Mansion of Madness

There are many, many games set in H.P. Lovecraft’s Mythos universe, and they trend to be on the large side. Travel around the city, or even the world to stop the Great Old Ones from awakening. The scale makes sense when you consider that Cthulhu was put back to sleep by ramming him with a ship the last time he woke up. And he’s supposed to be small compared to some of the others.

What those games often forget is Lovecraft’s stories are not primarily the giant monster kind of horror. Much of Lovecraft’s writing is more intimate than that. It’s the horror of insanity that you may find, for instance, in the New England countryside. Or in a luxurious mansion anywhere in the world.

Fantasy Flight Games have in their catalog the biggest names of the former kind of game: Arkham Horror and Eldritch Horror. But they also have the other side of Lovecraftian horror with Mansions of Madness.

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Flee

As a reviewer, games where you discover new content and new rules while you play are frustrating. On the one hand, they are awful. How do you review a game with a Legacy or Fast Forward mechanism without giving away all the good bits? On the other hand, they are great, simply because discovering new things while you play works that fingerboard that is our brain’s reward mechanism so well. Or, in plain English, they’re one hell of a lot of fun. And we love to talk about fun games. So be warned, ahead you will find very mild spoilers for the first few rounds of Friedemann Friese’s Flee.

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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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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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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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