That was the end of my second play of Bushido by GCT Games - the actual impaling being only metaphorical, if you're the queasy sort, but the defeat and delight being real. From my first encounter, what intrigued me about Bushido was that I found it immensely pleasurable even when I lost horribly. Let me try to explain why.
If the name and picture don't make it apparent, Bushido is a tabletop skirmish game set in a world inspired by Japanese folklore, or at least a western, Tolkein-filtered riff on Japanese folklore. Elves and Dwarves are replaced by Tengu and Oni, the heroes include snake-people and warrior pandas, and the outfits look like the result of a raid on a Kurosawa film's prop closet. All in the best possible way.
I'm wondering where the last two hours went and how I didn't notice we now have an audience of a new visitor and a cat. I realise, suddenly, that on this cool spring evening I'm bathed in sweat. This is the aftermath of Millennium Blades.
We've spent the time pretending to be players of a fictional collectible card game in an anime universe. Millennium Blades is, then, a game about playing games. This sounds like a recipe for a design that disappears up its own backside. Instead, this game is interesting, intense and ingenious. Stuffed with self-referential satire, it sits, winking at its players from the comfort of its oversize box. If you can unpick all the parodies from a card called “I’ll Form the Head” from the “Obari as Hell” card set, you’re a higher voltage gamer than me.
None of that prepared me for the bizarre investigations that I commenced upon my return to Minneapolis –– investigations that continue as I write. Therefore, while I still retain enough of my mind to write, I find it imperative to tell you all this:
There is no Lovecraftian mystery game as engrosssing, as well-crafted, or as much sheer fun as Pelgrane's roleplaying game, Trail of Cthulhu.
For the last few weeks I’ve been fretting and sweating against these games' arbitrary countdowns, searching for the best simulation of being locked in a room. And do you know what? I had a consistently happy time of it.
But the time for happiness is over. Two series emerged as front-runners during my trials, and it’s only right that I pit them against one another in cardboard combat. From Germany, in the blue corner, we have the prestigious series of EXIT: The Game. And from France, in the red corner, we have the flashy contender known as Unlock!
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! LET’S GET READY TO
I’ve spent a while poking my nose around for a worthy replacement, and - for me - I think it might be Burgle Bros.
Dropping two to four players into a classic bank heist, Tim Fowers’ has squeezed an almost comical amount of theme and bits and ideas into a box that - being generous - might hold a small shoe. Our intrepid / idiotic thieves have failed to case the joint ahead of the job, so it’s up to you and your Colleagues-In-Crime to first find the safes, then crack them, grab the loot, and get out.
Here are three other things that feel awful: 1) When the guy at the market has nothing to sell but combinations of the same sickly yellow paint (“I’ve got a bit of yellow, some yellow, or lots of yellow.") 2) Mixing colours that you can’t then use because someone beat you to the cathedral again. 3) When the bishop buggers off. Honestly, what is the point of bishops?
Here’s something that’s great: Fresco.
In other words, if you haven't yet watched Firefly, you need to get on it.
But enough of that! The real question here is whether the Firefly roleplaying game is any good.
Readers, friends: yes. Yes it is.
I've just finished playing an advance copy of Terminal Directive, the most dramatic expansion that Android: Netrunner has ever received. This big box introduces not just a campaign to the superlative cyberpunk card game, but the dramatic "Legacy" elements that you might remember from Pandemic: Legacy. As the story unfolds players open new packs of cards, but also destroy cards and cover them with stickers.
Best of all, Terminal Directive is a long-awaited stepping stone for new Netrunner players! Previously if you bought the core set and liked it, you then faced the intimidating proposition of simply starting to buy up Netrunner's forty-two expansion packs. Now you can buy the core set, and then enjoy Terminal Directive's campaign, and then - erm - begin buying forty-two expansion packs.
There's just one problem. After being a zealous advocate for this game for years on end, today I don't play Netrunner anymore. Let's talk about why.
Maybe just gaze into the above image. Try and take it all in. Crystals! Robots! Colours! Cards! Three dozen unique kinds of token, each with a different shape, as if they were all so scared of this primary-coloured scrum that they started to collapse in on themselves.
This is Cry Havoc, one of 2016’s most striking and well-received war games, and if you take anything from its Shakespearean name it shouldn’t be wry sophistication, but that this design is as wild and energetic as a pack of dogs.
"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!" Let me tell you what I think of this grand box.
That was another quote from Julius Caesar, you see. I might even do another before we're done. Brace yourselves!