Ava: Welcome to Board Game Celebrity Squares! The quiz where all the biggest names in board games have games coming out soon, and they’ll probably mostly be coming out in boxes that are square shaped. Hence the squares.
Tom: Ava, I don’t think that sounds much like a game show.
Ava: What’s a game show?
Ava: There’s a fair bit of buzz around Alexander Pfister’s next big box game, as the designer of Great Western Trail, Oh My Goods and Maracaibo reaches for the future, and the skies.
Ava: CloudAge doesn’t have a huge amount of detail as of yet. But what we do know is intriguing. Players will be exploring the sky and digging through clouds to find resources as part of an engine building, deck building campaign extravaganza. In particular, cloud obscuring card sleeves will be covering up the details of exactly what the reward is for some of the actions, meaning you have to actually get there to work out if it’s the most efficient option for you. The marketing blurb describes this as ‘immersive’ which is the sort of word that makes me wince, but I am curious.
Tom: The immersion comes from the colossal vape pen that comes in the box.
Ava: Mr Pfister isn’t the only big name with a big box on the way.
Hallertau is a region in Germany that hasn’t yet received the big box treatment from Uwe ‘Big Farm Boy’ Rosenberg. The titular hop-cropping German region will be home to an upsettingly large number of player boards, including fields, stables and an entire community centre per player. Wrinkling his traditional worker placement with actions that are always available but cost more as other players choose the same thing, there’s also a dizzying array of cards here to ensure variety between games. I’m disappointed to find that the community centre isn’t actually communal, as Nusfjords central fish dish filled table was such a delight.
Matt: I adore those fish.
Tom: A game set in the ‘largest contiguous hop-growing area in the world’ is Total Rosenburg, but like all of these designs, is tricky to extract any exciting opinion juice from. Oh, wait! I take that back! The game also thematically implements ‘the traditional two-field crop rotation and thus offers the players an interesting historical background’? Colour me sold, I’m going to be a hops expert.
Ava: Honestly though, that Uwe’s found another way of making putting stuff in a field and getting it back later’ interesting is kind of amazing to me. The fields in this game actually get more fertile when you leave them fallow and empty, and less when you grow stuff on them, so you’ve got to be super careful when you plant to maximise your output.Sometimes board games are the most boring thing in the world and I love them for it.
Ava: I think we’ve definitely mentioned Queen Games’ Stefan Feld City collection too many times, so I’ll keep this brief. The Kickstarter is now live, and I’m bringing it up again because Amsterdam, one of the two games being reprinted and transplanted to a new home was formerly Macao, was one of the last new games I got to try before the apocalypse.
I’m so delighted its cruel resource rose is coming to thorn-up our tables again, with a less colonial theme to boot. Amsterdam’s beating heart is a dice draft at the beginning of each round where multiple coloured dice are rolled. Everyone gets the same choice, two dice, which let you take as many cubes of that colour. Simple huh? Except: nuh. If you take a juicy six? You aren’t getting those six cubes for another six turns. If you want something quick, you get less. It’s a simple, sharp decision to build a solid game of combo-chasing and point racing around.
This paragraph is almost entirely brought to you by the time that I had the week off, and we just announced Amsterdam with a cover of the box and the words ‘it comes in a box’. Or something.
Ava: Our next designer is Peer Sylvester. I accidentally ended up with two versions of the same game, The King is Dead and King of Siam, and I can’t bring myself to part with either. I didn’t like The Lost Expedition so much, but I think Wir Sind Das Volk is probably the most particular game of cold war infrastructure battling you’ll ever ever seen. In a good way. He also crops in the comments with lovely nuggets of wisdom pretty often. Hi Peer!
Anyway, he’s done a design diary for an upcoming game, and I’m kinda excited.
Ava: Polynesia is a game of island hopping, representing the early days of Polynesian people across the archipelago. It focuses on indirect competition and currencies that spoil, with players getting to hitch rides with each other, potentially putting opponents where they do or don’t want to be. I’m intrigued! Peer reckons it’s a similarly tight abstract to those duplicated King games I mentioned earlier, which is a promising weight, as those games are very pointy but easy to teach.
Tom: That design diary is ultra-encouraging – a speedy tour of the games mechanics where each rule is bristling with possibility and simplicity. I’m getting that lovely Hansa Teutonica vibe from this one, where ‘putting cubes on a board’ becomes a bustling hive of crossed strategies and pointed plays that’s over in just the right number of minutes.
Ava: It’s also nice to see a Pacific island theme that’s not focussed on western colonisation, but the feats of navigation of the indigenous people of the islands. I’m not qualified to say whether this game passes any representation test, but I did get to ask a friend of mine, who did a PhD in climate change resistance and activism on a few Pacific Islands, what she thought. Hannah said that while simplistic, the emphasis on non-combative ethos, navigation and discovery lines up with the celebration of that voyaging that was key to 1980s and current Pacific Liberation movements. Also, the volcanic eruption Peer notes as an ahistorical catalyst for the travel of the game is better than the false resource mismanagement narrative that often gets attributed to Rapaniu.
Obviously this isn’t as good as talking to the indigenous people themselves, but it gives me a solid chunk of hope, as I know Hannah did a hell of a lot of exactly that sort of talking.
Ava: If you want further reading from an actual islander, she recommends Epeli Hau’ofa’s ‘Our Sea of Islands’, a rethinking of power and strength in the Pacific. He asked people to start seeing the islands as a large continent of land, sea and air, that was criss-crossed and connected by the voyages of the ancestors. He said if we do that we see that ‘the world of Oceania is not small; it is huge and growing bigger every day’. If this game acknowledges that heritage of unrivalled maritime exploration, even in simplified or romanticised ways, it may be a chance to challenge the belittlement of the Pacific.
Ava: Relevantly, as Aotearoa (aka New Zealand) is the largest pair of islands in Polynesia, I saw on twitter that Three Minute Boardgames is promoting and working with local co-operative of Māori game designers on some unannounced projects.The Papa Kēmu Co-op is working to challenge poor representations of Maori culture in board games, as well as making some games of their own. I’m pretty excited by this beyond the obvious, for the nerdy and off-topic reason that my other job is helping out worker and housing co-operatives, so i’m always just a little more perked up to hear about a new worker owned project. We don’t have any details yet, but I’m going to be keeping an eye on these folks.
In lovely little ideas news, Elizabeth Hargrave, designer of Wingspan, shared this fan made app that scans the bird cards to give you a little sample of their bird call. I’ve been saying for years that I was going to have a laptop beside a game of wingspan to slowly build up a soundscape of all the birds we played until we hit Full Cacophony and started pecking each other’s eyes out. This apparently only plays one bird at a time, which is probably a win for the sanity of anybody I’m playing Wingspan with. Lovely.
Tom: I want this for every single game. Madlib samples for ‘Rap Godz’. Long stretches of deafening dread for ‘Twilight Struggle’. The possibilities are so endless that I’ve only come up with two.
Ava: Maybe I’ll go play Brass in the Calderdale Industrial Museum when they’ve got the MASSIVE ENGINE running in the basement.
Tom: Oh, and finally for this week – tune into Twitch tomorrow to watch me going head-to-head against Matt in Tak and Santorini. Have a lovely week!