As if it were needed, Jacob Jaskov’s Fog of Love is definitive proof that board games can be sexy, and it’s finally in shops the world over. But there’s more to this box than just sex! For example, there’s sometimes a troubling absence of sex. Sometimes there’s heartbreak. And sometimes, just sometimes, there’s true love.
Don’t let this game be “The one that got away,” everybody. Take a look at our definitive review, and see if it’s for you.
Paul: We know it’s Games News time when we hear the honk of the Games News Freighter (SS Games News) as it makes its way up the Games News channel, to disgorge Games News upon the Games News docks.
Quinns: OH NO A MAN HAS BEEN CRUSHED.
Paul: Such is the weight of Games News and the danger of not taking things easy. We should all relax with Alubari: A Nice Cup of Tea (seen above).
And, really, what better way to kick off this week than with news of a colourful, charming game all about harvesting tea? How pleasant! How relaxing! What an unusual theme for a board game, not a train in sight-
Oh no wait, you’re also building a railway together. BUT STILL, Alubari: A Nice Cup of Tea looks just wonderful. As well as using worker placement mechanics to cultivate tea (even feeding it back to your own staff, to help them work), you’ll all contribute to that railway and to building towns along it. Then, at the end of the game, whichever of you contributed to tea, trains and towns the most is the winner!
All that, and the box has a lovely cover.
Quinns: Colour me interested! Alubari is the sort-of-sequel to a game called Snowdonia, which we never played but which we heard very good things about. This game should be a lovely way to catch up.
That said, I’m not crazy about the theme. Planting tea and building railways in 1850s India was of course being done by the British, for the British, and there’s certainly enough cruelty to be found in the history of the British East India Company that “A Nice Cup of Tea” could be taken as an arch and sarcastic subtitle.
Fun fact: After these railways were built using Indian taxpayer money to secure British investments, the trains and stations were staffed by white people. The Indians paid for the trains and stations but they couldn’t even work in them.
Of course, these days India’s very proud of its tea industry. I guess as an English person I just have a chip on my shoulder about colonial India because we’re taught so many lies about it.
Paul: Well said.
Photo credit: BGG User ChangoPerro.
You know what the exact opposite of a nice cup of tea is? Warhammer 40,000, the future in which There Is Only War. Except for when it’s also thematically appropriate to have some non-war. Such as in Gretchinz!, the game of racing tiny space-goblins, from Captain Sonar designers Roberto Fraga and Yohan Lemonnier!
It looks like its creators want this game to be as slapdash as Sonar is, with frantic, real-time dice rolling and players holding cards in a Hanabi-style fashion that means they can see what everyone else has, but can’t be entirely sure what they hold themselves. I know the old adage is “more haste, less speed,” but sometimes you just have to panic as fast as you possibly can and hope it works out. Right? Right?
Quinns: Here’s an interesting rebirth. Cuzco is a remake of the year 2000’s Java (pictured above), the first game in the mechanically-related Mask trilogy, which also includes Tikal (which has a mediocre iPad port that’s I’ve nonetheless enjoyed) and Mexica (which we reviewed here). While Java was set in, well, Java, the remake airlifts the game to South America, meaning all three now take place on the same continent.
Paul: I don’t understand. Why wasn’t it set there before and why did it take eighteen years to change this? No, it’s okay, it doesn’t matter! This is an important reminder that, after enjoying Mexica, I need to try the other games in what is now a fairly venerable series. Several friends are fans of Tikal and this new, swankier Cuzco looks like a game that just demands our attention. Could this be a series that keeps pace with its shiny peers, even after nearly two decades?
Quinns: I don’t know, but one thing’s for sure- French publishers Super Meeple are putting out some absolutely gorgeous boxes. The whole revised Mask trilogy look amazing, and I’d love to get my hands on their new edition of Amun-Re (though I don’t think it’s out in English yet).
Paul: Oh boy, there’s lots resurfacing this month. A similar re-theming turns 2003’s Attika into U.S. Telegraph, meaning it’s no longer a game about building Greek city-states, but instead towns on the American frontier. Mechanically, though, its creators say it remains the same. How curious!
And we also have a re-release of Mage Knight coming, right?
Quinns: Paul it’s the ULTIMATE EDITION. That means all of Mage Knight is now packed together in one single $125 box with, wait for it, “five all new cards”! Five new cards, Paul! The base game is already huge, and the first expansion alone makes it monstrous. Is your $125 really necessary?
Paul: Sometimes you just got to milk that cash cow until you hear the last nickel hit the bucket, plus you know me. Five is my favourite number. Five new cards is the perfect amount to make me holler with happiness and ride my horse off into the sunset. Five new cards! Five!
Quinns: Jokes aside, if this box means that Mage Knight gets some renewed attention and more people get to play it, that’s awesome. I often hear people say that it’s their favourite game, and I always have the same response. I stare into the middle distance, nod my head and think “That makes sense.”
Paul: While we’re on the subject of ultimate things, Ultimate Werewolf (see our review here) is the latest game to buy first class tickets to legacy land, with a new edition coming this August and co-designed by the man who has come to be known as “Mister Legacy” at every cocktail party, Rob Daviau. At its core, it’s still the traditional game of hidden roles and hamlet hunger, with players trying to either eat one another or avoid becoming dinner, but Ultimate Werewolf Legacy will, as we’d expect, feature a bunch elements that carry over between games.
These include a player’s family loyalty (perhaps even disloyalty) and special powers, as well as the gradual growth and development of the village they live in across sixteen game sessions. The action is both dictated by and recorded in THE DIARY, a log that is central to the game’s progress, and publisher Bezier say that it’ll be worth replaying UWL, as new games may take very different turns. Replay packs will let players buy a NEW DIARY and begin the betrayal again.
Quinns: It’s been a while since I was able to give expandable card game Netrunner a nod, but this week we have the announcement of the latest deluxe expansion, Reign and Reverie! Set in the sprawling megacity of ChiLo (stretching from Chicago to St. Louis) it’ll add loads of cool new cards for every faction, and it’s designed to be a perfect second box to pick up after new players buy the revised Core Set.
I burned out on Netrunner after attending twenty tournaments and hundreds of meet-ups, but Shut Up & Sit Down still absolutely recommends it. It’s just genius. If you’re looking for a new obsession or just want to see what all the fuss is about, you should still absolutely pick up a copy.
Paul: And finally, we’ve got a Kickstarter for you! Eagle-eared visitors will remember Matt talking about Edge of Darkness when it turned up at SHUX last year (and then again in this podcast). This huge game of worker placement, economy management and card customisation (previously seen in Mystic Vale, from the same designer) looked absolutely fascinating to me. Well, it’s now on Kickstarter and, as you might expect for something so enormous, has exercised its black-hole like powers of attraction to bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The darkness is closing in, you could say. Look, its edge is getting closer.
Quinns: Yes! Matt and I were split on this after playing it at SHUX. It didn’t click for me, he found it intriguing.
…Goodness gracious. I just looked closely at this Kickstarter for the first time. There are two levels you can back at, a $60 level that gets you the game, and a $100 option that includes a crapton of extras, stretch goals and miniatures to replace the tokens. 98.2% of backers went for the more expensive option.
Quinns: 98.2% of backers.
Quinns: They chose to almost double the price of the game.
Quinns: Paul, do you think people who use Kickstarter like miniatures and lots of pieces?
Everybody, please remain in your seats with your seatbelts securely fastened. We’re expecting some turbulence.
Some turbulent discussions of board games, that is!
In this one and only 74th episode of the SU&SD podcast, Matt and Quinns discuss their weird wooden mates in the Journeyman expansion for Isle of Skye. They chat about stabbing nightmares with pencils in Stuffed Fables, which might be best described as “Toy Story directed by Tim Burton”. There’s a discussion of the grand game of War of the Ring (second edition), and the real-life backache it gave Quinns. Finally, the two offer their smokin’ hot first impressions of Rising Sun, a beautiful game about Japan (but not) where you fight wars (but you don’t) and negotiate alliances (but not really).
New podcast feeds (if you’re missing episodes 71, 72, 73 and 74 try these):
Quinns: Two years on from Paul’s bucolic Isle of Skye review (ft. his family cookie recipe), Matt and I have finally taken a stroll through this game’s wonky Scottish islands. And you know what? We’re both as charmed as Paul was. Isle of Skye is a sweet, rich game of buying and selling squares of land like so much dense shortbread, and I’d recommend it to anybody.
As this site’s #1 expansion fan, I’m thrilled to say that today we’re looking at Isle of Skye’s first expansion! It’s Isle of Skye: Journeyman. With it, no longer are you just mapping an island. Journeyman adds a wooden “best mate” who waddles around your island, diligently studying everything from cows to ponds.
But the first thing to say is that this expansion changes the tenor of the experience faster than a fart at a funeral.
Before the expansion, Isle of Skye was a game you could teach in a couple of minutes. With the expansion? Not so much!
As if Journeyman was setting out to parody German-style board games, the expansion gives every player (a) some cubes, (b) a victory point multiplier and (c) a player board slathered in iconography.
Fortunately, this looks more complicated than it really is.
Each player’s board has three tracks, each representing a profession that their best mate can progress in. By pushing your cube down the middle “merchant” track you (the player) get more money. The bottom “herald” track gets you victory points, and the top “warrior” track is the least rewarding, but you can advance down it for free whenever anyone buys a tile from you.
To make headway in each profession, Journeyman adds a new phase to every turn of the game. When players all expand their islands with new tiles they’ve acquired, they now also place cubes on their isle as waypoints, and send their little journeyman scrambling o’er hills and dale so that they reach one of the landmarks they need to progress in any of the three tracks.
Perhaps you need to visit an ox. Easy! But what about when it tells you to visit a complete area of pasture? Do you even have one of them? You can always skip a requirement by returning your best mate to your castle so they can be tutored, but this gets more and more expensive. You’re also trying to reach all of this with a limited number of movement points. Eek.
But you want to persevere past all of these obstacles, because the rewards are massive.
And lo, with the need to supervise this outdoorsy toddler of yours, the speedy game of Isle of Skye becomes 20 minutes longer, and every decision is made twice as tricky. Which tiles should you buy? How much are they worth? Where should you put them? What track are you trying to prioritise?
In this sense the expansion is transformative. Where Isle of Skye was a neat, substantial gateway game, the first expansion turns it into something that even veteran players will frown and tut over. The game is born anew! This makes Journeyman perfect if your group is ready to transition into a heavier game. Alternatively, you could buy it for the added flexibility of being able to make Isle of Skye a more involved game when your friends feel so inclined. That’s very nice.
But in another sense, Journeyman isn’t so different. It understands the appeal of the original game. Your quaint little island is now brought to life by this person racing along its roads, or paddling slowly across its lakes (even if marching across your own personal player board is comparatively drab). And the core of the game – trying (and failing) to assign prices to your tiles like a shopkeeper who’s just hit his head – is still the silly heart of the experience.
The thing is, in taking a game that’s so excellently breezy and weighing it down, I wouldn’t want to play with Journeyman every time. But actually, that’s quite a cool thing!
We always say we like games where when you finish them, you want to try them again with different player counts. Isle of Skye already had that, and now playing with the expansion makes me want to play the simple base game again, which makes me want to try the expansion again, which makes me want to play the base game, which makes me OH MY GOODNESS I’ve gone SCOTTISH CRAZY
Quick Matt, you talk while I have a restorative mug of scotch.
Matt: I too, have gone “Scot-Mad™”. There’s little to be said here that you haven’t already deftly covered, but I must say I was quietly surprised by how smooth this expansion is. Additional options didn’t cause too much brain-freeze, instead just offering alternative directions to pursue. The depth provides more room for savvy players to race ahead, but equally, it makes it harder for anyone to have a terrible turn: you didn’t get the tile you needed to finish that road, but at least you can progress on a couple of those tracks. In a game which frequently offers literal dead ends, this expansion tidies-up as much frustration as it adds. Very neat!
Frustration makes it sound worse than it is, though. Funstration? Is funstration a word? Half the joy of Isle of Skye is in the moments when plans go pear-shaped, and the additional factors that Journeyman adds makes the tile-selling component of the game even less predictable. Trying to loosely keep track of everyone’s plans is tougher than ever, leading to some spectacularly misjudged pricing. Oh gosh, it’s good! What a very good game.
Except for the road tokens.
Being able to place new roads on your island is a fantastic new mechanic, but oh my, it rubs my design brain up the wrong way. You’ve got discoloured, three-dimensional straight roads lying higgledy-piggledy on top of curving roads. There’s no way to line them up straight, no matter how much you nudge them around with your fingernail. Argh!
Quinns: Let’s assume it’s like this expansion and makes you want to play the game again, but with a different setup. Hang on, let me upload something.
Matt: Oh no, Quinns, we talked about this
Quinns: It’s a science chart I just whipped up! Look, the red circle is the base game, right? The green circle is the Journeyman expansion, and the blue circle is the 2nd expansion. Look! There will be four ways to play if you play with some expansions and not the other! FOUR WAYS TO PLAY! And of course, this chart DOESNT take into account wanting to play with DIFFERENT player NBUMBERS
[At this point in the review, Quinns needed to be sedated for his own safety.]
Matt: If you’re interested in more games from designer Mister Pfister, why not check out our review of Great Western Trail, his biggest and most highly-praised game. Then you could read about Mombasa, which Quinns and I didn’t like as much, or you could dip into the archives for our old review of one of his first published games, The Mines of Zavandor.
Now if you’ll all excuse me, I need to drag Quinns to his recovery cot.
Quinns: Hi all! We’re not doing a full Games News today as Paul and I both happen to be moving house, but I thought I’d scribble something about this week’s top story.
Batman™: Gotham City Chronicles is the smokin’ hot, spandex-spangled new Kickstarter that launched this week, and at the time of writing it’s raised some $2.5 million (plus shipping). It could end up being one of the biggest Kickstarters of all time.
That’s hardly a surprise. Not only is it offering more than 100 Batman-related miniatures and something called a “Bat-Tablet”, it’s also the sequel to Conan, which we reviewed and loved.Kickstarters this exciting are as rare as bat’s teeth. Not only that, publishers Monolith have stated that unlike Conan, Batman will only be available through Kickstarter, so the pressure’s on! Should you buy it?!
Since then, Monolith have failed to deliver any more than the bare minimum of ways to actually play their game. Compared to other action-packed games like Gloomhaven, which offers hundreds of hours of plot and progression, or Imperial Assault, which Fantasy Flight have supported in just about every way imaginable, Conan’s online scenario database looks positively malnourished, especially so if you’re looking at it with an eye to using your stretch goal miniatures. Won’t somebody spare a thought for the poor stretch goal minis?! 16,000 plastic scorpions, or 80,000 plastic mummies (since each backer got five of those), gathering dust the world over.
Worse than that, some of the scenarios they released were simply unbalanced for one side or the other. Monolith’s somewhat mercenary attitude can also be seen in the smaller expansions they’ve released for Conan, which are I found very silly. Who wants to spend $25 on ten crossbowmen that are only used in two scenarios?
Batman will ship with 10 more scenarios than Conan, and Monolith have said that they’ll do better with regards to balance, but those seem like small improvements that barely keep pace with improvements in board gaming in the last few years.
Speaking as someone who loves Conan but hasn’t taken it out of its box in a year, what Batman sorely needed was an exciting reason to get the game out, week after week. A story mode, a campaign, tools so that players could easily design and share their own scenarios. Something, anything stating that this won’t be another dramatic but secretly impractical toybox.
I’m loathe to post a Games News which is just me displaying the nerviness of a wild deer. It sucks. Shut Up & Sit Down is supposed to be all about positivity and showing off all that board games can be… but I think sometimes that means taking steps to ensure that people don’t get a little burned, especially if money’s tight for you. I might not even be broadcasting this warning if Batman was the same price as other glossy Kickstarters like Conan or Rising Sun, but this is even more expensive. It’s $140 plus some $20 shipping.
I also might not be posting this if Monolith were bringing this game to retail, but in stating that this game will only ever be on Kickstarter, I feel like they forced my hand.
So, if you’re just backing Batman to get the cool miniatures, or you’re excited to design scenarios yourself? Awesome, back away! But if you’re backing it to get a great game that’ll hit the table again and again? I worry that you’re taking something of a risk.
There are some disappointed Conan backers out there, is all I’m saying. And a lot of dusty mummies. Ooh, and if you want a tried-and-tested Batman game, do at least check out the excellent Batman Miniatures Game first!
Anyway, what I’d REALLY LIKE is if this news post didn’t cause a comments thread choked with arguments and negativity, so please, help a guy out- what fun stuff did you get up to on the weekend, everybody?
UPDATE: Thanks to Monolith, who have taken the time to respond to this post. Their statement can be found in full below, though we’ve added links where relevant.
First, we would like to thank SUSD for giving us the opportunity to respond and we want to highlight that this is not in regards to opinions expressed in your article. We just want to address a couple of items presented as facts.
The point of the article is to help SUSD readers to decide whether they should back Batman or not.
It starts by saying that with Conan “game and production values were killer”, and continues by saying that we “failed to deliver any more than the bare minimum of ways to actually play the(ir) game”.
It is mainly this statement we would like to refute.
Since early 2017, we have been regularly posting new scenarios on our website. We currently have 18 new scenarios on top of the 8 from the core box. That is around 1 new scenario per month, and it is not over as we continue to publish them regularly, allowing Conan owners to play all their miniatures, making Conan even less of a “secretly impractical toybox”. We published a new scenario less than 2 weeks ago, sending updates and posting on our Facebook page to let people know.
We have successfully launched another Conan Kickstarter campaign offering these new scenarios with additional fluff compiled in a nice booklet, something that was requested by Conan fans.
We also created a website dedicated to the Conan game called The Overlord, gathering close to 10,000 members in English and French. This community has been and continues to be excellent and active, creating dozens upon dozens of fan-made scenarios. In fact, we decided to thank them by offering, for free, 2[physical]compendiums which compile these fan-made scenarios, lore, and painting guides. The only thing fans paid was the shipping fees to their country. We commissioned some of the content and all of the editing, layout, and printing. This added even more content to the game.
Finally, we are going to launch a new Conan Kickstarter campaign next year, offering the first game for those who missed it, adding new expansions to continue exploring the Conan universe, and bringing back some of the improvements made in Batman.
Speaking of Batman, the article states that the game “will ship with 10 more scenarios than Conan”. It is actually 13 more and counting. These 21 scenarios directly include the core box content and the unlocked Stretch Goals.
The article also states “I might not even be broadcasting this warning if Batman was the same price as other glossy Kickstarters like Conan or Rising Sun, but this is even more expensive. It’s $140 plus some $20 shipping”. Batman is indeed $140, which is $5 more than the King Pledge of Conan that offered similar content, more than 3 years ago.
I believe we proved that we are not the kind of company that releases a game and then moves on to the next, leaving the previous one to die.
We believe that a game does not exist without a community of gamers. It is something we supported with Conan, and that we will support with Batman.
We hope that this response gives you a better sense of what Monolith does as a publisher regarding the support of their games.
Paul: I can’t remember the last time I angered so many people so quickly. The last time I broke so many promises, stepped on so many toes, turned on so many friends. Maybe I never have before. Maybe a board game has brought out the very worst in me. Maybe my ambition has finally overcome my morality.
Was it worth it? Was all the bloodshed, backstabbing and brutality justified in service to my thirst for cardboard conquest? Would I do it all again? I just might, so take a seat and let me tell you all about Battle for Rokugan.
First, I just can’t go on without acknowledging that this game has a very obvious ancestor, the aged but still healthy relative that is Game of Thrones: The Board Game. Veteran readers may remember that we reviewed this nearly six and a half years ago, a time so far back that I couldn’t tie my own laces and Quinns had never been out of Hammersmith. We’ve enjoyed it over the years and its bald butchery remains beloved by many, but against more contemporary titles it’s both overlong and overwrought.
So like a fussy teen trying to ditch uncool dad, Battle for Rokugan distances itself from its forefather as much as possible. It has a much faster playing time, with a full game of five ending in two hours or less, it adds a bunch of simple powers and variables and, much to our surprise, it also ditches the gloss and the plastic.
While Game of Thrones: The Board Game looked appropriately ostentatious, with its marbled knights and elaborate art, Battle for Rokugan has this sort of pastel, washed-out feel. In all honesty, when I first unfolded this map of gentle patterns and light tracing my hindbrain yelled “YOU ARE LOOKING AT A SHOWER CURTAIN.” It doesn’t help that the cardboard tokens used for things like armies, navies and territories are all flat and greyish. It’s not that Battle for Rokugan is an indistinct game, as you can tell what’s going on most of the time, but it does feel like it’s trying extremely hard to be as gentle as possible.
But don’t for a moment let this timidity of tone trick you. Three to five players crammed into the continent of Rokugan is less a knife fight in a phone booth than it is a katana party in a corner cabinet: fierce and furious from the start.
After deploying to their clan’s starting areas, plus ANYWHERE ELSE on the map they like, each player draws from a pool of face-down tokens that represent different strength armies and navies, as well as special actions. Squirreling half a dozen behind their screen, they may find themselves looking at a diplomacy token, a two point navy and a few one point armies, as well as their blank bluff token. Each clan’s token pool is very slightly different, with the brave Lion clan boasting the only six point army, or the conniving Crane having an extra diplomacy token, but I wish there was more variety to these. They’re almost identical.
These tokens are both the attacks and special actions they can take that turn, but also the tiny cogs that turn the wheels of this game, the foundations upon which everything else is formed. If these tokens show high-value armies, these will do great defending a home province or striking out to new lands. Navies can attack distant coastal regions. Stealthy shinobi can be deployed anywhere, attacking from within as if they had burst out of the ground. And, of course, the objective is to conquer provinces to score points, which some being more valuable than others.
Conquering a province is as simple as deploying attackers with higher values than those defending but, since everyone is taking turns laying those tokens face-down, it’s impossible to know exactly how powerful anything might be. Then there’s that bluff token, which has no value at all but looks exactly like an invading force or a sneaky shinobi. Once everyone has deployed their tokens, they’re revealed and resolved, an inevitably enraging experience. One player has fortified a province that was never in danger! Another has wasted their most powerful against a weakling opponent! It’s a quick resolution as each player deploys just five tokens, retaining their sixth.
Just five! Five randomly-determined actions across all of Rokugan per turn, actions you may even resent. Compromises. Right from the start, this game doesn’t so much demand its players make hard choices as make downright hair-tearing ones. Did you want to seize the eastern isles? Sorry, you didn’t draw any navies. Or defend against a massive attack from the south? Not with armies as tough as tall grass. And once those tokens are played, they’re discarded. Only your bluff returns to you so, every turn, it’s now or never. Over and over.
While some players are going to see this as an ongoing challenge, others are going to find it immediately frustrating. Randomness aside, five tokens hugely limits your ability to both attack and defend, meaning you’re both perpetually vulnerable and restricted in your ambitions. There’s a constant feeling of fragility, everyone remains a target and there’s always something exposed.
It’s almost impossible to turtle, to play in a way where stack up your defences, but so too is it impossible for anyone to steamroll and to construct long, elaborate strategies. The game changes turn by turn, new plans developing as new tokens are drawn. You almost can’t help but turn on your neighbour, break that tacit agreement you had or suddenly launch a surprise attack at the other end of the board. “My tokens forced my hand,” you say. It might even be true.
If this alone were Battle for Rokugan, it would already be an interesting proposition, but there’s a little more pastry on this pie. My favourite mechanic (in not just this game, but perhaps any I’ve tried in months) is a simple rule stating that, when a province is successfully defended, its defence value increases, as does its points value to the player who holds it. Like so:
Fail in an attack and you not only embolden the defenders, you also award your opponent a point. Choose your strikes carefully.
Then there’s everything that doesn’t involve fighting. Playing a diplomacy token prevents anyone from attacking into or out of that province for the rest of the game. Shinobi can attack distant regions, sure, but combine them with a raid token and they can put them to the torch, razing a province for the rest of the game.
Here’s a province that I razed earlier!
Everyone drawing these tokens at random means you have no idea when part of the board might suddenly be obliterated or locked down for good. Your own fortress, with its defensive bonus and point value further bolstered after repelling multiple attacks, could burst into flames in the final turn. THIS IS HORRIBLE.
And no, not everyone is going to like this. Sure, it means everything remains tense and uncertain until the final token is flipped, plus it also allows for wild swings in power and control, but it does mean Battle for Rokugan is as much a game about adapting to chaos as it is about forming any grand strategy.
Each player sits on a secret bonus objective that is also as random as anything else. One gives you an impressive six extra points if you control a province that may have already been your well-defended capital when you began. Another awards you ten if you control one province in each of the game’s coloured territories. You’re quite right if you think that one of these may be disproportionately easier to achieve.
But my problem with Battle for Rokugan isn’t that it’s very core is randomness and chaos, it’s that I just think there are other games of area control and conquest that do combat or or deception or asymmetry better. Apart from small powers and slightly different token piles, Battle for Rokugan barely distinguishes its factions, while its central mechanic is the very antithesis of strategy. You can win because someone else had a moment of powerlessness, or lose because a failing opponent pulled a lucky draw. Don’t get me wrong, I do like this unpredictability and I do very much like this game, BUT (and this is a mighty interjection for which you should brace yourself)…
I juuuuuust don’t like it as much as its rivals. There’s our evergreen excitement for Inis and its cousins, Kemet and Cyclades. Inis’ card drafting is a better way of combining both randomness and control, knowledge and ignorance, while Cyclades and Kemet’s huge variety of unusual powers and possibilities make them as replayable as this game’s unpredictable hiccups, but with more grace and dignity. Chaos in the Old World, though not one of Shut Up & Sit Down’s very favourites, really doubles down on asymmetrical warfare. And El Grande, if you can find it, remains the imposing monarch of the area control genre.
BUT (and here comes that mighty interjection again, returned like a shuttlecock serve), Battle for Rokugan isn’t just more affordable than all of those games, it’s damn good at what it does. It plays fast, it plays loose, reckless and relentless, and it will absolutely get everyone around the table animated, angry and angsty about their armies. While it’s not the finest example of its kind, which means I don’t want to give it our coveted Recommends badge, it’s a strong and distinct addition to the genre.
So if you’ve already bought everything listed above, if you just must have more games of this type and and if you insist on spending more money, it’s what you buy. Battle for Rokugan isn’t a wargame I’d tell anyone to get first but, but if you absolutely demand more, it’s the one you get next.
Quinns: Paul, there’s so much Games News to unload off the Games News truck today. We have to get it in before it spoils in the sun.
Paul: Oh NO. These headlines are supposed to be refrigerated, this story isn’t packaged properly, this one has started leaking…
Quinns: Huh, here’s something interesting we don’t usually put on the shelves, a tale of a Kickstarter gone sour and plagiarism accusations. We don’t usually start off the news with high drama, but I’m not sure this is a story we can ignore.
The discussion quickly descended into both parties publicly accusing each other of dishonesty and, as yet, hasn’t yet seen any resolution.
Frankly, with open playtesting being so commonplace within the board gaming scene, it’s a testament to the decency of the hobby that these disagreements don’t occur more often. Here’s hoping all parties are able to find a resolution.
Paul: In brighter news, we have a welcome new twist to a very, very old theme, with Axis & Allies and Zombies, a game title I never imagined I’d ever be typing, yet here we are. Dungeons & Dragons creative director Mike Mearls is one of the design team who has added the undead, plus chainsaw tanks, to Axis & Allies, the venerable and sometimes plodding game of grand strategy.
I can’t say I’m immediately leaping at this, but Quinns was immediately curious. Still, if it really does breath some new life (or death) into the slightly stodgy series, we’re all winners.
Quinns: Speaking of Dungeons & Dragons, can you believe that a D&D supplement has now raised over a million dollars on Kickstarter? By itself? And a supplement that’s so… generic? Strongholds & Followers is an add-on that includes rules and background for building your own castle, with some of the funds raised also going toward studio space for designer Matt Colville to livestream his next campaign.
Really, I just wanted to include this story as a bellwether of how popular D&D has become.
Paul: It’s now got to over a million pounds. Which I think means, uh, twenty million dollars? Oh wait, Brexit happened, so the pound is now worth… a handful of grass? I can’t tell any more.
Anyway, I’m unabashedly keen to see something like this brought into the world as D&D has always been vague about the strongholds and properties that high-level characters can own. How do those work? How do you build them? Yeah, I can see myself getting something good out of a book like this and really enjoying the sort of play it’s angling for, so I don’t mind the genericness as it fills a gaping hole. But also… Nope! I too cannot believe how much money it’s made already. Clearly a lot of people want those castles. So many people.
Quinns: Right? If readers of SU&SD would like to fulfil their dreams of property ownership, I’d like to recommend REIGN or Houses of the Blooded, two RPGs dedicated to playing powerful nobles from the get-go.
Paul: In the early days of Games News, I remember sometimes struggling to find stories or announcements that really excited me, but now I feel like each week is a flood that I can barely stay afloat in. BoardGameGeek’s impressive convention coverage is always full of interesting titles, but what particularly appealed in their roundup of new games at the New York Toy Fair was Nyctophobia. It’s described as a “cooperative tactile maze game” where a team of blindfolded players have to feel their way toward their car before a murderous axeman, controlled by the only player allowed to see, catches up with them. I’m not sure if that’s funny or terrifying or both?
Quinns: aaaa paul there’s also blindfolded twister
Paul: That is definitely something I only want to play with friends.
Quinns: I think one of the shapes you have to find is… a rasher of bacon?
Blitz Bowl is an introductory version of Blood Bowl bearing a 40-minute playing time that’s coming from Games Workshop in 2018. —WEM pic.twitter.com/qmhdInrCCH
I’m really tickled by that name. Space Marine Adventures! That’s a tone I might expect from a Lego game. But then, the Warhammer 40,000 universe has always been a bit of a Trojan horse. Kids get interested in it because of the loud guns and big shoulderpads, and then as a teen you graaaadually realise that the Space Marines are the monstrous right hand of a fascist government and can absorb the memories of dead people by eating them.
Speaking of news stories in Tweet form, over the weekend Portuguese board game convention Leiria Con tweeted a photo of another expansion for SU&SD favourite Concordia, Concordia: Venus!
What will the goddess of love and prosperity mean for this superb game? At the moment we have absolutely no idea. But Concordia: Salsa was a fine expansion indeed, so I’ve got a lot of hope.
Speaking of Salsa, holy crap, have you seen the cover of the second edition compared to the first edition that we reviewed? Thank goodness these boxes now look as good as they play.
Paul: Ew. Oh hey! Here’s some good news. Azul just won the As d’Or grand prize, which I think means… the golden bottom? It’s France’s Game of the Year award, anyway, and Azul out-pedalled Flamme Rouge at the last moment and I can’t think of a finer honour for one of last year’s best games.
Quinns: Absolutely. It’s wonderful to see Flamme Rouge getting some attention, too! It’s such a great game, now expanded with a free app and a lovely expansion, Flamme Rouge: Peloton, which we talked about in podcast number 69. People have gotta check it out.
Paul: You just want more people to buy it so the designer can release the other two expansions that he’s designed.
Quinns: …That is true. I’m the worst.
If you missed our reviews of either of these fantastic games, you’ll find them here and here.
Essentially, a new study on the evolution of ancient dice tells us that at certain times and in certain places it became less important to people whether their dice were cubic or not. This leads some modern historians to conclude that to these people, the roll of a dice was considered divine, and not random.
The history of games and mysticism is more tangled than a lot of us might expect. When I was reading The Tabletop Gaming Manual this month I was delighted to find out that we don’t know if the Tarot (the game) inspired Tarot (the divination method) or vice versa. And of course, Snakes & Ladders began as a philosophical tool.
At some point, this hobby became more science than magic. Wouldn’t it be nice to get a little of that back?
That’s a pretty momentous statement, right? Well, now we’re going to lose all of that momentum as I plunge this review-car up to its axles in mud, because Fox in the Forest is a trick-taking game.
The board gaming scene has a habit of not explaining what “trick-taking” is, probably because it’s a huge pain in the ass to teach. But we’re going to do it, here and now, in SU&SD’s famous spirit of accessibility. We can through this mud together, reader! You get in the driver’s seat, I’ll get out and push. Just stick with me! Now, feather the accelerator! The ACCELERATOR! That’s what we call the gas pedal in England do it oh god the mud is in my shoes
In a trick-taking game each player holds a hand of cards. To play, one player first “leads” the trick by playing a card from their hand. The other player must then play a card of the same suit from their own hand.
So in the 2 player game Fox in the Forest, if I played a 6 of Moons, you’d have to play a Moon too, if you have one. The person who played the higher Moon “takes the trick”, meaning they take the cards you both played and put them in a little pile.
In Fox in the Forest this is a good thing, because at the end of the round you get points depending on how many tricks you won. Winning a trick also lets you lead the next trick, forcing your opponent to play something else.
Think of it like fishing. You examine the scene in front of you, throw out some bait, and try to catch your opponent.
And here’s a tip! By laddering the tricks you’ve won (pictured above) you’ll look like a stony pro even if you have no idea what you’re doing.
Since you’re both dealt 13 cards at the start of a round and you don’t draw new ones, this results in a narrowing possibility space as you play cards back and forth until the 13th “trick” is you both just dropping your 13th card on the table and seeing who takes it.
Since Fox in the Forest only has 33 cards in total, you’re partly playing a simple gambling game where you’re guesstimating what cards your opponent is holding.
Where things get crafty is if you can’t follow a trick, like if I led the trick with the 6 of Moons but you aren’t holding any Moons. You can then play any card you want, with varying results.
In Fox in the Forest, one final card is dealt face-up in the centre of the table at the start of the round. In the above picture it’s the 10 of Keys. This is the trump suit, and it always wins. So in the above pic, if I lead a trick with the 6 of Moons and you couldn’t follow it and played a 1 of Keys, you’d win the trick.
But maybe you don’t want to! Because now, finally, I can do my magician-like reveal of the rule that powers Fox in the Forest and makes this back-and-forth so exciting. Remember I said that you get more points if you win more tricks? That’s true… unless you win 10 or more of the 13 tricks, at which point you become “Greedy” in this fairytale, you get 0 points, and your humble loser of an opponent gets the maximum of 6 points.
So each round of Fox in the Forest starts with an awesome question: Look at your hand. Are you going to play to lose? Suddenly, even the act of following a trick that you know you can’t win becomes interesting, because you could ditch a low or high card, depending on whether you’re going to put up a fight or collapse like a wet paper bag. And what makes this even more fun is that the game’s probabilities are so tricky and the penalties for missing your goal are so severe that players will switch their goal all the time.
You might both start off trying to lose, then both switch to trying to win, only for one of you to bail and go back to losing. And never mind your own plan, you’re also trying to figure out what your opponent is doing since that dictates how you should be playing. Every decision in Fox in the Forest is as sweet and chewy as so much fudge. Everything is in your control, but nothing is truly knowable, and this kittenish struggle perfectly fits the intrinsic coyness of holding and playing cards.
As an object, Fox in the Forest is a perfectly pleasant game to go through the motions of. Spiritually, it’s a disrespectful slap fight where rounds will often end in a player utterly embarrassing themselves, but where they have to laugh, because it was always their fault.
Players have this sense of control over their destiny because 6 of the 11 numbered cards ever-so-slightly tweak the game state. Vitally, none of these powers are particularly aggressive; there’s nothing that’s going to spoil the laid-back atmosphere. Instead, the powers let you play.
The number 7 cards are my favourite, the “Treasure”. Winning a trick with a 7 in it just straight-up gives you a permanent point, but 7 is such a deliciously low number that it’s hard to lead a trick with a 7 and win. So you might want to hold them back until the end of a match when players have used all of their high numbers, but the longer you hold them, the more likely it is that it’ll be forced out of your hand by an opponent leading the trick.
Or what about the Fox, little number 3? They let you swap the Trump suit card with a card from your hand, a powerful ability, one with more depth than I first imagined. In “swapping” the cards you need to consider the card you’re picking up. And while having a lot of, say, Bells, and changing the Trump suit to a Bell is a nice play, in putting a Bell down there you now have one less Bell to play with. Are you sure your opponent doesn’t have more?
But I don’t want to make this sound overly complicated. Figuring out the good plays in Fox in the Forest isn’t so hard. What’s hard is figuring out precisely when to play each card in this 13 step dance you’re doing together. When do you throw out the treasure? When do you change the trump?
Perhaps too often Shut Up & Sit Down praises games that play like soldiers in the service of simulation or innovation. Games that come stomping into our review stack and make everything else look like toys. THIS is the next big thing! Pay attention to ME!
Fox in the Forest is something so much more subtle. It’s not trying to be big, or clever. It’s trying to be nice. And while that’s common, the level of success here is not.
Mind if we take a little diversion?
There was a micro-backlash two years ago when I reviewed Archaeology: The New Expedition (pictured above). A few people bought it only to discover, to their horror, that whether they won or finished last was down to luck. Like the titular excavator, these people dug their hands in the sand and came up with nothing of value. There was no control. No game. Or rather, the game in Archaeology is often little more than gambling.
But that was precisely the point!
Take a stroll through Pagat.com’s list of the most popular card games sometime. You might be shocked at how many of them are inane exercises in random chance. But if you actually work your way through that list, there’s no denying the quiet alchemy in each of them. There’s an ineffable yet gentle tension. They leave room for conversation. Mistakes and victories might be down to random chance, but they feel human. For want of a better word, I’m going to summarise all of these little pleasures as “card gameiness”, and I’m going to point out that some games are rich in this comfortable magic, and others aren’t.
In other words, some games are just nice to sit down with and see what happens. Do you get me?
Fox in the Forest is anything but inane. It’s a witty, taut little contest that you can pour thought into, if you so choose. But it also has the supreme ease and cosiness that unites so many classic card games, a trait I only now recognise in the supreme Mundus Novus, which we reviewed in 2012 and I still play to this day.
This has been a rambling, challenging review for me. Fox in the Forest is an inscrutable game to try and pick apart. The question as to whether you should buy it, though, doesn’t have to be so complicated.
You should buy The Fox in the Forest if you love the quiet moments in table gaming as much as the loud ones. You should buy it if you think you know why, for 500 years, humans have been inseparable from playing cards.
And maybe you should buy it if you just like pretty foxes and handsome woodcutters. As I said, it’s a gentle game. You can put as much thought into it as you wish.