This year saw a lot of milestones for the hobby, not least of all being the 50th anniversary of Gen Con– the first time the gargantuan convention sold out. Along with the industry, the games themselves have grown: games like Gloomhaven, 7th Continent, and Massive Darkness made a giant splash both with critics and players as well as promising hundreds of hours of replayability. Even the mammoth game that– arguably– started it all: Twilight Imperium got an upgrade. One might think this year would be my favorite year for the Big Game– capital B, capital G.
Except, my attention has been elsewhere, and I might argue so should yours. This year has also made great strides in small games as well. Now, I have nothing against the grand, complex, narrative driven behemoths. But game innovation isn’t only about adding more, it’s also about refining simplicity. As Eric Lang said, “Complexity is a concession.” My 2017 picks epitomize this notion. Even still it was a difficult task to narrow down, but for the sake of brevity– as I do want to say a bit about each game on the list– I’m only including my top 3 from both traditional and crowd funded publishing; 6 in total. These games have managed to make experiences that are not only simple and inclusive, but also fun as hell. Continue reading CJ’s Board Game Picks of 2017
Forget this hero crap! Time to root for the bad guys! Equip your daggers, don your cloaks, and ready your poisons: this game is all about letting out your darker side. Welcome to Tyrants of the Underdark, one of my other Origins 2016 top picks. In this D&D IP you get to control a house of nefarious Drow lords vying for control of the subterranean world. But you aren’t just mindless thugs; you’ve got some class. So round up your minions and conspirators, and let’s do some bad.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Underdark, that’s fine, it’s not a requisite for enjoyment. The game easily conveys to the players the sorts of strategies you’ll be employing: guile, conquest, malice, ambition, and obedience. Some are better in a straight fight, while others use trickery and moving targets to confound your foes. You can gain relative status by promoting your followers to your inner circle, or simply assassinating your opponent’s troops. But as fun as it might be to play the villain, the most interesting thing about Tyrants is how these aspects are conveyed through the game mechanics. Continue reading Weekly Spotlight: Tyrants of the Underdark
Going to take a break from spotlighting Lovecraft games this week. Instead, I’ve chosen to focus on another genre near and dear to my heart: Cyberpunk. For those of you unfamiliar with the theme, it’s a near future setting in which power is held by massive corporations, organized crime, and police-state militias. Caught in the middle of that is everyone else, trapped in a perpetual rat race to get ahead beneath a glass ceiling as thick and strong as vault steel.
Infamy takes place in such a setting, where the players start with a hand full of cash for bribes to finally end on top of one of the powerful organizations or to reach the ultimate level of infamy. The game’s scope is ambitious, to say the least. Instead of zooming in on microcosms within the setting, like Netrunner with corporation growth pitted against hacker saboteurs, or Murder City and Android with a noir-esque murder mystery, Infamy attempts to condense the entire genre into a 90-120 minute experience. Does it succeed? Ehhhhhh… sort of. It makes a valiant attempt. But the real question is: is it fun anyway? Continue reading Weekly Spotlight: Infamy
I know, I know — another Cthulhu game. I realize I just talked at length about one, but I do have something of a confession to make. I’m a sucker for Lovecraft, well… anything… but especially games. I know they spawn like flies in the realm of tabletop, and I know not a single one truly encapsulates the gloom and doom of inescapable horror. The theme is getting close to the point of supersaturation, and yet the Mythos’ rate of use continues to grow. Even as I saw this game at Origins Game Fair, I rolled my eyes and let out an audible sigh… but knew deep down that I was going to play it. And I did. Because of course I did. What I didn’t expect was this particular game stands out not for its theme, but for its twist on a familiar mechanic. Continue reading Weekly Spotlight: Lost in R’lyeh
Looking at The Stars Are Right on the shelves, you’d notice a few things: it’s a Steve Jackson game (maker of Munchkin), the shape of the box is oddly familiar (same box shape as other Munchkin boxes), and the creatures depicted on the box are Lovecraftian(ish) cartoons by Goomi (artist for Munchkin Cthulhu). So it’s a Munchkin game! YAY!!! (or BOO!!! whichever way you tend to lean).
Except, it’s not a Munchkin game. In fact, I’m a little pressed to call it a game at all. Strictly speaking, while The Stars Are Right fits the textbook definition of a game, at its core, it’s really little more than a spatial puzzle– one you try to solve faster than everyone else at the table with strategic placement of cards.
You play the role of a cultist– as you do in any Cthulhu inspired game where you aren’t playing one of the hopeless saps (aka investigators) trying to keep the ancient beasties from inevitably waking. And your goal as a cultist is to invoke the power of said indescribable horrors to manipulate the night sky, aligning the stars to summon more and more powerful tentacly critters. Except you have rival cultists trying to wrest control of the night sky from you to raise their own servitors and elder gods. Continue reading WEEKLY SPOTLIGHT: The Stars Are Right
At first glance, Blood Rage– a game that consists of highly detailed viking and monster miniatures– might be assumed to be a highly aggressive meat grinder of a war game, where you battle against your opponents in bloody duels for the glory of your clan. It’s practically right there in the name! Plus vikings! I mean, come on! But if that’s the impression you walked away with after taking a look at the game box, you’d be wrong. Well, mostly wrong.
Continue reading Weekly Spotlight: Blood Rage