Ava: Come on, we’ve got to get this news flowing or we’ll have nothing to report this week and people will be sad.
Tom: I’ll join you in just a moment. Matt’s busy demolishing me at Terra Mystica on BoardGameArena and I’ve got to focus all my energy on losing so that HE doesn’t feel sad.
Ava: It’s the important work. Especially when he pays my invoices and decides if our news is news enough.
Tom: Wait, Matt can see this? Oh cripes.
Ava: Did we ever bother telling you what an editor is?
Tom: Some kind of fruit?
Ava: Oh dear.
Matt: Hey now! I beat you with my darkling buddies FAIR AND SQUARE. Ooh, While I’m here – don’t forget we’re now streaming on Twitch every Thursday at 3pm UK time. It’s mostly just silly stuff with me on my own for now, but that will change soon, once I can work out how to do magic with wires. Anyway! Ava – do us some GAMES NEWS!
Ava: OK! Games News. In inevitably increasing multimedia empire news, some art got turned into a role playing game got turned into a telly show and now a board game.
Tales from the Loop is a cocktail of 80s nostalgia, weird sci fi and large mechs. The board game take on Simon Stålenhag’s moody artwork offers a selection of scenarios and adventures. Players take the role of kids playing detective and co-operating to solve some mystery or another caused by that eponymous underground particle accelerator.
Tom: Not only do the kids have to solve world-threatening mysteries, they’ve also got to keep up the illusion of just being normal kids living normal lives; with one of those certainly sounding more interesting than the other from a player perspective.“Oh boy, I can’t wait to finish the adventure phase so I can play through the chore phase”. I am, of course, being a bit silly – there looks to be a lot of potential for a nice little RPG-lite experience in a weird world of teen drama and giant robots here, and I’m intrigued!
Ava: Honestly, I’m tickled by the combination of standees for the characters, and minis for the mechs, meaning that the mechs are all utterly dwarfed by eighties movie teen stereotypes.
Matt: Isn’t that just anime? *hides behind sofa*
Tom: I know nothing at all about Tales From The Loop, but the idea of a game where one giant, obnoxious eighties movie teen stereotype is piloted – Megazord style – by 5 slightly less obnoxious eighties movie teen stereotypes is immensely appealing to me. That is what this is, right?
Ava: I don’t think so, but I’m putting myself in as executive producer of whatever you end up doing with that idea.
Tom: Here’s the pitch; a gritty sci-fi reboot of The Breakfast Club (now just called ‘Club’) in which the whole gang puts aside their differences and obliterates the concept of detention by using their mighty-morphin’ powers.
Ava: MEGA-JUDD! ULTRA-RINGWALD! SUPER THE NERDY ONE! EMILIO-EST FX! REALLY SHEEDY! TOGETHER THEY ARE BREAKFASTRON! THEY WILL NOT FORGET ABOUT YOU!
The Pax series of games is increasingly hard to summarise (not that it was ever easy). They’re mostly made up of shifting markets of cards, various routes to victory and incredibly cutthroat negotiations. They also tend to be dense and thorny analyses of the eras they are based on, and sometimes come with challenging historical essays. (Challenging is being polite here, I found at least one of them to be genuinely repulsive).
Cole Wehrle’s Pax Pamir 2nd edition (he designed the first one more closely with Eklund) was a massive success last year, so it’s exciting to hear another more accessible starting point being made available. Pax Vikings promises to pull new players straight onto the longboat. The card market is replaced with circular tiles that players can lay on a map of Europe, to redefine its political geography. At the same time you’ll have to navigate longboats, with four different flavours of reputation to push around and five whole ways to win. I wouldn’t expect it to be actually accessible, but these games are definitely fascinating artefacts of an unusual mindset, and promise to throw you into the depths of the politics of whichever era they’re interested in, and anything that promises to be a good starting off point is going to be worth a look.
Also available is a new prettier edition of Pax Renaissance, a game that I know has made at least one of my friends give up board games for half a year, and a new expansion for intense space simulation High Frontier, in case a famously incredibly cruel and complex game wasn’t quite intricate enough with you. High Frontier has the honour of being the board I would show to someone who I wanted not to get into board games, though it is apparently something of a masterpiece, and terrifyingly scientifically accurate.
Ava: For Science is the new game from R Eric Reuss, designer of Spirit Island, and it sounds almost as different to that anti-colonial power-pusher as it’s possible to be.
For Science is a co-op game of research and dexterity, with players piecing together chains of cards which give you a set of parameters for the next step of the game. That next step is, of course, stacking little coloured wooden blocks. Once you’ve done that, players get to spend their successes on a tile laying game of conjoining and closing off coloured paths. All of this is done in real time and simultaneously by all players, racing to discover a cure for some unknown ludic disease.
Tom: The Kickstarter video essentially promises a loose-fitting theme of ‘Pandemic: Bumbling Edition’, which I think is the version I’ve been playing up until now anyway; but nevertheless I’m excited to be makeshift scientist trying to create ‘a universal vaccine to prevent all future illnesses’. It’s a humble goal. For 15 minutes of sheer panic, it looks like there could be something sadistically fab here; like Junk Art with consequences.
Ava: Meanwhile, in dogs.
All the Goodest Puppers is new from Chris Cieslik of Asmadi games, with art by Cari Corene and Amanda Coronado. As the name applies, this is excessively cute, and about dogs. Players are stacking little packs of doggily illustrated cards, to activate species-specific special abilities in order to find, bury and ‘upgrade’ bones. Just like in real life, the dogs with the best bones win the game. Different breeds offer different abilities and different scoring bonuses, so there’s a lot of variety to pick from.
There’s some nice twists with more powerful cards having higher numbers that mean you go first (and get first pick from the dog market, or ‘park’), but the player who goes last gets a bonus dog to take home. Oh my god, wait are you dognappers, prowling a local park looking for loose puppies?
Tom: GATHER THE DOGS. BURY THE BONES. THE RITUAL SHALL BE COMPLETED ANEW.
Ava: I honestly am never going to look at dogs the same knowing that they’ve been secretly upgrading bones in their underground lairs.
Tom: ROTATE THE BONES FOR BONUS POINTS.
Matt: It seems petty as anything to air such a loose grevience, but *both* “goodest” and “puppers” in the same sentence has me cynically snarling like a cartoon guard dog. Each to their own, but I worry that just reading this has pushed me over my RDA of sugar.
Ava: We wrote a few weeks back about the first ever online only megagame, about the last surviving fleet of human spacefolks. It’s happened now, and I’m really glad I stumbled upon this report from Becky Ladley, a UK megagame connoisseur. It’s a pretty gripping report, including a genuinely heartbreaking decision about whether to leave half the fleet behind. It’s impressive just how many Battlestar Galactica beats they managed to hit. I’m still waiting for someone to make a game out of Caprica, the better show and that’s probably the pettiest hill I would die on.
Tom: It’s a relief that this weird experiment hit all the soaring highs and crushing lows that a real life human megagame would, with twists, turns and drama aplenty. It’s a pretty hopeful message – that stuff you’d think only replicable in an in-person environment has been translated into digital media to keep people sane with all the *gestures vaguely* going on. Personally, I’ve only just managed to get settled into my quarantine routine, so seeing people try out more and more ways to enjoy games digitally feels uplifting and necessary in such tricky times.
Ava: Tom… where did you get all that wholesome sentiment from?
Ava: Did you get it out of the uplifting solidarity spigot?
Ava: Have you learned nothing from last time? To counteract all that uplifting solidarity spewing out the newspipes, we’re going to have to crack open the dark-skies doomvalve.
Tom: *groans miserably*
Ava: Ah, I see we’re at full flow already. First up is Kotaku’s gloomy assessment of the likely impacts of *you know what* on the world of table top gaming. With supply lines disrupted, conventions cancelled and people literally banned from game nights, it’s certainly a challenging year. But there’s glimmers of hope in all the successful kickstarters (particularly you know who-haven) and all the lovely kind things that companies are doing with direct distribution, freebies and support for boarded up bricks and mortar stores.
It’s definitely too early to be making any sort of predictions about how this stuff will actually shake out, with different cocktails of government support, mutual aid, restrictions and problems all around the world. I’m kinda hoping that once lockdown’s unlocked, and people are allowed near each other again, there’ll be a load of people absolutely gagging for excuses to gather around a table and play games. I guess we’d better work together to try and get as many games and publishers and players through to the other side.
Tom: You literally just told me to lay off the solidarity, and here you are snorting the stuff straight out of the spigot.
Ava: It’s the only way to regulate the doomvalve’s misery pressure. I’ve been umming and ahhing about whether to post this, as I’m not really a fan of repeating mean things, but I think it’s kind of interesting when you hear people speak honestly about problems they perceive, even if I think some of those perceptions are on the unpleasant side.
Former Spiel Des Jahres judge Tom (no relation) Felber really seems to not like having to play games with strangers, but also thinks the only way to review games is to play with semi-random bundles of strangers. I suspect a lot of this is actually lost in the (google) translation, and a bit more tongue in cheek than it reads, but there’s also some interesting points.
In particular, Felber is pretty critical of board games media for not sharing his review methodology of getting a huge selection of people who can sign up for randomised testing. This does make sense as you can avoid the groupthink of playing with a group that tends to think the same thinks. It’s useful to recognise that there’s a whole range of different types of people playing games, and will react to things differently. On the other hand, I don’t tend to play games with the average randomised table, but people I know with specific tastes and tickles. I kind of like it when I get a sense of what reviewers actually like, and who they play with, so I can look through that lens when I hear their opinions. The best reviewers make it pretty clear why a game is special, in a way that lets me know if its for me, my mates, or the weirdos down the pub. (Back when pubs were a thing, also, I love you, my pub weirdos).
Matt: I’m always up for hearing people’s thoughts on the review process, but it does seem that Felber’s thoughts here seem – at best – half-baked. As someone who has many, many times played games with complete strangers at conventions – there’s really no getting around the fact that great people make bad games better, and people you don’t gel with can make great games bad. It’s absolutely true that it’s the job of the critic to sort for the wheat of truth within all that chaff, but the idea of fully randomised testing doesn’t sound like a solution that’s terribly well-informed.
Tom: Hmm, looks like we’ve got an opinion leak over on the third discourse tanker. Going to need some input from the maelstrom of conjecture on floor 3 for that one – if we could get any spare takes (hot or cold) from readers in the meantime, I’m sure we’ll be able to mop up all the gloom pooling around my feet. Bring wellies.
Ava: I am choosing not to make a PPE joke here
Tom: Excellent work. We’ll fly through any possible ‘too soon’ inspections. God knows we need the funding, we’ve been surviving on nothing but guilty applause and crushing government cuts.
Ava: Right. That’s quite enough doom for an Easter Monday. Let’s just ignore everything we just said and cover it up with a few buckets of solidarity sand.
Roleplaying mega-corp Wizards of the Coast are offering some free adventures and some dungeon based colouring in! New things are cropping up each day, so if you ever wanted to meditavely colour in a rainbow beholder, or go exploring on the seas of Saltmarsh, now might be the best ever time.
Tom: Ugh, the best ever time if you exist online. All the fun of D&D is in the charm of sitting round a table with your mates, having a laugh.
Ava: …Is that all of it?
Tom: Yeah, sorry, there were some chunks of melancholy still lurking around at the back.
Ava: Wizards aren’t the only one getting that treatment, with *checks notes* World War 2 also going gratis.
Air, Land and Free, wait, no, Air, Land and Sea cropped up in Quinns’ recent round up of amazing new card games, and thanks to being a svelte deck of just 18 cards, some play aids and the three titular theaters, it’s probably one of the easier games to print and play! It’s also getting a restock coming soon to the real world, so you can even promise yourself you’ll buy a fancy version once your home made alternative wears thin. Oh what a lovely war game!
And that’s not the limit of the freebies. Boardgamegeek has a lovely round up of some of the more recent print and plays from Asmodee, 2Tomatoes, Synapses, Blue Orange and Looney Labs. As well as a few links to people in the mainstream media covering board games.
Matt: Also – this Saturday the excellent folks at Space Cats Peace Turtles should be broadcasting the grand finals of their impressively epic Twilight Imperium tournament. “It should be on April 18 @ 17:00 UTC” is what we’ve been told, so keep your eyes open if that sounds like hot jam.
Ava: And finally, I quite enjoyed this little dip into the world of translating game imports, mostly for the lovely blurb and passion for Yayoi Kusama and pottery in the intro. It’s actually a set of hints and tips for doing your own translations, coping with the oddities of google translate, optical character recognition, and untranslatable turns of phrase.
Tom:How do you turn a phrase?