Boardgames 2023

Seems like a hit of the year so far… Heard a lot of good things. Would love to hear more after a few more games

I think it’s probably more about tactics than strategies. I’ve only played the game 4 times so far, but each game has had vastly different outcomes and for the most part the games have been very close. I’m looking forward to throwing in the historical content. That looks fun.

Re: Endless Winter being too easy.

Interesting! Curious to hear how that goes.

I started looking into the bgg forums and there was a link to this variant going into the new printing. It’s listed near the bottom of this kickstart update:

The gist is to play with only 2 workers for the first round, then play with 3 thereafter. That might fix it? Since there’s some engine-buildy elements to the whole game, missing out early may have big ramifications later.

There’s a bgg thread where one of the designers is surprised people are maxing out the game, and hints towards the new expansion that may address this. It makes me a little skeptical that the expansion will address it if the designers are not seeing playtesters hit this same problem. I’m also baffled, I’ve played 4 times (three at 2 players, once at 3 players) and everyone has maxed out nearly everything every game. Usually I have 2 workers with no meaningful action for them to take. It makes me wonder if we’re playing the rules wrong, though I’ve gone over the book a few times and haven’t noticed an issue yet.

Have you tried the expansions? I haven’t played with any of them, but I wonder if they may broaden out the game enough to not have it shut down at end-game.

I hadn’t even thought to look at the bgg variants. If you’re playing a rule wrong, then everyone else is as well. I remember I asked Vital Lacerda about Gallerist and how one of the meeples was very over powered and if you just focused on that you would always have more money and win (something that my group discovered). His response was well as others in the group was, that we must not be exploring other options. We were and we even tried what was suggested but ultimately it was “well just don’t play that strategy”. As you can imagine that didn’t go over very well .

With Tom’s blessing, I have a quick favor to ask of the kickstarting board gamers of Qt3…

My friend Matt’s son Sam is developing a tabletop horror RPG called Slash! Matt’s been sharing the link with his friends on facebook but he’s not exactly tapped into the gaming scene like we are. So I thought maybe we could boost Sam’s ‘following’ count on his Kickstarter page.

If those of you who regularly use Kickstarter could click and give Slash a follow, that would be greatly appreciated! There’s not much info on the game yet but it sounds like something I want.

Please click and follow SLASH! The Horror Movie RPG.

Many thanks!

EDIT: I just found this link with more info…

I’ve played quite a bit of Hegemony. Personally, I don’t love it. It’s certainly an interesting model, but repeat plays highlight just how repetitive its structure is. I have complaints, too, with its portrayal of politics via pure materialism, but I doubt anybody needs to hear more about that.

Had an odd week. Not in a bad way, necessarily. Just odd. Oddest of all, I think, were Lakshadweep, an Indian 2p game about remaking an archipelago, with some pretty interesting dueling possibilities since every single tile awards some sort of bonus to both players; The Gods Will Have Blood, an upcoming game that’s kind of like Papers, Please but as a classroom game; and Ibyron. Oh man, Ibyron. Very much not my sort of thing. Super janky. Like a Splotter but without any of the polish.

That’s a really badly designed motorway.

The visual design is weird, and not only on the cover. The illustrations on the map are lovely, but only if you actually stare at them past the UI. Otherwise it’s an incomprehensible mishmash.

Followed! Sorry, not sure how I missed this earlier.

I’ll say. Pax Porfiriana? I mean, yeah, I’d sure as heck play, but I didn’t know there were others.

Thanks to everyone who followed! I heard from his Dad that Sam was happy to learn I had Final Girl (which he’s played) and Arkham Horror (which he now wants to try.) :)

Ha! Did you know PaxPorf is the original entry in the series? It’s great. The visual design is somewhere between “conspiracy basement” and “elementary school collage,” though.

Oh, I know Pax Porfiriana well! I was there before it was cool! : )

Absolutely. But I have a soft spot for the “noisiness” of the design. It has an appropriately overelaborate and even borderline tacky Latin American/Roman Catholic aesthetic, like a busy altar or gaudy collage on the side of a sunny building in the Southwest. I might be rationalizing, but I feel it fits with the gameplay, given that it will be many years before Cole Wehrle arrives to tidy things up.

What possessed you to revisit it? Or is there some sort of reprint afoot that makes it topical? And how did your game go? Was it a tough sell?

I thought you must have known it!

I like to revisit Porf now and then — like you, I’ve been playing this one since long before Pamir was a twinkle in Wehrle’s eye. In a way, the Pax series is circular. It started with Porf, evolved into Pamir and Ren and Vike, but somehow comes back around to Porf, which is just such a “pure” experience that I find myself drawn to it again and again. I’m usually playing a PBEM session on Yucata, but I don’t tend to log those; this was a rare in-person play.

But you caught me: I am returning to it for a reason. I’ve been wanting to write about how the Pax series is at odds with itself for a long time, and recent events have provided the proper framing, I think, to finally jump into it. The games provide such broad sandboxes that to some degree they’re Rorschach tests. Ren, for example, is the most cosmopolitan game about the Renaissance out there, covering more ground than even these huge titles like Here I Stand. But then you dive into the game’s discursive elements (yeah, the footnotes), and Eklund is under the impression that his games are saying something that’s the polar opposite of what they argue ludically. The big offender is Pax Emancipation, and folks get heated up about the British colonialism essay in Pax Pamir, but I believe the tension actually begins with Porf. Tension is one thing, but this is instructive tension. Now that more designers are shuffling into Eklund’s footsteps, and given some of the aforementioned recent events, it feels like a good time to start some serious research.

And by “serious research,” I mean “playing more Pax Porfiriana.” This is way better than grad school!

Reading Phil Eklund’s footnotes is a good way to make sure you never want to play another Phil Eklund game. Dude is still mad the U.S. agreed not to unilaterally claim ownership of the Moon.

Well put.

I’ve been flinging myself ferociously at The First Jihad for over a month now, which I know you’ve written about, along with (all of?) R. Ben Madison’s other designs. I might have convinced myself it’s the most sophisticated use of the states of siege engine yet, pushing the limits of its simplicity to absurd lengths to model the rise of Islam as an uncontrollable explosion out of Arabia. The premise and the perspective are a bit goofy to me: as you know, you play the various empires that fell to the rapid expansion of Islam’s first two caliphates, trying to hold out as long as you can, like something from a zombie movie.

But the historical detail – so much detail! – is just so lovely and obscure/exotic and informative, with the caveat that the designer is quite possibly a raging bigot, and he takes every opportunity to pour his snide asides into your ear when you’re just trying to look up something in the rules, which are peppered with ill advised commentary about the moral depravity and failings of Islam (his commentary in The Mission, his game about Christianity, is even worse). It’s similar to Eklund’s inability to read a room, but whereas Eklund strikes me as a clumsy and ultimately harmless academic, I get the sense that the designer of First Jihad is channeling some deep-seated Islamophobic anxiety. He’s the talk radio version of Eklund’s footnotes, amplified and overbearing.

But I can’t escape being fascinated by his design, which I think is kind of brilliant for how it models the rise of a religion that is deeply misunderstood in the West, perhaps because the design reflects, in some ways, the West’s deep misunderstandings. I think it helps that First Jihad was co-designed by a fellow named Wes Erni, and I suspect that’s part of what makes First Jihad work as well as it does (rules book and complexity notwithstanding): Madison and Erni seem to have a kind of DeNiro/Scorcese or Kurosawa/Mifune magic synergy going when they make games. The Madison designs that tend to bounce off me – I tried so hard to get White Tribe going and it just didn’t “take” – are the ones where Erni was just a playtester instead of a co-designer.

So, yes, I get what you mean by tension, and I’ve been struggling with my own version of it for a while now. I’ve had First Jihad set up in the kitchen, and I even got a blown up version of the board so it stretches across a full table, and I take a few moves every morning.

It’s been like my morning coffee, except that I share it with a gentlemen whose opinions I find abhorrent, but whose thesis I’m interested in exploring and whose game design I find fascinating. :)

You piqued my curiosity, so I went to check out the First Jihad rulebook.


I can appreciate a cheeky footnote in a historical boardgame (shoutout to Amabel Holland), but this is not that. Yeesh.

I love The First Jihad, largely for the reasons you express. Sometimes folks don’t get why I’d bother with a game like this one, but it’s not unlike studying certain film genres — “gringo goes south,” for example, or “westerner goes east.” I don’t watch those movies because they teach me about Japan or Mexico. I watch them because they show me an American’s perception of Japan and Mexico. But I get it — most board gamers aren’t playing these things because they want to excavate and discuss Orientalism. You can tell Madison is trying to be accurate, but that he’s not really sure how to see the history past his prejudices. The result is weird and fascinating and a heck of a lot of fun to write about. To play? Well… folks should be aware of what they’re getting into.

I love The Mission even more. Maybe in part because my education and career are in early Christianity, so I’m fascinated by any “devotional” approach to that topic, even if I’m simultaneously put off by some of the ways devotional games misrepresent the history. I’m also a lot more comfortable swimming in those waters, since his omissions are a lot easier for me to spot. Contrasting The Mission (where Christianity is the protagonist) with The First Jihad (where Islam is the antagonist) is an enthralling exercise. It’s Western bias discourse bottled into two eminently playable games. Put together, they’re as far as I’ve seen States of Siege stretched, and if you’re intrigued by TFJ, I really would recommend The Mission. It’s even a little bit lighter, systems-wise. If you can’t stomach buying it firsthand, I’d be happy to lend it.

Ben Madison is… yes. You’ve described him well. We have a kindred background. I interviewed him on my podcast, actually, and the resultant episode was a bit of a rattlesnake: he openly voiced a few thoughts on Islam that turned out to be a bit of a scoop. He was banned from BGG something like two months later for the same reason. But I find myself fond of him nonetheless, in that cantankerous uncle sort of way. We both come from Mormonism — me from the mainstream LDS church, him from the RLDS side — and both have deep-seated complaints both with that tradition and more mainstream Christianity. He swung by SLC and we grabbed lunch, which was as fascinating as it was awkward. He’s very soft-spoken in person. We mostly groused about Mormonism, but he discussed some of his designs, too. Wes Erni keeps him in check in some ways. I never looked at his game Jefferson Davis, another SoS-derivative. It’s infamous for letting players spend “slaves” for bonus actions. That’s deeply unappealing to me, but he argued that any portrayal of the Confederacy that doesn’t directly address slavery is whitewashing history. That lends some perspective on how he thinks about game design. He believes he’s including “hard truths,” and in some cases he is. But at other times, he’s importing “hard truths” that are cultural assumptions. It’s a tangle.

Anyway. As far as provocative designers go, I’m obviously more smitten with Amabel Holland and Tory Brown and Alex Knight and Matt Bullock right now. Tonight I’m interviewing Taylor Shuss about Stonewall Uprising, a game that contains plenty of hard truths! But I love some of Madison’s designs and wish others were making woolly descendants of the States of Siege system.

Look forward to reading this piece.

I recently stumbled upon this article and it seems somewhat relevant to your topic: