Gen Con

The board games you need to know about from Gen Con 2016

I’ve been telling everyone that Gen Con stood for “General Convention,” and that it was shortened for the sake of being unique. But this is not true. It’s actually short for “Geneva Convention”—named for Lake Geneva, where 12 Chicagoan members of the IFW (International Federation of Wargaming) met when they couldn’t make it to their club convention in 1967. The convention has met in California, Florida, and Pennsylvania in years since, but the event’s beating heart has always been in the Midwest. This year saw over 60,000 people in attendance. The day I arrive in Indianapolis is clear and blue…


Dead of Winter: The Long Night is a survivor

The Andes Flight Disaster of 1972 is infamous for the part about the cannibalism. On October 13th, a chartered Fairchild FH-227D crashed on the spine of the Andes between Chile and Argentina. A search was conducted for just over a week, leaving the team stranded. After two months of starvation, frostbite, and sickness, the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571’s original 45 members had dwindled to 16, who all had to resort to eating the dead to survive. The survivors were all part of a rugby union, all Roman Catholic, and operated as a team: they salvaged together, they kept warm…

board games oliver quinlan

Isaac Vega wants to make board games for everyone

An hour into our interview, Isaac Vega is still brimming with energy, gesturing and talking about his next project with all the verve of a life coach or an eager teenager. Vega’s a lead designer for Plaid Hat Games, who have published the board games Dead of Winter (2014) and Summoner Wars (2009). It’s obvious he loves what he does. “I’d like to break the barrier in board games that we don’t see in other media,” Vega tells me. Tabletop gaming has a unique barrier to access that no other media has: a steep learning curve. To gather a group…


Star Wars Rebellion breaks the canon … and itself

Fantasy Flight’s space opera tactics game Star Wars: Rebellion is a seemingly brilliant mashup of Star Wars canon. Classic elements from the original Star Wars trilogy are here—Hidden Rebel Base! A Death Star! Han Solo frozen in carbonite! A reconstructed Death Star!—but inventively recombined. Rather than send Princess Leia to steal the Death Star plans, send Han Solo or Lando Calrissian. Push Grand Moff Tarkin out to Nal Hutta to stop a Rebel Sabotage mission. Freeze Mon Mothma in carbonite. Star Wars is in the box, but it’s served via blender. Rebellion is nothing if not epic. The box comes…


Fall of Magic turns everyone into a gifted author

Fall of Magic is the kind of free form storytelling you could do with your friends on the floor just about anywhere. Play some Howard Shore soundtracks in the background, light a few candles, and unroll the scroll. As an engine for creating stories it’s deceptively slight. From the rulebook: “Someone may ask, ‘Is a Raven like the bird?’ or ‘What is a Crab Singer?’ To this we reply: ‘It means what you want it to mean.’” This open-handed approach extends to the rules. A six-sided dice is included but rarely used, and the rest of the game world’s description…

Settlers of Catan

An intro to tabletop gaming as ritual

Every time I unbox a board game it feels as though I’m ‘starting something’. There’s a secure rhythm in drawing out components, shuffling decks, placing pieces; it feels significant in the same way that the placement and positioning of elements in communion or offering feels holy. Mats are laid out, figurines placed, tokens piled according to kind. Victor Turner wrote the following in “Symbols in African Ritual” in 1973: “A ritual is a stereotyped sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and designed to influence preternatural entities or forces on behalf of the actors’…


The Spaceteam card game will make you wanna shout

“The future is disorder.” –Tom Stoppard, Arcadia /// The Spaceteam card game is chaos. Like its forebear on Android and Apple, it’s a cooperative game that forces you and some friends to scramble with tools and ailing apparatuses to fix your spaceship before you are swallowed by a black hole. As an adaptation, it’s faithful to the frenetic shouting of the original Spaceteam (2012), which was itself a faithful homage to the technobabble of Star Trek and giant-mecha sci-fi films. Instead of a digital interface, this iteration replaces it with cards and a timer, which are easier to wipe clean of…


The year in boardgames

“2015 is the year of the board game,” I told everyone I knew. I wrote it out in emails. I typed the words out in text messages. I casually said it over the phone. If friends or family wanted to get me something for my birthday, a PlayStation gift card would not do: I had a manicured Amazon wish list pruned with all the games I wanted to play. Sure, I occasionally played games on a screen. But people know, now: when they invite me over for dinner, they better be ready to play Love Letter or Netrunner or whatever…


Void and Meddler is lovely but lonely

It’s a gorgeous evening in Void & Meddler’s synth-wave nightscape. The downtempo music is pulsing, rain is falling, and I’m guiding my protagonist Fyn through a market of vibrant neofuturistic goods. I click on some fish, stacked near a bobbing robot merchant. “No, just no,” Fyn tells me. I click on the pile of fish again. “No way.” /// Booting up the game, I knew from a single glance that Fyn and I were not going to get along. With her hips perpetually half-crooked and a look of withering disinterest carved into her expression, Void & Meddler’s protagonist is all…