Tom: See Ava, I told you that a board game camping trip would be a valuable team-building exercise for the two of us – isn’t this wonderful? The great outdoors, a roaring fire –
Ava: This isn’t anything to do with camping or board games. We’re just sitting in an underpass throwing dice into an empty KFC bucket.
Tom: Look, it might not be ‘fun’ or ‘a game’ but I’ve got to playtest Bargain Bucket Quest before it hits Kickstarter. Fancy a s’moredgame?
Ava: That’s just a marshmallow wedged between two Catan hexes.
Tom: Fine, if you’re going to smash my dreams one-by-one, then at least have the decency to do so whilst telling me about the latest board game news!
Ava: First up is the news that Castles of Tuscany is a thing that exists. This is a follow up to Stefan Feld’s Castles of Burgundy, but we have yet to see how similar it is, or how different it is, or just about anything about how it is. It’s coming soon from Alea, and I’ve rarely been so excited by simply the NAME of a thing.
Tom: I’ve never played Castles of Burgundy!
Ava: Second up, there’s a big box new version of Hansa Teutonica, which has always felt to me like the archetypal German-style box of beige historic passive aggression we tend to call ‘eurogames’. I’ve not actually played it, but I’ve always been a little curious, and when ‘the boys’ discussed it in a podcast recently, I was like ‘oooh, that sounds nice’.
Matt: It was nice! It’s one of those games that I specifically remember a handful of the mechanics for, but the rest is just a warming glow of probably monk-related theme.
Ava: Wait, Tom – did you say you’d never played Castles of Burgundy? You’ve never known the sweet agony of being just one worker short of the perfect move? Never puzzled over the arcane science of its rule-bending iconography? Never felt the power of getting to roll the white die because you’re first in turn order? How did you get here?
Tom: No idea! It’s almost definitely a mistake! Let’s keep going before anyone notices!
Ava: Finally in this whirlwind expansionebruary roundup, we’ve got ‘the photogenic one’, the imaginatively titled Era: the Medieval age expansion. You guessed it, it’s an expansion for roll and build, clip it together, medieval city builder Era: The Medieval age. Why is that exciting? Well LOOK AT THAT BRIDGE. Like a bridge over troubled waters, I would play that game. The base game was a re-imagining of Roll Through the Ages, with players rolling dice to acquire buildings to slot into their big plastic player board. There’s something of a mismatch between depth and price, as a result of all the big chunky lumps of plastic, but I’ve heard good things about the game itself. Maybe an expansion can add the chewiness it needs (although of course, it’s raising the price even further, if that is the case).
Matt: This is the Catch-22 we talked about on the podcast we recorded just the other day (online next Friday) – it’s not even nearly grand enough to justify the pricetag, and yet it’s hard to see how much it can meaningfully expand on that without ramping up the costs to new levels of discomfort. Having said that, the transparent plastic rivers are making me feel nice and gooey in my brain – so anything is possible in boardgame world. Can I just point out too that it’s amazingly amusing that the 3D mock-up they’ve shown so far doesn’t model any of the marks engraved into the game’s pegboard? It’s funny you see, because the marks on the actual game board aren’t visible at all in the actual game – and here through omission they are now literally invisible. It’s funny, Ava. You’re supposed to laugh – it’s funny. Why are you looking at me like that.
Ava: Something hot is coming out of the brain of Győri Zoltán Gábor, and that’s a bluffing card game called Spicy. If I was a tabloid headline writer, I’d be leading with HOT STUFF BLUFFS TOUGH. Spicy gets into the news on the back of a bizarre conceit and some delightful art. Players take the role of rival big cats, who have given up on mauling each other in favour of holding a deceitful spicy food battle. You’ll be playing wasabi and chili peppers and other hot stuff face down, and making claims about what hots they actually are, at permanent risk of getting called out as some kind of big cat hot sauce fraudster.
Tom: Get this to the top of the BGG Hotness ASAP.
Ava: As Spicy As Possible?
Tom: Here’s hoping.
Ava: I find it genuinely weird that the appropriate term for big cats is just ‘big cats’. I really want there to be a proper collective term for lions and tigers and panthers and such, and not just ‘oh yeah, they’re cats, but big’. It’s possible a board game news column isn’t the right time to figure this out.
Tom: I want the opposite – more ‘BIG’ as a prefix please. Oil tanker? BIG BOAT. Giraffe? BIG DOG. Dinosaurs? BIG FROG.
Ava: Okay, we definitely need to talk about this outside of the news.
Tom: Ava, do you reckon one day we’ll be able to do….BIG NEWS?
Ava: We can dare to dream.
Matt: You are both contractually obligated not to dream.
Ava: Retiring to the garden of a local monastery, we’ve got a contender for ‘most parochial theme of the year’ coming in with Genotype, an exploration of Gregor Mendel’s monastic allotment, and the discovery of genetic inheritance.
Ava: In Genotype, players will be placing workers into a shared garden and arguing about which particular peas get planted where. This dictates the outcomes of what happens when you watch the peas grow and roll the offspring dice to see where their genes land. You’ll then be drafting those dice to try and meet the goals laid out on cards, representing the empirical proof for the concept of genetics you and Gregor have been looking for.
It took me a while to work out why it might be worth having to explain punnet squares to your fellow players, but as soon as I saw that you could overlay the edges of the matrices with your own genetic hooha, it clicked. There’s some clever probability bumping going on here, and it could be interesting.
Tom: I’m on a bit of a nature-themed high after playing the Evolution sequel-em-up Oceans the other day and being suitably charmed by the way the game really does feel like a delicate ecosystem that you’re all collectively trying to nurture. Hopefully Genotype will stir up some nice thematic feelings as you roll your ‘offspring dice’; echoing the real-life way that babies are made.
Ava: Can’t make an omelette and/or baby without rolling a few dice. Also on Kickstarter, but with less points for originality, yet another mission to Mars is being mounted.
Migration: Mars combines resource gathering and hexagonal habitat building. A pleasing grid and some lovely little plastic lumps are the core of this latest Mars maker. Plenty of people will be put off with what appears to be a roll and move circuit of the board as players move their rover around the outside of the board, gathering resources to help them build enough habitats to house six people and win the game. There’s some curious touches here, but I’m struggling to see what will make this stand out on an increasingly crowded red planet.
Tom: I was also struggling to see the appeal of this one – it looks like pretty light fare to me, and I was ready to dismiss it as kickstarter bloat. But then I realised: it has impact resistant domes, Ava! Don’t you just hate to see it when the plastic domes in your mars colony games just haven’t got the bulk, the grit, the chutzpah to resist a good whacking? Migration Mars is promising to have the strongest domes in the bizz. It’s huge.
Ava: The Biz.
Tom: It’s short for ‘the business’.
Ava: No, Tom, I was singing in a Batman style deep, gravelly voice, in honour of a nineties kids TV show I doubt anyone but me can remember.
Tom: Nobody is the same age as you, Ava. You’re basically a temporal anomaly.
Ava, sadly: The Biz.
Ava: Also taking flight on Kickstarter currently is Rocketmen, sadly not a game about competitive Elton Johnning.
Tom: Oh no. I need to rescind my pledge immediately.
Ava: Martin Wallace’s Rocketmen is another space race simulator, with players vying to be the first to be the most space. Rocketmen sees players buying cards, adding them to launch pads, and eventually sending missions to low-Earth orbit, the moon, or Mars. The game includes a lunar hodge-podge of mission bonuses, secret goals, saving the planet from asteroids or pandemics, variant rules, and an optional miniatures set.
Tom: I’m sad to say that in my patent-pending Kickstarter goodness-ometer, Rocketmen failed with flying colours. 30 scrolls of the mouse to get to the gameplay, and 16 mentions of the word ‘exclusive’ or ‘deluxe’ before that point, giving it a rough score of 3.26/10.
Ava: What kind of maths is that?
Tom: It’s not maths, it’s mathscience. The two greats, married at last: a match made in heaven.
Ava: You know what else is a match made in heaven? The contrast of soft marshmallow filling and crisp, wholesome cardboard. These ‘s’moredgames’ are really tasty.
Tom: Thanks Ava, I really appreciate the honest feedback from your real human voice. Thank god I’m not fooling myself into thinking we’re on a camping holiday together. It would be awful if i was just projecting an idealised version of this conversation as I sit alone in an underpass shovelling cardboard and marshmallows into my mouth.
Matt: Do not worry Tom, I am here.
Ava: I too am definitely here. And just to let you know, I’d back Bargain Bucket Quest as soon as it hit Kickstarter, such is my faith in its brilliance as both a design and snack. You’re my hero, Tom.
Tom: That’s exactly what I wanted to hear! I’ll start working on the grease’n’gravy expansion immediately!