GAMES NEWS! 08/06/20

The Big News, This’ll thistle
Matt Lees 53 comment(s)

Ava: There’s just too much news, Tom.

Tom: Yes, but most of that isn’t actually about games is it.

Ava: I know, but it feels super weird to be focussed on one narrow stream of stuff when so much huge other stuff is happening.

Tom: How about this. We’ll pick a few fruits from the kickstarter tree, oggle a few upcoming intrigues, then try and be thoughtful and highlight some good work, good links, and ways to help?

Ava: Maybe a teensy bit of stream promotion first? Just a wee dram to get the cockles warm?

Tom: A little stream promotion; as a treat.

So! All stream donations/subs for the next month are going to Black Lives Matter and the Stephen Lawrence Trust – so your regular scheduled boardgame buffoonery now comes with a small side of potential positive change. This Tuesday we’re playing Oceans with Dominic Crapuchettes, and on Thursday we’re going to be playing MOTHERSHIP – a roleplaying game! Imagine! That will feature myself, Ava, Matt and Pip and I’m super excited for it. Then, next week, we’ll be playing Dice Throne on Tuesday and [something else] on Thursday! Tune in, it’s always a cosy time.

Ava: This kickstarter makes a lot of bold claims about exactly what people want in a board game. And it simultaneously wound me up the wrong way, and made me go ‘ooooh, yes, I do want that’.

Dice Miner is using animated gifs to full effect by showing a load of colourful dice pouring into a little cardboard (or plastic if you’re fancy) mountain. I’ll be honest, I want to see video footage of someone successfully rolling into the mountain before I dig into this one, but, still, I did an oooh. The dice filled mountain is there to facilitate a dice drafting game with a little extra strategy as you’ll be grabbing dice from the mountain, and so taking from the top lets other players take dive from further down. Initially the dice are stuck as they were rolled, but you’re also setting yourself up for later opportunities to re-roll and do exciting digging things.

Tom: Is it bad that I’m entirely put off this and any enjoyment of it because Kickstarter mentions that ‘every gamer loves dice’ about forty-six times in as many seconds? It feels like that sentence was the six-sided building block of the whole game – if we build it/make it full of nice pretty dice, they will come. It looks like a roll and write, but without the write and way more of the roll. It’s a roll. A roll.

Ava: Some of my best lunches have been rolls.

Alice is Missing offers a pretty strong elevator pitch. A silent role playing game about a missing teen, played entirely via text message, representing the group chat of the friends of Alice (not a euphemism). A shared table of cards are required, but Roll20 will facilitate remote play, and obviously, text messaging is more accessible than tables right now.

Tom: This looks super, super interesting and I’m certainly going to be getting my thumbs on a copy as soon as possible. I suppose a by-product of a purely text-based roleplaying game means that you can fully embody your character, and players won’t know who the person ‘behind’ each member of the group is – which sounds almost frighteningly immersive. On the flipside, though, looking through this Kickstarter has made me realise how much ‘roleplaying’ goes on in my actual group chat with my friends, and how many strange minigames, in-jokes and groupthink vernacular arise from typos and ‘bits’ that go off the rails. We’re currently in the final ‘circle of snow patrol’ after descending through the first six with only two members getting ‘flushed’ due to ‘posting’. There’s rich, twisted history there – I still don’t quite understand why three members of the group are listed as [POISONED] and one is a [TRAITOR]. And even MORE than that, this is all reminding me of my favourite text-based ‘roleplaying game’ of all time – Stackswell and Co.’s Facebook page – once gloriously investigated by Reply All in this wonderful episode. It’s a delight.

Ava: Another role playing kickstarter on offer at the moment is Roll and Play, a games masters toolkit full of prompts and tables to help a GM with the challenge of creating worlds on the fly.

Tom: This looks great if you’re someone like me, whose brain short-circuits as soon as players decide to diverge from the path after they’ve already diverged from your planned divergence? What if you have to *gasp* make up a name?? Roll and Play seems to have a nice, robust and beautifully presented system for the GM who is just tired of players refusing to fit into the nice little box you’ve made for them.

Ava:To be honest my instinct is to save your money and work with the much cheaper advice I’m about to give. Spend ten minutes of your first session getting your players to write down lists of people, places and oddities that they’d like to see in the sort of world you’re building. This gives you an instant list of names, places and oddities to call on when your mind goes blank. During the campaign, they may see a familiar name crop up, and be delighted. As a bonus, you’ve just got out of the way of your own writer’s block, utilising that one weird trick that it’s easier to come up with twenty things than one, because if you’re coming up with twenty, you know they don’t need to be perfect.

This will probably come up again when it actually hits kickstarter, but I was pretty intrigued by the promise of Seize the Power, a collaboration between Bez Shahriari and Tiz Creel. Looking at the structural power dynamics of inequality, through the lens of aliens with specific physical differences, it promises to highlight the real world dynamics of privilege by making the game easier for some players than others through cruel luck of the draw, but encouraging the disadvantaged to band together in solidarity and challenge those holding onto power. There’s obviously some very prickly ideas here, and it’s well worth taking a look.

Tom: It’s the Sidereal Confluence of bigotry! I love the idea that the main ‘auction’ of the game is seemingly for actual RULES being added or changed from the game; that’s huge, and is honestly making me all kinds of excited for this thing. The chaotic elegance of a system where you’re investing your chances of ‘winning’ not straight into ‘points’, but into potential, structural change that can alter your position within the ‘system’ that the game is presenting? This might be a case of looking a little gimmicky at first blush, with a game behind it that’s a ruthless and complex negotiation engine that’s educational and unfair. On the other hand, we don’t know much yet, and the game design devil is in the game design details.

Ava: I never want to meet the game design devil.

Tom: Spoilers; it’s all the staff at Splotter Spellen.

Ava: I still have a little bit of guilt on my shoulder over the fact that we covered Abandon All Artichokes by doing a list of Artichoke facts instead of actually talking about the game at all. Thankfully, I’ve found an excuse to rectify that, as a design diary has gone up. Finding its origin in an alliterative game name bit of play (remember what I said about lists of 20 things?), Abandon All Artichokes is actually a real thing now. Emma Larkin takes us on a pretty in depth and insightful tour of the game design process, and I’m getting increasingly intrigued by this edible thistle dismisser. A simple fast paced deck building game where you’re trying to get rid of your starting hand of artichokes, replacing them with a bevy of more exciting fruit and vegetables.

Tom: Hey, did you know that the edible part of an artichoke is the part th-



Ava: Although actually i do feel like I need to point out that artichokes are a type of thistle to explain the joke above.


Ava: Also I want a little shout out to the comments section to tell me what the hell I’m supposed to do with the artichokes that arrived in my veg box. They’re a daunting prospect! So spiky! So many leaves!

Tom: Shall we…

Ava: Abandon all this thistly business? Yes.

Ava: I’ll level with you, it feels really weird writing out a list of news items and digging for games announcements when the world is rising up from years of racist abuse and brutality, and we’re seeing protests of a scale, power and effectiveness I’ve not seen in years of working in the background of activist scenes. Seeing Minneapolis council members ready to actually debate dismantling the police force and replacing it with new forms of community work and protection is something I didn’t think I’d see in my lifetime. But it’s horrific that this is coming from the subjugation, oppression, and implicitly authorised state violence against black people and other minorities (and intersections of the above). It’s a wake up call, to realise the scale, the scope and the horror of it all, even as someone who tries to be on it about these things,

Tom: It certainly feels like ‘continuing as normal’ feels irresponsible – producing harmless and joyful content may help to alleviate ‘that 2020 feeling’ but does nothing to address and confront the issues in our corner of the world. I’ve seen a frightening number of people on social media talk about how they ‘don’t see the value’ of their entertainment journalism sources discussing matters, and it feels like that statement is coming from the same crowd that want ‘politics out of their games’ – a sentiment that is improbable and ignorant.

Ava: It feels weird writing about games, and I’m struggling to find a way to talk about the bigger picture that feels effective, interesting and meaningful. We’re going to try and link to some things that might be useful. I hope it makes sense.

First up, I encourage people to seek out Black game designers, look out for their work and give it a try. I found a few lists of Black designers, one starting as a list on Elizabeth Hargrave’s twitter before moving to her website, and another on boardgamegeek.

This news is too late to point you to Rap Godz, a game by Omari Akil that received matched donations meaning that for a while last week, every game they sold for $55 was creating a $100 dollar donation to Black Lives Matter, bail funds and associated charities and organisations. The game sold out pretty quickly after that. However, it’s put Omari on my radar, and I’m looking forward to hearing more about upcoming Graffiti Knights.

Tom: How the knights are going to tag anything successfully in all that armour is absolutely beyond me.

Ava: He says, while I spray rude words on his breastplate.

Matt: Breastplate IS a rude word if you mumble the second bit

Ava: I found some other games and people I’m curious about, like Wan Wan Touch, a football dexterity game from Nigerian designer Kenechukwu Ogbuagu. Four player football played with sticks, pucks and a little cardboard box is an intriguing offer – especially when you only get one touch to win. Kenechukwu also had a huge part in organising what might be the first board game convention in West Africa.

Tom: I tried so hard to make a joke about the LCD Sound System song ‘One Touch’ here (draft jokes include; ‘Wan touch / is never enough / people hitting pucks in / a cardboard box’) but (evidently) nothing was working. I’ll do better next time.

Ava: Tattoo Stories by Eric Slauson sounds intriguing too, promising to mix two of the most challenging party game elements, drawing and storytelling. Tattoo stories asks you to create tattoos and tell the stories behind them sounds like a strong cocktail. Often people are put off drawing games because they can’t draw, or put off story games because they can’t tell stories. I can’t tell if asking for both at once is going to put off twice the number of people, or make it so much easier to be bad at either, because so many more people are likely to struggle with one or the other. Either way, it looks neat, and will likely sing with the right group.

Matt: I’ve got a copy of this burning a hole in my house, taunting me that I’m currently unable to play party games and/or tattoo strangers.

Tom: Every box comes with a tattoo gun, and the winner is strongly advised to get their victorious tat permanently etched into their body. It’s the right thing to do.

Ava: This is just not true.

Tom: Then WHY do I have this terrible depiction of Matt and Quinns on my left leg?

Ava: What you did to get this job is none of my business.

Matt: He wrote it into his contract, not us.

Ava: Moving very swiftly on, I’d also like to give a prominent shout out to Eric Lang’s twitter feed. Eric’s one of the biggest names in the industry, with hugely successful kickstarters Rising Sun and Blood Rage in his back catalogue, alongside classic favourites like Chaos in the Old World. He’s also been writing eruditely, precisely and brutally on the current wave of activism, his own experience of racism, and the troubling equivocation of attempting to be moderate in the middle of that. He’s brilliant, and well worth a follow.

Matt: He really is brilliant. I like and admire and respect Eric so much – he’s an absolutely vital voice in this industry.

Ava: And finally, a link to an important piece on race and board games. The piece focuses on the benefits for children and young people of playing board games, socially and culturally, and some of the barriers to getting those benefits. It’s also a call for more students of colour to work on their own designs, and challenge some of the prevalent colonialist themes. The article expresses justified anger at the oft-lauded Freedom being treated as an educational game, when it focuses largely on white abolitionists, rather than offering a full picture of the fight against slavery.

And finally finally, please, if you have spare money for kickstarters and new board games, remember that there may be some more important places to throw your hard-earned. Money doesn’t fix everything, but applied correctly it can help get someone out of jail, keep someone fed, match protest with legal challenges and political will, and save lives. It is not okay to live in a world where the police can kill and harrass so many people and go unchallenged. Try and do something different. I’ve personally found it useful to look at this list of organisations supporting Black trans people. But you’ll know best what sort of work and activism you’ll want to support.

Tom: For our part, our immediate response is donating any money raised through Twitch – but that being said, this is definitely not the most efficient way for you to donate, so we’d encourage you to please give directly to the causes themselves so that your bucks don’t get run through The BezosFilter.

Ava: Whether you donate or not, please remember that if you’re white, dismantling racism in yourself and your networks is your responsibility. It’s a very long term process and I hope we’re all trying our best, but we’ve got to not let up until we live in a very, very different world. Here’s hoping we can make it there.

Matt: I couldn’t agree more: this is our work to do. As alluded to in a post on the main page last week, however, charity isn’t where our involvement ends. Taking the money we’d be earning from streams and directing it to relevant causes makes us feel more comfortable about spending time being flippant and fun during these times, even though we recognise that they do in themselves provide a welcome respite for those exhausted from protesting or simply caring quite deeply. Because right now everything is understandably exhausting, and endurance is the quality we need to cultivate where we can. Charity donations are a good place to start, but as editor I’d like to assure you that we’ll be taking further action in the following months to ensure we push more directly towards systemic change within our own industry. This might take a little time to shape up, so we’ll ask for your patience – as I’m personally determined to avoid temporary or tokenistic measures. Take care of each other, and donate some money if you can.