Boardgames 2024

2 Minutes to Midnight was Kickstartered a couple of years ago, and then seems to have sunk without a trace. I only discovered it when a streamer I enjoy posted an attempt at a solitaire playthrough. Turns out it’s got a “bot deck” for solo play, where you draw a card and then apply a basic decision flow for the AI’s move. So I picked up a discounted ding-and-dented copy I found with an ever-so-slightly mangled box corner. As a child of the Cold War and an eager student of boardgame design, I was hungry for a game that might replace the now-obsoleted Twilight Struggle (too swingy, favors the player who’s learned the deck, leans too heavily on too few d6 rolls, replaced by Imperial Struggle, etc.).

Well, two problems have arisen. The first is the godawful rules writing. It never ceases to amaze me how few designers understand the importance of communicating their design. It’s that last and always crucial step to get your design across the finish line, and yet so many designers are so bad at it, and they furthermore seem to have no idea how bad they are. 2 Minutes to Midnight is one such game. The rules writing is a nearly inscrutable mess. Thankfully, a fellow on BGG named Daniel Copeland has posted a set of smartly rewritten rules, based on errata and clarifications from the designer on BGG. So you can pretty much chuck the rules book that came with the game and download this.

The second problem can’t be fixed in a rules re-write, and it’s noteworthy that the rules re-write doesn’t even bother including what little is in the original rules book. And that’s the solitaire play. As you might imagine, this is not a game that can be played solitaire with any quick-and-easy system. It’s either going to require some sort of helpful flow chart that takes into account the game mechanics – there is no such thing in 2 Minutes to Midnight – or it’s just going to have to concede that you’re playing against yourself and you should do the best you can. Which is what you get in the box. The designers expects solitaire players to make the best decisions for the “AI”, with very little help from the game, from the design, or from any sort of automation other than a deck of cards that suggests a broad course of action. The designer even suggests things like rolling a die to decide if the AI is going to make a “good decision” or a “bad decision”. Mere sentences later, he’ll suggest always trying to make the best move for the AI. If you look closely, he changes one rule to give the AI an advantage (their spies always succeed!), but he can’t be arsed to address the myriad situations where the AI will flop around like a dying fish, doing fuck-all and accomplishing even less towards any sort of goal or objective.

In short, this is a game for two players only. Like Twilight Struggle! As such, I still hold out hope to play it someday. It looks fast, streamlined, fun, extremely interactive, deliciously crunchy, and even pretty thoughtful as a (two-player) design. But it’s very clearly NOT a solitaire game, and I’ve been totally bamboozled for thinking it would be. So back into the box it goes until I find a friend willing to assay this with me… : (

And on to my next Cold War project, which is DEFINITELY solitaire, a gift from a close friend, and possibly not much of a game at all.

Overflight is one of those roll-your-narrative designs, like B-17: Queen of the Sky, The Hunters, and so forth. But for this one, you’re the CIA running spy planes over the Soviet Union. Yoo hoo, Nikita, I see you!

When I moved cross-country in 2022, I sold a bunch of games. One of those games was Robinson Crusoe – I’d already sold the incoherent zombie expansion I once owned for it.

And so that was it for me with Robinson Crusoe! I enjoyed the base game quite a bit, but I needed to cull the herd before moving, and I realized I’d not played it in over a year, so yeah.

And then a few months ago a coffin-sized box arrived at my door. What in the what?

OH! Right. For reasons I’d forgotten, some time in 2020(?) I backed the “collector’s” edition or whatever. And here that was.

I’ve actually played a few games and in a world where Hexplore It and Agemonia haven’t dominated my boardgaming time, I’d have played a lot more and I’m eager to get back to it, what with all the new scenarios and bells and whistles.

This newest rewrite of the rules builds on the excellent, fixed version of the rulebook that came with the square box 2nd edition of the game. And they now have an interactive “Learn the game” rules set on Dized, too.

I finally got to play a full three-player game of v2.0 of Dire Wolf’s Dune game yesterday. I can’t be arsed to keep straight all their dumb subtitles, but this is the one that has the words Imperium AND Uprising in the title. You know, the one that still isn’t supported in their digital version. It’s the mulligan where they tried to fix the original design, which I would characterize as a cool worker placement economy hitched to a half-assed deck-builder. With two messy expansion piled on top.

Well, what I played yesterday definitely wasn’t that!

In fact, I had a great time and really appreciated the changes. It seems like a lot of the rules changes helped the deck-building portion of the game considerably. The pacing felt a lot snappier, while simultaneously doling out fewer easy victory points. It was a real challenge to manage the faction tracks, partly because there were a ton of attractive opportunities elsewhere on the board, but it also seems the market cards are more stingy with faction icons.

I also really like how the sandworm rules give the board a sense of geography. There was already a really cool resource management system built around the spice/water/spacebucks model, divided among city and desert. Now some rejiggered worker placement spaces, the shield wall rules, and especially that crazy worm victory bonus (double rewards!!!1!) even further distinguishes between civilization and wilds. I love it! I love a sense of geography in a game, and especially in a Dune game!

It also seems like a lot of the rules changes, along with the new deck of cards, help out the deck-building. We still had issues with the market not cycling – something any deck-builder worth its salt knows to do – and we each had a few turns near the end of the game where we had nothing to do with all our purchasing power (nothing worth buying in the market, not quite enough to buy a Spice Must Flow). But it seemed like we were able to afford the cool game-changing cards much more readily. I’d need to play more to better articulate why, but it seems like the deck-building is much more of an equal partner to the worker placement now. That was my main complaint about Original Dune and Dire Wolf’s Just Add Add-Ons strategy wasn’t helping anything. But if it addresses that issue, I don’t feel like so much of a sucker for buying their do-over.

We didn’t get much use out of the spies, but I didn’t hate them. I look forward to exploring further what they can do.

I do think there are tons of pitfalls and n00b traps in the character design, and that gives me pause. We had a game with Jessica, Muad’Dib, and the Emperor. The Emperor’s power to shut everyone out of combat with his Signet Ring ended up being the pretty clear MVP in terms of securing the Emperor’s win. Our Muad’Dib was dogging his heels the whole time, and my Jessica got a great early resource lead that I couldn’t translate into victory points, but it still all felt fair-and-square to me. I’m eager to play again, and I’m furthermore even more uninterested in Original Dune. Which is too bad, because I imagine this would be a cool game to play online and asynchronously.

And just to make sure this isn’t just a post where people can just nod and agree, I still think Arctic Scavengers is the better design! Take that, Dune: Uprising: Imperium: The Mulligan!

This, IMO, breaks the game because it makes worms basically required and creates a worm rush at the beginning.

Well, our Emperor managed to win without worms. Furthermore, when Muad’Dib brought them into battle, he got the two of us to gang up on him! So while I’m not trying to discount your experience, I do wonder if that might be a facet of a group’s meta?

Isn’t “a worm rush at the beginning” pretty costly, in terms of early actions? I can imagine those better spent elsewhere, especially for some of the characters. It’s all still in the realm of the theoretical for me, so I’m happy to defer to your experience. I am reluctant to entertain the word “broken” just yet, but I will freely concede that worms can be a fundamental part of a winning strategy! But to your point, it would have made the difference in our final battle for Arakeen, where the Emperor tipped himself over the 10-point threshold, if Muad’Dib had managed to get his little pets into the conflict. Which he didn’t, so the Emperor won.

That’s not been our experience. There are viable alternative strategies. If you can afford a well placed worm, it’s great. But it’s not required for victory.

Uprising is an awesome game. I love that they made reputation with every faction have a benefit in this one. You can get your own cool toys.

The spies are a super useful addition. Now you can’t simply lock out people of critical spots. And they can generate some cool advantages too.

I love Dune Imperium: Uprising. And @tomchick , come on now. It’s not that hard to remember you curmudgeon. :)

They added one word. Still easier than saying Dune Imperium with Rise of Ix.

Argh. Now you’ve done it. We are playing it this weekend. Been too long!

I shouldn’t be so confident in my pronouncements since I’ve only played the new one 3-4 times. But a late game combat card that offers 2 victory points (usually with a condition on the 2nd) can become 4 with a worm. That’s huge!

I think the conflict cards in Uprising have a lot fewer victory points on them than the ones in Imperium 1.0 (or whatever we call it now). I’ve only played it twice myself, so I’m not totally sure.

And historically accurate!

For a pure Deckbuilding game Arctic Scavengers is pretty much the high water mark isn’t it? Now, if you like to fold in other board game elements into a deckbuilder i’ll always be thankful to Martin Wallace for A Study in Emerald and A Few Acres of Snow. Lately though, I’ve been really into Time of Crisis, because it’s a great game and there is an equally great implementation on the Rally the Troops site.

At yet so few people know of it, or have ever even played it, and even those of us who have played it have so much content yet to explore! Just so many smart design and theming decisions in that thing.

(If only it had some sort of solitaire support! Which, really, is an empty complaint. By nature of the design – players squaring off over that mysterious conflict card, only one of whom knows what it is – it’s a multiplayer-only game. I guess I should be thankful it predates all these half-assed post-COVID Just-Add-An-Automata-Deck boondoggles that pass for solitaire support these days.)

Swoon. I’ve been playing a lot of Sekigahara lately with one of my unemployed friends (who, sadly, looks like he’s got a promising job prospect coming down the pike), and it reminds me a lot of A Few Acres of Snow, for how it’s such a wonderful and rich two-player design based on such a specifically modeled point in history. These are the games it takes for me to appreciate the head-to-head head-down intensity of wargaming.

Another really great example of a deck-builder married to a territory control game. And such weird and unique “deck building”!