Nikola vs. Thomas, Part Two

"Dearest Mother: My obsession with creating the world's largest spool of iron wool has led me to dark places. I finally accept that I need help."

You’d think Tesla vs. Edison: War of Currents would be right in my wheelhouse. History? Bitter feuds? Stolen patents? I am intimately acquainted with all of these things in my genuine everyday life, so why not in a game? Tragically, Tesla vs. Edison was an excellent game marred by a single major issue, which is almost worse than simply being a bad game. As I wrote in last week’s review, because everybody loves it when a man quotes himself:

Rather than being a game about the War of Currents that happens to have a hand in the stock market, Tesla vs. Edison is a game about the stock market that happens to have a hand in the War of Currents. Its priorities are all mixed up.

To my credit, I didn’t place that quote over an image of a snow-drifted prairie. And to Tesla vs. Edison’s credit, the expansion Powering Up! entirely erases my complaints about its tedious stock jockeying.

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When the Rebellion Isn’t Scum

Luke always looks like he has a bad comb-over to me.

Look, you’ve probably heard plenty about Star Wars: Rebellion, so I’m not going to do my usual thing here. For some people, the fact that it’s a high-production Star Wars game will be enough to rave about it, regardless of whether or not it’s particularly good. Which is why I’m here to tell you, as a Star Wars skeptic, that this is an incredible, fantastic, tense, wonderful game. Sure, it’s only for two players (or two teams) and it runs anywhere from two to four hours, but it absolutely captures the adventure, desperation, and drama of Star Wars. Better yet, it’s adventurous, desperate, and dramatic no matter the setting. Seriously, this is a very good game.

So come along and let me tell you about two very different plays, and why this just might be one of the best games I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

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Nikola vs. Thomas, Part One

Which fabulous mane of hair will win?

Call Dirk Knemeyer what you will (“flubby,” “the red peanut,” whatever you want really), but the creator of the sublime Tomorrow and a string of not-quite-as-sublime titles must be granted at least one major concession: he has designed the only game — the only game — where you can have Mark Twain write a smear campaign against Sir Hiram Maxim. “The Maxim machine gun? Compensating much?” Twain says, receiving a packed auditorium’s thunderous applause and stamped feet. Hiram Maxim exits out the back, manfully hiding his tears behind a stenciled kerchief. Twain’s sponsor and Maxim’s chief competitor, Elihu Thomson, observes this scene via opera glasses, cracking his first smile in seventeen years.

Yes, it’s Tesla vs. Edison: War of Currents, one of the most brutal contests in modern science put to cardboard. And it’s grand. Mostly.

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Even the Masters Are Pawns

Problem #1 with Onitama's tall-yet-slender box: it makes a nice header image impossible. Problem #2: everybody asks if it's Jenga.

I have a tender spot in my theme-and-potatoes soul for abstract games. And Onitama is one of the most gripping, teachable, and clever abstract games I’ve played in a very long time — perhaps the best, even, since The Duke. Maybe even better.

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I Am Not Just a Knit Wit

Knit Wit: Boasting a design that says, "Hey there, dolphin. Come on in. Let's relax and have a good time."

You might recognize Matt Leacock’s name from such games as Forbidden Island, Pandemic, and Lunatix Loop. Not content with his games of survival and danger, Signor Leacock has now created what might be considered the most delightful game of all time. “We need more whimsy, fewer outbreaks. More pastels and soft lines, fewer deserts and other forbidding destinations,” Mr. Leacock very well might have said in a private moment.

The result is Knit Wit, a product so ineffably lovely that I’m going to — hiccup — do something I’ve never done before: a series of photographs about the opening of the box.

Urp. Man, I can already taste the contents of my stomach. Here we go!

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Drop the Big One and See What Happens

They don't respect us, so let's surprise them. / We'll drop the big one and pulverize them. —Randy Newman, Political Science

When 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis arrived in the mail, I headed over to my Dad’s house and asked what he remembered about those two weeks in October of 1962. He was just a kid at the time, only six years old. His parents had sheltered him and his siblings from the full brunt of what was going on, but they still had a number of specific instructions, right down to the portion of the basement they would retreat to in the event that an air raid siren sounded. Mostly, he remembers being afraid. His older brother would act out at times. “Why should I be good?” he would ask. “We’re just going to get blown up anyway.”

It’s sobering to dwell on just how close we came to annihilating ourselves. And if nothing else, 13 Days absolutely captures the sense that the warning lights are on, the lid has been flipped back, and that red button is staring you in the eye, waiting to unleash the end of the world.

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Mr. Cabbagehead’s Pleasant Garden

I call this the "Mr. Cabbageheader."

I know a thing or two about pesky neighbors. So when Mr. Cabbagehead goes on holiday and Horace Savoy-Brassica from down the lane swipes an armful of prize-winning radishes right out of his garden, I can empathize. In fact, I empathize so fully that I may have even uttered some of the same phrases that saw use in my house when my neighbor petitioned to have speed bumps installed on our street. Phrases that include such words as “tarnation” and “sasquatch.” Apologies for the foul language.

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Pony (and Stagecoach) Express

I call this the "yeeheader."

I’ve always been a fan of Colt Express. For a game featuring programmed movement — a system where your moves are planned three or four steps in advance before being carried out — it was generous enough to provide some wiggle room rather than dooming you to rigidly follow an ill-conceived plan, and always embraced a unique sort of physical comedy. You’d punch an opponent, sending them reeling into the adjacent train car; the marshal would drive you onto the roof in a flurry of gunsmoke; outlaws would tussle over a lockbox filled with one thousand Union dollars. It was good stuff.

My one complaint was that it could end up being too straightforward, with the same beats arising every game. That’s where Horses & Stagecoach comes in. Colt Express has never been wilder.

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Cruisers, in Space, Battling

Woah woah woah, there wasn't anything in the title about the Battlecruisers not getting along.

I’ve tried meditation. I’ve tried yoga. I’ve tried herbal tea. And to this day, the only thing that helps me sleep at night is the thrill of spaceships blowing each other to smithereens.

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All Aboard the Raft of the Medusa

He's navigating away from the birds for some reason. Probably trying to kill that damn Kid before making landfall.

Being trapped for a week on a lifeboat sounds pretty awful, but what about being trapped for a week on a lifeboat stuffed with sociopathic murderers who alternate between claiming they love you and tossing buckets of chum into the water whenever you fall overboard?

Welcome aboard. You’re in for one heck of a ride.

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