S02E15 – Board Games WTF

Today’s episode of Save Vs. Rant is focused on bizarre board games – those that evoke a perplexity or, perhaps, intrigue. The qualifying factors for this discussion are not whether the game is good or bad or anything particular in between, but just how strange a given game is. How unique its mechanics or play style. Join us on this adventure, won’t you?

Legacy Games represent a tremendous innovation in gaming history, and while it is completely fair to credit Rob Daviau with the formal invention of them, arguably the Roleplaying Lite games (Hero Quest and its ilk) were the first to do this, and roleplaying games themselves serve as a framework for the concept. Risk Legacy is typically cited as the first legacy game, but Gloomhaven and Pandemic Legacy represent true refinement of the concept. Gloomhaven is especially interesting (and a little strange) in that it introduced the concept of personal goals and hidden scenario goals. These accomplish one of the most groundbreakingly important concepts in cooperative games – giving the players a reason to not cooperate without making someone a “traitor.” Historically, coop games have either been of the sort where there is no significant reason that a single player couldn’t solo the game just taking multiple turns himself as different players, or the sort where there’s a player who secretly works against all the others. Gloomhaven introduced a third mechanic wherein a player not only might want to selfishly obtain resources for himself (gold coins and treasure strewn about the dungeon) but also might have goals that run counter to the best move, giving them a reason to do something other than play the most optimal strategy they can determine.

(At the time of this blog post, Gloomhaven is the #1 game on BoardGameGeek.com, while Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 has fallen to the #2 position.)

Vast: The Crystal Caverns is one of the most bizarre and unique multiplayer experiences we’ve had in a fairly simple game. Each player takes on a different role, be it the tribe of goblins, the adventurer or the dragon (additional players may be the rogue or the cave itself). What makes Vast so bizarre is that everyone plays with a completely unique set of rules for how they interact with the cavern and their resources.

The Grizzled is a game set in the miserable trenches of WWI where the only point is to survive. It’s a fairly straightforward game, but the rules forbidding table talk make it a tense and sometimes frustrating experience. Notably, not only do you have difficulty in knowing which hazards to be prepared for, the support tokens you place are likewise secret and require you to anticipate and balance the group’s needs. Like Gloomhaven, this avoids the common quarterbacking problem of cooperative games by introducing a reason other than simple betrayal to not always make the “optimal” move.

Flick ’em Up is a unique concept, flicking “bullets” at meeple to simulate a wild west gunfight. It does not, however, permit flicking with the index finger supported by the thumb – merely a loose single-finger flick. This is, genuinely, more difficult and results in sometimes wild shots. Catacombs does permit such powerful flicks, so if the integrity of a game’s flicking mechanics are important to you, you might prefer it.

Terraforming is a hard scientific look at what transforming Mars into an earth-like planet would conceivably entail. Introducing hard scientific concepts into a game is not completely unprecedented (Evolution likewise contains strong scientific inspiration) but it is an interesting and, frankly, unusual approach in a game not explicitly intended to be educational.

Of course, there are other board games (and, indeed, entire categories of board games) that might also qualify as WTF, and we may very well revisit the topic. Hopefully, in part, because of the emergence of bold new concepts in tabletop gaming!

Join us next time when we discuss The Game Crafter!

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