Vale of Transparency

Why are druids such a popular board game topic? Druids are lame.

The land is rotten: the grass brown and brittle, the trees bare and splintered, the fields less fertile than ever before. Unseemly dog-swirls mar the once-spotless walking paths. As one of the druid clans of the Valley of Life, it is your duty to cleanse the land by—

—building decks and playing blackjack, mostly. Sort of. Mostly.

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Sickle of the Hype

It's pronounced SKY-thee. Don't sound foolish, podcasters!

If there are two things I’m wary of, it’s hype and Eurogames. Scratch that, three things: also moths. I hate those dusty-winged buggers.

Those first two reasons are why, in spite of my love for Jamey Stegmaier’s earlier Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia, I was so wary of his newest title, Scythe. The early previews received it with such breathless ecstasy, as though this game of mechs-and-agriculture were some rapturous merger of religion and boardgamery. Not only would Scythe cure world hunger through mechanization and make cube-pushing fun again, it would also look good at the same time. It was all a bit much, honestly.

So imagine my surprise that Scythe is actually one rattlesnake of a game, tightly coiled and packing enough bite to back up all that noise.

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Through the Long Night

The Fat Header.

Dead of Winter was one of the best games of 2014. For one thing, it managed to weave a zombie yarn that didn’t feel stale, but beyond that it was also about as good as narrative-driven games get, full of deception and hidden motives, the nagging threat of betrayal, and plenty of do-or-die moments that could make or break the most stalwart colony of survivors. It was good stuff.

The Long Night isn’t just any old expansion. It’s right there on the box: nothing else required, stand-alone, everything you need to play. In essence, it’s Dead of Winter plus more, with any significant duplicate matter vacuumed out so that those who own the original game will find a reason to return to relive what is largely the same game. Perfect for new players and old-timers alike — or is it? In a package so packed to the rafters with stuff, let’s take a look at what The Long Night is really all about.

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Mud, Smoke, and Friendship

When I was younger, the task of transcribing my great uncle's war diaries from WW1 fell, improbably and briefly, to me. The part I recall best was his description of an artillery attack. He had climbed a hill overlooking the trenches, and sat and watched as shells burst in the air and on the ground around the lines. He said it was beautiful.

They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. But in modern war there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason.
_____—Ernest Hemingway

In general, I’ve heard two broad complaints about The Grizzled — which, as I wrote last year, I consider an important title. This is probably overselling the matter; after all, it has been accepted rather warmly considering it’s a crab-apple of a game, tough and sour all the way to the core, with only the tiniest seeds of hope at the center. Still, there’s a new expansion available, called At Your Orders!, and it seeks to ameliorate some of the complaints with the base game. So let’s talk.

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(Steam) Engine Builder

What's going on with those contraptions? No idea, but I'll bet a wooden nickel it involves STEAM.

What do luminaries George Washington Carver, Alexander Graham Bell, Marie Curie, and Guglielmo Marconi have in common? Their love of contraption racing, naturally.

If nothing else, Steampunk Rally, which comes with sixteen characters to select from, makes for a serviceable who’s who of inventors. Slap down Sakichi Toyoda, ask what he invented, then shake your head in resignation when everyone guesses Toyota. That’s the man’s company, not one of his inventions. Depending on the way you say it, you either sound doubly smart or doubly pedantic.

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The Space-Biff! Space-Cast! Episode #2: Viva Sinatra

There's a minor continuity error in here thanks to the fact that we recorded this episode a full month ago. Space Pennies to those who discover it!

It’s been a very Cuba Libre kind of week. Following on the heels of Dan Thurot and Michael Barnes’ duel of wits over at Miniature Market’s Review Corner, listen as Dan, John Barton, Taylor Webb, and special guest Mark Henderson ponder their most recent attempt to control the destiny of Cuba, the COIN Series in general, and which of them best resembles Fidel Castro.

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It’s Cuh-razy Kuh-rats

Header doesn't even show a single cart; good job, Dan.

Occasionally, I’ll stumble across a game that’s so perfectly chaotic, so adept at creating memorable moments through my own fumbling ineptitude, that I have no desire to ever become good at it. Becoming good at that rare unicorn of a game would be to destroy precisely what I love about it. Such a game abhors an expert.

This time, Crazy Karts is that game.

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Zimby. Mojo. Zimby. Mojo.

With a grin like that, how could this game be anything but wonderful?

Remember when Dominion first splashed onto the scene, and its rulebook completely belabored how to pull off the whole deck-shuffling thing? There were diagrams and everything. You might have been a deck-building genius from day one, but I remember not entirely wrapping my head around it. My brother-in-law had to stop me from shuffling my discard pile prematurely. It wasn’t that the concept was complicated; there just wasn’t anything like it.

Well hold onto your socks, because when it comes to Jim Felli’s Zimby Mojo, there isn’t anything like it in the whole damn universe. Nothing. Zip. Not even close. It’s one of the weirdest, most bewildering, out-there games I’ve ever played. And if you know anything about my taste in games, that makes it an absolute winner in my book.

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Four Alone

This *is* the box art, or at least as close as Tetrarchia gets. It comes in a fabric bag.

A couple hundred years before it would fall for good, the Roman Empire faced a half-century of panic and defeat. Internal competition had split the once-great state into three conflicting portions, barbarian invaders ransacked the countryside, and a series of plagues depopulated much of the continent. Even the emperors weren’t safe, as one after another they succumbed to assassination, disease, and battle, the average span of rule during this period amounting to a mere two years. Even their nickname, the “barracks emperors,” betrays the speed with which they were hauled out, crowned, and used up.

Saving the empire came down to four men. Diocletian, when he realized that the task of administrating the empire was too much for one person to handle, split his authority first with co-emperor Maximian, then Constantius and Galerius as junior emperors. Of course they ended up feuding later on — they were still Roman statesmen, after all — but for the time being, Diocletian’s tetrarchy was enough to save the empire from total collapse.

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The Glorious Blandness of Runebound

PEEK. UH. BOOOOOO!

Much as I love Fantasy Flight’s line of rune games, the Rune Ages and Runewars and Descents of the world, there’s something faintly desperate about the Terrinoth setting itself, as though it’s terrified of standing out from the crowd. “You want undead? Sure, we got undead. Demons? Yeah, there are demons everywhere. Mechanical men? Of course, we’ve got mechanical men coming out our ears. Pixies? Um, absolutely, we can cram some pixies in there.” In envisioning a world where any manner of creature might appear, there’s hardly any reason to be surprised when it does.

And yet, Runebound, which is on its third edition, is one of the better adventure games out there. The very fact that it’s survived to see three editions is already proof of that.

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