You’ve crash landed on a strange planet and need a plan to survive. There’s a couple different ways you can go. There’s the Mark Watney way—eking out an existence thanks to potatoes fertilized by your own feces. Alternatively, you could build a massive, sprawling, and fully interconnected factory complex using your off-the-charts engineering know how. Which do you choose?
If you’re only exposure to the Red Planet comes from visuals of Matt Damon pooping on his potatoes or mutant women with three breasts, I have some news for you. First of all, those are movies and, secondly, those weren’t real breasts. Don’t worry though, because Mars is an actual, real-life place and it’s only 140 million miles away. Best of all, according to Terraforming Mars from Stronghold Games, its surface is covered with a resource more valuable than unobtainium: Victory Points.
Since the dawn of electronic handheld gaming, there has been conflict between mother and child. The mother wants chores or homework to be done, but there’s always “just one more level” or a high score just out of reach. At some point, the mother will resort to simply hiding the device in the hopes of boring the child into productivity. The child, of course, instead leverages their boredom into searching for their game. They inevitably find the device, and the cycle begins anew. Japanese developer hap Inc.’s free Hidden my game by mom (sic) series distills and translates this conflict into a delightfully absurd escape room puzzle game format.
The Cold War is singular in world history for the level of political complexity combined with the possibility for diplomatic failures to bring about a conflict which could engulf the known world in a horrifying level of destruction. But the period of the Avignon Papacy offers similarly high-stakes drama and intricate machinations, and is relatively unfamiliar to most modern audiences. As such, it’s an ideal setting for a heavy-weight successor to Twilight Struggle, or perhaps a highly thematic, negotiation-heavy behemoth (a role which, admittedly, is likely adequately occupied by Here I Stand). Avignon: A Clash of Popes isn’t one of those. It’s a small game which is actually less portable on an iPad than in physical form. It aims to offer a light, quick, but tense two-player contest between Rome and Avignon, in which each tries to recruit the support of influential people. You also occasionally recruit peasants, which probably won’t help much, but you never know.
Cheaper than a bag of Perry miniatures, more bang for your buck than a Legend of the Five Rings starter deck; Warbands: Bushido is a lightning-quick slice of Early Access turn-based multiplayer tactics. And it is素晴らしい*. * bloody good gear.
Silent Depth is a long-gestating WWII submarine sim, placing you in an American sub in the Pacific Theater in 1942. Success means slowing the flow of vital supplies to Japan, sinking troopships, and buying the U.S. industrial effort time to rebuild the surface fleet after the catastrophe at Pearl Harbor. And, in a cruel metaphor involving sinking ships, it represents the first Stately Play use of the tag “Windows_Phone. [and possibly the last. -ed.]
Swanning through the aisles of Valve’s recent Steam Sale, I happened upon an ingenious little multiplayer title by the name Of Guards And Thieves. With nothing to lose but the dregs of my credit injection, I prodded Subvert Games‘ compact title through the checkout and went in blind.
Colt Express has two things I adore: an Old West theme of bandits robbing a train, and programmed movement with character decks. Westerns are in sort of a tough place right now. The themes common to westerns are largely in tension with some now-common values, so it’s difficult to make them without effectively taking a controversial political stand (either to support those themes, or explicitly reject them). As a result, family-friendly western content is rare these days. Admittedly, I have never seen Sheriff Callie’s Wild West, but Wikipedia tells me it occurs in the town of “Nice and Friendly Corners”. I am now imagining Fred Rogers in a poncho, chomping a cigarillo, and my attempt to deride the western credentials of the Disney Junior show has gone totally off the rails as I embroider that fabulous image.* Anyway, a western family game stands out.
I love geeky tabletop games, especially the kind with a dozen different decks of cards, scores of specialized counters, multiple boards and player reference cards with charts and tables. Call me Ameritrash, but that’s the way I like it. Unfortunately, I have young children: my oldest is taking an interest in games now, but at age 5 he’s not ready for Twilight Struggle or Terra Mystica yet, and my youngest is mostly interested in teething on the pieces. As a result, I mostly play my board games on a tablet these days, and keep notes on which ones I might want to pick up when the kids get older. I say this because Space Food Truck is a digital board game. There’s no print edition yet, and that’s a shame because if there was, I’d have purchased it and put it in a place of honor in my collection, there to wait for the day we can sit down as a family and play together. If you haven’t picked up on my subtle hints, what I’m trying to say is that I love this cooperative multiplayer game.
Arrival appears to be the hot new business at the box office. Being industrial-grade Parentcore, I’ll get to it when I can — presumably just before heat death ruins home-streaming — but have it on good authority that Denis Villeneuve’s film is the new Contact, stripped of cheese. Alright, alright, alright.