Board in the Stacks: Spirit Island

In Spirit Island, 1-4 players take the role of Nature Spirits protecting their island home and its inhabitants, the Dahan, from invading colonists. Spirits needs to support each other, guide the indigenous Dahan, and hamper the rapidly expanding and exploitative colonists. In order to live peacefully, the island must be rid of most of the colonial presence before it is completely overrun.

Spirit Island is made up of an invader board, a modular island board, and individual spirit panels. The Invader Board will track Fear Tokens, the Fear Deck, and the Actions taken by the Invaders. To set up, first place 4 Fear Tokens per player into the Fear Pool. Then set up the Fear Deck.

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The Fear Deck will consist of a total of 9 cards and include the 2 Terror Level Dividers. Place 3 Fear Cards at the bottom to start the deck, then add the Terror Level 3 Divider, then 3 more Fear Cards, the Terror Level 2 Divider, and 3 more Fear cards on top. That’s your Fear Deck people!  

Spirits generate Fear throughout the game through Card Play, Innate Powers, and by destroying encroaching Towns and Cities. Each time Fear is generated, move one Fear Token from the Fear Pool into the Generated Fear Area. Once all Fear is moved, a Fear Card is flipped and moved from the Fear Deck to the Earned Fear Cards and resolved during the Invader Phase. Generating Fear and Terror makes the end win condition easier for the Spirits and is split into three Terror Levels.

The Win Condition for Level 1 is “No Invaders on the Island.” All Invaders, Towns, and Cities must be removed to win. Terror Level 2 is “No Towns or Cities.” It is assumed the Terror is enough to chase away even the most fearless Explorer. At Terror Level 3, “No Cities” is the win condition and it is assumed Towns will be abandoned. The more the Invaders fear the island and it’s protective spirits, the easier it is to win.

To set up the Invader Deck, remove one card from each of the three stages and then put stage three at the bottom, stage two in the middle, and stage one on top. If the invader deck ever runs out, the players lose and the island is overrun with invaders. This acts as a game timer.

Then choose a random Blight Card and place it on the Blight Space. If you are playing your first game, use the preprinted Blight Space and remove the all Blight Cards from the game. 

If you run out of Blight at anytime the island is considered beyond repair and the players follow the directions on the card or preprinted Blight Space which usually lead to a loss.

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To set up the island, choose one Island Board per player and arrange in the pattern shown in the rulebook for your player count. Each Island Board is divided into 8 lands with two of each landform (Jungle, Mountain, Sands, and Wetlands). Each board also has an Ocean landform which defines which lands are Coastal (as in adjacent to the Ocean) and Inland (not touching the Ocean). Starting Invader and Dahan pieces will be placed according to the icons on the Island boards. Then shuffle and place the Minor and Major Power Cards next to the board.

Each player chooses a Spirit Panel, it’s four unique starting power cards, and all Spirit Presence and Single-Turn Effect Markers of a single color. Follow the set-up directions on your Spirit Panel, place your Spirit’s influence into your Spirit’s Island section, and fill in all but the leftmost circles on the Presence Tracks.

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Reveal the top card of the Invader Deck and place an Explorer in that Land. Then move the revealed card to the Build Action Space.

Let’s begin!

Gameplay

Each round is divided into 5 phases: The Spirit Phase, The Fast Power Phase (Cards and Innate Powers with the red bird icon), The Invader Phase, The Slow Power Phase (Cards and Innate Powers with the blue turtle icon), and The Time Passes Phase.

During the Spirit Phase, players will choose one of three growth options. This will gain energy for later card play and actions, reclaim previously played cards, gain new Power Cards, and expand their presence on the island. Then players will gather energy according to the Energy Presence Track and play an amount of cards according to the Card Plays Presence Track.

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Spirit Presence is where Player Spirits inhabit the land and exert influence. If a Spirit’s Presence is destroyed, the Island is lost and the players lose. Presence on the Island provides increased Range for Power Card Effects. A Sacred Site denotes land where a Spirit has more than one presence. When certain Growth Options are taken, Presence Disks are removed from the Spirit Board and placed on the Island Board denoting Spirit Presence. If a Spirit’s presence is ever completely removed from the Island, the Spirit is considered destroyed and the players lose.

Players will examine their hands and determine which cards to play and pay the appropriate amount of energy.

During the game, Players will also have the opportunity to Gain a Power Card. To do so, they choose four cards from either the minor or major power decks, choose one, and then return the rest to the discard. If the player chose a minor power card, it goes directly into their hand. A MAJOR POWER CARD requires the player to FORGET (permanently lose) any POWER CARD already in their hand and remove it from the game. For your first few plays, I recommend using the Power Progression Chart Card where players instead take the next power card on the progression chart for their Spirit. This will provide you with a balanced and simpler hand for your first few plays.

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Cards with a Fast Power icon will be resolved next during the Fast Power Phase. Cards can be resolved in any order according to the preference of the spirits.

Most Power Cards played require an Energy Cost. Energy is earned through the Growth Options portion of the Spirit Phase or from Energy Reserves uncovered on the Energy Presence Track on the Spirit Board. Energy is only valid for the round it is earned and can’t be carried over to the next round.  

Playing Power Cards also allows Spirits to Gain Elements. Gained Elements can be used to activate Innate Spirit Abilities or Modify Power Card Effects. Elements are only valid for the current round.

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During the Invader Phase players will check the Blighted Island card (or Blighted Island Space if no card is being used) and determine any action to take. Every game begins with a healthy island. However, as more colonists arrive to explore, expand, and exploit, the island becomes damaged and falls to blight. Next, any fear cards that are earned, are now flipped over and resolved.

Next come the invader actions: Ravage, Build and Explore. They are resolved in reverse order, on the invader action track. If a space is empty, then the action is skipped.

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During the Ravage Action, if there are invaders in the lands shown on the card, they attack the land and then native inhabitants. Each Explorer causes 1 damage, each town causes 2 damage, and each city causes three damage. The invaders will attack the land first. If the land is dealt 2 or more damage, it is considered in blight and a blights token is added to that area. Invaders then attack any Dahan living in the area. Each Dahan population can take two damage before removed from the board. Remaining Dahan then fight back and can deal 2 damage per population to any invader in that land.  

When Blight is added to a land, any Spirit Presence in that land is destroyed. And if Blight is added to a Land that already has a Blight token, then it is also added to One Adjacent Land.

During the Build Action, any of the shown lands with Invaders present will develop Towns or Cities. If the land already has more Towns than Cities, then a City is added. Otherwise, a Town is added.

The card on the Explore Action is then flipped over. An explorer is added to every land of the shown type that contains a Town or City, or is Adjacent to Town, City or Ocean.

Invader Action Cards are then advanced. Ravage Action card is discarded, Build Action Card is moved to Ravage, and the Explore Action Card is moved to Build. Explore Action has the deck of cards on it and will be flipped the next round. Once that pile is exhausted, the Invaders, for all intent and purposes, have expanded past all return and the Island is lost.

Next during the Slow Power Phase, Spirits can take any action previously played with the Slow Power (Turtle) Icon.

During the Time Passes Phase, players discard all their cards, all damage is cleared and reset. All elements are cleared.

Review

First off, let’s examine the rulebook. When a rulebook has to explain how to read the rulebook then you have an issue. The rules are intensive and the authors made the decision to split it into two separate sections: Game Concepts and Sequence of Play. This causes you to constantly flip back and forth between the two in order to understand how to play or to reference the rules. This has led to confused and lost rules and no small amount of agitation in the learning and teaching of the game. A better option would have been to add a nice solid sidebar to explain the larger concepts while the bulk of the main text focusing on game play. Either way, I included a much larger rules explanation at the beginning of the review to help you out. To be honest, I don’t want you to be turned off by the rules and decide not to experience Spirit Island. Suffer through the rules, the game is worth it.

All cooperative games are hinged on good communication between players and for Spirit Island it is absolutely essential. Spirit Island is a game of communication and trust before it is a game of card play and area control. This is especially true with the delayed action mechanism on some of the cards. Cards can have immediate or later effects and this requires conversation and advance planning. If you only have a couple of games of Pandemic under your belt, you may want to try Ghost Stories, FlashPoint Fire Rescue, and Freedom: The Underground Railroad to get your skills up. The complexity of the Spirit Island leads to less of a cooperative puzzle solving game than you may experience in easier cooperative games.

Not only is the game difficult, it is also dense and there is much to explore. As recommended in the rules, you should start with basic spirits and use the progression of card powers to get a feel for how the game plays and how the cards work together. Just working through the innate powers plus the cards PLUS the innate powers and cards of the other spirits provides a wide decision space. Once you get that down, then play while picking your own power cards and all the additional variability that affords you. After that you should grab some of the more advanced spirits with more nuanced abilities. Then the variants. Then the scenarios. Then the adversaries. There is so much to play with in Spirit Island.

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The pacing of the game is spectacular. Each player will have a few early rounds with very little interaction with the other spirits. Chances are their presence on the island and their specific island tile will not expand quickly enough to interact. This means everyone has a couple of rounds to work with their hands and powers against the invaders before necessity leads to more interaction. The colonial invaders move QUICKLY and the game is ramps up quickly once spirits are interacting.

That said, there is also a huge alpha gamer problem. I’ve been converted to the school of thought that alpha gamers are not an issue of game design but of group dynamic. It is best to approach this game with a legacy mindset. Assume you are playing a series of games with the same people so everyone starts with the same level of understanding and can grow in experience together. If you mix the experience levels in Spirit Island, I guarantee you will have experienced players pushing around the new players. Success in Spirit Island hinges upon strong communication and an understanding of the game’s mechanics. Other cooperative games can have a new player and still succeed as you teach the game through the first few rounds of play. Someone can learn as they go in Pandemic but in Spirit Island you need to pull your own weight from the onset. Otherwise, go with a good solid teaching game and remain patient.

I’m on the fence with the decision to provide some thematic distance between the colonial invaders and the indigenous people of the island. That additional layer of play through the spirits may make it more palatable to the gaming community but lay lessen the thematic edge provided with a game that successfully flips the setter colonial narrative to provide gameplay that focuses on the indigenous side of the conflict. The “explorers” are seen as invaders. Blight always follows. The generalized Blight in the game could be supernatural, natural, or even cultural where an area explored, expanded, and exploited are left bereft of all indigenous cultural and social evidence. Personally, I would have preferred the conflict be addressed directly and have players assume the roles of indigenous tribes fighting off invaders. However, this has it’s own problematic baggage with players (likely, but not necessarily) white men assuming the roles of indigenous peoples.

That said, this review has gone on far too long and I think Spirit Island dives deep into new territory and is certainly worth your attention. I’ll follow this post up with a longer post on the Settler Colonialism narrative in board games so stay tuned!

First Looks: Bunny Kingdom from Iello

In Bunny Kingdom, designed by Richard Garfield and published by Iello Games, players draft hands of cards in order to control territories, construct buildings, and gain end game conditions to earn points (ahem…golden carrots) for their Bunny Kingdoms. It is basically a PG-rated Watership Down meets Small World with card drafting and no violence.

The board is a 10×10 grid with a large score track. Letters A-J form the rows and numbers 1-10 form the columns. Forests, fields, seas, mountains, plains, and a couple of starting cities are available for players to control. Some territories will produce resources (forests produce wood, fields produce carrots, and seas produce fish) while others produce nothing. A deck of 180 cards is placed next to the board. Cards include 100 Territory Cards corresponding to every space on the board, Building Cards that can be constructed after the drafting phase and Parchment Cards that provide additional opportunities to score points at the end of the game.

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Bunny Kingdoms is played in four rounds each split into three phases: drafting, construction, and scoring. At the start of the round, players are dealt 10 (or 12) cards. They choose two cards simultaneously and place them face-down. Then pass the remainder to the player on their left or right depending upon the round. The chosen cards are revealed and resolved. Territory Cards and Building Cards are resolved immediately. Parchment (scoring) Cards remain face down and secret until the end of the game.

To resolve a Territory Card, a bunny is taken from the player’s supply and placed on the corresponding coordinate space on the board. Think the coordinate system in Battleship with rows A-J and columns 1-10 (F6, G1, A5, and so on). To resolve a Building Card, take the corresponding building token from the supply and place it on the card in front of them. There are a variety of buildings. They can produce resources, upgrade or build a city, connect two disparate fiefs, and set up a camp to (temporarily) claim an unoccupied area. Buildings can be constructed during the building phase of the current or any subsequent rounds so they do not need to be constructed immediately. Each territory can only support one building and, other than the camp card, players need to control the territory first before building on it.

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Once players drafted all their cards, the construction phase begins. Buildings played during the drafting phase can now be constructed. Most buildings are constructed by moving a token to a controlled territory. However, when someone states they are building a camp, you must check first to see if another player has a camp to build. Each camp has a numerical value and the player with the camp of the lowest value gets the option to place theirs first. There are also Sky Towers which allow you to build towers in two remote fiefs in order to join them. These are amazingly beneficial.

After players construct which buildings they wish, everyone scores their fiefs. A fief is a single set of connected territories controlled by one player. Basic end-of-round scoring is completed by multiplying the wealth of a fief by the strength. The wealth of a fief is the number of different resources produced and the strength is the total number of city towers. So if a fief had a wealth of 2 (say, they produce carrots and fish) and a strength of 3 (they have one 3 level city) then they score 6 points for the fief.

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Four rounds of drafting, building, and scoring take place and then players will do a final scoring where Parchment Cards are revealed and the results are tallied. There is a large diversity of end game scoring possibilities to explore so prepare for a slog and the end of the game.

Bunny Kingdom is a well designed and developed game. This is not surprising coming from the team up of veteran designer Richard Garfield and the artistic powerhouse that is Iello. The mechanisms are streamlined and simple so the teach is fairly easy — Draft two cards and then resolve, build, score and repeat four times. It does, however, lead to a very messy tableau of discarded Territory Cards, pending Building Cards, face-down Parchment Cards, and passed hands. I’m disappointed that no effort was made to create a player’s aid to help organize all these cards. Every game has had some confusion where cards were muddled up requiring time to work out what happened.

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The decision space is comfortable with plenty of opportunities to build or modify your strategy. It provides a pleasurable tension without too much of a strain due to too many options being available. Everything looks good in your hand! There are so many possibilities. I need that but they need that other one and I could do this because I have that but maybeeeee. It is, however, just as random as you can imagine when drafting 120/180 cards. You may not get what you need to complete the strategy so you have to adapt and sometimes you just can’t. If the thought of that doesn’t appeal to you then this is definitely not your game.

The pacing of the game is erratic. To be fair though, this is an issue with most drafting games. Some players will quickly play and pass and others will agonize over choices. However, experienced players will likely be able to burn through the drafting portion of the game quickly after a game or two. The real choke point is the scoring. End of round scoring is a trial and end of game scoring is a travesty. It wrecks the game for me. The setup is easy. The teach is easy. The gameplay is simple. The scoring grinds everything to a halt.

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Iello developed a beautiful game though. They took a solid set of mechanisms with a potentially bland theme (the original theme of the game was Dwarven Roads) and completely turned it around to make something exciting and buzz-worthy.  Interestingly the most interesting element of the game seems to have gone relatively unnoticed — the area control in Bunny Kingdom works entirely without any player interaction. The only possible exception is when two or more players have camps to build. And this is a redeeming design element of the game. It is, for the most part, a very friendly area control game which seems counter intuitive to the mechanism but it does work.

The artwork and the idea of bunnies proliferating over the board is also whimsical and wonderful and I love it. I loved it the moment I heard about it. My only wish is that they could proliferate faster and make less of a mess around the board.

Bottom Line: Bunny Kingdom is a beautiful, albeit messy, “second-step” drafting game. Fans of Sushi Go! can move into a larger decision space. Fans of 7 Wonders can find enjoyment in a similar level of complexity but with an added element of area control. The art is delightful but the small board size and lack of player aids makes for a very clustered and unnecessarily chaotic experience. The drafting is spot on and the area control is the friendliest in the land. There are just enough tempting decisions to make it difficult to decide whether to continue on one strategic trajectory or start a new one.

 

Board in the Stacks: Samurai Gardener

In Samurai Gardener — first published as Edo Yasiki in Japan — from Osprey Games and Hisashi Hayashi, 2-5 players quickly grab and then place cards to construct impressive gardens and score points and bonuses by having rows/columns of similar areas.

Each card consists of six sections with different types of features (pond, tatami mat, garden, and path). At the start of each round, the lead player chooses as many cards as there are players from the draw deck and places them in the middle of the table within easy reach of all players.

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The lead player then calls out “Ei! Ei!” and everyone yells “Oh!” and simultaneously slam their hand down on the card they want. You can also call out “One, Two, THREE” instead. Or you can just place cards and let people choose in turn order. In reality it doesn’t really matter how you do it. Whoever gets to their desired card first gets it. If two players find themselves with their hands on the same card, then the person with more of the card covered gets it.  I played this across a few different groups and some found this an exciting element of the game and others found it repetitive and off-putting. Adding a dexterity/speed element to a card/tile placement game doesn’t add that much to the game-play to make it central to the game.

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In order to construct the perfect garden, cards can be placed adjacent to or overlapping other cards in the player’s tableau but cannot be turned 90 degrees. The short side of cards in your garden should always be facing you. Additionally, you can’t cover an area of three or more of the same garden features are present in a row/column.

Once the cards are placed, rows/columns of three, four, or five of the same area type are awarded points, and there are bonuses for scoring two or more types at the same time. The first player to 25 or the player with the most points when all cards are depleted wins.

Samurai Gardener is a delightfully simple card game that has been a great starter at my library game nights especially for older players who are coming in with very little board game experience but quite a bit of experience with traditional card games. However, the dexterity/speed part of the game was not a big hit and I’ve preferred to have the active player deal and then choose in turn order. Everyone will generally get enough turns to get their first choice.

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What makes this game interesting is the scoring. Each player has four cards in front of them (pond, tatami mat, garden, and path) which are flipped over whenever the corresponding feature is scored (has a length of 3, 4, or 5). However, once flipped over that feature can’t be scored until the cards are refreshed and that doesn’t happen until all the cards are flipped face-down. So, you need to score each feature and then start again. It adds a pleasant amount of tension and decision around placement of the cards and optimizing which which features to score.

Bottom Line: Samurai Gardener is a simple card game with a unique scoring mechanism and an oddly unnecessary speed/dexterity element. Experienced gamers will likely drift towards Honshu as their go-to card/tile-laying game. I can see breaking this out at family holidays or during lunch with co-workers or emerging gamers. Osprey Games continues to present us with approachable, well-produced, and enjoyable games.

 

 

Board in the Stacks: Tokyo Highway

The Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway is a spidery network of highways, overpasses, and expressways that was constructed in 1962 to increase the efficiency of traffic flowing through Tokyo. It’s unique and mind-bogglingly complicated design of curves and grades is the inspiration for Tokyo Highway from Itten Games and designed by Naotaka Shimamoto and Yoshiaki Tomioka. This two player game plays in approximately 30 minutes and is appropriate for players 8 and up.    

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In Tokyo Highway you will be constructing columns and roads in order to place all of the cars in your supply. First person to place all their cars, wins! Players each start with 30 grey discs (pillars), 3 yellow disks (junctions), 15 roads (thin wooden popsicle sticks), 10 small cars and a set of tweezers to place them.

To set up the game each player places one pillar, one road and one car. The pillars are set within one road’s length of each other and a road is placed resembling an entrance ramp to your highway. Each player then takes turns completing three actions:

  1. Construct a pillar within on road length away from another pillar or junction. Pillars can’t be the same height or 2 more/less than the base point.
  2. Construct a road by placing a popsicle stick between two pillars. The edge of the road should not hang over the pillars. Roads should not pass directly over other pillars, and shouldn’t touch other roads.
  3. Place a car on the road just constructed if it is the first to cross over or under your opponent’s road. If multiple roads are crossed then multiple cars can be placed.

The yellow discs are junctions and provide some additional benefits when placed. The allow any number of grey pillars to be placed despite the placement rules. However, during the following turn the normal rules apply. It also allows for an additional road to be built from the junction.

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Tokyo Highway is a three dimensional, abstract, 2 player, dexterity race. The only way to place all your cars to win is to construct pillars and roads that cross over your opponents. This means space and mobility get restricted quickly (Hello, tweezers!). The components are delightfully minimalist as are the rules. This, like many dexterity games, requires an extremely steady hand and there are rules in play for clumsiness which can be a frustrating if you have mobility issues.

My largest complaint is that Tokyo Highway requires players to constantly check to determine the legality of a move. In particular, if a road is touching another road or if a road is crossing over a pillar. This slows down the flow of a game. My opinion is if you want to enjoy Tokyo Highway, just let the highway grow and don’t worry too much about it.

Overall, Tokyo Highway is a delightful dexterity race which, unlike many dexterity games, ends with a feeling of satisfaction as you gaze over the mess you both created. It is also practically begging to be supersized so if anyone wants to take that on, let me know!   

 

What Games Should I Get: Gencon Edition

Well, it’s almost Gencon and my Facebook feed is loaded with airport selfies and I’ve glued to my phone looking for surprise reveals (Clank! in Space? OMG YES). After several glances through the Gencon Preview list on BBG, I’ve listed a couple of releases (or demos) that have me particularly excited.

Spirit Island (Greater Than Games)

Spirit Island is a cooperative game that flips the tired trope of the 4x (Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate) game on its head by focusing on defending your island home from colonizers. Players take the role of different spirits each with its own unique elemental powers. Every turn, players simultaneously choose which of their power cards to play. Some powers work quickly, before the Invaders spread, while other magics are slower and reward advance planning and strategy. Look forward to a first look in the near future from me.

Petrichor (APE Games)

You are a cloud. You need to grow in size, expand, and make other clouds and water the land. Other clouds have the same idea. I have no idea what to think about Petrichor except that I love to give new themes a chance. Petrichor is described as “highly interactive” and has options for solo play. You manipulate clouds and work to “control” crops to score more points when they are harvested. You also control an influence track for end game bonuses.

Mountains of Madness (Iello)

1931: Your scientific expedition discovers a new and intriguing mountain range in the middle of the Antarctic polar circle. Under these challenging conditions, the survival of your team will depend on your ability to communicate with each other and to coordinate your efforts to overcome each obstacle — but what you discover on the way to the highest peak will strongly test your mental health.  Will you even be able to understand yourself despite the madness that gradually insinuates itself into your mind?

There is a very simple equation for this game: Party Game + Iello + Rob Daviau + HP Lovecraft = A Game I Must Try! Check out Bebo’s video below for a rules overview.

 

Photosynthesis (Blue Orange Games)

Blue Orange Games has been on fire at my library (Kingdomino, New York: 1901, Dr. Eureka, Vikings on Board, Gobblet Gobblers) and the circulating collection is all the more amazing for it! Photosynthesis is an abstract strategy game where players earn action points from their trees (through Photosynthesis) and in turn grow trees. Trees must grow from seed to adult and then … I think … die in order to score points.  This game seems to be potentially REALLY MEAN since as you grow larger, you can successfully block the precious sunlight from opponent’s trees. As with Petrichor, I’m excited about banal themes and interactive gameplay.

Ex Libris (Renegade Games Studio)

In Ex Libris, you are a collector of rare and valuable books in a thriving gnomish village. Recently, the Mayor and Village Council have announced an opening for a Grand Librarian: a prestigious (and lucrative) position they intend to award to the most qualified villager! Unfortunately, several of your book collector colleagues (more like acquaintances, really) are also candidates.

To outshine your competition, you need to expand your personal library by sending your trusty assistants out into the village to find the most impressive tomes. Sources for the finest books are scarce, so you need to beat your opponents to them when they pop up. You have only a week before the Mayor’s Official Inspector comes to judge your library, so be sure your assistants have all your books shelved! The Inspector is a tough cookie and will use her Official Checklist to grade your library on several criteria including shelf stability, alphabetical order, and variety — and don’t think she’ll turn a blind eye to books the Council has banned! You need shrewd planning and cunning tactics (and perhaps a little magic) to surpass your opponents and become Grand Librarian!

Fog of Love (Hush Hush Projects)

Fog of Love is a card game for two players who act out a stormy love affair. You play from the very first sparks of attraction through in-law encounters, awkward situations, arguments, parties, thoughtful gifts, secret affairs, kids, and reconciliations to a hopefully happy ending. 

 

I have high hopes for Fog of Love and hope that it ends up being having the cooperative flair of …and then we held hands plus the depth of theme of The Pursuit of Happiness. The character make up is extremely diverse

Samara (Tasty Minstrel Games)

(Description from BGG) Travel back through history to a settlement called Samara, where you lead a group of builders. At the start of the game, they can build only a sandcastle, cave or huts. For more complex buildings, you first invest time in skills, strength, or new workers. Building special projects gives you benefits or hurts all your rivals. In the end you want to have the most prestigious buildings. The worker timetrack is the key mechanism. Each of your choices costs a number of your workers a number of months. Your workers can spend time on:

  • Improving skills to build with wood (saw tool), stone (trowel tool) and glass (blowing tool).
  • Building houses or special projects.
  • Getting a new worker or exercising to become a stronger worker.
  • Going on vacation.

The spaces on the game board determine how many workers (1-4 on the left board axis) are occupied how many months (1-9 on the bottom board axis). Players plan to let their workers spend time effectively, choosing when to invest and when to build for prestige. The prestige points determine who is the best foreman of Samara.

 

Spy Club (Foxtrot Games)

In Spy Club, players work together as young detectives to solve neighborhood mysteries. It includes a new campaign format for playing a series of games connected together to tell a larger story. Throughout the 5 games in a campaign, you’ll unlock new modules with additional rules and story elements. With over 40 new modules and 150 cards in the campaign deck, you can reset everything and play multiple campaigns — with a different story and gameplay experience emerging each time.

In the base game, each player has double-sided clue cards in front of them. On your turn, you use actions to flip, draw, and trade clue cards, gain ideas, and confirm clue cards as evidence. Confirm 5 clues of the same type to solve part of the case. As you discover more and more of the solution, a story starts to emerge: your Neighbor stole something from the ice cream shop, but what? And why? To crack the case, you must find the solution to all 5 parts before the suspect escapes or you run out of clues.

I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS GAME

First Looks: Wasteland Express Delivery Service from Pandasaurus Games

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Designers:Jonathan Gilmour, Ben Pinchback, Matt Riddle
Publisher: Pandasaurus Games
Players: 2-5
Age: 12+ (reviewers recommendation)
Playing time: 120 minutes

In Wasteland Express Delivery Service, civilization has finally crashed and sank into a post-nuclear fashion oblivion — everything is all blood, sweat, tape, and spandex. You need to move water, food, and weapons in order to pick up enough scrap to keep your rig roadworthy and knee-deep in eyeliner. Upgrade weapons, storage space and other variable sundries in order to keep up with the competition. Attack and pillage raiders moving across the Wastelands or send them head first into another rig. The bulk of your time, however, will be moving materials for three different factions, picking up other contracts, and dealing with various catastrophic events. The player who first completes three objectives, wins…and then takes a bath.

Unless you are actually living in a post-apocalyptic fallout shelter (give it another year), you have heard of Wasteland Express Delivery Service. Draped in an aggressively busy post-apocalyptic setting and featuring an intensity of artwork that would make Tank Girl blush and Mad Max *finally* go home and change his pants, WEDS is a delightfully chunky mess of a game with a solid pick-up-and-deliver frame. The box is big, the inserts are sponge-worthy (reference), and the rules and set-up requires two advance degrees and a crow-bar to get through. However, once you get this game rolling along, it just keeps on trucking into blissful oblivion.

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So. Much. Tape.

I haven’t had much time to really dive into this game so take everything with a grain of salt. I did have some quick thoughts and wanted to comment whether it is a good fit for a library setting (it is if you are experienced). Despite all the chrome, miniatures, and all the extra bits, this, in essence, is a simple Pick Up and Delivery game with an obscene amount of customization added. The basic mechanisms of the game are already there for you: Move, Pick Up, Move, Deliver, Make Money, Pillage. To their credit, Gilmore, Pinchback, and Riddle (the law offices of…) have designed a wonderfully engaging and exciting game around that notoriously dull mechanism and Pandasaurus Games developed it into a gorgeous piece of sexy shelf candy.

Similar to Scythe (advance warning, I’m going to compare WEDS to Scythe often), the art direction does not correlate directly to the player experience. If you are expecting plenty of Road Road style action between players and factions, you will be disappointed. There is very little direct player interaction although quite a bit indirect interaction (moving Raiders around the board, messing with the commodities market, racing to fulfill a contract). However, unlike Scythe, where the beginning of the game is on rails and basically predetermined, WEDS provides a wide variety of actions and movement across the board. Specifically, the concept of movement momentum was novel where you can move up in gears during your turn (sacrificing other actions) to move further and faster during later turns and burn across the board. In Scythe you have a vast field to explore but will barely move past your starting hexes (just like the lonely peasant you are). In WEDS you get to move all over the board.

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The bulk of the gameplay is very Euro, BUT, it is Euro with tons of trashy chrome to liven it up. Ordinarily, I’m not a fan of chrome. The over-the-top components and miniatures don’t appeal to me. But WEDS offers a solid foundation with some mechanical chrome and it makes it sexy af. On top of the basic delivery framework you have a veritable chasm of customization to drive your rig into. It allows for a level of tinkering and strategy that flows nicely with the simple core. Meanwhile Scythe feels like a bunch of mechanisms bundled together with spit and twine that works but doesn’t necessarily move or hold together well. In WEDS, the mechanical chrome is slick and adds to the gameplay. Oddly enough, it ends up feeling like a tactical game but you’ll be planning out 4-5 moves in advance in order to fulfill a contract…if you are lucky that is.

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The economic system provides just enough interaction to keep the competition on their toes without blowing them up completely. As you complete deliveries you need to make important peripheral decisions on how you upgrade your truck. More space? More guns? Nukes? Turbos? Armor? The action selection (which provides the darling little momentum movement mechanism) is not overwhelming by focusing on “micro-actions” which provide a limited amount of smaller actions to take. It limits AP and keeps the game flowing at a quicker pace without allowing players horde one action and build an engine. The game makes you move and keeps you moving. It is practically a race to the end from the moment you begin. This emphasis on quick decisions, movement, and a focus on completing three contracts to win rather than some sort of totaling (money, points, etc.) makes the Euro feel so much more trashy and fast paced and I love it. The pacing is perfect. No engines to build. No dominant strategy to develop. Just you, your rig, and some assholes temporarily in your way.

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Quick aside: I love the terrain tiles. The modular game board with the intermixed terrain hex-tiles and the square location tiles come together nicely. I’m not sure why *this* is the one thing I find so oddly satisfying but I do. When prototypes and images began to leak out during the development of WEDS, it really stuck with me. Theme aside, I wanted to see how that terrain setup would work. The game trays are also one of the shinier bits in the game. WEDS has something like 600+ bits included and the trays are *mandatory*. In fact, they should now raise the bar for all large strategy games. If I’m dropping $80 on a bulky beast I want these trays included to ease set-up, teaching, and storage. Everything is game trays forever. Thanks, Pandasaurus!

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With so many objectives included in the game, plus the double-sided terrain hexes and the variable location set-up, *plus* the focus on customization and variable player bonuses, WEDS has the potential for lots of variability. Additionally, it includes a campaign narrative arc that is played over 10 sessions plus randomly generated single session scenarios which taps into the immersive narrative popular with storytelling games like Tales of the Arabian Nights; legacy games; and euro/storytelling hybrids such as Above and Below and Near and Far. I am not sure how successful WEDS is in the tricky world of immersive narrative play as I haven’t attempted any of these variants yet but I certainly appreciate their existence and would like to snuggle up with three other people and test them out.

Bottom Line:

“Wasteland Express Delivery Service is big, beautiful, daunting, and sexy af with a straightforward gameplay core and bursting at the seams with mechanical chrome. It is a game where players race to the end while throwing obstacles at each other to be the first to complete a variable set of contracts. The artwork and design is evocative of the theme and setting and the presentation courtesy of Pandasaurus is next to flawless (I’m practically salivating  for Dinosaur Island now). WEDS won’t make it into a circulating collection due to the size and amount of components but it will be the center piece of your game-night. Your rig may be cobbled together but Wasteland Express Delivery Service is smooth as silk. Witness me! 

 

 

Board in the Stacks: Hatsuden

In Hatsuden, the new two-player game from Japanese games publisher Itten, you are competing energy companies jockeying for control of five renewable resources: Solar, Geothermal, Wind, Hydro, and Biomass. While competing you maintain your cities’ optimum amount of power. Too much power and you may control a specific resource but won’t provide the optimal amount of power to your cities. Too little power you lose control of a resource and may under-power your cities .

At the end of the game, players earn one point for each renewable energy they control and one point for each of the cities they supply with 10 units of power (after subtracting one point for any city receiving 8 or less units of power). The player with the most points wins. 

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Competing on the deck for control over hydopower.

Each player starts their turn with a hand of five cards (each card is suited to one of the five resources, and numbered 1-4 with two of each card) and can do one of the following options:

  1. Construct a power plant by placing a card on any open space of the card’s corresponding renewable resource.  
  2. Upgrade a power plant by placing a corresponding power plant card over an already existing plant of a previous generation (lower number). When you upgrade a plant to a generation of 4, you get to draw a special technology card.
  3. Construct a pylon by placing a card face down on any empty space.
  4. Place nothing and trash one card face-up to the discard pile.

After a card is played, they choose a card either from the draw or discard pile and play moves to the opponent. This continues until one player is able to fill all ten of the spaces in their tableau.

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Hold those heavy cards until the end of the game. I see pylons happening here.

After one play of the game it will be obvious that Hatsuden has taken inspiration from a pair of very successful 2-player Knizia designs – Lost Cities and Battleline (cf. Schotten Toten). Hatsuden removes the instant win conditions from Battleline, replacing them with a traditional point system. Gaining control of the each of the power sources is based upon the sum of the cards placed in the column rather than poker hands. This simplifies the game game-play significantly. I mean, sure, sums are easier than poker hands but I mean it really makes a difference.

As a result, Hatsuden almost seems too straightforward: you play a card and draw a card. However, the snappy gameplay does not negate that there is an enjoyable depth of play for a 30 minute simple tableau building game. There is also an added complication of a two tiered scoring system that balances out the gameplay. It isn’t simply a matter of going higher than your opponent. You need to balance between a head to head battle to gain control over each renewable energy source with providing the optimum amount of power to your two cities. Battleline was always a bit to confrontational for me and Hatsuden rounds those edges just enough for me. Be gentle with me, I’m sensitive.

I also enjoyed the ability to place pylons (basically placeholders) which negates the ability to count cards and mitigates the analysis paralysis that is so often an issue in Battleline. I can stare at a hand of Battleline for whole *minutes* trying to do the mental calculus to gauge my best move while in Hatsuden 2-4 placed pylons pretty much knocks the math right out of my head. This leads to a more subtle game of finesse and bluffing where the stronger cards are held back and players slowly inch forward in gaining control. The Special Technology Cards are similar to the Tactics Cards in Battleline. They add some small amount of flexibility but are much simpler.

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The Special Technology Cards

Bottom Line: If you love Oink Games, Battleline, and prefer stark, minimalist iconography and artwork, then Hatsuden a great fit. The point system is layered providing some depth but is still extremely easy to teach. It is tiny and takes up very little space making it a perfect pub game.

Board in the Stacks: The Legend of the Wendigo

The Legend of the Wendigo is a werewolf-styled social deduction game for 2-6 children aged 6+ from Iello Games. In this “lighter” themed version, the Chipmunk Scouts are out telling stories around the campfire and, unbeknownst to anyone, the legendary Wendigo is lurking in the shadows. Each night the Wendigo returns to camp and steals away with another camper and then hides in their midst, camouflaged as an innocent camper.

To be fair, the theme isn’t really much lighter than Werewolf. But the artwork sets the mood and is not particularly frightening despite children being dragged into the night by a creature that then returns in their skins to carry away another. Think of it as Goosebumps level spooky. 

The components consist of 64 round tiles. 32 are camper tiles pictures of campers on both sides and 32 are Wendigo Tiles with an matching camper on one side and a (kinda adorable) Wendigo on the other. One player is chosen to be the Wendigo. The rest of the players are campers trying to suss the Wendigo out. I had some concerns about a “one against many” game for younger children. To keep the game even I recommend a total of four players — one Wendigo and three campers for the most balanced game. Too many campers and the Wendigo will be discovered quickly. Too few and the Wendigo will likely succeed easily. Rotate the Wendigo between players and you’ve got an even game for everyone.

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The game is split — werewolf style — into two phases: Night Phase and Day Phase.

Night Phase:

The Wendigo player shuffles their tiles and chooses one randomly. They then locate the matching Scout tile from the 32 on the table. Once the scout tile is located, Team Camper has to turn around and close their eyes (or leave the room, etc.) while the Wendigo replaces the scout tile with the Wendigo tile.

When the switch is complete, Team Camper can return to the room (or turn around or open their eyes) and a sand timer is flipped. They have about one minute to memorize as much as they can about the layout of the tiles. Once the timer runs out, Team Camper turns around and closes their eyes. The Wendigo then removes a Scout tile and places their Wendigo tile into the same space, leaving the space empty where the Wendigo used to be.

Once this is done we move to the Day Phase.

Day Phase:

During the Day Phase, Team Camper examines the table to determine what changed during the night. They discuss which tile they believe to be the Wendigo and when agreed on a single tile, they flip it over!

If the Wendigo is on the back of the tile, they successfully sniffed out the Wendigo and won. If not, the tile remains on the table and the players get ready for another round and they continue with another Night Phase. The game continues until the Wendigo snatches five tiles or is discovered.

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Review:

For a simplified hybrid of Werewolf and Scotland Yard, The Legend of the Wendigo has kept several groups of children engaged at my library. There is a small social deduction element with Team Camper trying to read the Wendigo player for any tells as they search for the correct tile. The game lacks hidden roles and bluffing. These elements are generally standard for this type of game but they can be challenging for younger children. The integrity of the experience was surprising coherent with such a simple ruleset. Pattern recognition and memory games can be grueling and dull at times but Iello has consistently pulled it off. Players will try to recognize and recall earlier patterns (each iteration of the children are similar with slight variations). This will sound similar if you played another of Iello’s games “Baba Yaga” where the tiles have subtle differences while seeming similar at first glance. Unfortunately, this need to make all the tiles similar with slight variations led to camp composed entirely of white kids. I think steps could have been taken to better provide minority representation without negatively affecting gameplay.

A concern is the amount of experience required to take on the Wendigo role. A consistent failing of one-against is the difficulty an inexperienced player will have in the “one” role. In Letters from Whitechapel or Scotland Yard, generally it is recommended that the most experienced player take the role of Mr. X or Jack. However, The Legend of the Wendigo does provide an experience where anyone can walk into the role of the Wendigo and generally succeed without undue stress. 

An issue playing social deduction games with children is that the game hinges upon bluffing and deception. This is a shame since elements of these games are large player counts, simple rules, and minimal components of social deduction games seem to make them the perfect game for children. Here is where The Legend of the Wendigo is spot on. It allows for deception aimed at the arrangement of the tiles rather than about a deceit over a hidden role. The Wendigo player is known to everyone from the start. 

One particular element of the game I enjoyed is decision making between the children on Team Camper. Eventually, the will figure out that the easiest way to find the Wendigo is if each player takes and area of the board to examine intently rather than having everyone try to memorize everything. This technique will make the game much harder for the Wendigo. However, I still love this with new groups of children at the library. The components are sturdy and set up is simple enough.

Bottom Line: If you are looking for a twist on the traditional memory game that hinges on pattern recognition then The Legend of the Wendigo is an easy grab. It provides a delightfully tense albeit light-hearted atmosphere and will certainly generate some cheers when the Wendigo is finally revealed. It plays quickly for repeated play but experienced campers will eventually be able to snag the Wendigo in a few rounds. Representation is an issue with all the campers portrayed as white. 

Board in the Stacks: The Lost Expedition

Osprey Games, designer Peer Sylvester and acclaimed illustrator Garen Ewing has taken The Lost City of Z as inspiration and re-imagined it into an engaging (albeit unforgiving) cooperative card game. Players need to guide a team of three adventurers to the ruins of El Dorado after the missing Captain Fawcett. The jungle is not kind and not all the adventures will survive. In order to win the game, the players must manage their resources well enough to ensure that at least one of the team survives the treck to the end.

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Here we have a team ready to go with a whole stack of adventure cards to dive into.

Each of the six adventures is based upon a historical figure and has a particular skill that will be needed to help the team through the hazards of the jungle…even if it kills them. Roy and Ynes have jungle lore, Isabelle and Candido are skilled navigators (as well as being dapper af), and Teddy Roosevelt and Bessie Coleman are experienced campers.

Each adventurer starts off healthy with 3-4 health tokens and the team well provisioned with ammunition and food. Players will work together to manage those resources  along with strategic use of any expertise picked up on the way in order to survive. The jungle is not forgiving though and acquired skills will likely be only met with more dangerous situations.

Set Up and Rules:

Depending upon preferred difficulty, 7-9 cards representing the movement across the jungle and into the ruins of El Dorado are set up on the table. 7 cards and four health for each of the adventures in the easy game is basically a learning game — even completely guileless and ignorant of the dangers ahead, players will make it to the end. A pawn representing the team will mark the progress made during the hikes. Hikes are split into Morning and Night phases.

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A Morning Phase with all the cards arranged numerically. It wasn’t a great morning.

Each of the phases are completed by resolving a set of cards placed by the players in turn order. Each card has a combination of mandatory events to resolve (those in yellow), choices where you have to pick one (red) and optional actions (in blue). Each of these elements will be contain a series of icons. When an icon is black it will be gained by the team to be used during future phases. When they are not filled in, it requires that icon to be spent or suffer a loss the consequences.

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An Evening Phase with the cards arranged in a way determined by the group.

During the Morning phase, players are dealt a hand of four cards. Starting with the first player, everyone plays an adventure card from their hand to the path until two cards are placed by each player. Cards are then arranged in numerical order and then resolved. After resolution of the cards, the team eats and spends a food token. The Night phase is similar except that cards played, stay in the order placed and are not rearranged. At the completion of the Night phase, the team spends a food token. The game is played in a series of hikes followed by feeding your team until one of the following happens:

  1. The pawn gets moved to the last card, ending in a win.
  2. If all three explorers are dead, the game ends in a loss.
  3. If the adventure deck runs out cards for a second time, the players lose.

Review:

The Lost Expedition is a rules-lite card game focusing on resource management and tight decision making. The core of the game the team being able and willing to discuss actions in order to determine their route. The game can stall here if players are unwilling or unable to collaborate (ie. players unknown to each other, social anxiety, general shyness). If you are playing with a group new to each other, they may find it very difficult to speak up about what the preferred placement of cards or which decisions to make. This can lead to an uncomfortable social tension. The best fix is to make sure players know each other and are familiar with cooperative games that require discussion as this game requires conversation and consensus for success. If you are teaching to a group of new players, I recommend moderating and encouraging discussion for a run through of the game on the easy mode.

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Sorry Teddy….

There is a surprising amount of flavor in the cards with hardly any text at all. This is a testimony to the artistry and art direction. You get a deep impression of the dangers the party is experiencing, the actions taken, and the results with only a couple of words and a few icons. Players get a tense experience with a surprising amount of storytelling embedded in the cards with very little actual language making this an amazing game for ESL or non-english speaking players (something that every library should be aware of when developing a collection). To be fair though, the story can get lost without someone willing to tease it out. Playing The Lost Expedition with no storytelling is like playing Gloom with only the card mechanisms. It’s fine but you miss out on so much. The art is reminiscent of Golden Age Adventure Comics, Tintin, and Johnny Quest. If you squint a bit you can almost see some Moebius. The imagery isn’t hyperbolic or exaggerated. The jaguar has teeth. The mosquito can kill you. A cut can get infected. The style is cartoony with a slightly darker feel and realistic edge and it works very well for the game.

Overall, I found it to be most engaging as a solo or two player game, adequate as a three player game, and drudgery at four or five players (sorry, it just didn’t keep it together for larger groups). Keep the player count low and you will get much more enjoyment out of the game. With larger groups the storytelling gets diluted and you start playing a game strictly of card play and it grew dull and overlong.

Representation:

Of particular merit to the design, I found the representation of the characters in the game to be diverse and inclusive. Out of the six characters, two are white males, half are women, and people of color are represented in a meaningful way. According to some people I have played The Lost Expedition with, the adventurers also read as Queer.

I has some concern with a game set in the Amazon. Especially as it pertained to the representation of indigenous cultures. Would it be problematic? Romanticized? Racist? From my perspective, however, the art and portrayal seemed respectful but still the game maintains a very Euro-centric view of post-colonial exploration (as, honestly, does the book). Several of the tribes portrayed in the game were unique. With over 400 tribes in the Amazon, each with its own language and culture, it was pleasant to see that tribes were represented in, what I found, a non-homogenized manner. Some tribes were depicted as peaceful, helpful, or antagonistic towards the team of adventures. Since the designer of the game specifically named The Lost City of Z as inspiration and Osprey Publishing is known for producing non fiction works, I hope I can trust them to put in the research required. That said, the Indigenous people in this game were not provided with any agency. And that is an issue although par for the course in the board game space. They were there to hinder or help the adventures and it would have been nice to see some representation *within* the team itself.

So where does that put Native/Indigenous representation in The Lost Expedition? Better then most but still plenty of room to improve.

Queer representation in board games

The lack of queer people as playable characters with agency or represented appropriately through narrative elements is rarely explored in board games. For many board games, as their popularity increases over years with repeated editions, they can carry forward outdated stereotypes including  (but maybe not obvious to many) the invisibility of queer people. To ensure an inclusive and accessible hobby for all, future editions can correct and should update to modern modes of thinking and representation. Newly published games should be dealing with issues of representation throughout the game development process including design, art-direction, and play-testing. While this seems to be occurring with more positive female (for example, Relic Runners from Days of Wonder) and PoC (for example, Freedom: The Underground Railroad from Academy Games) representation, queer characters are not consistently or adequately represented.

In the RPG sphere, publishers seem to be moving faster. Piazo Publishing has made inroads to providing positive representation across the spectrum in their Pathfinder Roleplaying System [source]. Being described “as a robust fantasy world that incorporates classic themes and tropes while allowing including progressive elements at the same time” [source]. Representation of queer characters in that RPG setting increases accessibility by being reflective of the people playing and/or interacting with the game system and any associated transmedia storytelling. Pathfinder also has featured gay and transgender “iconics.” Iconics represent their character class across Piazo’s entire catalog including adventures, modules, and organized play [source] become something of a type specimen for the class and being represented in many publishing outlets.

In Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition “You could also play as a female character who presents herself as a man, a man who feels trapped in a female body, or a bearded female dwarf who hates being mistaken for a male. Likewise, your character’s sexual orientation is for you to decide” [source]. Golden Goblin Press, who produces supplements for the popular Call of Cthulhu Role-playing game created a “Heroes of Red Hook” a series of stories to “try to guide our genre towards a more inclusive future…[and] change the legacy of Lovecraft from one of blame, fear, and bigotry, into something more representative” [source]. All of these are examples of long-running and popular gaming systems revising and updating themselves to better embrace equitable representation.

Why is the board game realm lagging behind? Perhaps this is due to the lack of narrative creativity and story in board games which rely on dry mechanics. However, with many board games melding mechanics and narrative potential, I don’t find this argument particularly compelling. Just look at the diversity of characters in Ryan Laukat’s games Above and Below, Islebound, and Near and Far from Red Raven Games. Perhaps it is indicative of the culture of the board game industry. While games like The Dead of Winter and Sentinels of the Multiverse have more narrative potential and concurrently more inclusive representation, most games fall into outmoded tropes. Dead of Winter and Sentinels of the Multiverse both have playable queer characters, allow for queer relationships, and have related story-arcs. Dead of Winter designer, Isaac Vega stated in an interview that as he was better able to understand himself, was better equipped to include topics in his games related to LGBT issues when he felt supported by the culture of the company. Part of this was being more comfortable to be openly gay in his place of work. [source]

“It allows us to talk about things we care about: games aren’t just fun, but are also a medium for people to experience a new story and see and feel things they haven’t necessarily seen or felt before,” he said. “A lot of people playing may never have interacted with someone who’s gay, or trans, or from a different race. So the game becomes a space to tell these stories, start a conversation around the table that could bring these things to light for a group of players.” Isaac Vega, Co-designer of Dead of Winter [source]

Relationship themed games such as The Fog of Love and The Pursuit of Happiness from Stronghold Games also includes queer characters. Specifically, in The Pursuit of Happiness, players can choose from male or female romantic partners. Each card is double sided with a male and female side and if players choose to have multiple partners of various genders. The Fog of Love include packs of cards and specific modifications on providing a more equitable playplace for a diversity of genders and gender expressions. Despite this, representation can be very difficult to identify unless the game has obvious romantic or related narrative themes.

It is possible that many publishers and artists simply avoid queer characters out of concern or fear that the representation would perpetuate homophobic or misogynist stereotypes.

The invisibility of queer characters apply to numerous games and the actual positive representation of queer characters is restricted to only a few examples. Even in those board game, it tends to fall upon players and how they negotiate representation as needed using roleplay and imagination (“You want queer characters? Just pretend they are queer”). But most board games are not like RPGs and an inclusive game design shouldn’t require players to identify queer characters on their own without overt cues from the narrative, art, and the game mechanisms. Without it being designed into the game to expand representation. It is possible that many publishers and artists simply avoid queer characters out of concern or fear that the representation would perpetuate homophobic or misogynist stereotypes. This is certainly a reasonable concern. However, by simply avoiding any representation at all, again publishers are rendering queer people invisible in board games just as they were once invisible in other mediums such as comics, YA fiction, and video games. Cultural definitions, designer/artist intent, and player experience can and should all play a part in the identity of characters.

Queer gamers would prefer more characters that represent them without falling into well-worn tropes or stereotypes. The simplest fix is to include more queer people in the design, development, play-testing, and artistic direction of board games. Bottom line, if you want more representation other than white, cis-gendered, heterosexual men, the easiest way to ensure that is to include more diversity in the game industry and provide an equitable and supportive culture for that expression. This means that game designers, publishers, and developers need to actively work to diversify industry ranks, and combat poor or nonexistent representation by allowing marginalized groups to develop characters and games through their own lived experience. Now, let me be clear that I am not “industry” and have no inside knowledge to the culture of board gaming. Everything is extrapolated and I welcome the experience of others who are employed in the industry.

…by simply avoiding any representation at all, again publishers are rendering queer people invisible in board games just as they were once invisible in other mediums

However, it bears mentioning that media researchers Adam Brown and Deb Waterhouse-Watson found three important concepts when examining gender in fantasy board games.

  1. That gender is fundamental to the design – you can’t simply ignore it
  2. Representations of gender in fantasy board games tends to be problematic, and
  3. That “board game designers and artist have the potential to reinforce, resist, or revise normative gender representations.”

Developments move slowly and the board game industry is just catching up to the board game culture on this one. With examples like The Lost Expedition providing positive representation, LGBTQIA Board Game Nights popping up at Friendly Local Game Stores, more critical theory based reviews, and diverse cultural icons in the hobby, it seems like, at very least, it is moving forward in a positive direction.

I’d like to take a page from Mr. Brown and Ms. Waterhouse-Watson and say that we need to reinforce diversity in the industry, actively resist outdated stereotypes, and continually revise how gaming culture views appropriate and equitable representation in board games.

Thanks, and please game responsibly.