Tom: Ow ow ow ow. I got my hands stuck in the news cookie jar.
Ava: Tom, that’s not the news cookie jar, that’s just a mousetrap. What were you even thinking? Let’s get you some nice soothing news before your hand swells up.
Tom: It’s too late! I think I’ve got a news infection!
Ava: Don’t worry about that, get your suit on: we’ve got some business news this week, as what used to be my favourite publisher jumps back to independence. Plaid Hat Games was bought by Asmodee Group in 2015, and has now been bought back by its founder, Colby Dauch. Several of their big titles will be transferred to Fantasy Flight and Z-Man Games, and Plaid Hat will go back to being a (relatively) small fish.
I’m all for this, to be honest, as I’ve not been wowed by anything Plaid Hat for a while, and hopefully switching to a smaller scale and maybe a slower rate of release could be good for them. Back in the day they were absolute faves, with Summoner Wars and City of Remnants punching well above their weight and the latter still sitting proud in my top ten.
I actually discovered this news from Isaac Vega’s twitter feed, announcing that he wasn’t going to be jumping to the same ship as the rest of the team. It sounds like he might be setting up his own thing soon, and I’m very, very excited about that possibility. A few years ago I would’ve told you he was my favourite designer, but I’ve lost track of him over the last few years. Neon Gods is still sitting on my shelf unplayed, longing for an expansion to make it as crunchy as City of Remnants without losing that gorgeous queer eighties aesthetic.
Matt: It’s been interesting to watch the dust settle after Asmodee snaffled up oh so many companies and left many worried about what might come next. We suspected at the time that a lot of those purchases were mostly about securing a small handful of valuable IPs from across the industry, but possibly even more important than that – it would allow them to neaten up the processes behind global distribution, with game most older board game publishers like ancient spiders in a sticky web, having long ago collected the obscure rights to publish Game X in Continent Z – a neatly wrapped package is always better for a sale.
Still, while it’s been broadly exciting to see the vacuum it created being filled up with exciting new designers and publishers, it’s only now starting to feel like the end of an era. With Fantasy Flight’s Andrew Navarro moving on to new pastures, Plaid Hat going it alone, and Asmodee NA discontinuing their component replacement service – I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that the company as we once knew it likely won’t be coming back. But everything is in flux and life is a rollercoaster, and with that I whip off my business cloak and theatrically leap onto a moving stagecoach.
Tom: Sorry, what happened I was buying a nice spacious business suit for all of this business.
Ava: No time for that Tom, go get your plaidest pirate hat.
Tom:Why would I have a… *sigh*
Ava: Sticking with Plaid Hat, I’m a bit tempted by their latest announcement. It’s presumably not a game about that feeling when you get on a hot, busy train and realise your water bottle is still at home.
Forgotten Waters will be Isaac Vega’s last game with the company, and his return to the Crossroads system of ‘interrupting story elements’ first seen in Dead of Winter. This time he’s working with J Arthur Ellis and Mr Bistro. Magical pirates, story-telling, a wee book of adventures and a companion app are the order of the day. There’s some big promises here, like being able to come up with a unique backstory for your character, and a fully voice acted narrative, presumably to stop me reading everything in a bad west country twang. It also promises to hold 3-7 players, which seems like a lot for a campaign, but might be useful for anyone who’s accidentally accrued too many friends.
Matt: I’ve heard really interesting things about this one from my shady network of behind-the-curtain contacts, and hope to have a copy of this winging its way to the office very soon…
Ava: Honestly, one of the pirates is called Claudia Stroopwaffel and I’m already entirely sold on the basis of that.
Tom: With names like that framed as normal by the game’s standards, my typical names for characters in these games (lifted straight from the annals of Toast of London) honestly seem completely at home. Welcome to my crew. Have you met Phillip Bilge? What about Ray Interruption, or his partner, Anne Pulverise? They’re a lovely bunch. I also adore how one of the game’s selling points is to ‘Thrill as your failures are played out by professional actors!’. I can’t wait to watch Ryan Gosling accidentally drink two whole pints of out-of-date milk and then be violently sick.
Ava: Wait a second, is Ryan Gosling a real name?
Tom: He’s one of the world’s most famous actors.
Ava, googling frantically: Oh my. And you’re hoping to have him play you in the film of your life?
Tom: Don’t tread on my dreams.
Ava: Exciting expansion news comes in the form of an upcoming kickstarter and reprint for the ugliest game that I love.
Lords of Vegas is a proper treat. Players take the role of gangster painter decorators, building, remodelling and bullying their way through the city of lost wages. It’s a cruel dance with lady luck, pocketsful of dice, some mildly convoluted counting, and some generalised wheeling and dealing. The game is built on the same gambler’s fallacies as the infamous well-lit city, and it’s a bit of a joy. It’s also got box art that looks like it’s the cover of a budget reissue of an old Sierra adventure game. It’s bad. Honestly, I’m embarrassed to bring it to game night.
It doesn’t look like they’re fixing the art. But instead they’re doing something even more thrilling; bringing back into print the hard to find Up expansion, which adds extra players by allowing you to build your casinos with extra height. Not only that though, there’s going to be a new expansion: Underground. This news is slightly disconcerting, as if it’s as literal as the first expansion, that means you’re going to have a second board under the table. I can’t wait to see what’s actually going to happen with that. Colour me hyped and covered in dice.
Ava: Matt was a touch on the scathing side about Fantasy Flight’s Fallout adventure game, including a note that it should probably have been a co-operative game. Well it looks like someone’s listening, and they’ve got an ear for a pun.
Fallout: Atomic Bonds is a cheeky little co-operative add on that adds a range of collaborative scenarios and a few new mutations and options. The opportunity to start the game by picking a side in the factional wars that are already playing out in the main scenarios is a smart fix. I doubt it fixes all the issues with the base game, but if you enjoyed yourself but wanted a bit less arbitrary narrative competition, then this could shave off a rough edge or too.
Tom: Ava left this part of the news with a little tag saying ‘tempted to ditch this unless you can find something interesting to say. I obviously can’t!’ and honestly that sort of sums up my feelings about the fallout franchise (be it set in code, or cardboard) since Fallout 4. The promise to ‘fix’ Fallout: The Board Game with expansion content seems to err worryingly close to the lifecycle of the much-hated video game Fallout 76 – and personally I can’t be bothered with the promise of things being maybe a bit better if you can just wait and also pay us a little more money please when it comes to this kind of thing. Give me some zesty new post-apocalyptic settings to romp in. When are we going to get a Metro board game? I bet that’ll at least be decent first-time round, and beloved by all the lovely denizens of the internet.
Ava: Tom, Tom. Look on BGG.
Tom: NEVERMIND LET’S MOVE ON.
Ava: Funko Games are continuing to work with Prospero Hall to create all the weirdest tie-in games possible, and I’m not letting this one slide, because of some very niche beef.
First up is Yacht Rock, a game of soft rock and floral shirts with very little details. I’m leaving it here because I’m utterly baffled as to who would want this to exist, and I say that as one of the UK’s leading Steely Dan apologists.
But that’s not even their most ridiculous theme. Pan Am, is literally a game about Pan American Airlines, covering forty years of airline shenanigans. It sounds a little unusual, with players playing rival airlines against a non-player Pan Am, but if you think they’re going to come out on top, you can actually buy stock in the neutral team. Auctioning landing rights, buying planes, and flying them about is the chief business of the game, and it could be interesting.
I bring these up together mostly because I really hate the actual airline Pan Am, for a fairly ridiculous reason, related to weirdo music of the crossover from the sixties to the seventies.
Silver Apples’ early use of homemade oscillator synthesisers means they sounded eerily ahead of their time, and produced one of my favourite love songs, featuring the most heartfelt synth since my heart first heard synths. Why’s that relevant? Because they got knocked out of the music industry by Pan Am. The front cover of their second album featured them rolling joints in the cockpit of a Pan Am plane. While the back cover had a picture of a crashed plane. Pan Am accused them of attempting to sully their brand. The ensuing lawsuit destroyed the band, and left us without one of the weirdest and wonderful sounds of the era.
Boo Pan Am! Stop stealing my apples!
Matt: Can’t say I’m fond at all of the 56k dial-up modem aesthetic of that song, Ava, but I’m all for minesweeper moments of unleashed pocket-beef. Who could have known that this juxtaposition could fire off such a beautiful little rainbow of frustration?
Tom: Ava, have you seen this? It looks as though Avalon Hill patiently waited whilst we burned through every goof we had when covering last week’s scoob-based entity, and have now seized the opportunity to manufacture their own Scooby Game whilst we weren’t looking? We’re all out of ammo on this one, boss.
Ava: I suppose you’re going to have to do some entirely goofless reporting for this section, Tom.
Tom: Betrayal at Mystery Mansion is taking the rickety foundations of Betrayal at House on The Hill and building another mansion right on top of it. You get to play as Scoob-Doo, Shaggy, Velma, Daphne or Fred. You explore the mansion. You search for clues. There’s a haunt where one of you turns into a monster. It looks enjoyable. I’m personally excited for someone to play as Scooby, and to find an item that’s incongruous with the general limb-layout of a dog. Perhaps a big silly gun.
Ava: That last part was ticking dangerously high on the goof-ometer, but we’ll let it slide just this once.
Honestly, this is a perfect tie in, and the kind of ridiculousness Betrayal generates might be a much better fit for this. I hate the game with a passion off the back of one horrible anecdote and a firm belief that if a game can be that bad sometimes, it doesn’t matter if sometimes it’s great. But somehow, if that was all dressed up in Scooby-clothes, I might be up for it.
Tom: Does the existence of Scooby Snacks imply the existence of Scooby Meals? Scooby Starters? Scooby Puddings?
Ava: I Scooby do hope so
Ava: Anyone want a little war in their pocket? How about two? Following on from The Cousin’s War, a well regarded half hour wargame using a version of Liar’s Dice for combat, Surprised Stare games are continuing their Pocket Campaigns series with two new games on Kickstarter
The Ming Voyages and The March of Progress promise two very different two player games that play in under an hour and come in small boxes. The Ming Voyages casts one player as a Chinese emperor, attempting to complete seven treasure voyages whilst holding your borders against your opponent’s invading Mongols and Manchus. It sounds pleasingly asymmetrical and offers a one player mode for those with invasion fantasies they need to work out.
The March of Progress has a few scenarios, promising two player warfare in the thirty years war, some napoleonic conflict, and the western fronts of both world wars. It’s built on simultaneous action selection, and the thirty minute thirty years war acts as a training scenario so it should be easy to jump straight in. I do find that the main charm of wargames is how they bring out the details of unusual moments in history, so I’m not sure if I’m more or less into a game that promises multiple very different wars. I’m curious how each scenario will mark itself out.
Tom: Straight from the maw of the NY Toy Fair, we’ve got Bear Down!, the English version of Grizzly: Lachsfang am Wasserfall. You get to be a bear! A salmon-loving bear! A salmon-loving bear teetering dangerously on the edge of a waterfall, trying to hoover up said salmon without plummeting hundreds of feet down into the icy water below! Oh.
This all sounds very sininster when written like that, but don’t worry – the mechanics looks positively delightful; taking notes from those coin-pushing machines you might find at a carnival, a pier, or any other British totally-not-gambling emporium. On each turn, you can hoover up the fish you’re already sitting on, or inch closer to the edge, hoping to snarf down the newest batch of salmon entering the board. Stay too close, though, and a little trickle of water might push everything you know and love over the edge. One thing I very much like about this game is that it could settle for a board where some spaces are just ‘spaces where the bear leaves the board on account of their falling off of the waterfall’, but instead of that, we’ve got a tiny slope to tumble down, creating a modest pool of cardboard soup.
Ava: I hope this is the right balance of anxiety inducing and adorable, because it really does sound like a winner.
Tom: This is the kind of game I can imagine my youngest sibling cackling at as she purges bears from the table in an act of rebellion against nature itself. The rest of the family watch on, terrified by the plight of the bears under the evil eye of an insane ten-year-old.
Ava: Sounds like the right balance of anxiety inducing and adorable to me!
Ava: Sigh. What is it this time, a weak pun or another mousetrap?
Tom: Both! And look, the original wound is starting to go all green and lumpy! With bits of purple! I think I’m going to need a more effective antiseptic than the news.
Ava: Alright, keep your hat on. Let’s get you to the news-nurse’s office.