Ava: Who goes there?
Tom: Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself.
Ava: Oh thank god it’s you Tom, I thought I’d seen a ghost on the news-battlements.
Tom: Not this time, but I have had one pale figure looming over me on my rounds. Please enjoy a short word from our sponsors at LeesCorp.
LeesCorp Spokesperson: Hello, fellow gamers! Are you in a pickle due to Quarantine? Are you craving some comfort in trying times? Have you started making new friends with the inanimate objects scattered around your home? CEASE, because LeesCorp has got you covered with EXCITING PROGRAMMED VIDEO ENTERTAINMENT.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, at 3pm BST, you can tune in at Twitch.com to see our finest specimens interact with each other, and partake in complex tabletop exercises. Now that the prototype model has been trained in basic box-assembly, we are planning to release him onto more complex tasks – such as simple game cognition, and interaction with non-cardboard entities!
This week, Matt will be playing Frosthaven with Isaac Childres on Tuesday, and on Thursday, he’ll be playing Railroad Ink and Cartographers with THE CITIZENS AT HOME. You can find downloads for those linked here (Cartographers Official PnP), here (Cartographers Low-Ink PnP) and also here (Railroad Ink PnP).
Ava: Who the hell is that and how did they get in the news-castle?
Tom: Look, I’m sorry, I gave… it… a guest pass. It can’t go past the ground floor, so there’s no danger of it getting into the discourse compression chamber, the article emporium or the Quinns containment zone. And, before you ask, it absolutely won’t get into the newspipes – we’ve learned a lot of lessons since the last breach.
Ava: Tom, it’s literally holding a pair of bolt cutters right now!
Tom: It’ll be fine!
Ava: That’s what you said last time.
Tom: Just… do some news and hopefully it’ll leave!
Ava: Ankh: Gods of Egypt, is the first of the ‘Eric Lang likes mythology’ trilogy to have a subtitle, and that’s news, as Blood Rage and Rising Sun were both huge successes, but didn’t need to spell out where their gods were buttered.
Ankh has players vying for devotion and scuffling amongst their divine selves to find out who will be the last remaining god of Egypt. It’s a sort of polytheistic royal rumble where only one of you (or, erm, two of you sometimes) gets to wear the Monotheistic Championship belt of being worshipped for all eternity. Or at least until Egypt stops being ancient, I guess.
The game is absolutely swimming in dashboards, and players will fight over an ever shifting map, with boundaries moving as camels get laid out. Why do games insist that camels are so territorial? Same thing with Through the Desert, a game explicitly (if abstractly) about nomadic culture, I don’t get it.
Players are moving up a series of tracks, allowing them to upgrade themselves or do board based miniature shenanigans. Each of these tracks feeds into an event track, which means that once enough people have done enough STUFF there will be combat (or camels, or monuments), and all that strategising will pay off. Whoever actually does the action that triggers the event gets control of the event or a tempting bonus, so timing, and being wary of giving bonuses to your opponents, is of the essence.
I think this game looks interesting, but has only the most tenuous grasp on theology. The two players losing the most at the four fifths mark through the game get forcibly bundled together into one giant mutant god and can only win together. If there’s a tie at the end of the game nobody wins and ‘Egypt becomes atheist’. I’m hoping there’s a Richard Dawkins stretch goal where one player gets to push for a tie and act as a honey toting spoiler the entire game.
Ava: One possible word of warning, and something a reader asked us to cover, was the financial buzzwords and/or buzzards flying around CMON right now, in the form of a delayed financial report, and some questions from their auditors. Among other things, their auditors have concerns about their status as a ‘going concern’, which is somewhat unnerving, as this is an accounting term meaning something along the lines of ‘is your business capable of keeping on trading’.
CMON have responded with a rather disingenuous claim that that isn’t what going concern means (I’m 90% certain they’re wrong, and I’m at least 50% an accountant, so should have some clue). That said, their explanation of why the auditors are poking holes in them does make a lot of sense. Essentially, the money they got from all their kickstarters stays in their books as a massive (millions of pounds) liability even while they spend that money on all the huge volume of stuff they need to buy to get the games printed, as that liability doesn’t go anywhere until they ship, they end up looking a lot financially worse off than they are. I can imagine an auditor getting the willies about that liability, especially as Kickstarter is pretty weird.
Anyway, this is probably really boring. CMON are convinced they’re totally fine, and may be correct, but it is a pretty scary time to be a company reliant on conventions, supply lines, and a fully functioning world. Kickstarter is always a gamble, even with a company that is regularly shipping successfully. Always be careful with which hype trains you board.
Egypt’s isn’t even the only bit of iffy history getting diddled with this week.
Wolfenstein’s alternate history seems like a reasonable starting point for a dungeon crawler, but that might be because I haven’t even come near to playing one of the games since the entire thing was limited to being on one flat plane that looked quite a bit like that one Windows 95 screensaver. Your table can also look like that, and you can have a little romp around with various robo-nazis and slightly less robotic heroes. I don’t have high hopes, but you can finally own your own miniatyre mecha-hitler. Wait. Why would you…..
Tom: There’s a word of warning for this game, too. This thread on Reddit highlights a litany of problems with Archon Studios (previously Prodos Games, previously Load Board Game) not delivering to backers and seeding misinformation. I know what you’re about to say – ‘but Tom, I want my robotic fascist RIGHT NOW’; and that I understand, but maybe don’t back this one if you’re (rightfully) concerned.
Last in this Kickstarter roundup, we’ve got Excavation Earth – a market-manipulation, set-collection extravaganza that asks the age old question: should I sell my trash, or put it in a museum?
Players are going to be taking on the roles of alien prospectors setting up shop on a now-abandoned earth, trying to get their grubby mitts on the scraps of what civilisation left behind – alarm clocks, license plates, maybe even an oversized kickstarter miniature or two. These odds and ends can then be sold to markets of alien customers in a push-and-pull, supply-and-demand style economy; or hoarded in one’s own private collection for endgame scoring.
Tom: There are a few other orbiting systems here to add some spice – but the core of this one looks to be pretty solid, and there’s a hell of a lot less questionable Kickstarter uncertainty compared to the other projects we’ve just mentioned. It feels strange that ‘a lack of obvious uncertainty’ is a positive point, here, but hey – I’ll take it.
Ava: W Eric Martin at Boardgamegeek is always finding curious ways to bundle news together, and I quite like this bit where he just tried to breathlessly mention every single game that Bruno Cathala is currently working on. It’s a lot of game! That’s a lot of Bruno!
Tom: You weren’t kidding! That’s so much Bruno! He’s the real-life equivalent of Dr Manhattan from Watchmen, but instead of doing… that… he’s using his many clones to design a frankly silly number of boardgames. One of them is a game about hoarding toilet paper! The man has his finger on the PULSE!
Ava: The bit that stuck out to me was the potential for a sequel to Shadows over Camelot, an early example of the secret betrayer co-operative game. There’s two details that make this special, the first is that it’s literally called Shadows over Brooklyn, which feels as far removed from Camelot as you can get. The second is that it is still an actual sequel about knights looking for the grail! Or at least, it’s about descendents of Merlin in a quasi-steampunk New York. This feels like a really neat re-theme, with about the right amount of difference and similarity to make them both potentially viable. Unfortunately, it’s still in wrangling about if and how it will get released, but you can colour me interested…
Tom: What colour is interested?
Ava: This is no time for silly questions. You’ve got the face paints, just do as I say.
Ava: Abandon all Artichokes? I say leave no artichoke behind.
Honestly, that’s all I’ve got right now. I’ve only dropped it in because I don’t think there are enough games about artichokes.
Tom: I’m busy doing some artichoke research right now – did you know that the ‘fuzzy core’ (as described by Allrecipes.com) is called the ‘choke’, and the ‘meaty core’ is called the ‘heart’? First off, Allrecipes.com, please elaborate on the semiotics of the difference between a ‘core’ and a ‘center’ – and secondly, does the name ‘artichoke’ just come from a west country compression of those two individual components? ‘Eartichoke?
Ava: Well, in fact, it looks (according to google’s etymology gubbins and an question on reddit), like artichoke comes from the Italian arcicioffo, which in turn comes from the Spanish Arabic al-kharshuf. This means that like loads of words borrowed from Arabic, silly Europeans have taken the definite article prefix ‘al’ and stuffed it into the name for the thing, like with algebra from al jabr. But that definitely rules out the art part coming from the heart part.
Tom: Ava… should we talk about, y’know, the actual game?
Ava: Apparently that’s the one artichoke we will abandon. Follow the link if you like facts about actual games.
It’s nice that publishers are putting plenty of effort into making their games easier for people to play remotely, and City of Kings have done exactly that with recently delivered Kickstarter Isle of Cats. You do need at least one player to have a copy of the real game, but after that, all people need is a printed sheet of paper each, and some pens. That’s enough to get most of the tile laying delights of this inexplicably piratical polyomino cat herder.
I did back this on Kickstarter in the end, on account of the enormous number of cats involved, and my capsule review of the regular game is that it’s ‘a bit faffy’ but also ‘pretty satisfying’. Players will have to draw their own cats in this version though, and in fact are just encouraged to colour in the pieces. Sad. The cats are very good.
Tom: With enough time and determination, though, you too can gather some very good cats and squish them neatly into polyomino tiles; and what’s more, they’ll be your own custom cats.
Ava: Honestly, my favourite thing about lockdown is how the absence of cars in town has led to the cats and ducks just being absolutely everywhere, if there was ever a time to actually try and convince cats onto a cardboard grid, it’s definitely now.
Another little polyomino tidbit from Boardgamegeek’s excellent news blog was this design diary describing the process of creating a bot against which to play Patchwork. This isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I found it fascinating how even a game as simple as Patchwork could require such delicate iteration to get something that felt satisfying. In fact, the simplicity of the game gives you a bit more chance to follow the logic along, so this could be a helpful read for any designers out there. Lovely stuff.
LeesCorp Spokesperson: Can I play Patchwork too?
Ava: GaH! How did you get in here?
Tom: It was so persuasive!! It kept telling me that we’re going to have ‘fun, fun, fun’ ! That’s so much fun! How could I refuse?
LeesCorp Spokesperson: We’re going to have fun… fun… fun…
Ava: … Well when you say it like that…
Tom: Look, we’re employees of Shut Up and Sit Down – surely that means we have some hiring power? I think he wants to join the team. What’s your name, buddy?
Mart Leez: Mart Leez.
Ava: Welcome to the team, Mart. We’ll be paying you in puns and marshland vegetables. We hope that’s an acceptable start to…celery negotiations.
Mart Leez: …
Ava: That’s exactly the contempt we’re looking for. You’re hired.
Tom: Beautiful. I’m already getting ‘choked up again.
Ava: Slightly bewildered to find myself discovering the weirdest story of the pandemic so far on a Czech games publisher’s blog, but that’s where we are. Czech Games Edition, publisher of ludicrously successful Codenames, are collating stories from their distribution partners around the world, so if you want some little snapshots of lockdown life from across the world, occasionally with an eye to board games, it’s worth a little dig.
For example, I knew that South Korea nearly perfectly contained the virus initially through contact tracing. What I didn’t know is, that changed when their 31st patient refused to fess up to where she had been and who she had seen, to try and protect her ‘kind of here[tical]’ church. Now 8,600 people in South Korea have the virus, and 80% are from that church, or got it from someone in the church, and the Seoul Metropolitan Government is suing the church.
We can safely say that’s not what I expected to catch on my weekly board game news trawl. Good luck out there everyone. Stay safe.