A while back guyincorporated asked:
Played any good boardgames lately?
And the answer to that is always “of course,” but it’s rare that I come across any that are really mindblowingly good in a way that’s new or exciting. Boardgaming is one of those hobbies where there are constantly new opportunities to acquire new games, but improvement in any given area/genre/type of mechanic tends to be fairly slow and incremental rather than dramatic, which is why old standbys like Carcassonne, Acquire and Diplomacy are still some of the best games around.
However, lately I’ve had a few glorious successes hit the table.
Khronos was a game I’d been eyeing for a while on the shelves, mostly because it promised to involve time travel and I am a colossal fan of anything involving time travel. I eventually bought the game new, which is something I generally avoid – I prefer to buy used, thrift, or trade games rather than buy new because it makes boardgaming a much cheaper hobby – but in this case I was just all “TIME TRAVEL MOTHERFUCKER WOOOOOOOO” and laid out the bones.1
I honestly couldn’t be more impressed with the game. It’s an influence/area-control game of sorts, reminiscent of Tigris and Euphrates; I’ve never had strong feelings for T&E one way or the other, but to my mind Khronos blows it out of the water. It has all the strategic depth of T&E, but it’s got tons more personality.
To wit: it’s an influence/area-control game, but it has three boards: the “Age of Might,” the “Age of Faith,” and the “Age of Reason.” These three boards are geographically identical, as it’s the same area at three different times. When you build buildings in the past, they ripple forward through time. When you build buildings in the past that would overlay buildings in the future, you create a time paradox which is resolved by destroying the “previous future” buildings and replacing them with your new building. However, there are incentives to build in the middle Age as well, because each Age scores differently from the other two: the Age of Might determines point-scoring by military buildings, the Age of Faith by religious buildings, and the Age of Reason by civil buildings.
That time-travel mechanic – combined with some very clever building-construction rules that make simply competing for control of building groups in a single era challenging enough all on its own – make for a game that’s incredibly deep on a strategic level but also requires a keen tactical appreciation of the overall board; you need to take into account both the immediate actions you’re making as well as their long-term ramifications on multiple boards all at once. It’s a brainbender, which is why a game of seven rounds that should only take sixty minutes tops is billed as a game that takes ninety minutes instead: this is a game that rewards heavy thinking without being too mentally draining. In a righteous world, this would straddle the Boardgamegeek ratings like a behemoth rather than suck-ass Puerto Rico2 or boring Agricola.3
I just this weekend also played Mr. President and was terrifically impressed. I’m a big fan of political games generally, which should surprise longtime readers of this blog not at all, so I keep track of new political games as they make their way down the pike: I recently played and enjoyed Campaign Manager 2008, which is fun but, as a friend puts it, “not a full meal.” I tend to think CM2K8 is more of an abstract strategy game glued onto a political theme (albeit fairly successfully). It simulates the Obama/McCain campaign well enough, but it doesn’t feel that, you know, political.
Mr. President isn’t new – the edition I own dates back to 1967 – but it feels political. It can be played two- or four-player, but ideally this should be played four (in two teams of two): this is a game where the tense discussion between you and your partner is vitally important, since neither of you is allowed to tell each other what exactly you’re holding in terms of potential political support. It’s a game where states can swing back and forth between parties but where ideological preference by region is not ignored. It’s a game that’s friendly to newbies, but where the intricacies of play can fascinate veterans (do I allot these 500,000 votes to Ohio or California or New York or Georgia?). It’s a game with an incredibly tense and dramatic finish as you and your partner determine where each remaining ballot should be allotted.
(It’s also a game where you’re encouraged to keep track of where votecards have been cast by writing on a reusable tally board with a grease-pencil, and that’s kind of awesome.)
It’s not without flaws: the debate rules are clumsy and arcane and over-reward the debate winner, and I think I might work on some homebrew rules to fix them. Similarly, the “only advertise once per state” rule seems unnecessary. (The “only fundraise once per state” rule, on the other hand, is entirely necessary, or else people would just keep going to the East to raise cash in New York all the time. Yes, I know that happens in real life, but you want the game to have some challenge level.) And sometimes a press endorsement can just be too damned powerful. But even with these caveats, Mr. President is probably the best political game I’ve ever played – better even than Die Macher – and certainly the tensest and most flavourful. (And you can get it on eBay for less than ten bucks! But be sure you get the 1967 edition, as the 1965 edition is a totally different game and bad.)
Oh, and I finally got around to playing Bohnanza and it was fun so that was nice.
- Well, more accurately, I traded in a bunch of Magic: The Gathering cards I didn’t want any more for store credit and bought it that way, but trading with a store is not much better than just spending money, so it counts. [↩]
- A game that rewards experience over strategic play. [↩]
- Total non-interactive farming horseshit. [↩]