-held spiral-bound notebooks, or laps. Meet oddball Aeronauts (yes, “oddball” is lower case for some unfathomable reason) from Maverick Muse (which, like everything else on their site, I have no idea how to capitalize or punctuate). It’s pretty cool. oddball Aeronauts, I mean, not the punctuation thing.