Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time

Usually it’s safe to assume that the people entering somebody else’s house through the window are the bad guys. Usually. And it’s not an excuse that the dwellings owner is called Professor Evil, either! What was he supposed to do, not pursue an academic career because of his last name? There is, however, the little detail that Professor Evil has been using his time machine to steal priceless artifacts right out of history. The Mona Lisa is small fry in a collection that contains Excalibur and the Ark of the Covenant.

If some heroic individuals were to enter such an individual’s citadel to return those stolen items to their rightful place in the timeline they would most definitely be the good guys. But their mission won’t be easy. A man called Professor Evil, why, his security systems are bound to be more interesting than a blinking red light on the wall. Those heroic individuals would need some outside guidance as they make their way through the Professor’s home. Someone telling them were to go, what to do. Someone like… you. Welcome to Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time.

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Rob ‘n Run

Rob ‘n Run might easily mislead you when you first look at it. Between the cartoonish cover art and the paper built escape vehicle on the table you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a kids’ game. You’d still be mistaken. Although Rob ‘n Run is suitable for kids – the crimes you commit are non-violent safecracks, and the rules are straightforward enough – adult gamers will have more fun. You have to take great care how you communicate, what conclusions other players will likely draw from revealing certain information in the situation you find yourself in. Kids below the recommended age of ten will struggle with that. We are enjoying the hell out of it.

The first published design by Michael Luu is a cooperative game with restricted communication. The players are a gang of safecrackers doing a few more jobs on their way to the airport. For every robbery one of them is the boss. The boss knows the tools needed for this job. Instead of just telling the rest of the gang, however, he can only give cryptic clues. The rules say he does this so the police cannot figure out where they are from what he says on the radio. I think it’s more likely that he read to many Batman comics and The Riddler is his idol.

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Fortress

With last year’s Fabled Fruit Friedemann Friese developed an alternative to the Legacy system for games that keep changing every time to play. It’s lighter than a Legacy game, you don’t have to rip up any components or glue stickers to them, and you can completely reset the game by sorting a stack of cards. Yet you still get a game that will keep you busy for quite a while before you discovered everything it has to offer. A game that keeps surprising you, at least the first time you play all the way through.

Fabled Fruit was successful enough – and Friedemann had enough fun making it – to spawn a series of games with the same system, now dubbed the Fast Forward system: Fear, Fortress and Flee. In fact, the Fast Forward games even go one step further than Fabled Fruit did: they don’t give you any rules to read before you start playing. All you do is put the big stack of cards on the table and start drawing cards. When you get to a card with rules you read it out loud and put it on the table for everyone to see. The rules on that card are in effect from that moment on.

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Leaders of Euphoria

Do you remember Euphoria, the worker placement game about the absolutely happiest city of the future? We all knew things there were to good to be true and something would go horribly wrong sooner or later. Well, something has gone horribly wrong. The brain implants that guaranteed everyone’s continued happiness have failed. The city is in uproar. And behind the scenes people are scheming to take advantage of the situation and take control of the city. People like you.

Leaders of Euphoria: Choose a Better Oppressor is set in the same city as Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone’s Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia, but it was created by a different designer team. Clayton Skancke and Brian Henk of Overworld Games liked the Euphoria setting so much they created a new edition of their own game Good Cop Bad Cop in it.

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Great Western Trail

Great Western Trail

Alexander Pfister’s Great Western Trail is a game about making old cowboys sad. When it starts the prairie is still wide open with only a few neutral buildings around. You drive small herds of mangy cattle to Kansas City. And if that cattle goes all the way to Santa Fe on the train then you can say it’s seen the wide world. The more the game progresses, the more buildings will clutter the prairie, the bigger and more expensive the herds get, and the further the cattle will be shipped. What makes the old cowboy sad will be the same thing that makes players happy, because every one of those developments is under the players’ control in their pursuit of victory points.

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Mysterium

Many years ago, in Warwick Manor, there occurred a murder most foul. The crime had been carefully planned and so well executed that the police have ruled it an accident. But ever since Warwick Manor has not been the same. Haunted, they say. And in that haunting the new owner of Warwick Manor sees a chance to have the murder solved still, and the ghost thus laid to rest. He has invited the most famous psychics in the world to contact the ghost and discover what happened. A great plan in theory, if only the ghost wasn’t too traumatized by his death to clearly remember what happened, and if he hadn’t been a member of the Dixit fan club in life.

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Tempel des Schreckens

A mysterious temple in the jungle, untold treasures inside. But it is pretty darn dark inside here, impossible to see anything. We’ll just feel around for the doors and hope we find some treasure. But the sound is weird. I could swear there are more footsteps in here than we brought people in…

That’s the somewhat peculiar premise of Tempel des Schreckens (translated: Temple of Terror), a German version of Yusuke Sato’s social deduction game Don’t Mess with Cthulhu / Timebomb. (There appear to be some minor rules changes, so I’m not going to call it the same game.) A group of adventurers has found a temple in the middle of the jungle and enter it in search for treasure. Inside, unnoticed by all of them, they are joined by a number of temple guardians who want to lure the expedition into the temple’s fire traps. And because everyone is only looking at their smartphone nowadays, no one knows which group any of the others belong to. Guys, we’ve been walking through the jungle together for weeks, but I can’t tell you apart from the women guarding this temple.

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The Grizzled

The Grizzled

Boardgames don’t really have an equivalent to literature. We gamers don’t usually consider the categories of literary fiction versus genre fiction, we think about light games and heavy games instead, or about different game mechanics. But by most criteria, the vast majority of games are more like genre fiction: advancing linearly, focused on a big payoff at the end, and made to entertain, not to invite reflection on their subject.

What you might call literary games are not entirely unheard of, though. One fine example is The Grizzled by Fabien Riffaud and Juan Rodriguez, a cooperative game set in World War One. The setting in itself is not what sets The Grizzled apart, though. Plenty of games are set in the two big wars. But in this one you don’t move tanks across a map, you don’t heroically storm beaches, and you don’t go home to live happily ever after, even if you win.

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Kingdomino

Kingdomino

Bruno Cathala is one of those game designers who aren’t married to one genre or one game mechanic they keep coming back to. Games with his name on the box include Shadows over Camelot, Cyclades, 7 Wonders: Duel and many more. The only thing they really have in common is that they are great games. That list is now joined by Kingdomino, a kingdom building game using Dominoes-like tiles. It’s a light family game and has nothing in common with any of Bruno’s other games, mechanically speaking. It is nominated for the Spiel des Jahres 2017, usually a good indicator for a great game.

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