Articles

  • Were you born 200 years too early, or 200 years too late?

  • At times when I’m reading I unexpectedly wade into something much deeper than it initially appears. A turn of the page reveals a moment when the author suddenly stands on his head, and these are the moments that make it worthwhile.

    “Clausewitz likened war to a game of cards rather than chess because he saw chance and uncertainty as being just as important as precise tactical calculation. More recently, it has become popular for scholars like Culham and Kagan to apply modern scientific concepts of nonlinearity and 'chaos theory' to warfare, just as Clausewitz had appropriated earlier scientific ideas such as 'friction' and a 'centre of gravity'.

    claus

  • What can I say? I had my Essen editorial already in the can over at Gameshark.com before the news about the Mayfair decision broke so I didn't write about it. Yet, somehow the rampant consumer feeding frenzy that always follows in the wake of Essen is still relevant in the discussion. Are Eurogamers willing to pay full price for CONTAINER, KINGSBURG, and fucking HAMBURGUM? Probably not.

    This is a copy of an article originally published on the old F:AT blog. Read original comments

  • In a previous article I touched on two very different games that had something very much in common -- they had the ability to provide a level of complexity and immersion that lifted their play off the table, put the play into the players as much as the pieces.  And for the obvious reason I find that very rewarding.  These are big games with small rulesets, games that sneak up on you.

  • Mayday Mayday

  • Baby it's cold outside

    This time of year, you'll find plenty of radio stations who are on a constant 24-hour Christmas music rotation.  Most of them start around midnight Thanksgiving and carry straight through Christmas.  The idea is to gorge yourself on a veritable buffet of cheerful holiday sounds, sending you into a glazed but mostly pleasant Christmas mood.

    Here are the five songs you're likely to hear this season that will not engender the desired holiday spirit...in fact, enough exposure to these, and you might go on a Feliz Navidad-fueled killing spree.

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  • An infrequent look at gaming with the solo player in mind……


  • When he paused I knew he was a Cylon.  He didn't need to do anything.  Pause, Cylon.  As he stuttered I imagined a brig door at the far end of the huge ship swinging open.

    Alright maybe you need a little bit of background into the group to appreciate that this has nothing to do with strategy or tactics.  I'm a tactical guy don't get me wrong; I can work the decision tree with the best of them.  But sometimes it's even easier than that, and maybe even more dependable.  Commander Adama was Commander Adama for a reason, and that's pretty much all I needed to figure out where this guy was coming from.

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  • I don't like to do end of the year lists. Some games get overhyped, some games will be overlooked and nobody really knows how any of them will stand the test of time. So I'd like to do a retrospective and look back at how games from 2011 are doing. I feel like five years is plenty of time for a game to cement itself as a success or failure. So let's hop in my time machine and head back to the days when Charlie Sheen was #WINNING, Deathly Hallows Part Two was concluding and I sang Katy Perry and Brit Brit nonstop in my car. Oh, for those of you wondering my time machine is a giant oversized shoe. Nobody ever suspects a shoe.

  • 2013-textEvery year I like to indulge myself in a slightly more personal article about how I'm feeling when it comes to gaming and writing and the year gone by. Not too much detail, of course: I'm British and as we all know, the British never talk about their feelings, only moan about the weather, the loss of empire and how other nations constantly misunderstand our wonderfully self-depcreating sense of humour. But if you're expecting someting a little less insular and game-focussed well, you have been warned.

    Regular and observant visitors to the site will have noticed that I've slipped a long way from the weekly schedule I upheld at the beginning of the year. There's a lot of reasons for this. Partly it's because I've had a tough year, with a lot of real-life things occupying my time. Partly it's a lack of inspiration - I feel I've covered most of the big topics that originally motivated me to write. But those aren't the big issues.

    So, what gives?

    Motivation

    I said toward the end of last year that I thought 2013 was a bad year for board gaming, and got a fair amount of opprobrium as a result. It's 2014 now and I've played some of the games that everyone was feting at the end of the previous year and I still think it was a bad year for board gaming. I've yet to get round to Pathfinder (which doesn't sound my cup of tea) or Space Cadet Dice Duels (which does) but I don't think two games are going to transform my opinion of the whole year's crop. I still think the best games I played last year were reprints - Sekigahara and Circus Train.

    It could be that I'm just getting tired of board games. But I've looked at that feeling, and looked at it again, and it just 'aint so. I still love playing board games and seek out opportunities to enjoy them. It's just that increasingly I'm motivated to play what I've already got rather than look at new things.

    I long ago formed a belief that board game design was a generally process of iterative improvement. Fantasy adventure board games of the early 90's were generally better than those of the 70's and 80's. And games like Mage Knight and Descent 2nd edition have come to trump those in turn.

    But after the influx of creativity that came from combining European and American style games into something new, the process has slowed. Newer games are generally still better than their counterparts of a few years ago, but not a lot. And as a result I've found my appetite for taking the time to punch and sort, learn and teach, play and explore newer titles has waned. I'm more curious about completing expansion sets to get the biggest punch out of the games I already know and love.

    There are exceptions. I've hugely embraced the creative storytelling aspect of board gaming because it brings something utterly unique to the experience, something that video games and to some extent even role-playing games cannot do. And by storytelling I mean it literally: I'm talking about games like Once Upon A Time which revolve around the players actually telling stories. Winter Tales and Story Realms both look like hot tickets to me this year.

    The other exception is the endgame of a process that our own Peter Putnam predicted would happen some years back: I'm slowly turning into a more dedicated wargamer. Increasingly the games that catch my eye are light(ish) consims that cover interesting bits of history I can't already game through my collection. My brief on Shut Up & Sit Down to cover wargames has increased the pace, but I was already a fair way down the road - otherwise I'd never have had the knowledge to write a decent genre reivew in the first place. 

    Money

    So, now you know what I'm likely to be writing about this year, we can go back to last year. While it's been a difficult time personally, it's been an amazing time professionally. What started out as a tiny trickle of welcome additional income from reviewing children's games on iOS has exploded into a regular second income covering video games generally on both mobile and PC. I've even had a few commissions writing about actual board games.

    I love this site, and its community. But to be honest, delightfully alluring as you all are, you can't quite hold a candle to a solid paycheque. And as I've gone further and further down the paid route I've realised a lot of the stuff I used to write here was guff. Opinion style pieces are easy to write but worthless without research, external opinions, evidence. Reviews that deconstruct games mechanically are easy to write but worthless without critical insight, a clear reviwer's tilt and some emotional resonance.

    But writing things like that is hard. It demands concentration, planning and effort. And the older I've got, and the more my free time has dwindled, I've become increasingly unwilling both to put in that time for nothing, or to toss off articles without putting it in.

    It's not all bad news. I still regard a review copy as payment in kind for writing reviews, so there's still good motivation for writing reviews. And I remain happy to toss off articles on subjects about which I know little but you all enjoy - comics, films, TV - as an excuse to link back to what I get paid to post elsewhere.

    Moaning

    Am I sounding like a spoiled little rich boy? Maybe. I apologise if so. But I am planning to do something about it.

    Firstly I'm going to try and take up a little of the slack by filling in with some brief revisits to games I've already reviewed when I've got nothing else to post of a Monday. Board gaming could use some more retrospective reviews, so I think there's value there.

    But secondly, and perhaps more interestingly, I'm launching a crowdfunding effort to try and get a little cash in return for devoting time to proper board game articles: well-planned reviews, in depth-intereviews, properly reseached opinion pieces. Kickstarter is product focussed and isn't really the place for that sort of thing, so instead I'm using Patreon, which can be configured for people who are looking for small monthly fees instead of a grand total.

    You can see my pitch here. If you like it, please consider spreading it around, or even signing up to contribute. Because if it takes off, you know where the articles that get commissioned as a result are going to end up, right? Here, on the Fortress. And with any luck they might bring some of the wider world along with them,

  • Seriously. 2 years ago I had a balanced life, ate nutritious foods carefully hand-picked from all major food groups, had a nice relationship, a generous portion of sleep and enough spare time to irrigate an island group of decent proportions and still have time to catch re-runs of "Will & Grace". In short: I had a relatively balanced life. Ok, I shouldn't have mentioned that last bit, but I was just making a point.
    And then it all went awry...


  • Let's play a game.  I step into a room with all of you, 52 of my favorite game-playing friends.  I crack open a deck of cards, toss out the jokers and deal out one card to each of you.  Go ahead and spend a moment to imagine a card for yourself, that way you can have a stake in this even if it's only in your mind.

  • sphinx

    The majority of games I play are with 2 - 5 players, but every once in while I'm in a situation where we have 8 or more people who want to play a game together.  Sometimes this is at cons or when people have traveled a long distances to play some games together.  Sometimes this could be when family gets together, and Aunt Betty or your nephew Melvin says, "Hey do have a game that 10 people,  from an 8 year old to an 80 year can play?"  Either way these 8+ player games can be incredibly fun experiences for everyone.   One of the keys for 8+ players is having fairly simple rules, and to have a pit boss or teo help keep people on track.  Sometimes playing a big party game can be like herding cats.   Here's the list:

  • A look at four of Columbia's block wargame offerings.

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  • Talisman is a favorite game of mine. I play the new revised 4th edition fairly often. It is, deep down, a light fantasy adventure game that can at times be quite cutthroat. It is very much an "experience" game, and a lot of the enjoyment in the game is derived from the role-playing bits, the adventuring and exploring aspect, and in seeing what happens to you and your opponents as you each take desperate risks in this harsh world in an attempt to get ahead. It is not a game of tactics or of mathy optimization. It is a game of strategic decisions, though. FFG has done a great job with the new revised edition, not only giving the game great components, but increasing the amount of strategy in the game (especially with the expansions).  

  • If there are errors in this I apologize but…

    I have just returned from my first Gen Con, and my brain hurts from sobering up from the four days of drunkenness, my eyes hurt from getting almost no sleep, and my feet are in agony from standing on concrete for what seems like forever.  But I could not be happier after having spent four glorious days among gaming nerds (both my most-liked and least-liked people on earth).