One last visit with John Clowdus (or is it two more visits?), a game I've never been able to get rid of, and appropriately enough for my life a game about moving. There's also the best conflict game of all time, one that has never caused me to ask "Why Do I Own This?"
How did I get it? There was a time in the late 2000s when Nexus Ops was not a very common game. Unappreciated in its own time, it fell into bargain bins, before people realized how great it is and it started getting snatched up. It was at that time that I managed to trade away some decent German game (I want to say Zooloretto?) for a new-in-shrink copy. The guy I traded with was very gracious, as I had to back out of an earlier trade for the same game earlier. He was more than happy to deal with me again. If only all BGG users were so low-key.
Why do I still have it? I once had a moment of weakness when I tought about trading this away for a shinier, newer title. I never did, because there were some very strong memories associated with this one. In fact, my Google avatar is a picture of me holding our first born son while I take my turn in Nexus Ops. As I've come to understand my taste in games more, Nexus Ops is more and more in my wheelhouse. This one isn't going anywhere.
How is it? For someone who normally likes highly interactive games, I'm not the biggest fan of conquest games like Risk. I just don't think well in those spaces, and I lose patience with them quickly. But mostly, it's because Nexus Ops has completely ruined me for the whole genre. Its combination of brutal efficiency, lean playtime, constant attacking, and modest stakes is an ideal mix for me, and I just can't go back to the protracted slugfests where avoiding conflict is rewarded heavily and risk-taking can have brutal consequences. Those kinds of games rarely feel intentional in their design the way Nexus Ops does. It's such a clean design that I have a hard time finding fault with it. It's just that good, or perhaps more accurately, right for me. I'm glad the game is more widely available now, thanks to an ugly-as-sin reprint from Fantasy Flight that I don't think sold that well. The version to find though is the Wizards of the Coast edition from 2005. With its ludicrous day-glo colors and garish yellow box, its the game that every 14-year-old gamer deserves but didn't have until 15 years ago.
How did I get it? As a part of TWBG, I have met a lot of wonderful people. One of those people happened to live near me in the Kansas City area, so we had a couple chances to get together and play some stuff. On one of those occasions he was showing me his new purchase of the gargantuan Designer Edition of Ogre, perhaps the biggest game I've ever seen for such a small, lean design. Since he didn't feel like he wanted it anymore, he gave me his edition of the 1987 printing, what at the time was called the Deluxe Edition.
Why do I still have it? I haven't played Ogre much, and frankly I'm not sure I'll ever play it again. But in all of the various game purges I've made in the last five years, no one has ever been interested in taking it off my hands. It's just tagged along with me, a vestigal reminder of a larger, less focused collection.
How is it? Honestly, Ogre is a good game. It's a focused design from a time when game designs were not known for their focus, particularly wargames like this one. I have always admired how cleanly it established not just its asymmetrical sides, but its own little post-apocalyptic world to play in. There's something wonderfully primal about the story here: a monstrous unstoppable tank (the titular Ogre) has to be stopped by the defenders before it can make it across the map. That makes sense, and I love how the defenders can create the exact defense force they want. I keep on trying to convince my son to play, but I've not yet been successful. That might be because from my standpoint Ogre still feels a little leaky. The biggest issue is that I don't see how the defenders win without a lot of good luck. Maybe that's true, maybe it's not, or maybe that's exactly what people want. But it's never been compelling enough for me to pick apart, personally. More than that, like a lot of early 1980s wargames, there is a LOT of dice-rolling in Ogre, to the point where I feel like it kind of slows the game down. I don't want to be too down on it, because I've never engaged with it that deeply. But it's more of a mild admiration than a burning desire to play.
Omen: Reign of War
How did I get it? This one arrived to me in a math trade a few years back. It was one of those mid-list picks that you forget you put on your wantlist, but I'm glad it ended up the way it did. My copy is the second edition, the first time John Clowdus and Small Box Games used Kickstarter. That means it has a nice long box with nice illustrations and metal coins, as well multiple copies of the different cards.
Why do I still have it? Because I love it, that's why. The original Omen was one of those love-at-first-sight situations that blew me away on first play. The temptation has never been to get rid of it, but rather to rebuy it in one of its countless new iterations. I've resisted that temptation so far, because I generally try not to rebuy games, and because I don't want to encourage edition churn that has already become too prevalent in Kickstarter games. But this one isn't going anywhere.
How is it? There's a parallel version of me where I got into CCGs on some level, but in this universe Omen is all I really need. Thanks to expansions, supplementary cards, and some BGG jiggery-pokery, I've been able to recreate the newest version (Olympus Edition, for those keeping score at home) using the 2nd Edition cards, which is good enough for me. The Olympus Version is, I think, the best one, but it does speak to the single biggest issue with Omen, which is its ridiculous edition confusion. It takes a very long explanation to clarify why my game is a certain way, and why other editions of the game are completely different, and the documentation from Small Box Games has been severely lacking in this department. But in the end the game is what matters, and this is one of the very best combos-upon-combos games there is. When you play with the 2e rules especially, you end up with an extremely unstable game. It scratches a similar itch to Innovation, a ferociously chaotic experience that keeps on showing you new bizarre situations. The dark Greek mythology theme sells it too, making this one of the best illustrated games I know of, something that Small Box Games often excels at. While I've not yet played the newest version from Kolossal Games, I'm glad that the game exists in some form on store shelves. John Clowdus has always gained a certian street cred from being a niche designer, but this is one design that should be as widely available as possible.
Omen: Edge of the Aegean
How did I get it? I Kickstarted this bad boy back in 2016, right in the blush of falling in love with the original Omen. This one brings some memories as well, since it arrived at a time when I was in the middle of a cross-country move. I actually had it sent to my new address, and it arrived just after I did.
Why do I still have it? Like most Small Box titles, Edge of the Aegean benefits greatly from being in, well, a small box. There was about a 12-18 month period where they all shipped in black boxes with gold printing, and it looks nice. I mean, it's a good game too, but it's such a convenient size it almost doesn't need to be.
How is it? The world didn't exactly need an alternate version of Omen, and it certainly doesn't need the endless parade that Klossal seems intent on throwing at us, but this one at least is quite good. It's a far more focused game than its big brother, involving a mere 22 game cards and wrapping up in a tidy 20 minutes without much variance. It does require a certain level of experience to pull off, with less of the destabilizing combos that distinguished Reign of War. This is a somewhat more considered game, which brings it more in line with the other limited designs of John Clowdus. Reign of War feels wilder and more untamed, but this is a better summation of the Small Box Games design ethos. It's never going to be as loved by me, because the wildness is why I liked Omen in the first place. But it's a very densely packed card game, and yet another display of John Clowdus's considerable design chops.
Pack & Stack
How did I get it? Sheer dumb luck, that's how. My wife played this when it first came out in English, way back in 2008, and she fell in love with it right away. I guess we assumed it would be available for a while, but I guess it wasn't a big hit, because it wasn't around for very long. It became the one that got away for her, the one she always wanted but wasn't willing to pay import prices for. But then we were visiting a particular game store in the Kansas City area, and saw it there on a shelf, sandwiched between other forgotten titles, collecting dust. The shop had never priced it down, but it didn't matter. We bought it then and there.
Why do I still have it? If there's any game we own that can be called my wife's game, it's this one. She loves it, from its cute illustrations to its highly approachable gameplay, it's just the sort of thing she loves. The part I think she really enjoys is the ability to pack things as efficiently as possible into the back of a little truck. That flips all sorts of switches for her, so small wonder that she fell in love with it.
How is it? Pack & Stack is, if I'm being honest, not much of a design. Each round involves a single difficult decision, the selection of trucks. It's not an easy one to make, because you're grabbing one as fast as you can. But that's the whole round right there, because actually packing it is a non-decision. Either stuff fits, or it doesn't, and you'll know which it is right away. And yet...I kind of like it. I like how fast it is, and I like the little wooden pieces you load into the back of the truck. It's a very affable game, the kind of thing that only German game designers seem interested in making. It won't win any design awards, but I've come to appreciate Pack & Stack for its easy fun. It's the sort of game I can play with anyone, which is an important quality to have in your collection.
Next time: Colors, sea turtles, quilting, and the best game ever designed about playing a utilities company.