My favorite Cosmic Encounter Alien is back in action!

The SILENCER. With the Cosmic Odyssey big box expansion, they’ve brought back a classic.

These two images speak for themselves. This is not the best power, it’s not the strongest, it’s not going to win you games it’s specific functions is that it:

Here is the full rules. It’s not as harsh as the original one from the Mayfair version, but it’s excellent. Reminder that it’s EVERY destiny draw, not just as a main player. So aliens get ready to SHUT THE FUCK UP!

Root – New expansion has tons of toys

I just go a big old box of Root in the mail today with the Hireling boxes, the Landmark box and most importantly, the Marauder expansion that includes the Lord of the Hundreds (mice) and the Keepers in Iron (badgers). I gave it a read over the last couple hours and I’m impressed (again). This one I did not follow along with development compared to the Underworld where I print and played the early moles design quite a bit before it came out, so this is all new to me.


While the Underworld expansion was great, it just had what really amounted to a different takes on the base factions. Moles are an excellent area control faction with a strange point generation engine, but I haven’t seen much enthusiasm for the Corvids (yet), most people just pick the Alliance. The big deal out of the Underworld expansion was the co-release of the Partisan deck (which I have not had a chance to play with yet) that replaces the core suit card deck in the game. Otherwise, it wasn’t too crazy. Marauders expansion plus the addons gets crazy.

The the two new factions are really something. Both of them are “Reach” factions in that they take up space on the board with warriors in order to score (like Cats, Moles, Birds). I’m going to say more after I’ve played with or against them, but I will say the Lord of the Hundreds is a real fucker from reading the rules. People will absolutely love to hate this faction.

The big addition that changes the game quite a bit are the hirelings and the ‘Advanced Set up’ which really mix up the game. Advanced set up is probably derived from people trying to come up with a tournament ruleset on how to choose factions. This is better than what we came up with for the Gamehole Con Tournament. You basically set up a seating order, draw 5 cards from the deck, then one of the “Reach” factions is randomly selected and put on the table, then all the rest of the factions are mixed up and X are drawn and placed on the table (X = number of players). Then players in reverse seating order select a faction and set up via an advanced set up card. Lastly they discard 2 cards to the deck and keep 3 of their original 5. Can’t wait to try this out.

Hirelings are strange, but this is where the real variety in games will stem to make them all sorts of crazy. Players can control these like mercenaries when they get to certain victory point levels, but if the game goes on too long, they have to give control of them to another player, who then also may lose control of them. Most of the time they give a certain power, but in their stronger form, they add units to the map.

I didn’t read them all but my favorite is the Riverfolk pirate ship that can sail up the river or lake and raid. Great stuff. The main thing that’s odd is if a faction is in the game, the hirelings for that faction cannot be, so if you are playing a large player game, you will only get access to the neutral hirelings.

Landmarks are the last new thing and they remind me of Oath a bit. They add rules to certain clearings that can be used if you control that clearing. Cool stuff to add without having to build new maps to include it all.

Really looking forward to getting Root to the table. I’ve started a long post on ruminations after 50 face to face plays, but that may need to be delayed while I get 10 or so plays with all this new STUFF.

Massive Darkness – Chromatis, the sexist rainbow unicorn monster

I sat down with my son and his friends to get into the insanity that is Massive Darkness RNG. We decided on the Spider mission, the most difficult of the early missions in the game and one I had failed on a few times already. All of the guys had played the game and we were ready to super optimize to win, but then not only did the RNG hit with an Orc Agent (who summons mobs every turn– so nasty) being drawn the first turn onto the level 2 board (so we couldn’t immediately attack it) on turn 2 was a wandering monster! Wandering monsters are big deal most of the time but more difficult because in this mission you are on the clock chasing a giant spider Yet it shouldn’t have been absolutely unbeatable with a single draw of a card…

In the original kickstarter, they passed all their goals, and one of the Kickstarter exclusives was a rainbow unicorn named Chromatis. Lots of classic monsters were represented in the roster: Beholders, Chimeras, and the best Cockatrice miniature I’ve seen yet. All of them are pretty nasty, but nothing like Chromatis.

Chromatis’s power is anchored on what gender your characters are in the game and becomes more powerful the more of one gender there is. For each male character, it adds an auto attack, for each female, it adds a defense. So if you have a mixed gender group of characters, it’s not all that powerful. If you have all females (say if you end up with a bunch of girl or dirty old men players) you will find it incredibly difficult to score a single hit. If you have all male characters (say, if you have all 11-12 year old boys who would almost never pick a female character because they themselves aren’t girls), you will get the smack down with 7+ damage rolled each attack.

Since we drew this monster at level 1 and encountered it right when we went into the level 2 zone (before leveling up much or getting any level 2 weapons) it was an absolute slaughter, with at least one character dying each turn. We ran out of lightbringer resurrects instantly and the game was over.

While we were cleaning up, unprompted, my son said “that is a sexist monster” and I thought about that for awhile– while it seems like it’s not horrible design– why on earth would it matter to the people that made this game that would want to punish a group for having either all girls or all guys in their party? Why would anyone think that was a good idea when there are tons of choices to make a balanced party from either gender (which they did on purpose).

Chromatis is a stupid design and should just get tossed into the bottom of the box. If you are chasing down this as a kickstarter exclusive, don’t bother.

Cosmic Odyssey!!!

!!!!!!! (lots of exclamation points).

Fantasy Flight has done a wonderous job with Cosmic Encounter for the last decade+. The last expansion was superb and this one looks very interesting as it’s a CAMPAIGN version.

Interesting, are those moons? YES! is one made of cheese?

“This mode sees you and your fellow Cosmic Encounter-ers leading coalitions of aliens through a series of games across the cosmological “ages” while garnering prizes along the way. These prizes can be used in subsequent ages or saved for the final age. However, regardless of your win/loss record during the journey, every player that’s declared a winner in the Final Age Game is crowned a Campaign Winner.”

I’m super pumped. This is out in July so we don’t have too long to wait.

Here is the first article on the expansion.

Taking on the HEAVY Eklund

My tastes have changed in boardgames since I started playing Root and exploring it’s influences (Pax and COIN among others). The games of a certain cloud of designers that have, for me at least, put the last nail in the coffin for the tired, samey design by the numbers point salad games or games pretending to be one thing, but are actually another because of big Ameritrash pieces (i.e.:Scythe). When you head down the Root rabbit hole and try to piece that game together from it’s origins, there’s a list designers that are huge parts of the puzzle along with Cole Wherle: Volko Ruhnke, the Hollanspeil guys, and of course, Matt and Phil Ecklund (and their team).

On that line, I’ve been doing some board game trading and selling, trying to both ditch some of the dreck and pair down the PHYSICAL size of games I have. I picked up Bios Megafauna, Bios Origins, Bios Genesis, Greenland, High Frontier and Neanderthal recently, which all have a fairly high complexity level, but tiny little boxes. I can fit nearly ALL of those games in the same space as Rising Sun or any CMON game, let alone the giant coffin box of Starcraft or Twilight Imperium.

While I’ve bought into these games heavily, they are challenging to learn and as should be required of anything that isn’t just for show (and I definitely have games that are just for show), they need to hit the table.

The key to Matt and Phil Eklund’s success as designers is taking highly complex ideas and chaotic events and putting them into a extremely playable games for their subject matter where, (amazingly) all of these pieces and parts of mechanics interact with each other in crazy ways. Think Pax Porfiriana is just a tiny engine builder with a bunch of fuck you cards? Play it again and you notice that you are working to control 4 different factions that are struggling against each other during the game as an undercurrent to the conflict between the players. It’s a wow moment. It’s also a wow moment how EASY the game is to play once you know how. Pax Renaissance is a real beast to learn, but essentially the same thing: small box, HUGE game, easy to play once you know how (except for remembering how each of the wars/revolts work which is hard).

Let’s talk about these Pax badboys a bit. The core thing with a ‘hard to learn’ game is that you need to know before you go into it that you will like it and the effort will be worth it. Not only that, you have to expect that your friends will like it also, at least to give it a shot. People actually play Advanced Squad Leader a lot. It’s ridiculously complex, but there’s a reason for it’s continued existence in published form: it’s very good. When you are dealing with an Eklund game, especially a 2nd edition version, you can be sure it’s going to have extreme value as a game and that the complexity level and steep learning curves leads to rewards in play. If you can explain it well, your friends with a little patience will like these games. Here’s a run down of those that I’ve played, a few that I’ve learned and have yet to play and a couple that I haven’t cracked yet.

While these are all complex, there are some mechanic similarities that make it easier to learn the others when you’ve learned one. The most important is the way they handle card draws. It’s a bit between random draws (like a Tom Wham game) and totally non random (any euro) in that you can see cards coming down a conveyor before they fall off and out of the game, or in the case of events, take place. Almost all of these games have some sort of market, whether it’s for parts of a space ship, mutations or stone age tools.

Greenland

We’ve only played this 4-5 times now, and it took me quite awhile to learn in order to teach it in a reasonable amount of time; that is, to not annoy players with too much explanation before we started playing.

You play as one of the tribes in competition during the beginning of a big chill on Greenland that left only the invading Thule alive historically– the original Greenland natives (the Norse) fled or died out. You hunt for trophies, food, energy and have to manage your tribe elders that give you special powers. It all seems very complex at first, but once you get over the hump, like all the Eklund’s I’ve experienced, it’s surprisingly playable. Elder actions are the most complex part of the game, so if you are going to study the rulebook, that’s the section to get to. Players are only managing four resources (people, ivory, iron and energy) and you don’t build much of an engine, hence management of these is not complex. If you are going to teach the game, you can start with that as the base.

This game so obviously inspired Sons of Anarchy that SoA is almost a retheme, but unlike Sons of Anarchy, where the opportunities for crime and control increase as the game goes on as you draw tiles, Greenland can get colder and much more difficult to succeed in hunting, building things and surviving as you go, even though you may have tech-ed up a bit or sabine-raided (exogamy) to gain the cultural powers of another tribe.

This is one that I highly recommend pushing through and learning as your first Ecklund game. It is actually quite easy to play and obvious to players what you are trying to do and how to win. It is only a bit more complex than Sons of Anarchy. It is one of Ecklund’s games without a map, and I find those to be a bit better than those with a map to deal with so far. Like Porfiriana, the set up time is very quick and you can get right to the action. This is also a dice-chucker which I really love.

Bios Megafauna

Holy shit. This is an unbelievably ambitions game with a relatively tiny box for what’s in there. You play as a species that has just crawled out of the ocean onto land and start to mutate, speciate and populate (like it says on the box). What it doesn’t tell you is that this is also a planetary weather, tectonic and exogenesis simulator at the same time. I noticed this from the side of the box: “Fight the Medean entropy.” The game also includes an NPC ‘villain’ which represents single celled organisms that wish the earth to return to the paradise before multicellular life (which is one of the theories around the Permian-Triassic extinction event).

What does this all mean? Not only do you deal with your species vs others, but systems in the game change game state constantly as well, with continents smashing into each other, asteroids hitting, winds shifting and oceans filling with plankton– oh tasty plankton.

Compared to Greenland, this is a challenging game to learn. I think I understand most of it, but 1/3rd of the rulebook is explaining the crazy special events that happen and I don’t fully get the mutation and speciation rules, especially emotions (which I think are just Up the Creek / Chaos Marauder type card sets that link to each other).

I think with some work, even kids could play it as long as someone really knew the rules. Even if this comes out once a year only, it will be worth having (like Republic of Rome) and does not take up a lot of space.

As an aside, Megafauna has the ‘controversial’ essay on global warming from Ecklund. As someone who despises the overuse of plastics, that we still have gas-fueled cars and that we do not have a far more robust nuclear power program to solve ALL energy needs in the first world, I was wary at first, but the essay is thought provoking and not what you think it is. Since ‘settled science’ is not actually science, almost all of the heat this essay gets by keyboard warriors can be completely ignored, since most are of the propagandized ‘if you don’t agree fully that global warming is caused entirely by humans carbon emissions, there’s something wrong with you’ knuckle draggers. While Eklund takes some serious jabs at the media and government (anyone remember the War on Drugs? How about the War on Terror? War on Covid? Are there some similarities here? oh yes) on their stance on global warming, the core of the essay is his belief that it is not only carbon that causes global warming– there are other factors in play, such as sun spot activity, passing through various parts of the Milky way galaxy and the not-so-subtle fact that the planet had a jungle climate from pole to pole for millions of years at one point. Like any good teacher or essay, Eklund’s presentation prompts one to think and study on their own, especially if they disagree with it. What’s more, in Bios Megafauna, one of the end states of the game is greenhouse overrun, so Ecklund is not saying that it isn’t a danger! Anyway, ignore all the idiots that haven’t read the essay that criticize it in general to virtue signal or white knight on BGG, rather than attacking the details, they are drones or followers. You will read people attacking the details of the essay here and there, but they refrain from the ad hominem nonsense. Also of note is that these BGG minnows got Ecklund banned from the site.

Neanderthal

This game looks a lot like Greenland and shares some of it’s dice/hunting mechanics. Why have or play both? Neanderthal’s scale is likely the answer. In the game you play as one of three predatory ‘apes’ that have just acquired basic language. You have to grow the species until the have enough language skills to become a tribal culture. Each turn represents 40 generations of your species. Like Greenland, the focus is on hunting and acquiring ‘daughters’ that linguistically advance your species.

I haven’t gotten this one to the table, and frankly it will be a long time I think due to already getting players comfortable with Greenland. However, I think this one will be the game I bust out with my kids to help them understand the concepts around the origin of species. I love the fact that if you hunt a biome and there are predators adjacent they will move to that biome and fuck your hunters up!

Bios: Genesis

Bios Genesis is one I still have to learn and it’s been quite a challenge so far. I cannot imagine anyone taking on a topic like this, and frankly I have no idea how a game like this got made and that the designer was able to focus on just this topic enough to build all these engines that work together. The attention to detail and graphic design is impressive. Fundamentally you are a set of protein chains that are seeking out refugia (places that are amiable to the creation of life) and trying to survive and become multicellular, and then get BIG. This is complicated by other players, naturally, but mostly from an absolutely brutal event deck with heating and cooling, radiation surges, cancer, volcanic eruptions, on and on. If you can get through the rules, this is supposed to be a fantastic game.

Bios: Origins

This is Ecklund’s answer to the Civ game genre. The twist here is that you lead a species of predatory apes advancing through very early technology and migration as the species and not as some divine leader or autocrat. I’ve learned this one but haven’t played it yet. This seems like a beast but there are some recognizable parts from other games that are buoys in the storm, like an easily understood market, a set of slots for potential cities that doubles as a score track and of course, a crazy map where both the edges of the hexes and the insides of the hexes are important all at once. I need to get this to the table.

Pax Transhumanity

We have now played this enough for me to be able to write a review of it. This is a near-future business simulation game where you play as entrepreneurs and try to make the most out of rapidly advancing technology to solve core issues that humans in general deal with (like hunger, which if you are reading this, you probably have never experienced, but right now, many people are), and pollution.

This is challenging to learn and not something that will hit the table a ton, but it’s a solid game and very interesting to play once you get the hang of it.

High Frontier

This is the holy grail of Ecklund’s designs and what appears to be his most complicated game. You are a corporation trying to get into space and exploit resources in the solar system– and you do this by building your rockets in order to make the trips you want to make and carry the things you need to carry. Think Merchant of Venus but you have to get your ship outfitted first with technology your species doesn’t possess yet.

All bow to the map for this one:

If you are looking for help learning any of these games, look no further than this fine Wisconsin lad (here explaining Matt Ecklund’s Pax Transhumanity).

The Board Games of 2021

A LOT of games came out during 2021 despite supply chain issues, despite shipping issues and despite a lot of people working from home. It was a deluge…

Quantity does not equal quality though, and many of the games I saw or looked at were the same old tired worker placement point salad that everyone still seems to be pretending are fun to play after basically playing the same game with different art over and over again for the last five years. While not endless trash like Hollywood, and endless stream of the same thing.

That said, there were some interesting games that came out in 2021, likely many of which I didn’t get exposed to yet and will sometime in 2022 as the better games start to bubble up from the vast amount of chaff. Here’s what we got to play that was new this year.

Bloodborne: The Board Game

Well this was another giant CMON game I fell for and spent a lot of money on. With only 2 plays so far I’m not sure it was a good idea. This game is basically Hellboy with a strange card-driven combat that at first is totally counter-intuitive. While this might not see much play, the miniatures are incredible and I really just need to paint the guy with the Kirkhammer and I’m satisfied. I have a few friends that are really into Bloodborne so this may hit the table at some point. Otherwise it’s another Zombicide: Invader that just did not hold any interest even for my kids after a couple plays. CMON has some great games, but they rehash the heroquest/tons of miniatures thing over and over again, and again.

Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy

This is a shorter, 4 faction version of the original 1979 DUNE game from Avalon Hill by the original design team. Got in only one play and I think this is a winner if you want the feel of the original game but want to bust this out on a week night instead of a weekend. There are a couple modifications that shorten the game a lot (like no auction phase) which I like, but part of me wanted to get out the real game. I will try to get this to hit the table as much as possible this year.

Pax Viking

Ahhhh the Pax games… this was an odd one, even for Pax games as it’s much less like the original (Pax Porfiriana) and more like Merchants of Venus or Wasteland Express. I played this only one time with 6 players (mistake) and so I can’t really see where this one’s core draw is yet. Probably a sleeper hit that has just not gotten to the table again yet. The circle shaped cards are.. interesting…

Vampire: The Masquerade – Rivals Expandable Card Game

This I’ve only played once so far and am interested in playing more. It’s an LCG with many of the same rules from Jyhad/V:TES from back in the day, but shorter playtimes and some different win conditions. This being an LCG, it’s hard to judge after just one play and fumbling through the rules at that. One to watch. It has to compete with one of the best games ever: Shadowfist so let’s see what happens.

Spartacus: Game of Blood AND Treachery

This is a new reprint of an older game with new art and slightly adjusted gameplay. I LOVE this game and can’t wait to play it more. It’s very silly, the table talk and interaction is hilarious and the backstabbing feels wonderful to be on the receiving or giving side. Yes, it’s a classic and not really new for 2021, but this version hopefully will get an expansion or two to round out the game and add more players! I really like the card art compared to the photos from the show as well.

The Hunger

I’ve saved what I think is the best for last. The Hunger is a very new game by Richard Garfield, and after two plays, this is one the family can agree upon as good which was a Christmas Miracle! It combines a race game with market manipulation and deck building into an awesome blend of mechanics that go way beyond the sum of it’s parts. My only small complaint is that the board can be tough to read due to how glossy it is. This would be better matte for sure. The original name for this was Fat Dracula or Fat Vampire and that’s what we call it because your vampire gets fat and slow as the game progresses if you are not careful and can easily burn up to ash at dawn, giving it a wonderful Dungeon Quest feel. Like Dungeonquest, you don’t really effect the other players during the game except to bump them off spots on the map if you land on them. Most of the time the lack of interaction is a big deal breaker for me, but with these push-your-luck games it has proved to be acceptable. It’s the big non-interactive Euros that really put me to sleep.

There you have it, I have some work to do with playing games released in 2021 now that we are in 2022, namely ANHK and the new Cthulhu version of Battlestar Galactica: Unfathomable.

For 2022, I’m pumped for Stationfall and Bios Mesofauna the most, with the new version of Massive Darkness in third place.

Chooo CHOOO MFKRS!

Great minds think alike right? My brother and I both (separately) got one of Tom Russel’s choo choo games– Iberian and Irish Gauge respectively. We got to play one of them this weekend and it was GOOOD.

The design goal of these games was to boil down the essence of the huge 18XX genre into a playable, short game that is just a bit more complex that Ticket to Ride, but VASTLY more fun and engaging for the more serious gamer. These games have a synthesis of very basic mechanics that are greater than the sum of their parts strategically. The essence of 18XX is buying stock in train companies, influencing where they place their rails to deliver goods and bring you (the owner of stocks across multiple train companies) the most MONEY.

Irish (2014) and especially Iberian Gauge (2017) are so stripped down they reminded me of two of my favorite abstracts: Sid Sackson’s Acquire and Knizia’s Tigris and Euphrates– both NASTY games that both hide a crazy amount of chaos with their venires of abstraction.

In both games, you start by buying into companies and then proceed to lay track and attempt to connect up cities and towns. In Iberian, the connection is enough to pay out dividends, but in Irish, players have to deliver goods (abstractly) to various cities and towns in order to get a payout. The trick comes due to the fact that companies will be owned by multiple or even ALL the players in the game and it’s all about trying to out score your opponents by trashing some companies and pumping others.

If you are interested in the most recent ‘engines’ to these games, I would check out Iberian for a more streamlined experience, or Irish for a bit of a meatier run at it. Also definitely look at Hollandspiele’s Dual Gauge system— also by Tom Russel. They also publish a lot of other cool stuff.

New Dune that isn’t the shitty worker placement Dune

Design by the Cosmic Encounter / original Dune board game team the Olotka’s, Kitteredge, Eberle, Reda this looks to be a high speed version of the original Dune– and it’s coming FAST (September) so you can even pre-order it.

I’ve been impressed with Galeforce 9 games as they were just some dudes that made wargaming trays and measuring sticks awhile back. Spartacus is classic, Sons of Anarchy is a fantastic game and though I do not like the ART from the Dune reprint, there’s a lot of love there.

Let’s see how this one plays and I have yet another reason not to waste any gaming hours on the Euro-Dune.

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 his catamite 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 (i.e.: you in this game) funded and commercialized in the form of a coronavirus vaccine (which is an amazing technological advance if they can make one that works for more than a few months and doesn’t cause 300+ standard deviations above the mean serious adverse reactions compared to the flu shot @_@). 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 and others will not, this is way more important than it seems in early plays.

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 and try it out. Despite the difficult rules, this is very much worth giving a few tries.

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