Review: Tales of the Arabian Nights

pic4861141-6 Players, 120 Minutes

Note: Sorry for the hiatus!

I have to admit that Tales of the Arabian Night made me think long and hard about what makes a board game. I don’t mean what makes a good board game—with good reason, most reviews consider whether or not a game is good. With Tales of the Arabian Nights, I found myself wondering if it’s a game at all.

The definition of a “game” is surprisingly vague. The best definition I could find comes by way of Chris Crawford, computer game designer. He reasons that a game is a form of creative expression, made for money, which is interactive, has a goal, an opponent (or, more specifically, “an active agent against whom you compete”), and a way of interfering with or attacking your opponents.

I don’t think it’s a perfect definition. For one thing, I think art can be made for money (theaters and bookstores exist). Cooperative boardgames are more popular than ever, and it feels strange to say that they’re puzzles but not games.

Nonetheless, Chris Crawford brings up more points worth discussing than not, and almost all of them are worth considering when you look at a game design. Let’s keep that in mind as we look at Tales of the Arabian Nights.

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Review: Spyrium

pic18085092-5 Players, 120 Minutes

I had high hopes for Spyrium. It’s the latest game from designer William Attia, creator of Caylus, one of the all-time classics of designer board games. Like Caylus, Spyrium is a worker placement game, but there’s much more to it than that—there are some very clever tweaks to make things particularly interesting.

It’s a little hard to explain how clever this game is without sounding facetious. In most worker placement games, you put your token on a space to claim it. In Spyrium, you place your worker between spaces left between a three-by-three grid of random cards, and can claim it when you remove your worker. Genius! I mean it—let me tell you why.

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Review: Tokaido

pic12937192-5 players, 45 minutes

Board games are fundamentally things of imagination—buts of paper, plastic, and wood that, with rare exception, are meant to represent other things. You could run a farm or a space ship, or do anything the designer has in mind. As much as I love board games and the themes and genres common to them, it’s always refreshing when a game comes along that does something different.

Enter Tokaido. Fancy traveling in feudal Japan?

Players take on the roles of travelers along the Tokaido, a road stretching between Kyoto and Edo (known today as Tokyo). The goal isn’t just to get there, nor is it to get there first—you can’t fail to arrive, and this isn’t a race. Your goal is to have the most enriching journey along the way.

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Review: Coup

pic16395322-6 players, 15 minutes

Coup attracted some attention after it’s first limited release, and so Indie Boards and Cards picked up the game, ran a very successful Kickstarter campaign, and transplanted the game from its sixteenth century European setting to the far-future dystopia of their popular game The Resistance. So, what do these two settings have in common?

As it turns out, a lot of lying to your friends.

At the start of the game, every player gets two coins is dealt two cards in secret, representing two characters the player can influence. You might be chummy with the duke and have the contessa keeping an eye out for you, or you might have a couple of thieving captains owe you a favor for services best left unspecified. Functionally, it’s a game of hidden roles, but unlike most of those games where you are what’s on your card, it wouldn’t make sense for you to be the duke and the contessa, or, for some reason, a double captain.

Your goal in the game is to eliminate the other players by taking away their influence—you want to be the last one standing with any political clout. The most straightforward way to do this is to pay seven coins to launch an eponymous coup, which automatically forces a specified player to give up one of their cards. You could use an assassin for less than half the cost, but they can be blocked by the aforementioned contessa.

Then there’s the exciting way—lying.

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Review: Android: Netrunner

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There’s a sense of ownership that comes with customizable games like Netrunner. Sure, you can play with the prepared decks that come in the box, but most of the fun comes in designing your own kit to bring to the table and play against your friends.

And, hopefully, absolutely destroying them.

Netrunner is a card game set in a cyberpunk future where giant corporations have amassed near total power over human interests, and hacker run against their computer systems for diverse (if generally shady) reasons. One player plays as one of these megacorps, trying to advance their secret (and generally shady) agendas, while the other plays a runner, trying to steal those agendas—if they don’t die trying.

Each side has tools available to help them. The corporations, for instance, have Ice—short for Intrusion Contermeasures Electronics, they’re security programs that try to slow down, stop, or punish the runner for daring to approach their servers. The runners, meanwhile, has a selection of handy icebreakers, which do just what they say on the box. And that’s just the start—the corporation also has assets, upgrades, and operations, while the runner has hardware, resources, and events.

All of them cleverly designed to beat your friends and have fun doing it.

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Review: Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

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The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game—ACG to all the hip nerds—is a cooperative fantasy card game spun off from the massively popular Pathfinder Role-Playing Game.

It took a lot of steps to get to the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. Dungeons and Dragons begat Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which begat a second edition, which begat a *third* edition, which begat Pathfinder, mostly because people got a bit tired of all the begetting that continued to a fourth edition of the world’s most popular role-playing game.

And finally, here we are with the acclaimed card-based offshoot. Let’s see if it lives up to to the hype.

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Review: Bruges

function get_style13 () { return “none”; } function end13_ () { document.getElementById(‘bobwig13’).style.display = get_style13(); } pic1652004Board game designer Stefan Feld had an eventful year—Bruges is just one of four of his board games released in 2013. In it, the players take on the roles of ambitious residents of the titular city with the ultimate goal of… well, it’s not exactly clear. Being the most esteemed landlord, maybe?

You get the feeling that the theme isn’t all that important. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins, but the rules never bother to explain what that represents. In fact, some rules make absolutely no sense considering the theme—did you know that canals can catch on fire and burn down?

But that’s the thing about board games—they’re not simulations. The theme can add color and make give a framework for what happens in the game, but there are abstract games out there. Games don’t have to be models of the physical world—they just have to be fun.

Let’s see if Bruges succeeds.

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