Ava: Expelled? From board game school? But I played by all the rules! And you’re not even the head of board game school, you’re just a janitor! Surely you can’t have expulsion privileges?!
Tom: Ava, everyone has expulsion privileges at board game school. It’s a loophole in the rules – the only way to get back in is to write a compelling 2,000 word essay on this week’s hot games news. Either that, or eat a whole copy of Roads and Boats.
Ava: Hmm, I had Bus for breakfast. I guess it’ll have to be the news.
Ava: Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn took quite a few by storm back in 2015, and wrapped up with a big finale after a successful run of expansions. Now it’s all happening again, like a groundhog-flavoured phoenix.
Ashes Reborn is notable for an unusual distribution model, perhaps a sign of Plaid Hat Games’ shrink back to indie status after separating from Asmodee’s all-consuming lumpiness. Isaac Vega’s dice-and-card-comboing collectible game will be released in partnership with Team Covenant, with a model of only printing anything once enough people have subscribed. It’s unclear how neat the process will be, but in the coming weeks they’ve promised details on a special pack you can magically use to upgrade your old copy to fit the new rules. Oh, and as Isaac has moved on from Plaid Hat Games, Nick Conley – the original game’s lead playtester – is taking the helm for this upcoming refresh.
Tom: I’m not entirely sure I could ever love a game enough to literally subscribe to it, but equally receiving things in the post is a joy that few others can match. One of the greatest parts of record collecting is listening to something a million times, then thinking ‘oh yeah this is collection-worthy’ and THEN having it arrive in the post, and THEN listening to it all in one go in an entirely new context. I’m doing it RIGHT NOW!!
Ava: Wow. I built my record collection in a very different time, out of second-hand dregs and over-priced electronica you could only hear snippets of before you bought. Only in the last few years am I getting round to actually parting with things that aren’t strictly collection worthy. I still have ‘The Other Side of the Dragon’, though, a collection of choral covers of pop classics sung by the 1981 Welsh Rugby team interspersed with excerpts of famous match commentary. Can’t get that on Spotify.
Matt Arguably that’s for the best?
Ava: I’m annoyed I can’t justify talking about the second Quacks of Quedlinburg expansion – we just don’t have enough detail. It promises nightmares, hysteria and obsession, which apparently you’ll be fighting as they sweep through the city. We really don’t have much to go on here, but it’s still pretty exciting – as if that game needed additional hysteria?
Tom: WHOOPS! Looks like we accidentally talked about it anyway? I guess readers will have to mop up this news-spillage with their eyes and then carefully wring it out of their brains.
Ava: Blood Bowl, Games Workshop’s riotous, unforgiving american-football-with-orcs-and-violence simulator is getting a new edition. Pitched as a ‘second season’ it’s presumably not shifting too far from the most recent edition. It claims to have been designed with the ethos of ‘bigger, better, and 100% Blood Bowl’, which I guess is very, very on brand..
I was a bit disappointed because while I’ve had plenty of reasons to knock Games Workshop over the years, I’ve never seen them under-write a piece of copy, and the announcement kicks off with some commentary from ‘Jim’ and ‘Bob’. I’m sure previously the commentators would have all been called ‘Khazrak Von Grimward’ and ‘Ugg the Scumpulump’ or something.
Tom: Yeah! You know, we should let the readers in on OUR overwritten fantasy Games Workshop character names that have been HIDDEN FOR SO LONG (???)
AvArgh Badfang: Absolutely.
Tominus Rex: Anyway, it turns out that Jim and Bob have been commentating on Blood Bowl since 1986, and while it’s a shame they reduced Bob ‘The Biff’ Bifford to just ‘Bob’ on this one, it is at least a nod to thirty-four years of in-joke.
AvArgh Badfang: I did actually recognise their faces immediately on googling, but I’d never twigged that they had normal names. I guess in a universe where almost everyone is called Bugskull Thrumspooker or Wordlord the Redespoiler, actually just calling them Jim and Bob is the joke. Like they found the only two normal people in the whole continent, and even they’re a vampire and an ogre.
AvArgh Badfang: Quest promises a streamlined take on the core play of The Resistance: Avalon, and if you back the kickstarter it comes with a beautifully illustrated version of Avalon in the box. Quest promises to extract the team voting portion of the social deduction skullduggery game, for something that runs a little bit quicker and potentially with less players. You will still be taking turns to decide who is going on quests, with those quests sabotaged by evil players who get sent. Removing voting takes a hefty chunk of information and debate out of the game, which is getting replaced with amulets that grant players a little more information than they would normally have. I feel like taking out an element of the social and trying to make up for that with more deduction is a risky business, but at least if you back the kickstarter you’re getting at least one crowd pleaser. Avalon isn’t flawless, and I haven’t given it a spin in a long while, but a (much) prettier box might give me the excuse to take it for a spin.
Tominus Rex: Have you also seen that they’ve got a frankly gorgeous edition of Coup in the rewards? It’s using the 2016, Brazilian edition’s art, with unique variants for each of the roles illustrated in this inky, angular style. The only possible problem here is that those stark white cards will look positively repulsive if it gets played and handed around as much as my copy of Coup, which I think is about two more plays away from disintegrating. Anyway, the bonus coup is functionally exactly the same game, and includes the expansion, too, although it trades the theme from trad sci-fi for trad… religion?
AvArgh Badfang: Making the reformation expansion be about the actual reformation definitely makes a lot more sense, although I’m pretty sure that changing sides willy-nilly at that point general led to being set on fire or getting your monastery dissolved.
AvArgh Badfang: I struggle to get excited about CMON’s big box games, but they tend to do very well indeed. Massive Darkness 2 is a dungeoneering game that looks to share a lot of genes with Zombicide and its many undead siblings. This take on the system features asymmetrical mini-games for each character, like a ranger who can keep drawing cards to take ever more accurate and deadly attacks, but runs the risk of having their quarry slip away if they take too long. With Eric Lang still at the helm of game development at CMON, I suspect these games will slowly get more and more interesting, but I’ve no idea how to tell when they’ve hit the tipping point into actually getting me excited.
Tominus Rex: Perhaps an unpopular opinion, but I’ve found that so many of these games promise an ‘epic adventure’ that they just aren’t. Everyone knows that the least exciting parts of full-on roleplaying games are the parts where violence happens, but those parts are often the glue that motivates and binds the story together – ubiquitous due to their necessity. These massive box ‘RPG-Adventure-Lite’ games consist of naught but glue, identifying the fighting as the core of the experience in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever found satisfying. The combat is often ‘Not-Quite-As-Good-As-Gloomhaven’ and the characters are never really ‘your own’, so often I just find myself wishing I was in a space made of imagination and conversation rather than miniatures and dice. But who knows, maybe this one will have mechanics that are ‘as good as Gloomhaven’ and I’ll be washing my words down with a refreshing glass of egg. Which is also on my face. It’s just so hard to tell and I’d rather just cut out the middle-miniature and write something silly for my friends to run around in.
AvArgh Badfang: I’ve also never really clicked with a miniatures dungeon crawler, for similar reasons, but there’s definitely a huge crowd of people who love it, and I’m not going to knock them for it. My main problem here is that from a distance they all look uncannily similar. The theming and miniatures here are gorgeous, but that doesn’t tell me much about how it plays. The minigames look sharp, but I don’t know how they tie into the core experience, and whether that core is going to be thrilling. It’s very easy to put a load of tiles together with a load of minis and say you’re dungeon crawling, but what makes that great? Honestly, this is actually part of why I’ve never committed to Gloomhaven. No matter how much people tell me it’s a stellar experience, it still just looks like shuffling monsters around a map.
Mattenox IV: Gloomhaven I adore, but yeah – I totally agree with the above thoughts. Still, there’s a lure to this kind of game that always snags me: the PROMISE of the experience gets me excited every time, but they’re consistently the least compelling type of board game. Go figure. (FOR THE EMPEROR.)
AvArgh Badfang: This is running very very long, but what we mean to say is, as with all Kickstarters, it’s incredibly hard to look at a game and decide if it’s worth the money you’re putting in. Here you can probably guarantee your value if you’re into it for painting the minis, or if you played and loved the original? Without either of those, I’d be wary.
AvArgh Badfang: I have never understood why any business proposition has been willing to risk calling an iteration of something ‘Ultimate’. It’s the equivalent of saving a file with the word FINAL at the end. You’ve doomed yourself to a future of increasingly invalid nonsense. You’re trapped in a nether-realm of ‘nearly FINAL EX Turbo Plus’.
Tominus Rex: My favourite ritual is renaming any of my edits from ‘Paris Review Final FINAL FINAL (2)’ to ‘Paris Review’ so as to quietly convince anyone in the backend of the channel that I work like a functional human being.
Mattenox IV: So many of my file names contain expletives, but I guess that’s just the reality of working in video.
AvArgh Badfang: Ultimate Werewolf Extreme, then, is a fancy iteration of the allegedly definitive take on the social deduction folk-game Werewolf (also known as Mafia). It comes in collector’s edition and super collector’s edition variants, in case the name wasn’t already a bit much.
There’s a lot of odd things in here, trying to make a game that can be played with scraps of paper and a notepad as involved and easy to play as possible, and I suspect that people more into the scene than I could tell you whether any of it is worth getting excited about. I’m mostly just amused by the description of the ‘warning sign’ in the fanciest edition as ‘life-size’. Surely any object you buy is life size. Surely real life signs can be any size. Surely you don’t really need a warning sign in any board game. I just don’t understand.
Tominus Rex: I do need a warning sign, and stop calling me Shirley.
Mattenox IV: Honestly there’s just SO much to unpack here? The promise of “lifelike” illustrations in a game that largely features illustrations of werewolves? An unlockable 3D sculpture of a sandwich? It’s like staring into the void while the void is having a cheese dream. What I will say though, is that the inclusion of an actual physical wooden gavel is a TERRIBLE idea. Am I the only person who’s toyed with such props and rapidly discovered that they ruin the evening?
AvArgh Badfang: Next up, it’s time for some RPG deep-dive news: Wanderhome is a pastoral rpg about travelling animals and the homes they find along the way. It uses its own take on the ‘belonging outside belonging’ systems launched with Avery Alder’s Dream Askew, and modified Benjamin Rosenbaum’s Dream Apart, which built a fascinating way of running role playing games. Taking the playbooks of Apocalypse World and replacing dice with a token-based mechanic of trading weakness in one bit of the story for strengths in another part. Wanderhome is a game of getting stuck in the weeds, or not: Without a games master, players will be exploring the wilds and creating them as they go.
Tominus Rex: My absolute favourite thing about this is the absolute truckload of incredibly talented artists that have been shipped in to illustrate the game – I believe I saw somewhere on twitter that the designer wanted the product to be as much of an RPG as it is a piece of artwork, and it’s looking like they’ll achieve that goal with such a diverse set of talent behind every piece contained within.
AvArgh Badfang: I haven’t actually read this yet, but Dave Neale, designer of the latest Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective box, has got a lovely diary written in-universe about the conception of the new mysteries. There’s a devotion to the source material at play here and it’s made me even more excited to get on with the new cases – especially after our recent Twitch stream.
Tominus Rex: That stream was an absolute blast, and i’d love to see if we can do a proper case alongside the Twitch chat in the future. Hopefully the rest of them will have a couple more pubs to visit – Tinker is getting awfully thirsty, and I hear he’s managed to scrape together a fake ID from bits of metal from down by the docks. What a legend.
If you’ll allow me a moment of irrelevant diversion, There’s one last thing I want to talk about this week: Last week in the news I was tipped off to the existence of Blaseball by Brendan McLeod (who I would like to thank and also blame for my lack of productivity last week).
At its core, the game is a ‘fantasy baseball’, where you place bets on different teams who will compete in a weeklong season of simulated ‘games’, where victory is determined by the statistics of each team member. The twist is that at the end of each season, players vote in an ‘election’ that will change each team and add new features to the game – and to give you an idea for the tone of the game, the results of the most recent election were to add player interviews and also eat the rich. My team (The ‘Breckenridge Jazz Hands’) literally kidnapped a player from another team in my league.
Tominus Rex: However. It’s a hell of a lot more than any of this might suggest, and that is almost entirely because of the community behind the game. The amount of fanart and fanfiction is honestly astounding, and it all comes to you through twitter accounts for each individual team with custom logos and distinct personalities. It’s been an absolute delight watching important moments in games explode into tiny bubbles of online conversation – like when Jessica Telephone scores her 12th home run, or a fan-favourite pitcher getting incinerated by rogue umpires. It’s just wonderful, and the icing of the cake is that while Blaseball is taking a temporary hiatus due to the massive influx of new players, the hashtag #blaseballcares has been doing the rounds, where each team is urging followers to donate money to a variety of specific charities. Honestly, this mad thing really made my week and I hope it makes yours. If you’ve not already heard about it. It all seems to be a bit out of hand.
AvArgh Badfang: Well, on the one hand, I’m glad someone has actually explained it, so at least I have a clue what a healthy chunk of my twitter feed are talking about, but on the other hand, after that explanation I’m still not sure I have any idea what you’re talking about.
I’m glad you’re having fun, and not a nervous breakdown, which I was briefly worried might be what was happening.
Mattenox IV: Ahhh there’s nothing I love more than people taking unbelievably dry games and making them ludicrous – I’m already imagining a mashup of Cookie Clicker and Cricket. But that’s enough imagination for one week – what can you PHYSICALLY WATCH without the use of your imagination, later this week?
Well! Tom will likely be popping on to solo-stream on Tuesday at an unknown time, but we’ll be Officially now doing a stream every week on Thursday – kicking off from 7pm “UK Time”. This week Matt will be playing a bit of the Magical Digital Card Game “Monster Train”. Tune in and hang out, if that sounds nice.
Have a great week!