Indianapolis. The crossroads of America. Dust settles on a town abandoned, the massed tread of shopping bag-laden board gamers now just a faint echo after a football stadium-worth of people realised the end of Gen Con was nigh and just… left. Occasional movement flickers at the edge of deserted boulevards – things that might once have been human skitter in the shadows, crying out for more games to fill their unending hunger. “GAMES” they rasp, waving the remains of dessicated wallets from some long-forgotten reality. “MORE GAMES”.
Slowly their attention is drawn by a light, perhaps the last in the town. A sickly green glow emanates from the remains of a Best Buy, its once proud desktop computer department now a mass of entrail like wires and bent, battered machinery. One machine remains standing, remains operational. Drawn to the light like moths, one amongst the horde gains the courage to draw close, to run an approximation of a human hand across the dust-covered screen. Dry lips part to utter a word, a trio of syllables, sending a wave of madness streaming through the throng. “KICK-START-ER” the mob screeches almost as one, all attempting to reach the glowing terminal. “KICK-START-ER WILL SAVE US”.
Yes, the four days of board gaming madness that is Gen Con is over for another year – you can catch our roundups for Day One and Day Two (and Day Zero, as it happens) elsewhere on the site. Things were still happening in board gaming away from the convention centre, though! Check out this spacey card-based number from MAGE Company, all sexy-looking, and fresh, and sm- wait, is that? That’s botox, isn’t it? Don’t lie to me, I can smell it on you from here.
Res Publica 2230AD is the cunning new disguise for an old Reiner Knizia game known as, erm, Res Publica from the gloomy fog of 1991. And that’s fine! If board games are good at anything, it’s at hanging around for a long time if they’re fun – we’re big fans of hidden movement cops-and-robber sim Scotland Yard, and that’s been gracing dining tables since the dark ages of 1983. Res Publica 2230AD spruces up its predecessor’s civilisation theme with a brand new space-empires feel, but is basically the same mechanic as 24 years ago. Everyone’s trying to trade their cards with each other to collect sets, play them for points and draw new cards to continue swapping until the pile runs out. Res Publica’s USP is that it puts a strict limit on how much negotiation can take place. Each turn a player gets to either ask for one or two cards you want, or offer one or two cards they have. No haggling, no sweetening the deal – if someone offers you something you want in exchange, you can take it, or not, and that’s it.
It’s a smart idea, meaning a lot of the time offering trades is less about actually wanting to swap cards that turn, and more about slowly revealing information to the other players about what you have and what you’re after. In practice, however, I think Res Publica’s showing its age in an unsatisfying way. While Scotland Yard has been endlessly repackaged over the years, not just as the same game in Mister X, but also lifted and plugged into games including Pandemic through the On the Brink expansion, Letters from Whitechapel and the soon to be reprinted Fury of Dracula, Res Publica’s hamstringing of hand trading hasn’t found a lot of love. I get that the whole point of the game is gently working out what everyone has, and what deals you can make to win, but it strikes me that any negotiation game which ties down the amount of actual interaction you’re allowed to do is barking up the wrong tree. Seems to me that as part of a larger game this sort of thing might really sing, but on its own I think it’s starting to look a little dated.
What do I know though, right? Res Publica soared past its $4,000 Kickstarter target in just a single day, so if you tuck into the Kickstarter you’ll definitely be getting your game. Delivery to ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD is just $5, which is a truly amazing offer in Kickstarter terms, so you’re looking at $25 (£16) all in, or can pick up in person for no postage if you’re off to the massive Essen board game convention in Germany this October.
Surely I can find you something else though, right? Something a bit fresher? How about “A chaotic light party game with a Japanese feel, for 3 – 6 players?” Hmmm? Oh you like that do you? Yeah? YEAH?
Oni’s another game of hidden information, but this one’s all about screwing with the things your opponents think they know in order to win you the game. Look, it’s like this. Each player starts with a different character and an ‘objective’ card, which does nothing except match their character. The characters and an identical number of useless ‘samurai’ cards get shuffled together, then everything gets dealt out like this:
That’s nice, eh? So each player has their secret objective face down in front of them and three cards in front of that, which they’re allowed to access in different ways. Each turn all the players secretly choose an action card, then reveal them in order and do the action on them. Perform an attack action on what turns out to be your character card, and you win the round and three shiny gold coins. Reveal an opponent’s objective by mistake, though, (perhaps because they swapped it for the card you wanted to attack just before your go), and they win two gold instead. Bluffing and deceit and samurai, NOW you’re talking my language.
Players can also do things like peek at an opponent’s objective, swap one face down card for another or reveal all three of the nearest character or samurai cards to them, albeit to everyone else as well. As if this wasn’t already brain-churny enough, after each round the entire circle of cards shifts round one place to the right, bringing a new card into the three you can access and making another one disappear out of reach.
The next bit turns what might be a perfectly nice, solid bluffing game into something a cut above that. Once someone’s found their character or ballsed it up and gifted someone else two coins, everything gets reset and you go again – except this time everyone gets a new, random action to use. That might start spinning the circle in the other direction, or let you nick a coin from another player. Get this – the next round you all get two extra action cards, and in the final round three. At that point you’re basically looking to use an action card to slice everyone else head off to win the game, as there’s eff all way you’ll be able to predict what’s coming each turn.
Simple rules, a moving board, the difficulty getting ramped up from turn to turn and the chance for people to gang up on anyone who pulls ahead – this is smart, modern game design right here. The Kickstarter’s just passed the halfway point for the $7,000 Treesharp games are looking for, and with more than three weeks to go it looks like it’ll easily pass that and start nuzzling its way into the stretch goals for shinier coins and an embroidered bag for them to go in. This one’s only $19 with free shipping in the US, but Canadians will end up paying an extra $11 and the rest of the world a whopping $16 to get a copy shipped to them. As a Brit that easily puts me out of the equation, frankly, but if I lived in the US I know which of these I’d be dumping my pennies on.
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