Ten years ago, I wrote an article called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, Part One: A History and Ten Top Games”, which discussed some top science-fiction games. Looking back, it’s shocking how inadequate the science-fiction market was at the time. Two of the “top” games I mentioned, Diceland (2003) and Light Speed (2003) were quite small press. Two others, Blue Moon (2004) and Blue Moon City (2006), trended more toward science fantasy — or even pure fantasy. Mission Red Planet (2005) was the only mainstream game from my list with strong science fiction themes. There were some others of course, with Starfarers of Catan (1999) being the most obvious, but as a whole science-fiction games were pretty scant ten years ago, especially among pure Euros.
Fast forward a decade. I recently spent an evening where I played Star Realms (2014) followed by The Captain is Dead (2014, 2016). A few months ago it was a couple of games of Jump Drive (2017) followed by Galaxy Trucker (2007). There have also been games of Colony(2016),Master of Orion (2016), Roll for the Galaxy (2014), and others. In other words, science fiction games have gotten really big in the eurogame space — in large part due to non-German designers.
Obviously, science-fiction theming gives these games different façades. But a game’s genre should be deeper than that: it should determine the mechanics of the game, and ideally those should be mechanics that wouldn’t be possible in any other genre. So today I ask: what makes a real science-fiction game?
I’m going to take a look at several popular games that I’m familiar with to answer that question. I’ve purposefully avoided licensed offerings, as they obviously have very different reasons for their theming.
I’ve been keeping track of my games played for almost fourteen full years. That means that I have a pretty robust listing of games that have worked well enough to get numerous replays from me over the years. They represent a set of great games, with features that any would-be great game could endeavor to repeat. So this week I’m going to go through my listing of those top games and offer my opinions on either of their best features — the ones that make them so worth playing and replaying.Continue reading →
I was happy to see a number of actual 2017 games hit the table this winter. Quite a few of them were, surprisingly, card games instead of full board games. As usual this is a list of games that are new to me, and and as usual this listing ranks them by how much I personally like them, as a medium-weight eurogamer.
The Dresden Files Co-op Card Game (2017). I’ve actually been playing this one for over a year through numerous prototypes, the designer is a friend, and I love the Dresden Files novels, so caveat reader. But with all that said, I honestly love this game.
DFCO is a cooperative game where you have a case laid out for you as an array of problems: cases to solve, foes to fight, obstacles to overcome, and advantages to take. You have to figure out how to work through the cards that have been laid out, in order to defeat enough foes and solve enough cases to win the game. The co-op play comes through the facts that you’re jointly working on this puzzle and that you’re using a joint pool of resources to take your actions. This design is really unique among co-op games, and gives it much of its original feeling.
A resource-efficiency game focuses on turning resources into victory points through a chain of actions. It’s a very common design style for euro games, but also one with considerable room for variety.
The recently released Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction (2016) shows the style at its simplest. You start out with worker resources. You turn those into yellow cake, which you turn into uranium, which becomes victory-point bombs. There’s a single development path for a four-link chain. The game is all in how fast you can walk that path.
The ever-popular Catan(1995) shows a different methodology. A variety of resources become roads, settlements, and cities. You can also look at this as a four-link chain: resources are necessary to create roads, which are necessary to build settlements, which in turn upgrade to cities. However, as with many more complex resource-efficiency games, there’s a feedback loop: settlements and cities can create more resources. Thus the game becomes not just about maximizing efficiency but also maximizing opportunities. Continue reading →
Games can be defined in a lot of different ways. They can come in different styles, from American take-that to Eurogames, from party games to abstracts. They can can in different fictional genres, from science-fiction to history, and in different mechanical genres, from worker placement to auctions. Finally, games can also be parts of different mediums, primarily including board games, card games, and dice games.
Gaming mediums are particularly interesting because they seem to encourage conversions. Board games become card games or dice games, and vice-versa. This trend seems to have been growing in the last few years, as Intellectual Property has become a byword of the eurogame community. Alea is currently be the poster child of IP conversions, with Broom Service (2015), Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game (2016), and Broom Service: The Card Game (2016) all being conversions of this sort. The last is particularly notable, since Broom Service: The Card Game began life as Witch’s Brew (2008) … a card game!
So are medium conversions good or bad?
Too frequently they result in a game that’s a pale shadow of its originator. I know I’ve played Euphrates & Tigris: Contest of Kings (2005), but I barely remember it, while Shadows Over Camelot: The Card Game (2012) and Bang! The Dice Game (2013) were more interesting, but in no way overshadowed the original. But, in some cases you get games that are quite exciting. San Juan (2004) is obviously the vest example of a game that managed to massively innovate its predecessor, creating something that was as good, in its own way.
This week I’m going to take a brief look at three games that were converted to new sorts of dice and card games: one of the newest entrants to the field and two that I think really worked.
In November, I took a look at a smallest of mini-genres: what I call the Role Civilization genre, which originated with San Juan and which also grew to include games such as Glory for Rome and Eminent Domain. My previous articles covered the origins of the field in role selection and those three games. In this latest article, I’ll be looking at the final major entry in the category, Roll for the Galaxy, discussing how it simultaneously invented and reinvented the field.
The Shared History of San Juan and Roll for the Galaxy: 2002-2007
Puerto Rico (2002) was the game that brought role selection to the field of serious, dense eurogames. It ruled the gaming table for a few years and was considered the top game in the field. Alea production manager Stefan Brück asked Puerto Rico designer Andreas Seyfarth for a card version of the game, and the result was San Juan (2003), which kicked off the whole role civilization subgenre.
A few weeks ago I kicked off an investigation of a small genre of games that I call “role civilization” games. These are “role selection” card games that were inspired by San Juan. My initial article defined the genre through four mechanics that all debuted in San Juan: phase (role) selection; card building; multipurpose cards; and card economies.
This week I’m going to continue my look at the genre by seeing how it’s evolved since the advent of San Juan and by investigating two Imperial successors to the game.
A History of Role Civilization: 2004-Present
Andreas Seyfarth’s San Juan (2004) could have dramatically changed the board gaming field. Not only did it make the very popular mechanics of Puerto Rico (2002) more accessible, but it also introduced a new style of dense filler that played quickly in a short period of time while still allowing for real strategic decisions. Unfortunately, San Juan was held back by the fact that Alea games tend to be somewhat underproduced and until very recently didn’t get supplements. The best San Juan ever managed was a few mini-supplements in Treasure Chest (2009), one of which reappeared in the second edition San Juan (2014).