Ava: QUINNS QUINNS I’M ON A TRAIN!
Quinns: You’re writing the news from a train? I–
Ava: CHOO CHOO!
Quinns: I’m so glad you’re–
Ava: NEWS NEWS!
Quinns: Ok, I’m now looking forward to the wi-fi dropping you in about eight seconds.
Ava: CHOO CH-
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Ava: Magnate: The First City has dropped onto kickstarter like a block of flats from a great height. This city building, housing market buy-em-up has got a hedge fund full of hype around it.
Magnate is all about ruthless, mercenary capitalism. Players race to buy and build buildings according to an elaborate calculation of ‘how can I get the most rent out of these mugs’. You then want to sell as much as possible before the construction boom collapses and the game ends with all that concrete crumbling in value.
I can’t quite work out where it sits on the faff to complexity ratio, but it’s got a quietly implicit ‘this is the real answer to monopoly’, without necessary being as accessible as that horrible game.
People seem keen, but even as someone who plays games about real actual wars, I feel strangely uncomfortable about the aggressively predatory theme. I’ve been dancing in precarious rented housing for too long. It’s all very personal for me!
Quinns: I’ve been looking forward to this for a while, and reading this review from the great Dan Thurot caused my hype to spike upwards like an unstable property market.
Ava: The review actually turned me off a bit? I’m not sure I want to have to explain a detailed rental income calculation AND a different fiddly sales mechanism? But I might have just read it when I was in the mood for simplicity. I’m normally a big fiddle-fan.
Quinns: That makes sense! For me, I guess I’ve been looking for another cruel capitalist fiddle along the lines of Container or Food Chain Magnate. Economic games that feel like a snowball fight, except instead of snowballs you’re throwing socks full of pennies at one another.
Ava: Cobble fog, cobble fog, oh foggy, cobble cobble.
Cobble fog, cobble fog, oh foggy cobble cobble.
Cobble fog, cobble fog, oh foggy cobble cobble.
Cobble fog. *POP*. Da dum bum bum.
Where the first Unmatched set let players arrange fights between Sinbad, Alice, Medusa and King Arthur, Cobble & Fog will add The Invisible Man, Dracula, Jekyll & Hyde and Sherlock Holmes to the game’s demented roster. For those not keeping track, this roster now includes Bruce Lee, Bigfoot and will soon feature no less than five characters from Jurassic Park, one of which is three raptors.
Ava: Oh, I hadn’t been paying attention to this at all! It’s a Public Domain Battle Royale! (Plus Bruce Lee, who I don’t believe is in the public domain). Can they do Elizabeth Bennet versus The Raven, next? Anna Karenina, up against Don Quixote?
Quinns: I’m holding out for The Portrait of Dorian Grey in a cage match with the whale from Moby Dick.
I’m actually working on the Shut Up & Sit Down review of Unmatched at the moment, and I’m beyond impressed. The fact that the game is produced in collaboration with Mondo means that in addition to being bewilderingly silly, Unmatched is maybe the prettiest game that came out this year. I’m a fan!
Ava: I’m not saying this made it into the news because I saw the screen shot of the german box and read ‘Die Crew’ as an imperative, but…
The Crew: The Quest for Planet 9 is a co-op trick taking game of flying through space by winning card hands in the right order. It has a hint of The Mind with it’s ever growing mission structure, and I’m still charmed by the idea of co-operative trick-taking. The trick to top trick-taking is making you want to win some hands but not others, and if the end goal of the hand is to make specific people win specific cards, but you’re all working together, that’s nuanced!
I’m still more excited for upcoming co-op trick-taker The Fox in the Forest: Duet, because I trust the core game of the original so much, but The Crew looks foxy in a different way.
Ava: Uwe Rosenberg is one of the biggest names in the business, and has designed three of my all time favourite games (Patchwork, Nusfjord and Glass Road). My ears prick up when he’s got something new on the way.
Fairy Trails is a one or two player game about shaping paths to house rival gnome and fairy factions. It sounds like a super simple, tile-laying game with a bit of racing and faffing. It’s exactly the opposite of the kind of economic crunchiness that I most trust Uwe with, but I also know he can pull off simpler games with aplomb. Last pub game night I was at, the other table were having a whale of a time with Bohnanza, and Patchwork remains a perfect two player game.
But Uwe’s not best known for his consistency. I found the first two rural tetromino follow-ups to Patchwork, (Cottage Garden and Indian Summer) insufferably boring (and never tried the third, Spring Meadow). That said, he’s a huge name and a great designer. I just hope this one’s seen more quality control.
Ava: We’ve not yet reviewed Undaunted: Normandy, but it’s already getting a sequel in Undaunted: North Africa, and I am excited.
The Undaunted system is one of the simplest tactical wargames I’ve ever seen, with a delicate blend of deck building and moving tokens around the map. It’s reminiscent of the late Chad Jensen’s Combat Commander, one of the richest tactical infantry simulations I’ve ever touched, but stripped down to the absolute minimum complexity, with maximum drama. We’ve not dived deep enough for explicit recommendations yet, but it’s had some of my most exciting first plays of the year, and Quinns and I will be playing some more this very week.
Undaunted: North Africa will take the fight to, well, the top bit of the titular continent, replacing the countryside of Normandy with the deserts of the Sahara. North Africa is the World War Two front I know the least about, despite having Spike Milligan’s war memoirs pushed on me as a kid, (mostly because I was anachronistically obsessed with The Goon Show).
Quinns: In a state of affairs that I’m describing as “Very Quinns”, I know that you and I have barely played the first Undaunted, but I’m amped for this next box. The first instalment of Undaunted felt like an outrageously firm foundation, and I want to see how they build onwards and upwards.
Plus, I know I’m not the only one who’s very bored of these games primarily following Americans fighting in Western Europe. It’s called a world war! At the risk of sounding like some kind of military-industrial mother figure, there’s a whole world out there! Can we not explore it a little bit? Let’s meet some new people and learn about their story.
(Not that North Africa is exactly pushing the envelope. It was Mark Bigney of So Very Wrong About Games who pointed out to me that “North Africa” is always the first expansion after the designers have done Western Europe, and then after that it’s the Eastern Front…)
Ava: Here’s a tasty bit of further reading. Polygon asks a few of the biggest designers in the business what games they recommend from the last decade. There’s some good picks here! And some I’d argue with!
I think Volko Ruhnke (former CIA analyst and designer of the COIN system of asymmetrical wargames) is a touch bold to nominate his own game, but its influence has been huge in that particular scene.
I’m not surprised to see lightweight but punchy civilisation game 7 Wonders get nominated (in duel and non-duel formats) twice. I revisited it recently and it’s still surprisingly fresh, and played with people who know it well, you can rattle through a game ridiculously quickly.
Quinns: Wow! This is fascinating. SU&SD has always made fun of Zombicide for being (and this is a technical term) total toilet, but here it is, nominated by none other than Rob Davaiu. And actually, his point that it invented a whole new business model is eye-opening and inarguable. I might reply that it’s an unhealthy business model that isn’t good for the consumer, but it’s certainly brought a lot of money into tabletop.
There’s a lot of interesting bites here about design processes and specific details. After an unusual trajectory that took him from writer, to DreamWorks animator, to Fantasy Flight Games designer, he nearly dropped out of game design before Bargain Quest’s success. I wonder if we do need to start pushing for new ways to make designers lives more sustainable and accessible to a wider range of people, and I wonder what that would actually look like.