War, What is it Good for? A Dawn of Peacemakers Review

It’s no secret that I thirst for unique and serious concepts when it comes to tabletop gaming. I hold a strong belief that games are indeed Art, possessing a singular quality of immersion that can convey deeper thematic concepts at a very personal level. Hand in hand with this potential is an imperceptible directive of providing an emotional connection with the player. Achieving this goal heightens the experience and accomplishes something we can only call special.

To wit, Dawn of Peacemakers succeeds where Holding On: The Trouble Life of Billy Kerr has failed.

pic3719584War, huh, good god

These are vastly different titles, although they share a unified purpose of attempting to elevate the analog gaming experience. Let’s put the trouble behind us and move forward.

This war-game of anthropomorphic critters sits in the shadow of Root, but it’s very different. The subject is a matter of border conflict as the impassioned Scarlet Macaws invade the territory of the Ocelots. The story is compelling and one grounded in the political realities of mankind. The significant twist is that we do not play Ocelots or Macaws seeking blood and wealth, rather, we inhabit the roles of a gecko or fox seeking peace and reconciliation.

This is a war-game centered around the concepts of compassion and mediation. It’s peacekeeping with walking stick and tongue instead of AR15 and airstrike.

And it all actually works.

Dawn of Peacemakers is sort of an amalgamation. It’s a miniatures game with cute yet fierce animals donning weapons and armor. These units move across hexes of varied terrain holding bridges and inflicting bloodshed. Your little collection of misfits wades into No Man’s Land, using cards and sheer will to breach the violence.

thumbnail_20190126_131651It ain’t nothing but a heart-breaker

The two warring factions are controlled by asymmetrical decks which form an artificial intelligence of sorts. They’re somewhat unpredictable as different segments of warriors will push forward, attack, or seek cover. Each faction features a specific behavior profile and adapt their own set of tactics. As an overarching system that forms the integrity of the design, this concept is executed expertly. Tension ratchets up and you are compelled to desperate action.

Players cooperate utilizing a hand of cards. These are the best kind of cards, multi-use, offering several options. You will spend some time maneuvering but the majority of your work will be in rhetoric and platitudes. You will attempt to steer the actions of each side by manipulating their order deck and boosting the defensive works on the front-line.

The goal is to get each side to retreat while maintaining composure. This requires their morale drops to a danger zone – the trick is ensuring this happens simultaneously for both forces.

Thus, play is mostly about seeking balance. Aid is provided to the underdog as you try to stifle the onslaught of the aggressor. It’s a tough act at times as dramatic reversals and unexpected aggression are commonplace.

This area of fighting for control and directing the storm is where the heart of the game exists. It’s the point of your cognitive interfacing and presents the challenge and narrative swings of the experience. It’s also where the game most notably stumbles a bit.

thumbnail_20190126_124006It’s got one friend that’s the undertaker

Dawn of Peacemakers remains thematically coherent for nearly the entire affair. It finds trouble when it seeks equilibrium among its systems. This occurs most prominently with the poison card.

Poison has you wounding an otherwise able creature. The idea is to soften it up so that the approaching enemy can fell the warrior. You want this to occur because losing troops results in dropping morale. The swing can be even more significant if the lost soul was defending a key point such as a tower.

This highlights one of the thematic cracks of this design. That notion of lowering both sides to a breaking point appears astute in theory, in practicality it means you must inflict pain as well as protect. It’s somewhat disheartening that you’re required to harm in order to find peace and it leaves a message lingering in the smoke that doesn’t sit comfortably.

That shortcoming is paralleled in the motivations of the peacemakers. These characters that we inhabit are the ones travelling to this region to extinguish the flames and soothe, yet each hero possesses a backstory that concerns itself with selfish motivations. For instance, one has arrived due to a promise of treasure as compensation. The third party calling us to quell the strife is the organizer of the peace-keeping operation, our small players content to perform with an underlying tinge of self-regard.

I feel the urge to offer additional nuance to this argument but much of it is intrinsically linked to story. This is difficult because Dawn of Peacemakers is very much a story-driven game. It’s fueled by an excellent campaign of linked scenarios paired with legacy content. There are sealed decks of cards, a large envelope, and even a mysterious box teasing your soul. I’ve played through roughly half of the gross and thus far all of this has come together incredibly well. The overarching narrative and pace is phenomenal.

Of import is this bevy of unlockable material does not make up for or patch the gameplay. The card system is a heavyweight in its own right. Beyond that niggle of a poison card, the decision space is fascinating and rich. There is much strategy to discuss and your noggin is kept entrenched in fantasy. It’s a focused experience that doesn’t drain your faculties or wallow in over-complication.

How it accomplishes this is through delicately balancing control with a restricted agency. You’re able to properly steer the combatants, but it feels as though you’re rowing against a squall. It manages to avoid a stifling degree of randomness while still providing upsets and shock.

thumbnail_20190126_132300Peace, love and understanding

Surprisingly, replayability suffers only slightly. The unexpected events and opening of new material are absolutely high points in the adventure, but the scenarios themselves are comprised of tactically deep challenges that form a shifting puzzle. The sequence of action changes with future plays and the core strength is maintained.

The primary benefit of the campaign structure is in alleviating the slight fatigue encountered from the repetitive structure. New scenarios, terrain, and encounters keep that challenge of halting the momentum of two boulders interesting.

My problems as noted are not enough to divert my overall enthusiasm. The quibbles with motivation are minor and only noticeable upon the introductory text. The poison card is so seldom used that it’s almost a non-event. These attributes create an identity of imperfection, but they don’t mar the broad enormity of this Art.

This is a very playable and satisfying design with an unusual theme. It scales well offering a solid experience for a group or solitaire individual. It delivers on its premise even if you don’t seek an emotional tether to your cardboard. As a message, Dawn of Peacemakers is mostly spot on and contemplative. As a game, it’s an outright joy and continual temptation.

 

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Dawn of Peacemakers can be purchased directly from Snowdale Design.

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Dream a Little Bigger – A Comanauts Review

Story. It’s all about story.

Games now are either dry as Nevada or plump vessels packed to the paper mache gills with prose. Comanauts is the latter of course, offering a stick and asking you to swing away. It almost convinces as anecdotes and adventure peek from the breach. Almost.

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Perhaps Jerry Hawthorne bit off more than he could chew. The success of Stuffed Fables really set this one up for prosperity but instead it’s met with a reckoning.

The story is not the problem. The mystique of the name beckons you in and the ensuing narrative provides. This is a cooperative journey where the players delve into the not-quite-lucid mind of Dr. Martin Strobal. This significant scientist is in a coma and the world’s survival relies on a return of his consciousness. Problems of the regular variety.

So we dive into the abyss and attempt therapy. Our goal is to heal this broken man so that he can heal the broken world.

The universe we enter is one of fantastic locales and twists. They’re split into a number of comazones, each possessing their own setting and flavor. One area may be a grim town in the wild west, while another boasts light-cycles in a TRON-like fever dream. The weird knows little bounds and is visually displayed with artistry in each large page of the spiral bound adventure book.

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What’s even more exciting is that you literally play on these pages. The artwork is broken down into larger areas for you to frolic within. You can mosey your standee down the street to question a woman, a woman who is gazing at the man strung up on the gallows in quiet terror. This isn’t an actual woman, however, but a latent psychological facet of Strobal.

Allegory rides the wind as some heavy material is tackled across the multitude of venues. Trauma, grief, and abuse are all explored in an abstract manner as you confront and eliminate powerful bosses ruling over each zone. The illustration and graphical veneer is always light and relatively fluffy, but those sobering themes are lurking in the shadows quietly brooding. This is wonderful as an overarching emotional tilt while the game explores nooks and crannies of the id and ego.

Facilitating the mental expedition is the dice system plucked straight from Stuffed Fables. You draw dice of varied colors from a bag, each allowing you to perform a certain type of action. You can convince bystanders, jump over crevasses, and fight goons and thieves. You’re at the mercy of the draw and occasionally those damn dice just won’t abide. While mechanisms are provided to fish desirables from the discard pool, often enough they won’t be available and you’re stuck with little or nothing to do.

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The appeal as an alternative to a more standard action point system is undermined by this surprisingly frequent inhibiting of agency. It’s an outright shame as there are juicy moments amid the chaos.

One of the strongest facets is pulling black protagonist dice from the bag. These little devils are placed on a sideboard and build up, eventually activating the enemies in play or bringing in new ones. This mechanism evokes a similar pressure to the threat system found in Myth. It establishes an underlying tension at play as your safety is always in jeopardy.

Unfortunately that strain is often undercut by sheer monotony. The one key factor linking the page-to-page journey is tedium.

The storybook concept is lovely. Your first handful of minutes with the game are sparkly and everything feels really open and exciting. After 10 minutes or so on a page you’re long past expired.

This system suffers from a combination of insipid pace and shallow scope. There is simultaneously too little to discover and far too much time required to discover it. Each comazone section offers five minutes of solid fare to chew on while forcing you to spend 10 in the milieu. An entire session of play can take up to two hours as you scour multiple areas searching for the specific key region of this session. This offends and clocks in at roughly double what it should.

So your mind wanders. Others at the table will debate the merits of launching a team of comanauts into the grey folds of your own squishy dome matter.

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The intended experience is one of campaign. There’s no tearing up of cards or those other dastardly legacy elements, but you do place a sticker on the various Inner Demons you defeat and remove them from the deck before playing. With each success you’re awarded a couple of paragraphs from the back of the book, the text tucked away like a whispering mote floating in the cognitive murk.

Multiple sessions will have you return to comazones you’ve explored previously, grinding out the environs like a Dwarven sprite fed by a flurry of mouse-clicks. Campaign play it desires but campaign play it did not receive.

Comanots, your story is sterling but I will not pay your ransom.

 

 

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Turning Tricks Like a Villain- A Pirate Tricks Review

Trick-taking games have never really been my thing. Give me a Space Marine with a boltgun and you can keep your card with a suit. So now that we’ve set the stage, you may be surprised to discover that I’m crushing on Pirate Tricks.

SRE20201aOut of the blue came a kill-crazy crew
Whose motto was stomp on the weak

Tis true, this genre of tricks and trumps has been growing on me. I was a fan of the quirky Spy Tricks and last year became enamored with Tichu, which while not a trick-taker exactly, it’s still a kissing cousin.

So let’s talk about Pirate Tricks. This is newcomer Soaring Rhino’s second published title, their first being the interesting Shifting Realms. I say newcomer with a smile, as co-owner Craig Van Ness designed so many top-shelf titles in the first decade of the millennium that my fingers may develop carpal tunnel if I dare to list them. His brother Jeff is the second half of the duo, co-designing and publishing these recent works. Jeff is likely sick of hearing people like me talk about Craig in Soaring Rhino articles so I will move on.

Pirate Tricks as a trick-taker is simple as a coconut*. A player leads with a card, others follow, high card takes the trick. There are only three suits and Red is trump. Now even you can play Pirate Tricks.

thumbnail_20190123_171705With bones in their hair
They was hungry as bears
And their leader was King of the freaks

Except you can’t, because everything else is what defines the experience.

One of the big issues with this style of game is that draw beats skill. You luck into a solid hand and those baby seals at the table are getting clubbed. Not anymore.

Here you deal face-up hands to the table, one per player. Then we go around and bid with loons, the game’s currency which also deliciously functions as victory points. This twist of bidding on hands is marvelous and so simple. It’s a closed fist auction so it’s resolved quickly and keeps the game moving.

Furthermore, there’s still some element of mystery as each auctioned hand includes two face-down cards which supplement an additional five random ones dealt out to each player. So in reality, half of a player’s hand is public knowledge and acquired through auction.

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They was… Space Pirates
The lowest scum of the yellow sun

Now we’re getting to the real shake-up. The value of a particular card and suit shifts round to round due to a public selection of scoring cards. These goals are varied and throw a wild curve-ball into the proceedings.

The first set of scoring objectives concern the makeup of your hand. Maybe one awards loon for having two of a kind or a three card run. One particular nasty option is allowing you to steal currency from your neighbors for each 12 you possess. These additional vectors for scoring are a bit B-A-N-A-N-A-S as you now must wrap your head around multiple factors and evaluating an overall strategy for the auction.

So maybe the first hand already includes a pair of 10s, offering some juicy loon from the scoring card. There’s also a nice selection of red cards and a high blue. But, the next hand allows you to complete a three card run when combined with your private hand. Thus, you bid nadda on that first auction and go a hard four on the second.

More wrinkles. Two other scoring cards are revealed each round that determine the benefit of actually winning tricks. A trick on its own is worth nothing, unless these final two cards dictate otherwise. They may award bonus points for each red card you’ve taken or straight up throw a bevy of loon at the player with the most tricks won. Sometimes they want you to lose hard and award the player with the least amount of tricks. Sometimes they even cost you points for possessing certain color cards at the end of the round. Bananas.

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Out of the blue came this mind-blowing zoo
A collection of mutated crud

Back to that earlier bid.

That second row of cards may allow you to complete a run and bank some big bucks, but it also contains some high trump cards. In this particular round you lose points for winning tricks. So what do you do?

What do you do, indeed.

Beyond all the hubbub, the game scales very well. At player counts of 3-5 everything is smooth, bidding develops in interesting ways, and the game flies along at a breakneck pace. Interestingly enough there’s even maneuvering room for a meta-game to develop. Over multiple plays you may notice patterns in bidding and valuations, and it’s certainly possible to exploit that. This adds a surprising amount of strategic texture to a half hour game.

You may notice I also haven’t even mentioned the setting of the game. It’s because it’s not really there beyond some art and an intro paragraph in the rules booklet. This is a trick taking game so this is no surprise. Move along.

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Skulls lie white on the martian sands
They was… Space Pirates

The only trick to this one (yeah, I went there), is that it may not go far enough for some. Since you still receive a partially random assortment of cards, you can luck into a nice scoring hand. In a three player game that 12s steal objective came out and one player ended up with all of them. One he was dealt off the bat and the other two he acquired through his hand at auction–with one of them buried in the two face-down cards in the open hand. It effectively decided the game on the spot as he stole six loon from each of us. Thankfully this is not a regular occurrence and the dramatic swings are slightly more contained.

It’s also humorous that the most interesting aspect of the design is not in the trick-taking. That element feels completely incidental to the experience which may be a turn off for some. Of course, this is one of the game’s greatest strengths in my eyes.

Across three rounds and 30 minutes, Pirate Tricks sings like a sweet drunken sailor. That translates as ‘quite beautiful’ where I come from. By its very nature this is not the sort that’s going to land as my top release of the year, but with its own modest confidence it truly presents a compelling experience. This is the best trick-taker I’ve played and it takes the skull of something like Diamonds.

 

 

*Yeah, that’s not a thing; I made it up. The game’s simple yo.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

If you enjoy what I’m doing at Player Elimination and want to support my efforts, please consider dropping off a tip at my Ko-Fi.

 

 

 

The Best of its Ilk – A No Thanks! Review

No Thanks! is the one true filler. Fully explained in a single breath, new players instantly get it. Yet it’s full of wonderful depth, trash talking, and scattered dramatic moments where you’ve pushed your luck and fate has pushed back. It’s nothing short of magnificent.

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Thorsten Gimmler was a man, but more importantly he was a Viking* ripped from his time and place, transported to 2004 so that he could fulfill one purpose. With a belly full of mead and a fistful of cards, this Norseman delivered. He said “nei tusen takk” and confirmed the assertion by pounding a small round stone upon the goat-skin playing card.

The endeavor is simple. A card is revealed with a value between 3 and 35. The current player must either take the card, or place one chip on it. This is a game where you do not want points. When a high number such as 31 comes up, we go round and round and the chips begin to form a little mass grave of concession. If you take the card you get the chips, so there’s a constant sense of “should I?”

There’s a substantial wrinkle in that if you can acquire a card with the digits one below a card you already possess, you then ignore that higher number in scoring. So if you have the 15 it can be completely cancelled out if you acquire the 14. Later maybe the 16 comes out and it’s free for you to take, so you proceed to milk the rest of the table. Wait too long though and someone else will grab it, maybe even they will be forced to by running out of tokens. Or, rather, they’re simply operating in the game’s creative space for malice, snatching a card that would save the entire game for you and taking some points, simply to crack you in the jaw and leave you sobbing.

This experience earns the adjective wonderful because it centralizes key emotions with balletic peril. You expend limited resources to pass on taking negative points, constantly evaluating the cost with a glimmer of hope that your appraisals are more precise than the next person’s.

As your chips dwindle and you sit without burden, you run the risk of overextending.

Don’t run out of chips.

I tell myself this every time and lo and behold, you know the rest. Devoured by a little game of 33 cards designed by a madman.

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The great conundrum with this style of design is its role. Filler. That term carries a bit of a full suitcase around with it for hobby gamers. It’s become synonymous with “throwaway”.

We play short 10-30 minute titles often to fill a gap in time between bigger offerings. They’re the pretzels you devour between steaks.

The vast majority of these types of things are mediocre. The problem is that it’s very easy to design a simple and light game that takes a few moments to play. Hobbyists often place such a large emphasis on quantity and banging out plays to hit a certain threshold, that we often feel the need to fill those 10 minute moments with something, anything other than standard human interactions such as conversation or arm-wrestling. So if anything is desired then anything will do.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The obstacle is that it’s quite difficult to design a pretzel that’s so damn good you forget about the sirloin. Thorsten, my man, carves it up like a villain.

Part of what’s inspirited this collection of words is how often we’ve been playing this lately. It’s a game I’ve rediscovered several times over the years and one that repeatedly begs the question: “Why don’t we play this more?” So play this more I have.

The newest version from publisher AMIGO also happens to be the best. The old Z-Man edition is certainly functional and compact, but it looks very dated as if Marty McFly tumbled out of the Delorian and emptied his pockets.

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The AMIGO release suffers slightly for less portability, but it counters that with an excellent form factor directed at play. The cards are oversized and quite large, even bearing little funny quips along their edges. The tokens are large fantastic bits that you can’t help but roll around in your hand between plays. Best of all, the MSRP of this game is still absurdly low for the experience provided. At $9.99, it’s cheaper than a meal at Chick-Fil-A and it will keep you energized and fueled long after that, admittedly delicious, chicken is outside of your body cavity.

No Thanks! is the best filler ever designed. It’s thoughtful, clean, and allows you to step right in and start wincing as you cough up a token and pass. It defies its classification and is the type of of design that can unexpectedly take over the rest of your game night.

 

*Thorsten Gimmler is in fact German. However, it is widely known that he is a reincarnated Ostman, hence his lord given name and intense demeanor. Odin is not without humor.

 

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

If you enjoy what I’m doing at Player Elimination and want to support my efforts, please consider dropping off a tip at my Ko-Fi.

A Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr Review

We must celebrate the notion that games can extend beyond the pressed cardboard and molded plastic of their form, reaching out to move us in unpredictable and startling ways. Games can be art and don’t let anyone advise you differently.

So I approached Holding On: the Life of Billy Kerr with wide idealistic eyes. It promises a particular experience, one that my bones yearn for.

Billy Kerr has me in knots. This is a game that asks you to take on the role of a nurse, providing palliative as well as medical care. You’re taking care of Billy’s heart as well as his mind, or rather trying to. He’s a complete stranger at first but he’s soon more than that.

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At face value it’s all so simple. You’re digging through a deck of fuzzy memories, trying to restructure Billy’s past and keep the conversation going. His life is offered in shadowed glimpses; a dying man thrashing about on his bed and spitting pieces of remembrance leaving you to document the fever dream. Much of this game is digging through those cards. Digging, digging, and more digging.

At times I felt like this game wasn’t about Billy Kerr, at least not really. Sure his story is wonderfully written and nuanced, but that’s a smokescreen to soften the blow. Billy is really a facsimile of a human being, the player meant to fill in the outline with their own personal trauma and loss. We’ve all been in a room with death. We’ve seen cancer, heart disease, and automobile accidents. It’s all around us and the aftermath is a constant pall.

Like Billy, my own mother had a heart attack last year. In those days following I suspect I may have been more of a wreck than her. My story’s not unusual. We’ve all known pain.

But that’s just one of the many facets of this work.

Billy’s story is full of weight and care and craftsmanship. Effort is not absent from Holding On. Wonderful flourishes abound such as stress tokens literally hanging around the necks of the medical staff, weighing them down in a brilliant collision of theme and form.

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You will grow attached to this cantankerous old man. His dialogue can be charming and as you zip between keeping him alive and keeping him talking, there’s a definite connection. This is where the game finds its place, albeit for brief moments scattered across dozens of minutes.

I know you can feel the distress; a sigh becoming words.

There are issues here and they are many.

The first is one of fairness. This game puts you in this twisted gnarl of constantly deciding whether to provide medical or palliative attention to the dying man. The callous duality here of making each option mutually exclusive is punishing. It’s an artificial gimmick that effectively puts the player in an emotional crucible with no exit.

It can feel irresponsible to neglect Billy’s health in order to keep probing his thoughts, and that doesn’t sit particularly well from an angle of thematic consistency. Kindness shouldn’t come at the expense of doing your job.

No matter which option you choose you lose. Either Billy physically deteriorates or he remains emotionally locked away and you don’t progress towards your goal. In this way, the game constantly grinds at our own ethical wall. As we ride the wave of bad day after bad day, you slowly come to realize it’s not simply about Billy holding on. His narratively structured pain becomes our externalized real-world pain. We’re the ones hanging on, day by day, minute by minute.

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Billy can feel stubborn as you dig for a particular clear memory. You must draw through many cards just to get to that one you want. It feels as though you’re trying to focus him, rambling in and out of a foggy drug-induced haze. This is wonderful for awhile, and then it’s excruciating.

The primary mechanism of digging through cards and searching disparate thoughts is clever, but it’s painfully dull. It holds up to a scenario or two as you hang on the words and try to decipher what’s going on in that fuzzy image. As you begin to make those portraits whole you slowly become acclimated. Once you work to construct the same memory for the fifth time you become institutionalized. It’s no longer special and his story doesn’t matter, as it the color fades away we’re left with a rather dry and repetitive system that can’t hold the fire.

As you progress through the 10 included scenarios new systems will be added. Unfortunately they’re more of the same and never really stretch the design beyond its artificial walls. There are more decks to randomly dig through and more actions that force you to split your attention and limited nursing staff. The challenge is there but the excitement is not.

For this system to truly work each scenario would need its own entire deck of partial and clear memories. That’s not feasible so we’re left with a patched together casserole of better and worse times that Billy plays on repeat. Like an old relative who can’t help themselves, he tells the same story again and again and you can’t help but smile and nod along.

It’s simply very slow to get where it wants to go. It feels random and capricious at every turn. When digging for specific memories–those actions that feel workmanlike–you may spend resources to focus the conversation and probe more directly, but Billy doesn’t give one hoot. Random event cards will be pulled and he’ll spit in yer eye.

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Perhaps the most grievous affront is how apathy combines with a somewhat stingy drip of narrative. I became attached to Billy and his story, but not his game. The most meaningful developments in deciphering his history come from the conclusions of each session, but even here it’s a few sentences of a few words. Worse yet, it feels as though you can deduce much of his background relatively early on, occasionally feeling as though you’re earning information you’ve already intuited.

So I turned my back on Billy. We couldn’t make it. We couldn’t hold on.

I skipped whole scenarios. I bypassed the work and read cards that I didn’t earn. I played a couple of the later scenarios but I mostly had enough and was fine to admit it.

Billy’s conclusion was powerful. I don’t know if it was worth the larger effort, but it did hit me in the gut. I stared at those final few cards for an indeterminable amount of time.

And I’m fine never seeing this man again. I’m fine never shuffling another deck of partial images I’ve partially seen over and over again. I’m fine not stressing the labor of medical care and staffing.

Billy Kerr didn’t make me whole, rather, it stepped into the void and disappeared.

 

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

If you enjoy what I’m doing at Player Elimination and want to support my efforts, please consider dropping off a tip at my Ko-Fi.

2018 in Review

A year. 365 days of work and family and games, of work and family and work, of work and family and work and games. Some of that work was playing and writing about these games–experiences I cherish as well as regret. Foisting bad games upon a group of amiable souls can feel Faustian, trading the precious time of friends and family to meet a commitment and explore the depths of the inane. It’s not always fun.

Keeping up with this industry requires some fortitude. Packages arriving weekly with more poorly written rulebooks and a clock that’s ticking. There’s an element of pressure in that evaluation needs to be timely, not simply because I’ve committed so to the publisher but also because I’ve committed myself to this gig, a job whose primary offering is traffic. Web traffic is sensitive to new releases in this hobby and it’s always a bit of a race. Quantifying reward is a funny thing, as there is a definite satisfaction with thousands of souls interested in my tale of Arrakis or holding Mansions of Madness accountable for its failures. Sometimes that reward is a hole and I receive less hits than words in a review.

This has been an odd year. I started Player Elimination in March and I feel as though it’s been somewhat successful. It started off with a bit of a bang, much like the year of 2018 with the release of Eric Lang’s Rising Sun. Then everything slowed after a few months. I wondered if this home had a place and I wondered if 2018 would fade in the annals of cardboard history as nothing came close to the presence of that Rising Sun.

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JC Superstar

While I was busy shrugging and worrying, the world kept moving. John Company finally hit my table in the summer. I didn’t want to pack it up or put the game back on the shelf, it deserved better. I’ve only played it twice at this point, two glorious experiences of shoving fingers into each other’s eyes and gnashing our teeth. It’s wonderful and I may some day write about it. It deserves better.

Then Root happened. At this point 15 year old Charlie would tear down the Rage Against the Machine poster and make some room for the newcomer, Cole Wehrle.

I have this eternal soft spot for meaningful asymmetry in games. I want to feel special and I want to explore. I’m a human after all.

Root is asymmetric, it’s combative and interactive, and it’s got this Redwall aesthetic that has my nostalgic receptors twisted every which way.

Redwall-Sword

This little bugger did not go back on the shelf. I played it and I played it and I played it. Others obliged in partaking in the holy Root and I did not feel bad because this game wasn’t shit and it wasn’t wasting their time.

SEAL Team Flix arrived and kicked me in the groin with a steel toe. It may just be the best dexterity game ever designed. Not trailing far behind, however, is Mars Open: Tabletop Golf. While not quite as engrossing or rich as the military tactical thrill-ride of Flix, this silly game immediately worked its way into my heart and has a permanent residence on my shelf.

The Mind is one of the most enthralling little tricks I’ve ever experienced. It has a Ouija board quality where participants are asked to buy-in to the trick, and it’s a masterful one at that. Not to be outdone, Street Masters, Lords of Hellas, and Nyctophobia all present worthy line items on one of those top 10 lists everyone loves.

It was also a year of returning to the past. Reiner Knizia surprised with Yellow & Yangtze, his spiritual successor to Tigris & Euphrates. The re-release of High Society also struck a particular chord with me, inspiring a cogent bit of writing I’m very proud of.

Condottiere also received a gorgeous new printing courtesy of Z-Man Games. This small area control-ish card game is one of the best, not just among small footprint designs lacking a board, but when standing tall against the entirety of the hobby. It’s an experience of brinksmanship and swagger, outwitting other players and pushing your luck with high stakes. It’s delightful in every sense of the word.

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I can’t pronounce it but I can play it.

Independent developers continue to find their way with Jim Felli releasing Duhr, a brilliant re-working of 2017’s Bemused. I also spent meaningful time with Dungeon Degenerates, a small press psychedelic fantasy adventure like none other. These two rose above their peers, offering a quality experience that is both singular and wildly entertaining.

Lastly, it’s been the year of Games Workshop. Blackstone Fortress is absolutely killer; top shelf in every sense of the word. The new version of Age of Sigmar was very impressive, and I even fell for the shiny new Kill Team. While I was originally quite excited for the new release of Necromunda in 2017, its trickle of expansion content across multiple purchases and lack of coherent vision really soured me. Kill Team has completely replaced it in my household.

So it’s been the year of Eric Lang, the year of dexterity, card, and miniatures games. It’s been the year of re-releases, and indies, and Games Workshop. It’s been a year.

And I’m still discovering. We just played Marvel Strike Teams from Wizkids hotshot Andrew Parks, and it was a doozy. Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr is on my solo table and I’m full of pain, sympathy, and confusion. I even got a touch of the lunacy and bought Axis & Allies & Zombies. What the hell am I thinking?

There are more games out there I need to play and experience and write about so that you can determine whether they are worth playing and experiencing. We’ll get there.

2018 was one of innovation. Don’t let anyone tell you that new games are simply derivative or stale or that we constantly shovel mediocrity down our throats in order to support disorders of consumerism. This year, like every other, has featured a bevy of new releases that offer an experience that is new and fresh. 2018 is the type of year that validates our connection to this hobby and why we do what we do.

Following that rising trend of latter-day releases, at least a smidge, was the success of my writing. I had my first piece published at PC Gamer. I continue to heavily contribute at Ars Technica, my articles on KeyForge and Arkham Horror Third edition doing quite well. And I also hit a banner month in December with three pieces and six pages of my words published in Tabletop Gaming Magazine. Geek & Sundry is Geek & Sundry, while my volume has slowed compared to years past, I’m still cranking out sans-serif characters at a robot-like pace.

Then there’s Player Elimination.

I’ve had doubts. I think my best writing can be found here, but it can be a bit of a grind. I made a commitment to new content every single Monday when I launched this site, a commitment I broke after eight straight months of running on caffeine and enthusiasm. Shifting to every other week has been the right move as I think my quality has improved and the pressure has eased a bit. This is good for both of us.

It’s a difficult proposition. Spending hours crafting and revising an important piece and then publishing it to the open world, only to see the majority of days consisting of 40 such individuals stopping aside the road and taking a gander.

So I begin to question. Is it simply the fact that video killed written word? Is it what I write about or how I write about it?

I wonder if the vast amounts of time I’m sinking into gaming is really what I’m meant to do. Years from now how will I view all of this? Does this matter and is there purpose?

As I push deeper and deeper time goes faster and faster.

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Somehow, I haven’t burned out yet. I’ve felt fatigue of course, but I’ve been writing about games for five years and I’m still passionate. I’m writing now but I will be playing later, and I’m excited and nervous and all of those things I should be. So I’m not done.

When I started this I didn’t know where it would go. I wanted to share some thoughts on the year and avoid a top 10 list because lists are the type of content that pecks at a writer’s soul.

So now it’s as if I’ve taken a stroll down the pavement and ended up lost in the woods. At least you’re there with me and we have the games to keep us company.

 

If you enjoy what I’m doing at Player Elimination and want to support my efforts, please consider dropping off a tip at my Ko-Fi.

Shall we stop this Bleeding? A Lincoln Review

No score and seven years ago Martin Wallace brought forth on this hobby, a new game, conceived in cunning, and dedicated to the proposition that all decks are not created equal.

Before we proceed the hour calls for a little history.

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I’ve not lost my mind. What I’m talking about is the nigh wonderful A Few Acres of Snow. This is a game that uses Dominion-style deckbuilding to bootstrap a game about the French Indian war. This conflict has always fascinated me, mostly due to my sheer enthusiasm for Daniel Day Lewis. So I was all in, natch.

Then the Halifax Hammer happened.

If you don’t know what this is, you’re a lucky one. Basically the game had an issue that could be exploited which resulted in an untenable balance. It single-handedly cannon balled the design and relegated it to the back alley, a dark place where geeks online could wage the forever war of insults and fiery discourse on the battleground of the internet.

No worries, for Martin Wallace would revisit the concept and present an entirely new design of the deckbuilder war-game mashup. This one would be known as Mythotopia and it showed great promise. Promise won’t fill a pot with piss, however.

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Mythotopia’s issue was a protracted end game which played out with all the delightful grind of a resurfacing pavement. The bulk of the design was great, but that climax petered along like a bespoke victim slowly bleeding out from a pencil jabbed in the neck.

But wait, there’s more.

A Handful of Stars was the next opportunity for Martin to recover and finally pull it all together. Yes, another game about building decks and waging war, although this time it took place in the stars. And the problem this time…? Well, I have no idea because I haven’t played it. Part of that was because of its muddy distribution and part of it was a bizarre decision of using very on-the-nose faction names such as Aggroloids.

You win, you have me chuckling at your game and shaking my head. However, you shouldn’t want this unless you’re peddling something with a more relaxed set of systems such as a party game.

Have I mentioned that my relationship with Martin Wallace was shakey?

So here we are, back to the present of 1861 with another appearance by Daniel Day Lewis. Mr. Wallace has another chance, and by god, he may have finally done it.

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Lincoln is cut from a similar cloth as A Few Acres of a Handfultopia, but it’s also a very different beast. Of course the surface is one of the United States embroiled in civil war with an abstracted strategic level macro-view. This isn’t fantasy nor sci-fi but a return to history; a more stately endeavor.

But beyond that, Lincoln is unusual. It’s a simulation, but it’s not. It’s a deckbuilding game, but it’s not.

Martin has labeled this a “deck destruction” design. It’s earned that moniker because you shed cards as you go, sacrificing options from your multi-use deck to enlist stronger units and acquire strongholds. Since these cards are also utilized in battle, great emphasis is placed on managing your deck as a whole and properly timing the acceleration from slow burn to fiery inferno.

The concept of the game–and thus the war–eating your cards over time is a fantastic metaphor. As the close of bloodshed draws near, you’ll look to the side of the board and eyeball that pile of annihilated cards. It’s a harrowing message lying in the shadow of a streamlined and effective mechanism.

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Cards are never purchased from an offer or public display. Instead, you add a chunk of pre-defined cards when you reshuffle your deck. This acts as a timer for the game with regular scoring intervals occurring upon the Union reshuffle.

The strategic system at play here is fantastic. You must fight the constant adversity upon the board as well as carefully expend your resources, cards in this instance, to keep the fight alive. When you hit that significant moment of injecting new life into your deck you get a bit of a boost and some reprieve.

Or so you thought.

One of the most compelling aspects is the interplay between asymmetry and victory conditions. As the war rages on and time begins to slip away the Confederate war engine stumbles. You’ll add cards to your deck that are worthless, clogging up the machine and simulating your waning economy. But you begin the conflict potent, possessing five strength battle cards that will have Lincoln and his generals wincing. There’s a pendulum here just waiting to descend and lop off your head. It’s glorious.

The way each deck diverges provides a very strong directorial command of tempo. It fuels the pace of play and helps maintain a solid level of suspense.

The other half of that is the victory point system. This isn’t a simple affair of both sides vying for precious points to measure up at end game. No, here the struggle is mighty. The onus is on the Union player to meet specific victory point thresholds. If the Union player has not earned a certain victory threshold at each of their deck reshuffles, they instantly lose. Yeah, that’s heavy.

What this feels like is a constant mandate of assailing the Confederate lines. You can fortunately supplement your VP total by shoring up the blockade and tightening the grip on your country-wide siege. This requires gyrating the ol’ noggin and performing some agonizing decisions regarding hand management.

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The perspective of the Confederate player is entirely different. You’re hanging on, constantly on life support and fighting for your dear life. Each tactical victory is a flush of blood to your cheeks and a thumping of the chest. A clever thrust here and deflection there and you may hold out just long enough.

Or, you’ll be crushed under the Northern juggernaut as I was in my first play.

So here we are, at the point in this editorial where I must divert the wagon and we need to discuss the crucial failing of this game, Lincoln’s Halifax Hammer if you will.

It doesn’t exist.

It’s still early days as this game hasn’t been out long enough to pick apart and sift through the granules. What I can tell you is that my only major misgivings relate to the rules booklet. It does an adequate job in teaching you the game at a high level, but much like the game it seeks to present, it lacks quite a bit when drilling down into the details. Concepts are too abstract and many edge-cases–some large and some small–are never addressed.

It may require a little bit of elbow grease to work your way through these thorns, perhaps visiting the forums on BoardGameGeek to sort it all out. This is unfortunate, but it’s not enough to sink the Moniter.

As stated, the largest factor that could dissuade the would-be patron is the level of abstraction. This is not a game that will allow you to simulate key moments or strategic considerations of the war. It’s a very high-level design focused on playability with a mechanical toy-factor as you fiddle with deck manipulation.

Besides that wonderful escalating tension and devious asymmetry, Lincoln makes its stand on simplicity. Its core is extremely lithe and easy to internalize. You play some cards and draw some more. Each such action fuels movement and recruiting or battle and death. You vie to control areas and it’s all very direct and sensible.

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There are some conceptual rough spots, but they’re mostly worth the trouble. Areas are divided into two spaces for instance, but your troops occupy both such slices when they’re controlling the space, the detail only requiring fuss when an enemy moves in or you build a fort.

This extra level of specificity allows for a clever game of stalling and close proximity withdrawal. The strategic benefit is the ability to cause friction upon the opponent’s advance, as well as facilitate an interesting supply line sub-system. The headaches this causes when trying to divine Martin Wallace’s intention, such as sussing out a retreat and leaving a fort in the sub-section where the battle did not occur, well these moments of furrowed brow are mostly worth the tactical intricacy on the other end.

Lincoln is a marvel. As a 90 minute two-player card driven war-game, it’s not quite the best of its ilk. But that’s perfectly fine, for it has enough panache and charm to wiggle its way from the shelf and lay a barrage of cannon-fire upon the table. This is one of those titles I’ve engaged in many more hours of cognitive exercise than actual playtime. It works its way into the brain leaving a constant hunger.

 

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Public Access Television – Not a Fate of Fantos Review

One special night I was sitting in front of the television set carelessly flipping through channels, a slave to my genetic programming of laziness and stupor.

“Isn’t that the same thing you do every night, Charlie?”

Why yes, yes it is Pinky. That’s not what made this particular night special.

After breezing by a Tony Little infomercial I ran right into it. Oddly enough, the picture was kind of grainy, slightly muting the vibrant colors of this…I’m not really sure what it was exactly.

Like a semi-truck blasting through a squirrel on the freeway, my mind immediately became juiced and I couldn’t look away.

And now it’s too late for you too.


WTF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“HU-MANZ AND FREAKS OF FANTOS! I AM THE ALMIGHTY ZODRAZ! YOUR TIME IS COMING TO AN END! YOUR WANTON DESTRUCTION AND GLUTTONOUS HARVESTING OF IRIDIUM IS KILLING THE PLANET! SO I WILL KILL YOU! ONLY ONE WILL BE SPARED AND IT WILL BE THE CITADEL WITH THE MOST IRIDIUM SHARDS! NOW, SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT!”

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“Aw, hell naw.”

 

 

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“But why must we compete to strip Fantos of iridium if that very action is why we are being punished? It makes no sense!”

 

 

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“SILENCE!”

 

Later that evening at the citadel of Prima Tempesta…

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The people gather under the stars to sip from the sacred pool of Listerine.

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“The only way to ascend to the right hand of Zodraz is to reap the sacred shards and consume the life-force of our mother! LET US HARVEST!”

 

 

 

“YESSS! HEAR, HEAR! DO IT!”

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Fantos weeps!

 

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“SINCE YOU CONTINUE TO PLUNDER THE ORBS’ WARES, YOU WILL SUFFER!”

 

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Each citadel offered tribute, a chosen warrior to redeem their house and sacrifice body and soul to overcome their peers.

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Citadel Kuharibu nominates the Astrologers.

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Citadel Lumeria nominates the Merchant!

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Citadel Prima Tempesta shunned the call, refusing to task one of their legacies to the brazen showcasing of pomposity.

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The Astrologers, seers of the stars, claimed the cup and became reigning tribute. Lumeria cursed the glowing gods and buried their head in the dirt below their phallic structure.

 

A short time later, at Kuharibu…

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The collective tribute of Fantos demands war!!!

 

 

 

So war was declared and war occurred. Kuharibu tasked its legacies and rolled the dice.

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The target of their destruction was Prima Tempesta, not because of hatred or a particular ledger to settle, but because Fantos only allows you attack the citadel to your left. So Tempesta it was.

A weak defense was mounted.

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Carnage ensued as the Sacristan and Executioner guzzled blood and seized iridium from the people under the skull. It was glorious. It was the next player’s turn.

 

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Lumeria chooses harvest! The Villein will gather thy bounty and appease Zodraz!

Kuharibu, in all its rascal fervor, said “nuh-uh.”

The people of Lumeria fell into revolt and the harvest was cancelled!

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It was at that point that my memory stopped. I would like to blame the stupor on mind-altering side effects of such bizarre television programming, but that wasn’t the case.

Did it even happen? Was it all just an intense fever dream of idiosyncrasy and aggression?

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The Ethics of Semi-Cooperation

I’ve been chewing on a couple of games, and in turn, they’ve been chewing on me. Both Discover: Lands Unknown and Here’s Negan are intriguing designs full of virtue as well as imperfection. They each lean into a semi-cooperative structure that has players working together one moment and refusing to the next. This goes back to Archipelago, Homeland: The Board Game, and a thousand other meticulously crafted works of art that are derided as often as praised.

The semi-cooperative concept is inherently flawed. Victory conditions and the awarding of points is a psychological tool for behavior incentives. They prod and cajole you down a certain path so that the experience aligns with the designer’s intent. The semi-cooperative game asks you to help one another while looking out for yourself above all else. Often the two will align, but occasionally they won’t. This is where it gets messy.

Asking a player to resolve this conflicting ethos is demanding. It can produce significant moments of drama and turmoil, but it can also ignite frustration and grievance. Furthermore, this style of game often punishes you for altruism.

Dis_CoverLooking for the hatch

In a recent play of Discover I was put in this vice-grip. We were beaten, freezing, and near death. I had a little bit of food scraped together from the bones of a moose, a moose I blew apart with a rocket launcher the previous day. This actually happened.

I didn’t need the food at that moment. I could afford to suffer another point of damage before quietus. My brother could not. The checkered board was out, pieces scattered, and Ingnmar Bergman was scowling.

The food would allow him to heal a bit and stave off annihilation. He’s my brother for god’s sake.

But Discover is not a cooperative game. That little four letter prefix is important, after all. If I gave him my hard-earned moose meat it could cost me the game. We were nearing the end of this particular passage and I needed to get over the hump.

But he’s my brother.

So I gave him the damn gnarled leg.

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The game wasn’t wrong for putting me in that position. The issue is that this act of compassion does not feed the reward cycle. Instead the game takes a prejudiced stance, possibly throwing me under the bus and backing up over my corpse.

I’m enthralled by this. The whole semi-cooperative notion is most interesting in its imperfection. In many ways you can ascribe its conflicting ideals and flippant regard for your righteousness as consistent with reality. ‘Nice guys finish last’ as Billie Joe used to say.

The question then becomes whether internal emotions satisfy the equation. Can morality and human nature offer enough of an incentive, and subsequent payout, to nudge behavior towards a virtuous direction?

This is tough. A game should absolutely concern itself with your emotional state of being and how you interact and evolve as a result of these decisions. The challenge is for the player to rightly grapple with these issues and form their own internal consistencies to guide their behavior.

If you completely abandon your moral compass can you absolve that behavior by pointing to the game state and its incentive structure? Is this something we want to accept? That’s difficult and any formalized view is found in the subtext and open to interpretation.

The case for acceptance of moral bankruptcy is pretty clear cut. Games offer an escape and pushing against the restrictions of everyday life can be liberating. When playing Tiefe Taschen and acting the villain, I can later go home and sleep without issue. I may spend a good thirty minutes lying through my teeth but I can make peace with that. This is what we agree to by sitting at the table, it’s explicit and our attendance is as good as a handshake on the matter.

Semi-cooperative games don’t carry that explicit social contract because their ground is untamed. We don’t know the rules because they’re not exact or codified within systems. It’s troublesome at times and it requires the group – a set of diverse personalities and quirks – to adjudicate and find harmony with one another. This is why these titles are criticized and why many head the other way.

But let’s get back to that burnt stump of moose meat.

There’s the opportunity for a wonderful deed blanketed in the dilemma. The game is actually doing us a favor. By making the path of virtue exacting and without reward, it challenges the player at a higher level. Ethics are formulated and affirmed by their ability to withstand rigorous trial.

There are designs that attempt this in a straight cooperative function, but it doesn’t work. If you reward charitable behavior then the player is not responding based on their own belief system, they’re merely playing along with the rules of your game. It’s the inverse of the radical nice guy-turned-asshole in the clutches of Tiefe Taschen. If we can forgive our narcissistic behavior there, then we must downplay our honorable behavior here.

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A cooperative design like The Grizzled can inform and inspire as a process of thought. It can provoke emotion and substantial reflection, but it never requires a ponderous decision and the ensuing fallout. This occurs because the moralistic interaction is performed in the third person. The game is making the decision for you by explicitly rewarding said behavior.

A semi-cooperative design presents the ethical quandary from a first person perspective. It allows you the freedom to express nobility or dereliction on your terms.

To put it another way – providing support to another damaged soul in the trench-line says nothing if the game demands it.

The greater act is in offering a gamey shank to a troubled brother.

 

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Mildlands – A Wildlands Review

My relationship with Martin Wallace is shaky. His designs tend to be sophisticated works of deft subtlety, consistently marred by a single flaw or maladroit quality which undermines the whole. Take A Few Acres of Snow; this was a wonderful meld of deck-building and war-game set in one of the most interesting conflicts of North American history. But a degenerative strategy that Martin was unable to patch razed the establishment.

Mythotopia was a do-over. This design had its own issues, ones that extended beyond its abominable title. Its misdeed concerned a bungled end sequence that stretched beyond the horizon. There are clever and wonderful concepts held together by mortar that is cracked and gnarled. You could bring up Brass or that Discworld Egyptian pork game and we’d have words. As I said, our relationship status is complicated, even if Martin has no idea who I am.

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Wildlands is a different beast. It has no sense of graceless swagger or off-beat hoof. It’s so streamlined and stripped down that it lacks identity. It’s subtle but that’s nearly all it is, like the faintest hint of Camembert in a pound of dry bread.

From a certain vantage, that has quite the appeal. This is a hand management skirmish game where you play cards to move and attack and not much else. Symbols are shared between factions and there’s not a single word of text printed on this game’s skin. It’s refreshing and comes across as Martin placing his boot on the collective neck of a thousand pounds of plastic stretched across a thousand Kickstarter projects.

Bloated, unrefined, and underdeveloped – these are adjectives you’d never ascribe to Wildlands.

If searching for the reason behind this game’s existence is a worthy endeavor, I think you need not look further. He’s had a rough go of it with Kickstarter and the production side of things. You can take a look at the lengthy story behind Moongha Invaders and picture the man sweating and unnerved. His publishing house Treefrog Games encountered numerous difficulties and eventually folded so he could focus on design.

Wildlands, for all its elegance, is the output of a man who’s had enough.

You can almost feel a level of contempt simmering behind the curtain. It took the industry cannibalizing itself for Wallace to break away from his typical trappings. I never thought I’d see him design a tabletop miniatures affair, but here we are.

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This game has a calm sense of poise. You put some men, women, and a robed owl out on the map to slowly hack away at each other. Maybe you save up a few cards and scoot on over to pick up one of your gems, inching closer to the needed five victory points. There’s thought in how you expend cards and which you burn through in defense. Do you want to eat that big attack from the ghostly knight carrying a coffin, or do you want to block it, even if this comes at the expense of offense when it gets back around to your turn?

These are tough choices. Unfortunately, they’re not terribly exciting.

This is not a dramatic game. Those moments of elevated tension occur just a couple times during the hour of play. They’re facilitated mostly through an astute interrupt system where you take the ball from another player and run with it. These interrupts can be layered so as to cancel the agency of another, which results in one of the few flashes where a wide grin or hearty laugh escapes your mouth.

Those are fantastic moments. And they’re frankly almost enough.

The majority of play consists of you throwing down a couple of cards on your turn for some direct movement or damage. Each card maps to your faction’s characters allowing you to move or strike with these figures. The action set is dead simple – move, attack for one damage, attack for two damage, or block. Some groups possess ranged attacks and the spell-casters can hit every single model in an adjacent space.

That’s it. No special abilities or untelegraphed explosions of power.

untitledA big turn would be letting loose with two or three attacks if you’re lucky. Then the opponent either blocks each or collects a few damage tokens. Maybe you kill their poor sod and jaunt towards victory.

The utilization of hand management focuses play around these tactical decisions. It’s surprisingly meaty for a game bereft of complication.

That tactical depth is even more surprising given the short time commitment. The experience is reigned in, yet it still produces a tight framework for layered strategy. It’s a satisfying game that almost overcomes an absence of drama.

But then Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire hits the table and my veins open.

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The contrast in asymmetry between the two is astounding. Every single war-band in Shadespire feels drastically different. This is fueled by action cards, objectives, attack profiles, and conditions to become inspired.

Wildlands asymmetry skulks in the background. The mix of action cards is unique for each faction which results in characters and strategies that diverge from their competition. The problem is that it’s entirely in the numbers. What makes the ferocious Minotaur special is that he has more double attack cards than other characters. This is subtle as you’re not analyzing or assessing that spread of icons in a single hand. The asymmetry is teased out slowly over the curvature of the session. It can often be missed by those who aren’t focused or attentive. This doesn’t feel particularly moving or exciting. Asymmetry then is more about balance and eliciting a desirable spread of computational results.

The outcome is a skirmish-style design for those nonplussed with the genre. It’s a refined event that’s sanded off the wild swings and buried Lady Luck like Montresor beguiling Fortunato.

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Wildlands’ greatest strength is in that accessibility. You can gather round a collection of newcomers and they can be skulking around the ruins and walloping on each other in no time. The depth emerges organically as you parse your hand and make informed decisions based on the board state. It has the potential to furrow your brow and tease the mind as you agonize over several simple options.

There is definitely an audience for this release. It’s received acclaim from many of my peers and has performed quite well in its youthful days. Osprey Games is riding a building wave of success with each new release and this will definitely receive support.

The first expansion is already heading to market. The Unquiet Dead is a sortie of skeletons that play uniquely. They feature six figures – one more than the existing factions – and have their special card abilities spread across their deck more irregularly. Most significant is that you can use these miniatures as neutral enemies that replace fallen warriors on the board.

This is particularly exciting. You can use cards of felled characters to move the dead about the board and inflict damage upon your competition. It cleverly empowers those who have lost a member or two of their team. This breeds a sense of caution and opens play up to moments of maniacal laughter and tickled anguish.

At this juncture, The Unquiet Dead are the most interesting appendage of the design. This is not enough to turn the game on its heel, but it’s an interesting footnote on a somewhat muted release.WildlandsBoxIt’s quite possible this system will find redemption. The Adventuring Party is the next slated expansion. This set will continue the trend of neutral participants which should help alleviate some of the insipidity. As the scope expands the degree of dynamism should as well. At least, that’s the hope.

Let’s bring it all back home.

A few years ago, my cousin’s six year old son described me by saying “he is what he is.” The table erupted in laughter and I chuckled along. When the mirth subsided and the group drifted from the corner, I sat there alone. In silence I contemplated my place in the universe and the unintended deeper meaning of the hoodlum’s idiom. Well, it’s Wildlands’ turn to sit in the corner and ruminate on its existence, because “it is what it is.”

 

 

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

If you enjoy what I’m doing at Player Elimination and want to support my efforts, please consider dropping off a tip at my Ko-Fi.