The Essential Martin Wallace Games

Today I decided to pick up Aeroplanes: Aviation Ascendant and it occurred to me what a remarkable designer Martin Wallace has been. The unofficial Qt3 game is A Study in Emerald and thats just one of many very interesting games. I’d like to invite players to put forth their favorites and talk about what makes Wallace work for them. I suppose there’s room for critique here. ;) so if you think Wallace games are rubbish, broken or what have you feel free to weigh in on that. Just don’t spend all your energy on A Few Acres of Snow.

I’d like to start by pointing out Struggle of Empires. There’s little to no actual historical fidelity but there’s the overwhelming spirit of the imperial age coming through, warts and all. Complete with slavery, native exploration and outright warfare Wallace has created a sandbox in which various custom crafted -he uses neat little ability tiles- empires compete over a randomly seeded world.

It’s also kind of dark but I really like Liberte as well. Players are power brokers behind the French Revolution and are jockeying to have the most influence in whatever faction is in power. The method for this is the deck of personages and groups that the players will carefully manage to spread their influence. It’s interesting to see influence spread as players check and counter each other with an occasional bloody purge as the competition heads toward a reign of terror. Or maybe the radicals are curbed, most likely not. Liberte is one I enjoy quite a bit.

What games are your essential Matin Wallace?

Tom M

For me, the things I recongize as distinctly Martin Wallace feeling in games are a strong narrative or thematic force, and that taking opponents into account when performing actions requires understanding who you’re enabling rather than who you’re blocking.

For the thematic / narrative force, you’ve mentioned some of the strongest ones. I’ll add that for me the rise of radicalism in Liberte is one of the most disturbing narrative elements I’ve seen in a board game. It completely disrupts the player’s relationship with the mechanics, murdering big swaths of what before were just stacks transitioning between colors. I don’t enjoy playing Liberte that much, but the way the deck unfolds undermining your understanding of the game is brilliant.

Similarly, Princes of the Renaissance creates great stories as well. That game is pure Machiavelli. In it, each player is a prince in Italy using money and influence to control various bit players (including the Pope!). The best part of the game, however, is sending Italian cities to fight each-other. Players will flip allegiances with cities as soon as some start to become prestigious, but I think you can get paid for defending a city even if you fail. So the dynamics create players who sacrifice all of Italy in favor of their own prestige and wealth. It’s another game I don’t love playing that much, but the stories it makes are awesome!

For mechanics part, Martin Wallace games often have actions that set up the board for other players, so instead of figuring out how to block someone else you’re trying to figure out how to not buff them. In Brass, anyone can use the iron mine or port you built. Placing new buildings on the board requires carefully watching your opponents to make sure you’re not benefiting them too much by doing so. In Steam, players populate trade goods into cities throughout the game. These goods are freely available to anyone who has built trains to the city, so the action will benefit everyone, but you need to make sure it benefits you the most. In Discworld: Ankh Morpork, every action usually changes the board state on at least two different axes. Each player has their own win condition, so while it may move the game closer to your win condition, it almost certainly is also moving it towards someone else’s. Players need to carefully watch which win condition they’re moving towards to not accidentally hand the game to an opponent.

I think Vital Lacerda’s games often do the same thing mechanically that Martin Wallace games do, but other then their games I don’t find thinking about how I can help my opponents the least to be a common way to think in board games. It’s more often “How can I help myself the most while also blocking / hurting my opponents?”.