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games review

The Lost Expedition: Session Report and Review

The Lost Expedition

A game by Peer Sylvester

Osprey Games

BGG listing.

Note: The most cursory of historical research went into the writing of this fictionalized session report on the card game The Lost Expedition.

My dearest Slimane,

I cannot conceive of a place so different from Geneva and my beloved Algiers than the province of Mato Grosso. But I speak neither of the tropical weather nor the lush environs of the city of Cuiabá; I refer here chiefly to the commotion that my fellow explorers, Messrs. Roosevelt and Chapman Andrews, have precipitated as we prepare for our expedition through the Amazon interior. We are but three souls, and yet between the two of them they have created a hullabaloo of unloading and transporting materiel to rival arrangements for war. Even the press has followed us from Manhattan–from one riverine city to another–and so perspiring journalists, pen and paper clutched in fingers swollen from the heat, skulk about the teeming docks.

Nonetheless, the papers consistently omit one important detail about our expedition. For we are encircled and enclosed and en-fussed over by an entire cavalry’s worth of assistants—Roosevelt’s standard retinue, it would seem—porters, carriers, raft men,  guides, and the indefensible luxury of two mess cooks. Why, I crossed the Saharan desert with naught but a sulking dromedary and a waterskin!

Men. I shake my head in disbelief.

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games

My Favorite Solo Board Games of 2020: #1, Scythe

Scythe

A game by Jamey Stegmaier

Stonemaier Games.

BGG listing.

Olga had encountered formidable enemies in her lifetime, many of whom were summarily felled by Rusviet military might, but never before had she faced in battle a man who talked to his pet musk ox. Would he grip both horns first, before bending closer to reveal his deepest confidences into the ox’s ear? Or was one horn sufficient? And though this awakened the smallest smidgen of curiosity in Olga—who was this mysterious Bjorn from the frigid Nordic wastes?—she quickly flicked it aside to concentrate on the task at hand. Ox-whispering aside, she still knew she would reach the Factory quicker than anyone else.

I really, really love this game. When I finally opened the box—after sitting on my Shelf of Shame for months—it didn’t leave my table until after 18 hours of pure gaming pleasure. (Those weren’t consecutive hours; I’m not that kind of a nut.) The art and components are just gorgeous, and this also happens to be the first game I’ve ever blinged out, with upgraded coins and resource tokens.

The Nordic faction won over the neighboring Rusviets

Even now, whenever I take out the board and lay it out on my table, I’m already queueing the epic movie soundtrack in my head. “And so the battle of wills begins,” I say to myself, even if my Automa opponent is acting and moving according to random card draws.

Scythe doesn’t really lend itself well to the narrative fantasy I wrote in the introduction, for the gameplay is a bit drier than what I imply above. (The heroes have a backstory and special abilities, but that’s about it.) But boy does Scythe inhabit its milieu of an alternate-history 1920s Europe, with its cast of squabbling factions; I would love to read fiction set in this world where advanced military technology coexists with agrarian peasant society. (Wait: isn’t that the Global South, but without the mechs?)

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games

My Favorite Solo Board Games of 2020: #2, Mage Knight

My 2nd favorite solo board game of 2020 is Mage Knight; see a longer session report and review.

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games

My Favorite Solo Board Games of 2020: #3, At the Gates of Loyang

At the Gates of Loyang

A game by Uwe Rosenberg

BGG listing.

Growing vegetables and selling vegetables were two quite different things, and his parents had never let him forget it. As a boy, he not only helped his father with the harvest—an easier process, in his opinion—but had also accompanied his mother at their makeshift vegetable stand at the Luoyang gates, watching her receive the largesse, or ire, of their patrons. “And you gave that casual customer my leeks?” the regular customers would grumble, and his mother would murmur an apology and pay them two coins for their trouble.

Nonetheless he knew his family was still making the smallest of profits and assiduously saving the money, in accordance to what Confucius had said: “When prosperity comes, do not use all of it.” But Confucius was long gone, and so were his parents, and the work of growing and selling vegetables was now solely his responsibility.

I never thought I’d be so enamored of a game about vegetables, but this game is just superb. Beat-your-own-score engine builders are slowly chipping away at my preference for narrative games.

In the game In the Gates of Loyang you are a farmer trying to advance up the path of prosperity by growing and selling vegetables. (I can’t imagine this is historically accurate—though you have at your disposal an awful lot of untilled land—but I digress.) You also have a particularly finicky set of customers who actually demand money from you if you can’t satisfy their demands, so you commit to a customer very carefully. Some form of polyculture farming is key.

My farmer on the Path of Prosperity
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games

My Favorite Solo Board Games of 2020: #4, Agricola

Agricola

A game by Uwe Rosenberg

Lookout Games.

BGG listing.

She looked out the window of her stone house at the fields bathed in the soft amber glow of sunset, and at her children coming home with their arms full of sheaves of wheat, and with smiles on their ruddy cheeks, and her husband not far behind, his stride tired but confident, leading a cow back from pasture. Her heart was full.

But there was just one thing, one trifle of a thing that bothered her about this otherwise wonderful and patient man with whom she had chosen to spend the rest of her life, and she told herself that in the morning, she would finally take him aside, and point out how the cow in her living room simply took up too much space.

Agricola meeples
Sometimes it’s OK to have a cow in your house.

What a delightful game this is. I must confess that a big reason for that delight must be Agricola’s evocation of some long-buried childhood memory of playing with little sheep and little cows and little pigs and little wooden fences.

Agricola player board
My farm at the end of a game, as seen from above: five fields, pastures, and a four-room house.

My delight comes also from the satisfaction at the end of the game of looking at my farm and my animals and my house and see what I had created. The fact that I call it “my” farm and “my” animals says a lot; I’m looking at my shelf of board games right now and can’t think of a game where I use the same possessive pronouns. (My mechs? My investigators? My mage knight? It’s just not the same.)