GAMES NEWS! 06/05/19

incautious moles, vicar amelia, dripping with side-eye, tickle my ballot
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Quinns: Good morning, Ava! I understand that you just mainlined the latest episode of Game of Thrones before coming to work.

Ava (they/them): I’m definitely trying to squeeze so much into to today that I’m genuinely offended they tagged on an extra twenty minutes to this episode. I’ve got a game of Twilight Imperium set up downstairs, and by the end of the day someone is going to rule the galaxy.

But more important than the galactic throne, the iron throne, or even just the throne throne? It’s the news throne, baby, and someone’s got to sit in it.

Quinns: Let’s take turns? So nobody has to die?

Our top story this week: German specialist publisher Spielworxx tweeted some new box art, which informed the staff of SU&SD that they’re developing a new edition of classic 1986 board game Die Macher.

Now, I’m sure Die Macher is fascinating, but it does sound like a board game that you might see played in a sitcom. Players represent political parties in competing in elections across seven of Germany’s sixteen Länder (German for ‘lands’). For *four hours*, you’re going to be checking favorability ratings, playing “shadow cabinet cards”, and trying to manage the media and your own grassroots activists.

That said, there’s certainly some stuff here that tickles my ballot.

Ava: Do I want to know what that means?

Quinns: For example, players can choose whether to accept financial contributions from special interests at the risk of alienating their supporters, and there are mechanics where players can (and sometimes must) form coalitions if nobody gets enough votes.

Ava: It must be an actual nightmare trying to come up with a game as fiddly and mean as modern politics. I love that earlier editions of this got to up the player count due to the reunification of Germany.

Quinns: Right? Spielworxx is promising “Lots of minor tweaks” to their edition, so that’s exciting. I just hope they manage to make a box that’s a little more attractive than Captains of the Gulf, another Spielworxx game that we looked at back in podcast #89.

Ava: Battlelands is a new bottom-of-the-garden ruck-a-thon from Plaid Hat Games. Your cards form an adorable animal warband that will face off in six battles over the course of the game. This appears to sit somewhere between Condottiere and the sadly out of print Dogs of War, both of which are dramatic, punchy, tightly wound skirmishes. I’m excited to see if these cute warriors can be as brutal as their Italian and Clockpunk cousins. After a run of ‘not quite there’ games, I’d love to see Plaid Hat return to the form that made me fall in love with the company.

The not so tim’rous beasties are from an upcoming storybook game titled “Aftermath”, but Plaid Hat hasn’t released any information about that yet, so I’m a little bewildered as to why I should care. On the other hand, Battlelands has a mining mole with a candle strapped to their forehead, and that’s more than enough to get me hyped.

Quinns: Hang on. Moles are absolutely blind–

Ava: I literally already googled this. Apparently even the ones that have their eyes covered over with skin have surprisingly good light detection.

Quinns: Right. But having a candle strapped to your face didn’t make any sense when I first saw a goblin doing it in Hearthstone, and it makes even LESS sense here.

Ava: Not to mention a fire hazard. That’s it, I’m dismounting my hype horse.

Ava: Cleopatra and the Society of Architects sounds like an Asterix book and looks like the sort of kickstarter fluff I’d usually ignore. It turns out it’s a reprint of a game that Days of Wonder had a lot of success with in 2006. I can’t say I’ve noticed people clamouring for its return, but with Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc as the designers behind these pyramids, maybe there’s something worth digging out here.

Cleopatra turns you into the titular architects, vying to impress the empress with the most monumental monuments. You’ll be fighting to build a plaza full of sphinxes, a temple roof garden, and the walls to the temple itself. I can’t help but think all of the big chunks of plastic are a big chunk of unnecessary, but it’s definitely going to look big and bold on the table, especially now it’s made enough money to bump the size of the entire game up by forty percent.

Quinns: I’m so in love with the idea of Kickstarter fundraising causing a game to swell in size like a snakebite victim.

Ava: I might back this one if it gets big enough I can actually live in the temple.

Quinns: In all seriousness, I think this game looks pretty cool! I enjoyed the plastic chunkiness of The Adventurers: The Pyramid of Horus. Who says simple games need simple components?

Ava: The simple components industry?

Quinns: Ahh, Big Simple Component strikes again.

Quinns: Meanwhile, this week’s Kickstarter success story is CMON’s Bloodborne: The Board Game. A love letter to From Software’s blisteringly good video game Bloodborne, rendered in cardboard and a great many gorgeous miniatures. In fact, there’s even a Vicar Amelia miniature! One of my favourite video game bosses ever, although that’s partly thanks to her music.

Now, allow me to break out my French horn and play the same old song you’ve heard SU&SD play a hundred times before:

If you want to back this game for the miniatures, go for it. CMON is a safe pair of hands. If you want a great game, then statistically speaking, you’re unlikely to find it here. CMON’s miniatures-based games are frequently uninspiring, Eric Lang’s Bloodborne card game received a pretty tepid reception, and for what it’s worth, the Dark Souls board game (from a different publisher and designer) wasn’t great either.

Ava: I just watched the video and it’s disturbingly uninspiring. Watching a giant tower get flattened into cardboard is a sad analogy for a table top transition. Tokens and miniatures floating around of their own volition is just animating the least exciting parts of a game. Without players board games are nothing, and this video feels haunted by that.

Quinns: Let’s summon Matt, SU&SD’s biggest Bloodborne fan, for his thoughts.

Matt: Hello! There are few things I love quite as much as Bloodborne. The gothic and gory cousin of Dark Souls, in many ways it achieved what most of that iconic game didn’t: using fragmented chunks of vague narrative to successfully tell a cohesive story that works on a number of layers. Ostensibly a game about murdering vile beasts, it slowly mutated into something much more than that, which is why I must admit I’m fairly disinterested to see it packaged as a spin-off product of minis with cool weapons and creatures you can beat.

Then again, at this point I’m really no stranger at all to the phenomenon of video games being celebrated the loudest with the least interesting readings of the subject matter, which is why I currently work here! HELLO.

Quinns: Hello!

Ava: Hello.

Ava: The owner of Alderac Entertainment Group wants to make fewer games. In a blog post dripping with side-eye, John Zinser suggests that the way to stand out in a crowd is to make less, but make it better. AEG isn’t going to the extremes of Days of Wonder, who take a gamble on one big new game a year, but it’s hard to argue that games don’t need a lot of time, energy and focus to be truly great. I’ve played a lot of games that feel mostly solid, but need something special, and it’s hard to know when a publisher could’ve made time to find that sparkle.

Alderac recently developed pear-shaped favourites Space Base and Tiny Towns, so they’ve probably earned an opinion or two.

Quinns: I find it really interesting how the big publishers are all adapting in today’s impossibly crowded tabletop market. Over 3,000 games were released in 2018 alone! A lot of publishers, perhaps most notably CMON, are moving to a depressing “fire and forget” model where they publish a game and then abandon it utterly as soon as the hype fades. That’s saddening, and here at SU&SD we’re happy to see AEG going the other way.

Ava: AEG has also talked recently about setting up a playtesting house, where people can stay while they try out new game prototypes, which sounds like the set up for the worst reality TV show ever. (Unless they fill it with Korean celebrities, at which point I’m here for it)

Ava: Meeple Like Us is one of the best resources on the internet for finding out how often games make themselves inaccessible. The teardowns are an insightful eye on the visual, physical, mental, economic and social issues that get in the way of people enjoying board games. This makes it all the more striking that the lovely Michael Heron wrote recently about how inaccessibility is part of what makes games fun.

This is definitely not as contradictory as it sounds. Michael argues that while game design is about creating obstacles, it’s all about making them right obstacles. Games should be challenging in the ways that are interesting, and not in ways that are thoughtless. It’s lovely to read such a nuanced take on the subject, and even though it focuses a lot on difficulty modes in video games, it’s all very relevant for the table top.

Ava: One last note for any readers living in London. Matt pointed us to this lovely little charity board game event in South London, near London Bridge.

They’re hoping to run a regular games night, encouraging people to give money to Mind, a wonderful UK mental health advocacy charity. I’ve been known to bang the drum for board games as a support for folks with mental illness (like me). A hobby that lets me easily be with people even during anxious states and low moods has helped me immensely. It’s nice to see people making that connection more directly. So lovely work, Roll for Mind. If you’re in London, maybe heading down the Ugly Duck would be a nice way to spend a Tuesday evening.