Pax Transhumanity – a review

I decided to break my rule of 10 plays with Pax Transhumanity and do a review with only 7 plays. Most of them were 2-3 players, but one game was solo to remember how to syndicate and commercialize ideas before playing again! This may be a bit long, there’s a lot to talk about here as this is a very intriguing game and one that is easier to play than Pax Ren, but much more difficult to strategize around to win because it is about solving problems and creating companies and not destroying Sultans or triggering the military phase of the Reformation. The first time we played, two of the players did not like the game, but we have played since and that feeling has changed, for some of us at least.

Form Factor

This is your typical Sierra Madre /Ion Games game that is a MASSIVE game in a teeny tiny box, with minimal components and lots of cards. Like Greenland, I can grab this off the shelf and go anywhere with it. Sierra Madre’s efficiency of components is a wild post-Fantasy Flight concept and one everyone should copy. There is a folding board for the game, but you do not need it at all. This game made me look at a lot of the games I have that come in huge boxes, that don’t need them at all (Condotierre, Hit Z Road, and a few others) based on the included components. I think there’s a stigma of small box games in that they are always light and generally have limited gameplay and especially replay-ability. While there are entire sections in the game store for the ‘light smallbox games, looking at Pax, Bios and Innovation/Glory to Rome, the ‘we need a big ass box to be taken seriously’ should be re-assessed: pronto.

The Theme

Pax Transhumanity assumes that mankind is going to have a technical renaissance that will improve our lot as well as some nuclear or biological warfare exchanges which we will survive rather than succumbing to a The Road style post-apocalyptic dark age. In the game you play as very strange societal benefactors/investors. One is a Doctor, one is a Citizen, one is a Colonel and one is… a Blogger? I’m not sure where these came from or what thematically they are supposed to represent. What they are good at though is 1) having a patent in a specific scientific discipline at the start of the game 2) being able to raise a SHITLOAD of money from investors 3) having a secret goal that may score them points at the end of the game.

Your goal? Create a bunch of companies (tycoon victory) or solve a bunch of very serious problems in the world (like pollution) that score points at the end of the game based on the ‘regime’ in play at the time. You are competing with other players to have the most of these rather than attaining a certain goal (like Pax Porf where you become the head of most of Mexico, either on your own or as part of the United States, or Pax Ren where you usher in a certain type of society in Europe and go down in history as it’s architect and financier).

There are multiple ways to score, and multiple ways to win, but this is not a point salad, in fact it is distinctly an ANTI point salad game. Every single point is hard fought and precious and with the exception of your secret goal, open to easy assessment by the other players at any time. End game scoring takes about a minute or two, which is a breath of fresh air for everyone who got suckered into playing Coimbra or Everdell at some point and can never get that time back.

The cards in the game represent future tech and are the heart of the game, there are oodles of conjecture from all over the sci-fi map from Open Source Sexuality (oh yeah!) to a trapped AI ‘God’ to Reverse Cyborgs and rather mundane techs like Bio-printing, electronic textiles and a universal biometric database whos black heat is Secret Police of course. Some are game-change powerful and some are barely worth bothering with except as a research project to get another tech. With only 38 of these in any given game, you won’t see all the cards for a long time.

Art is OK, not stylish or taking any chances, it’s very passable and safe (like Pax Viking, which was a bit of a shame). Graphic design is fantastic for usability.

The Play

There are four major interlocking parts to Pax Transhumanity. First is the Market which is a conveyor of cards that replace a card auction, random draws or drafting. Each of which may or may not effect play during the game depending on what the players do. These cards can be funded by syndication, researched to give patents or commercialized to score points or have other effects.

Second is the finance board, which totally removes the need for money chits or tokens from the game and was obviously the inspiration for the Riverfolk in Root. On this board each player has cubes that reside in Capital (best), Wealth (OK) and Debt (not good). They move down to generate needed money or move upwards when players fundraise. This is the only currency in the game, and it’s brilliant.

Third are the ‘Sphere’ boards which are assigned to each of four markets. These spheres represent areas in the game where the market is active, much like the refugia from Bios Genesis. The spheres are First World, Third World, Cloud and Space. These also hold where the problems reside as well as sphere-specific companies and utilities. Spheres are the strangest and most important part of the game, so if you sit down to play this, make sure you know what these do.

Spheres allow players to generate the work needed to do research and to commercialize from either companies or public utilities by hiring workers. Workers are represented by player cubes (employees) that move down the Sphere boards when they do work. For example, if a player wants to research an idea in the Cloud, he must have an ‘idea’ worker in the cloud sphere. If he would like to commercialize that same idea, he must have a ‘maker’ worker in the cloud sphere. This was difficult to grok at first, especially since where the worker comes from (a company or utility) defines what can be done with the work in the case of research (patents or the think tank).

Fourth is the human progress splay which represents technological progress for all human kind, or at least, for the player’s technology companies. The splay serves two purposes. First it makes ideas in the market viable for commercialization based on the color pairs in the splay. For example if there is a color pair of blue/green in the splay, blue/green idea cards are viable for commercialization from that point on. Second it is a repository for agents that are keeping down ‘heat’ around a technology advance or exposed heat that will come back to bite the players up the ass when there are nuclear exchanges (representing periods where society becomes unglued). For example, Dr. Fauci and Christian Andersen would be considered agents in this game, agents whose sole purpose is to keep the heat off of people working on gain of function research on coronaviruses which their controllers funded and commercialized in the form of a coronavirus vaccine (which is an amazing technological advance still in it’s early and experimental stage). Funny how that is all modelled in this game!

The idea market seems familiar to Pax players (and Bios too) but you never ‘own’ any of the cards in the game and there is no player-only tableau. Cards in the market can be Syndicated which means their special rules text applies to that player or in a player’s think tank (also allowing special rule effects) or residing in the ‘human progress splay’ which again is a marker for the technological progress of human society as a whole.

Idea cards have a color pair (like blue/green) and various impacts that happen once they are commercialized. Most of these solve some problem and the player that commercializes the idea gains that problem chit as a potential victory point. Idea cards may also allow companies to be created, more agents to be added to player’s finance boards or other positive or negative game effects.

The pathway to victory lies in choosing cards you want to commercialize and then work towards that by making them viable either via patents you have or your think tank (both created via research) or wait until it becomes viable for all via the human progress splay. You need work for all this, so hiring workers into companies, creating companies or using utilities effectively is a big part of the game.

The kicker is that the human progress splay controls what the current ‘world regime’ is, which determines what scores more points than other problems. If you want to cut out the mystery, go for the Tycoon victory and create companies. If you go the problem route, you need to make sure that the global regime is in line with your problems/companies when the game ends, or alternatively NOT in line with your opponents. Game ends when a “tipping point’ card is commercialized (most of the time…).

Orange-Orange all the way up inside the Cloud.

Whew, that’s a lot. Like Pax Ren, there are some difficult mechanisms to deal with in the game and timing them is critical. For example, when to research, when to commercialize or when to move cards from one market to another are clutch choices to stop other players from going after things you don’t want them to. Most of this won’t be evident the first time you play the game, so you have to get over the hump a bit with plays before the strategy is able to come out. Again, I equate this to the timing and orchestrating of revolts in Pax Ren– not an easy thing to handle since there are so many types with so many different effects.

Now to the review part (finally). There are some ticky-tacky parts of this game that may reduce your enjoyment of it, even after a few plays, but what will start to fascinate your and other players is the sheer madness that starts to occur when the market is laid out at first and then when the Cloud and Space markets are all filled with cards. The possibilities become maddening as there are just so many mechanics to play with. There is a shitload of idea cards and only 38 of them will show up potentially in any game. If Open Source Sexuality is a critical part of your strategy, there’s no telling whether it will be in any game or not. Sometimes a bunch of very powerful idea cards all start in the game at the same time and cause chaos in the market and human progress splay, or set the game up for massive casualties later with tons of black heat that player’s couldn’t afford a Dr. Fauci to cover up early game.

This chaos mitigation is what I love most about the Pax series of games. You just never know what will happen either from other players actions or the market. Opportunities must be seized but at what cost and what will happen next. Transhumanity is less cut-throat than the other Pax games with little direct attacks (remember, there is no tableau in the game), however subtle moves or firing up a combo that lets you research critical cards out of the game or control the global regime via the splay are just as satisfying as the black and orange cards from Pax Porf.

Pax Trans has a very rough learning curve, and at times I thought it was more difficult to learn than Pax Ren, but if you stick with it, there is an amazing and nuanced game here that rewards multiple plays even in the same day. The game is not particularly long at all, and can be hammered out in about an hour and some change after your first game.

Player counts. I think at higher player counts, say 3-4, this is a bit of a rough ride due to turn angst. I would hazard to say that 3 is the max I would want to play with and this is quite a good 2-player game. 4 players– I’ve never played with that many but I might go insane waiting for my turn.

Heuristic issues are very few in this game, especially compared to something like Twilight Imperium, but there is one that bothered us and that’s remembering the two actions per turn. You only get two, which is the same as Pax Pamir and Pax Ren, but for some reason it’s hard to keep track if you have taken 1 or 2 actions in a turn. I think it’s because a few of the actions are very complex, such as research and commercialize where you are making work, spending money and triggering effects on cards. I know during all of my games I either took an extra action or didn’t take my second action and certainly so did my opponents.

Strategy and subtle combos abound in this game and reward multiple plays. They aren’t as bullrushy as Pax Pamir with it’s Free Action / Switch Suit /Free Action trickery, but combining favorable impacts with some of the powers that you’ve syndicated or think tanked is probably more satisfying. Winning the game is about either preventing the Tycoon company rush or doing it yourself most games. When that doesn’t happen and it defaults to problem scoring, you need to make sure the global regime favors your secret problem suit or you have overwhelming ‘open’ problems solved in that suit. It can be very tricky as the game goes on and more and more technologies become viable, the Human Progress Splay can become crazy. Lastly, you can destroy other players by posting your agents on black heat in the splay, so watch for those opportunities and especially card powers that let you retroactively add agents to heat late game. When the nukes go off, your companies will still be there!

Bottom line, this is an amazing design that has a ridiculously steep learning curve. It’s a cheap game (45$) and has a very small box so there’s little reason for you not to give this a shot, or coerce someone in your game group to buy it.

Here are some resources:

Phasing Player’s learning video

How to win video – this is important

Phil Eklund and Jon Manker discussion about the game

Shadow Planet: The Board Game

Another indy kickstarter I failed not to back. Based on a Graphic Novel (or maybe the other way around), this looks to be a similar game in theme to Stationfall as in: Space, Aliens, Paranoia, except this one is a deck builder. I got suckered in by the art, and then read more about the game and was impressed by what it is trying to do.

I’d like my character ability cancelled by Jenna Scott too.

While there’s a lot of the appearance of FOMO created around the CMON kickstarters, the recent purge of old Kickstarter exclusive content on Miniature market for SMOG, the Others, Hate (kickstarter only in the first place!) and other games means that no matter what is labelled ‘exclusive’ by CMON, it will always come out eventually, and sometimes at very reasonable prices.

The real FOMO is these little kickstarters from new companies that barely make their funding goals and if they don’t the games never come out. I remember an adventure game a few years ago with a really cool map/art that didn’t hit it’s goal, and was never heard from again.

Yes, you may be tempted by CMON, FF or various large publishing company’s kickstarters, but it can really pay off to check out what the small guys are doing (Dungeon Degenerates!), even if you get burned by some mediocre games from time to time (such as Murder at Devil Pines).

StationFall

While my current stance on big publishers kickstarting games is— don’t back, I’ve been a sucker for some small or new publishers having their first go, as it should be. Making an exception with Ion Games (publishers of Pax, Greenland, Bios series games) is due to Matt Ecklund’s (and Phil Ecklund and Jim Gutt) Pax Porfiriana being astounding and becoming a new bell weather for what makes a good games. His last published game, Pax Transhumanity, is also an amazing design, and really grows on you the more you play. After listening to Phasing Player’s interviews with Matt on his games, I became stoked for his new game that just hit kickstarter: STATIONFALL.

This is a 1-9 player game that takes place on a collapsing space station where players have their own goals (not just the characters in the game). What this looks like to me is the Paranoia RPG in a board game– where people are trying to get characters back to base alive to tell the story about how X or Y other character wrecked the station/mission. All lies of course! Here is the BGG page.

There are so many… so damn many design-by-the-numbers worker placement engine building point salad games, anything that is in opposition to that gets my attention and should yours!

This is on Kickstarter now.

It is also immediately available on Table Top Simulator if you want to try it out.

Van Saar – test model WIP

I wanted to start the year as I mean to go on, and PAINT SOME SHIT. I’ve actually done quite a bit of painting recently trying to get my copy of The Others to a state where I can play a game with all painted minis, but this week, with (almost) no more Goliaths to paint, I started a test model for my Van Saar gang.

I started with a spare Eldar Guardian to test out the scheme and it turned out almost good enough to continue on to one of the Van Saar models from the excellent but very difficult to build GW kit. I have a bit of patience for painting, but NONE for putting shit together. Please help me.

I’m a very sloppy painter, so fantasy miniatures and grungy stuff (like Goliaths and Orlocks) are much easier for me. The Van Saar will take a lot of precise edge highlighting, which is not my strong suit.

Any way here’s the guardian:

And here is the progress on the Van Saar.

Base Colors
Just after doing the metal, lots left to do but hard parts are done.
Getting close to done.

The female heads in this kit have no hair, and it can look OK with just a pure bald head, but as I looked at it more, I just thought it looked lame with this color scheme as the skin color is not totally far from the high armor color, so I did a light grey wash over her tonsured scalp and there you go–looks a lot better. I’m going to get the Forgeworld Van Saar heads for the other females and other dudes. Those gals have hair!

She ended up looking a bit like Thug Rose (not that a Van Saar would ever smile).

Anyway, a start to the year of painting at least. If I can get these guys done by summer, it will be a miracle.

Best of 2020 – Board Games!

What came out this year that was great? Not much. 2018-to-now the majority of board game design has pretty thoroughly descended into extremely formulaic games with three specific traits in all: very little player interaction, a focus on engine building, with a point salad at the end (again, because if you knew who was winning, you would target them, and that’s a no no these days).

Root was a breath of fresh air last year in this rather fetid tide of same-gameness. Root showed to many people that you CAN and should have constant player conflict and this won’t hurt people’s feelings and most importantly, can be extremely fun. The body of my board game collection is held up by the spine of Cosmic Encounter, Dune, Shadowfist, Eclipse, Study in Emerald, Root and now the Pax games with everything else sort of filling in niche interests for me like euros (Brass) or co-ops / dungeon crawls (Massive Darkness). Almost all the games I like the most have direct player conflict and the potential for massive hamstringing, which is in direct opposition to the current trends in design. I’m hoping the success of Root will engender more designers to build COIN style games and gamers to take an interest in Cole Wherle, Phil Ecklund and the COIN series (and offshoots).

For many people this was a tough year to get gaming in face to face, but we managed it quite a bit later in the summer and especially Fall. Due to this, not quite as many games hit the table, especially anything new. Frankly having to learn new stuff this year felt tiresome with the infrequency we got to play– we went for the meat and potatoes this year: mostly shit we already knew how to play. I only played three new games this year, and one was a new version: Eclipse: Second Dawn, Godzilla: Tokyo Clash and Fort. Fort was not my type of game at all, and we only got one play in before I traded it, so game of 2020 that was released in 2020 is definitely Eclipse: Second Dawn... which is really just an update of a 2011 game after all.

Second Dawn is good, but it’s MUCH harsher than the first edition with serious players. You get one shot for the win now that it’s down to only 8 turns, and if you have a bad run of tiles, a really bad dice run in battles, there is no chance to come back into the game– you just can’t pivot to another strategy like in the old game. Some players will like this, others will not. I will definitely need to play Eclipse more before deciding on which of the versions is better. I hate to say it because I absolutely despised Twilight Imperium 3rd edition, but I have to give TI4 a try before calling Eclipse the reigning king of 4X space games. You know, ones that can actually hit the table instead of just sitting on a shelf because they are too complicated or system-heavy to actually play.

The game of 2019 was Root, and I really played the shit out of that last year and quite a few times this year as well, we shall see if lightning can strike twice with Leder games upcoming Oath game– which looks very…. strange.

This year the game I liked most to play was Pax Renaissance, and this isn’t even my favorite Pax game (which is Pax Porfiriana of course), it’s just the one that shows off what this type of tableau and conveyor market type of game can really do. Instead of just drawing cards or chits from a cup (a la Gangland, the Great Khan Game, King of the Tabletop), you can see what’s coming and control events to some extent. This is one of the best aspects of the Ecklund (pretty much everything) and Wallace games (Princes of the Renaissance, Study in Emerald) I love the most. Pax Pamir is a solid game, but because it uses points for victory, which is very strange compared to the other Pax games, it’s out of the running for the best Pax games– still really good though.

In light of 2020, I don’t think there will be much in 2021 that can compete with existing games, hopefully there will be some surprises. Kickstarter-wise I’m waiting on Oath, Bios Mesofauna, the new edition of Pax Renaissance, Pax Viking and what will probably be another mountain of boxes mistake: Bloodborne from CMON.

Game of 2021? Probably.

13th Age MINARIA Campaign!

You read that right, 13th Age in Minaria— the campaign setting from TSR that never was, and could have been.

For the non old-person, Minaria is the fantasy world created for the Divine Right board game, which many of us had as kids in the 80’s. While the game was a bit labyrinthian for a 9-12 year-old as a hex and counter, the map board was on the wall of my bedroom for at least 15 years. The map and counter art is by Dave Trampier, and is amazing. The Tower of Zards, Invisible School of Thaumaturgy and all the awesome mercenary units (like Hamhara the dragon) were incredibly fertile ground for the imagination as a young and now older mainge.

The mystery is why this was not turned into a Greyhawk style campaign setting by TSR as all the assets were right there– just needed someone to start writing modules for it! There were multiple articles in Dragon Magazine on Minaria and it’s environs. Anyway, time to redress this issue!

13th Age and Minaria are a great combo as the 13th Age world itself is godless and pretty generic fantasy, especially since it has no gods which I’ve always found very strange. While Runequest has a bit too much to do with the gods for me, the 13th Age world just doesn’t seem grounded. The Icons in 13th Age are really just basic concepts and with Minaria, there are oodles of Icons that are far more interesting and engaging than the stock 13th Age ones. Yet on the plus side, you have the amazing 13th Age system, which is probably my most run RPG in the last 5 years or so. While Minaria is not explicitly high fantasy, it has enough of those elements to fit well with the more gonzo fantasy of 13th Age. Minaria and Divine Right are still products of the Gonzo TSR age.

I’m not GMing this one, which is a great break from almost always GMing and I get to play a rogue, so far my favorite class for the game (among many awesome class selections). The fun part about the rogue is that you can bounce around the combat area almost at will, you rarely get stuck, and you can hammer enemies.

I’ve only been in two sessions with the group so far and we are in some rather familiar house by the sea near Port Lork at the moment… and we’ll see where this goes.

Will Gencon’s cancellation open the way for local summer cons?

Gencon just announced it’s cancellation, while at the same time scout camps are firing up and kids will be at camp in a couple weeks across the country- outdoor events in contrast to a major indoor one mostly in closed rooms with recycled air. What Gencon likely doesn’t want is to have a super-spreader event, however unlikely that is during the middle of summer, and have everyone go home and spread it around– a lot like what happens with Con Crud. Again, very unlikely, but I can see why they cancelled it. Indoors, people pressed together, people talking and yelling and getting real close. Sucks, but here we are. Gives me an excuse to finally not go after going since 1994 every…. single… time and instead stay home and game with almost the same friends that I game with at Gencon anyway. I will REALLY miss the auction though… fuck.

That said, a lot has changed in the last couple months and a lot will change in June and July. You have extremes of people who say they will never go to a bar again in 2020 and stay at home until 2021, i.e.:, the bed wetters, and others that are already out at the bars partying and going to underground speakeasy’s and secret restaurants, i.e.: the ‘get it in my body herd immunity folks’. We’ll have to see which extreme ages the best. Most will choose the middle ground, stick to small gatherings, look at the local situation and wait a bit.

What they thought would happen.
What actually happened.

My question is, will the cancellation of Gencon open the way for local cons at the same time to step up and fill the gape? They would have to be set up very quickly and frankly for the group of people most effected by the panic even more than your typical facebook Karen– nerds that are on the computers all day long with the horror of bringing every named death, every celebrity infection, every horrifying hospital and morgue story, every panic porn story about kids dying at age 9 (which was debunked, the woman was actually 94) right at their finger tips at any moment.

I’m hesitant to say yes. I think there will be small cons, maybe a beer stand, some tables at a game store an some stuff in the parking lot. There likely won’t be anything on campuses as they will sadly be closed most of the summer (and many won’t ever reopen anyway as they’ll be out of business), but it’s possible that in some places people set up conventions, especially down south where they are drinking a whole bottle of ‘I don’t give a fuck.’ If they do happen, and people divert this year to these cons, they may just continue to do so?

Would it be the year to bring Gencon back to Lake Geneva? Maybe as an all outdoor event in the summer heat? Maybe have age and health screenings in order to be able to go to any group events? You have to be under 40 and fit– and this isn’t really the demographic unfortunately– but FAR more so than when I went to gencon in the late 80’s/ early 90’s. You can’t age or health stratify any event, from sports to cons or even going to the grocery store. For liability: if you have the event and keep certain people out:litigation!, or if you have the event and someone gets sick: litigation!, all events will likely be cancelled regardless of the progress of the virus itself.

Root – why the Vagabond is meant to be the best

Having followed and played Root for almost a year now, I highly suspect from a thematic perspective that the much balance-maligned Vagabond is absolutely meant to be the strongest ‘faction’ in Root. I realize some of the vagabonds are stronger than the others, but for simplicity, I’m going to treat him as a singular faction.

First off, what is the vagabond mechanically?

He’s a timer. The way his points escalate and the fact that he can only be mitigated, never ‘beaten’ times the game. Whether it’s killing all meeples or doing quests the vagabond WILL win the game unless someone else does first. While this applies to all of the factions, many of them require certain board conditions to score that are opposed directly by other player’s faction goals, the Vagabond does not.

He has no board presence. When you look at a ROOT board, you see Cats, Cats, Cats and one area with a lot of birds. This remains this way until mid game where there are TONS of cats in one corner and quite a few birds (or moles or lizards) in other areas. The vagabond isn’t easily noticed on the board and doesn’t raise alarms because he can co-exist with other factions either in the forest or in clearings.

He’s a force multiplier. The vagabond can give other factions much needed cards and help in other ways if allied (move armies around for example). If you are friends with him, he can help you a lot– but at the cost of helping him win the game.

He has ridiculous action economy potential. While the vagabond cannot be stopped from winning eventually, the core issue is that mid to late game, he can take a shocking amount of actions, especially if factions have built items and the Vagabond has created spaces for the other players by exploring ruins (many experienced vagabond players don’t do this). Once he gets an item, unless he’s extremely unlucky with an attack on his turn, he can basically never lose that item.

He punishes the heavy crafters. While the other factions may be scoring points by building stuff (looking at you Alliance), they are also making the Vagabond that much stronger. If players don’t pay attention and suddenly two of them built swords in the same turn– watch out world.

In fighting games like Virtua Fighter or Samurai Shodown, or miniature games like Warhammer 40K or Necromunda there is always imbalance and the designers have to decide what characters or factions are better than the others, because it’s nearly impossible to balance all the sides– so they must pick some to be stronger. They usually do this due to theme.

A great example is Ken and Ryu from Street Fighter. Ken is by far the strongest against the entire roster than Ryu is. However, Ryu is basically built to beat Ken.

In some cases, sometimes designers choose the factions with the most learning curve to be the strongest– IF the player is willing to put the time in to learn them. Izayoi from Blazblue Central Fiction is a good example– very difficult to play as a new player but in the hands of someone who has put the time in, probably the best character in the game. Akira from Virtua Fighter is a very difficult character to learn and use, and while VF has no tier list (it’s just that well designed), Akira is a good example of this.

The Vagabond is the most difficult faction to learn in Root with the most word-count in rules and very ticky-tacky. However, I would argue that rules mistakes with the Vagabond usually HELP the player of that faction rather than hurt them, which is different from the Alliance which needs all of the minutiae of their mechanics to work together for the win.

While there have been some tweaks to the Vagabond since the first printing, it’s nothing major DESPITE all the weeping and crying of players when they lose time and time again to the vagabond (especially Alliance players!). Why is this? THEME.

a real jerk

I think the designers very much want to have an extremely strong (strongest in fact) Vagabond faction thematically. The Vagabond is Yojimbo. Siegen Irako. Ryunosuke Tsukue. The man with No Name. Kibagami Jubei. Patrick Bateman. This is the essential protagonist (or antagonist in some cases) in the stories they inhabit. Bateman is literally trying to destroy people’s lives to draw attention to the absurdity of modern existence. Ryunosuke is so troubled by his past crimes and compartmentalized by society (literally and figuratively at the end of the film) that he just goes ahead and tries to kill EVERYONE. Yojimbo, Jubei and the man with no name waltz into control-machine factional conflicts and tip the balance so that the entire local system collapses onto itself. This is what the vagabond’s role is in Root– upset everyone else’s systems. If you ignore him, he wins. If you attack him, it’s usually to no advantage to your own faction and may even weaken you so you are at the mercy of the other factions. This is how it’s supposed to be.

I actually posted about Irako Siegen and ROOT on board game geek a while back after finding this quote while reading the Manga:

ALL of the other factions represent hierarchical societies and fixed class systems (yes, even the Covids and the Woodland Alliance). The vagabond, like Irako Siegen, is there to repudiated them ALL.

So, the next time you get your ass handed to you by the Tinker prancing around fulfilling quests and tinkering away or one of the psycho killer vagabonds wrecking the Lizard rabble for massive points and bitch about it to everyone: remember, it’s supposed to be that way.

2019 – Favorite Stuff

Comics

2019 marks the end of the amazing career of Alan Moore with his final comic in the Tempest series of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It’s easy to make fun of the comic industry and the thousands of comics that are well produced but absolute dreck each year and in addition to that, what I think Moore was saying with Tempest is that the characters that people create are more real than reality itself and will continue on long after the society that created them has been destroyed. While everyone knows Watchmen, do check out his run in SWAMP THING, which was my first exposure to his work as a kid. Him quitting makes me feel pretty old.

Anyway, League was a very interesting series. I wish he had one more block of comics that were more the straight story (like the first two volumes) rather than getting super crazy (Tempest, Century and Black Dossier) or speeding through stories (Rose of Berlin, etc.). What I love most throughout League are the thousands of literary and comic references in each series. It’s almost too much to try to follow on your own, which is why the comics are fully annotated here. With Moore done, is there a reason to head to the comic store at this point? Not too much at the moment.

Films.

Lighthouse, Godzilla. Pretty much runs the gamut of my tastes right there. Godzilla was campy and awesome and Lighthouse was freak out like A Field in England, Mandy, and Valhalla Rising.

Star Wars 9 was interesting to see how they worked around all the problems handed to them from Episode 8 which, like Song of The South and for the same reasons, Disney should put in the vault. Yet it was not a great film and definitely had the ‘just fucking end it’ feeling. I enjoyed some parts, but it’s not worth watching again. Kylo Ren, the most interesting character played by the best actor in the series, had the weakest arc and stupidest outcome. It’s ok for Jedi, like the samurai and warrior monks that influenced them, to sacrifice themselves in battle! Fucksakes. As mixed as the series was, Adam Driver carried the team all on his own. Anyway, I’m getting pumped for sitting down with the Mandalorian though.

My favorite non-2019 movie this year was the LAST VALLEY. Never heard of it? of course you haven’t, but it’s got Omar Sharif and Michael Caine and set during the 30 years war. Among many excellent scenes, in one they play dice for a woman! 1971 had some awesome films.

I probably should have seen a lot more films this year, but just about everything seemed so boring, it’s more fun watching reviews than the actual films!

Board Games.

Root is my number 1 game for 2019. Played the shit out of it, forced everyone to play (many didn’t need it), ran a tournament at Gamehole con and I’m eagerly awaiting the expansion (though I did the print and play with the moles) which will spark up another frenzy of playing. This has killed so many games in my collection. I know this may sound strange, but it scratches the 40K and WFB itch as well.

Otherwise, my current favorites are the PAX series from Sierra Madre Games. I cannot tell you how much I love Pax Porfiriana– so much so that I haven’t even got around to Pax Pamir. Pax Transhumanity is good, but not compared to the other Pax games that I have (Ren, Pamir, Porf). Right now unfortunately for my gaming group (or fortunately if you also love these games), Pax is what I’m bringing every time.

Boardgames are in a really odd state at this point. There are amazing designs coming out, but there are so many design-by-the-numbers worker placement/engine/point salads games that are really all the same and, in general, super tedious. I don’t want to pick on Stonemier games, but they seem to be the Nickelback of boardgame publishers– just putting out the same thing: “multiplayer” solitaire, puzzle, tableau point salad games with a slapped on theme. I guess this is what people want these days. ZZzzzz…

While I’ve stopped doing boardgame kickstarters for the most part, we’ve had had some good times with Zombicide Invader but not enough to warrant the space it all takes up, so I’m on the fence with that one. My kids seem to prefer Massive Darkness anyway despite the fact that it’s much more complex. I like Invader with the kids because it’s NOT complex and I don’t have to explain tiny details all the time, or we get our ass kicked because they forget everything they have leveled up on their sheets.

I did NOT get in a bunch of games of Hate in 2019, which came out early in the year. I don’t know what to say about that one except that it is an absolute work of art from the rulebooks to the boards and especially the miniatures, which are the best that CMON has come out with by far. Seems like it may be a fun day to do a short campaign with 4-5 people, but hasn’t happened yet.

Video Games.

My game of 2019 goes to Samurai Shodown. I just got it, it came out this Summer and I should have picked it up on day one. My mistake.

The game I spent the most time on this year, which is incredible, was Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Simply an amazing open world game trying to be as historically accurate as possible. I really never expected anything like this to ever be a large, huge budget video game. Play it as soon as you can.

Lastly which is an honorable mention is RAGE 2. While the whole thing didn’t really come together, the shooting parts, as I noted in my review, are SUPERB and it’s a damn fun game with an uninspired story with the most unfortunate part being that the vehicle combat was uninteresting. I had a lot of fun with the game and will probably reinstall when there’s more DLC action.

Music.

Well there wasn’t an Aphex Twin record this year, and that’s OK because last year’s Collapse was all we needed for awhile, plus the live shows he has been doing the whole year have been incredible.

In 2019, I’ve been listening to a lot of Hadyn and some other random stuff, but I don’t think I listened to any new albums this year enough to comment. Nothing from Wisp (Dwallicht), Lord Huron, Squarpusher (he did a modern organ music thing that was pretty interesting but not on his own).

That said, I’m going to say my album of the year is Hadyn’s 64th.

This is from ’78, but also very interesting.

RPGs

Last and probably least are Role Playing Games. This year I pretty much put everything RPG on hold due to other real life stuff. Next year will be better as I’m a community leader in a certain youth paramilitary organization that’s taking up quite a bit of free time but won’t be next Fall. I did get to run DCC and Feng Shui 2 this year and played in a good Call of Cthulhu one shot, but that’s about it. Most of my RPG stuff is gathering dust so I’m probably going to shed a ton of it in 2020. My three favorite RPG’s as of now are Mythras, 13th Age and of course, Dungeon Crawl Classics.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th edition looks like it will have some awesome adventures coming out, including a redux of the Enemy Within, but after talking to some friends that played it extensively in the last year, the system has a lot of fundamental problems, which is really unfortunate in this day and age and especially after the mess that was 3rd edition by Fantasy Flight.