iOS, Android • While my gaming desires tend to lean toward heavier fare such as Through the Ages or Twilight Struggle, there’s a warm place in my heart for simple, quick card games. Games that, while sitting at your child’s Holiday Concert and you spot another dad from your game group, can be played without dedicating all your attention, thus lowering the chances of your wife catching you sneaking turns. This is an entirely hypothetical situation, by the way. I’d never play games…who am I kidding? Lost Cities was our School Concert/Play/Sports game of choice but it has been surpassed by a little game that, until November, none of us had played, Morels. [Whoa, big reveal! It’s in the title of the piece you dink -ed.]
PS4, Xbox, PC • I imagine the right way to open the review of a Lovecraft-riffing game is dark foreshadowing of looming evil, so, uh–don’t look behind you. [Well done. Now clean out your desk. -ed.] Ripstone’s Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics (henceforth ACT) aims at an experience much like XCOM. Not XCOM as it would be now, because you’ve probably already played that. Instead, it has all the pieces needed to give you the experience of playing XCOM for the first time, again. That is, it’s mechanically distinct enough to play quite differently, facilitating the joy of discovery. The setting is almost perfect for this purpose–while I feel the pull of legitimate concerns about continuing to use Lovecraft’s work (starkly put by Michael Barnes here), ACT’s melding of techno-über-Nazis with Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos offers players mostly familiar, immediately comprehensible weapons and soldier roles to build from, with such a variety of possible ways of adding strangeness that you never know what might emerge from the shadows.
PC I recently waffled in a Scrye about INSOMNIA: The Ark, written calmly henceforth as Insomnia. It’s quite the thing, especially if you go in blind. Given that you’re reading this, I suspect there’s a forfeiture of surprise in your immediate future, but that doesn’t detract from Insomnia’s beguiling premise overcoming its somewhat flawed execution. Flawed, I hasten to add, in that Eastern Bloc way. An ambitious pursuit of atmosphere; a journey through time and space, anchored to a colossal star city, where dimensions appear to be a lot less demarcated than first thought.
As we get our new forums up and running, I wanted to mention that lots of folks had seen their activation emails go to their spam folders, so keep an eye on that. If you’re having troubles, hit me up on Twitter (I’m “rinelk”); if not, feel free to use your new forum account to make suggestions on this post. While I’m at it, KeyForge releases today, and my thoughts on that border on marketing spam themselves, so this seems like a good opportunity to bring them up.
PC/Mac • I went into Return of the Obra Dinn with high expectations, stemming from its designer, Lucas Pope. You might know Mr. Pope as the creator of the thought-provoking and terrifying Papers, Please, a game that crawled into your skull and stuck with you well after you closed your laptop. Return of the Obra Dinn does the same, and it’s one of the best experiences I’ve had on my laptop in a long time.
PC • When Terraforming Mars first hit the cardboard scene back in 2016, the hype was up there with the likes of Agricola and Dominion. You couldn’t listen to any game podcast, Twitter feed, or YouTube channel and not be overwhelmed with tales of just how good this game was. I held off as long as I could but, when I finally got Terraforming Mars to the table, I had to agree. It was a keeper. Maybe not the best game I’d ever played, but it came with enough variety and decision points hidden beneath a fairly simple facade that I could see it hanging around and being a family favorite for a long time. That was the cardboard version. Today I’m starting a new Terraforming Mars hype train, but for the digital version. It deserves it. The PC port from LuckyHammers and Asmodee Digital is nearly flawless and is easily one of the best digital board games I’ve ever played.
iOS/Android (out now), PC/Mac/Linux (coming Friday) • There was a time, not long ago, that I dreaded any game that included a stock market mechanism. Something in my brain convinced me that games with stocks and money were the purview of the business-inclined, which I’m definitely not. [For example, look around this website and see how well he’s monetized it. -ed.] Luckily, a little game called Imperial changed my mind and, while I’m terrible at stock games, I discovered that they’re fun as hell. If you’re not aware, stock trading is a (the?) major component of the 18xx family of board games which readers will know I’m currently in love with. Stock games tend to fall into two categories: those that treat stocks fairly realistically and those that don’t. The 18xx games, for example, deal with it somewhat realistically with your stock price rising and falling based on demand and the profitability of your train company. Stockpile falls into the unrealistic camp in which stock prices are randomly in flux. Both are fun, and while I doubt we’ll ever see an 18xx game make its way to our phones, (unless Playdek ever gets around to developing 1846 from GMT) today Stockpile makes its grand entrance on the digital stage.
iOS, Android • I didn’t pay much attention to the Spiel des Jahres this year, so I’m a little behind on telling my Azuls from my Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburgs. Yes, that last one is a real game and it actually won the Kennerspiel des Jahres. Thus I was unaware of another nominee vying for “complex game of the year”, Ganz Schön Clever. A quiet release of a digital version has allowed me to give the game a go, however, and I’ve determined that the English translation of Ganz Schön Clever is “what the hell have I stumbled on?”
Developers have distantly flirted with the idea of a Warhammer 40K grand strategy, but the commitment to rendering a colossal empire management sim in the grimdark future has yet to be fully realised. It would be an interesting undertaking, and while perhaps some conversions and mods have offered glimpses into what might be, we’re yet to see one with the official GW stamp. Along comes Gladius – Relics of War, from Pandora: First Contact devs Proxy Studios and published under the auspices of Slitherine, and while the game has aspirations to the grand strategy genre, it’s best described as a wargame. Or is that Waaaaarrrghgame? Apostates and the pious alike, read on.
iOS Universal, Android • If you deep dive into the unpublished drafts currently chained up in the Stately Play dungeons, you’ll find a screed titled, “Board Games Suck”. It was started as a rant against the current state of the hobby which, as anyone will tell you, is going gangbusters. Unfortunately, while we’re getting thousands (literally) of new game releases each year, I’m finding my interest in about 98% of them is close to zero. This is mostly in the euro game category where every new game I hear about sounds like an excuse to rehash overdone mechanisms, paste a popular yet loose-fitting theme on it, and get it into the hands of the usual suspects so the hype train can start rolling. So, why haven’t I published the article? Well, my heart is telling me that an article with that headline isn’t a great idea on a site that covers board games. Also, #notalleuros. There are still a few new games here and there that get my blood flowing. Most of them are designed by Vital Lacerda, but one that wasn’t came out back in 2014, won the Kennerspiel des Jahres, and still gets table time. That would be Rüdiger Dorn’s Istanbul.