Quinns: Woo! I don’t know what your weekend was like, Ava, and I don’t want to be coy, but I played a *very* large board game that I’ll be covering in our big, year-end blowout review.
Ava: How large are we talking?
Quinns: OK, imagine how big a board game should be.
Ava: *closes eyes* I’m doing it.
Quinns: It’s even bigger than that!
Ava: Oh my.
Ava: Fantasy Flight has announced Fallout Shelter, their latest riff on the infamous post-apocalyptic Fallout video games, and will see players looking after vault dwellers in a happiness-powered bunker. Each player will build their own level of a shared complex, slowly filling the table with increasingly elaborate options for adorable little vault-dwellers to reap exciting rewards. Also, it looks like a little lunchbox filled with apocalyptic snacks, which isn’t something I realised I wanted.
I feel like the Fallout cartooniness used to have an amount of satire that isn’t entirely present here, but that might not stop it being an interesting game. It occurs to me that this is probably the first time Fantasy Flight have gone near traditional worker placement games? Is that right? Does that matter?
Let’s wait and see whether this sets the world on fire, eh?
Quinns: Staying nuclear, but moving to Eastern Europe, we have the announcement of Zona: The Secret of Chernobyl from Rebel Games.
While the new HBO Chernobyl TV series might paint this as a particularly grim setting (‘Roll 7+ to send 530,000 to clean up an incalculable tragedy’’, etc.), Zona instead draws from the wealth of Eastern Euopean sci-fi surrounding Chernobyl, which is mostly populated by gnarly scavengers in custom jackets.
Players will each take on the role of one of these scavengers, racing to uncover secrets and to reach the sarcophagus that covers the devastated power plant before the ‘final emission’. Which sounds to me more like a fart gag than a mind-bending mystery. Or maybe that’s me being small-minded- after all, couldn’t it be both?
Also, one of the playable characters is “Drunkard”, which makes me laugh.
Ava: Let’s stick with the soviets, and take a visit to Mayday Games’ Red Outpost, a communist take on worker placement.
Players will take control of a hidden soviet conclave on an alien planet, with joint responsibility for the comrades calling it home. Resources are shared among the whole table, as well as control of the workers themselves. Victory is earned by maintaining the mood of the workers as you move them from building to building to earn resources, build statues and get drunk.
There’s a couple of rules here that tickle me, like the bureaucrat getting a crystal if they go to the admin building, but if anyone else visits, it makes the bureaucrat happier. Poor lonely space bureaucrat! Just wants someone to come say hi. The other effect of that building is fiddling with another player’s point-scoring influence disks, leaving them taking the fall for someone else’s misery. Which sounds a little bit like every business meeting I’ve ever been in.
Quinns: I’m not convinced that this will be great, but I do have a soft spot for games that make your worker pieces more than just lumps of wood. Is there a more poignant moment in board games than when your parents finally die in Village? And then you get REALLY upset because you realise that Dad was the only person who knew how to make a cart?
Or what about Pie Town! A game where getting extra workers is great, but until they’ve been around the block a few times your junior employees are liabilities who might spill your pie secrets.
Quinns: Oh baby! It’s not often that board games get outright sequels. Marco Polo II: In the Service of the Khan is being described as an “epic standalone follow-up” to The Voyages of Marco Polo, a game we had a lot of fun reviewing (even though Big Spitting Bumpy Boys would break up just weeks later)
The prevailing attitude from the designers of Marco Polo II seems to be “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Players still choose their role from something like a 13th century character select screen, they still place dice to hustle across Asia, and they still have to fulfill trading contracts while on the road. But of course, as we learned from the superb Brass: Birmingham, sequels need more stuff, and that’s why players will also have to manage a new, sixth resource: jade.
Ava: It is still /very/ brown, though. Albeit a somehow brighter brown than the base game?
Quinns: Come sit on my knee and I’ll tell you a story.
Ava: I’m 35 years old, Quinns. I’ll do it, but only if you provide safety equipment and a risk assessment.
*several hours of bureaucracy and hoisting later*
Quinns: In 1996, when I was very small, an incredible video game called Quake was released. And the video game journalists who I liked the most said that Quake was incredible, but they also made fun of it for years for being exceedingly brown. The whole game was like trying to spot corduroys in a clay pit.
And you know what? Time proved them right. Quake was way too brown.
Ava: This is entirely irrelevant but when I was first playing Quake I didn’t realise I had left the wrong CD in the drive, and so for me the soundtrack wasn’t Nine Inch Nails, but the saccharine misery-pop of the Lightning Seeds. I still can’t hear Sugar Coated Iceberg without flashing back to wasting all my ammo on a big red snake demon before realising I just had to go upstairs and press some buttons.
Quinns: I can’t hear The Offspring’s Conspiracy of One without thinking of Sacrifice.
Anyway, Marco Polo II: In the Service of the Khan! It’ll probably be nice?
Ava: Look, either you’re paying me to sit on your knee, or have opinions. I am not doing both at once.
Ava: I’m two months late to noticing that a second expansion to Terra Mystica is taking to the seas.
Terra Mystica: Merchants of the Seas, will add a host of factions that take advantage of water in one way or another, alongside new shipyards, docks and ships. The expansion also gives you a new double sided board, with fjords or lakes to mix up the territories.
To balance things out, the game has to jump back in and shuffle around the victory point settings for various factions on the base game boards, as some will be stymied by a lack of water, and others will have the opposite. It all sounds a little queasy to me, but if you love slamming those enormous slabs of wood on the board and getting your brain crushed by competing point possibilities, this promises more of the same. I say bon voyage to it.
Quinns: Hey, we were just talking about board game sequels- when the sequel to Terra Mystica, Gaia Project, came out, I felt profoundly alone when I said that I didn’t like it as much as the original game. I can at least take some solace in them still releasing expansions for one and not the other.
Ava: You’ll never walk alone, Quinns. Gaia Project felt weirdly shapeless to me. Absolutely fine, but it never furrowed my brow as tightly as Terra Mystica did.
Ava: Sometimes I want to highlight a random design diary from BoardGameGeek just for a random game doing something unusual. Today is one of those days. Ian Bach has written about the evolution of his animal-catching dice and card game Merlin’s Beast Hunt.
Merlin’s Beast Hunt will have you rolling dice to try and get combos that will allow you to prop up cards and build little walls around animals and trap them. That’s it. It’s just dice and cards being used in a different way.
I’m faintly disappointed as it drifts away from it’s novel prototype roots into something with custom dice and transparent cards, but it still looks like Ian has brewed an idea up from cosy messing around with easily available components combined in a novel way. I like it! I’m curious! I hope it’s good!
Quinns: I’m not convinced this is the most interesting reporting I’ve ever seen. But Quartz pointing out that Nigeria are doing great at Scrabble just makes me want to note that Scrabble must be the most respectable of the classic mass market games that every home has a copy of.
Ava: I’ve got a long-standing rivalry with a friend that runs to hundreds of games played remotely via app. It feels less like a word game and more like a ruthless territory control and push-your-luck contest, and I love it for it.
Quinns: Oh, it’s so true! Returning to Scrabble after playing a load of designer board games is bizarre. You think it’s a word game, and then as an adult you do a double-take and see that it’s an area control game!
I still can’t beat my wife, mind you, because she knows the deviant two letter words. Trying to beat her is like trying to stave off a pack of flying monkeys, except instead of monkeys it’s words like “za” and “gu”.