Doom! Doom! Doom! Doom over board gaming, diluted into a sea of releases where even gems are bound to sink into oblivion, doom over solo players, engaged in their futile quest against an AI that has already mastered them, doom over my posts, condemned to rehash the same lines over and over as an endless frieze unfolds, carved with repeated patterns of history-inspired worker placements, deck-builders with an exhaustive assortment of themes, and Fantasy adventure games where the thrill of dice rolling compete with the stakes of narrative-forking decisions.
Therefore, it is only with great apprehension that I step forward. Behind me, Captain JW, his saber pointing at my back, urges me to walk the wooden plank. Ahead of me, who knows which oddities await in the simmering foam of the database? 'JW, wait, what can I do to avoid my fate?' 'I have a card game right here. Try to play it, and if you win, then I shall let you go your way.' And so I got introduced to DeckHand, a deck-building of piracy, the occasional Cthulhu-like Kraken, and rampaging gorillas. Obviously, I lost. By offering me to play a deck-builder, JW showed no mercy, and he knew it. There is no way to escape fate.
The first fishery game to pass by me was Mandamina. It instantly cleaned me of my narrative nonsense about my journey through the four thousand hundred games of the BGG database. If you want to comprehend this number, you may compare it to our life expectancy, which is a bit less than 30,000 days (side question: by playing one game per day, what's the maximum h-index you can achieve? Answer: 173). Sorry, I'm feeling a bit mathy, but when you have a game about relocating colorful wooden marbles, that's the only kind of inspiration I can gather.
How do you make abstract games more palatable then? Easy, by adding AI-generated anime-like mermaids under the threat of cat kraken invaders. At least this is what Cat's Gambit offers. If you think this is sheer nonsense, no worries: it's absolutely pasted-on, and this little 18-card game is but a fancy variation on solitaire chess puzzles. Rules are available from this thread.
What? More abstract puzzle games with a random veneer of theme please? Sure sure, I have just that in store today! Meet Mooncake Master, a game about putting together quarters of mooncake pies to satisfy hungry customers! Well, you may be acquainted already with this one since it already got released in 2019, but, you know, new edition, new version... Considering I had never heard about it before, it's just a brand-new title in my eyes anyway. The publisher, Origame, already released a few games through Kickstarter, so this one may show up there eventually, as well. As for the designer, Daryl Chow, you may know him for In Too Deep, The Artemis Project, or Plantopia, the game where you play as a potato.
I told you I fell into some abstract games cache, so here is another one: Kuldhara, a village once prosperous, now deserted, with only its silent ruins remaining, never to tell why it got abandoned. What's your role in all this? Well, robbing stuff, of course, don't forget we're pirates after all (at least JW is one; I'm mostly a confused crew member). The game revolves around spending action points to explore the ruins, dig out gems, and arrange these gems into patterns to recreate amulets. Of all the things they could make with this intriguing story of a ghost village, they decided to make a pick-up and deliver games about fulfilling contracts for random amulets. Life is weird at times.
Moving on to the second part of this post: the rise and fall of the civilizations (of which the story of Kuldhara was a subtle and convenient hint). Statecraft attempts to recreate history. The Berlin Wall has fallen, and the Cold War has ended. An era of peace and prosperity begins for humankind (as we can tell). You may play as the US, Russia, China, or the EU, with the goal of influencing countries to establish your hegemony. In each round, you draw leader cards, all with their own specific objective to fulfill that round (including my own most detested French president!). Although the publisher has experience in the industry, having localized several games into Spanish, this will be their first release. It should launch on Kickstarter before the end of the year.
The only logical follow-up for this game is likely Tribulation, that is, a game about the end of the world. Or is it? The forces of evil have invaded the lands to end humanity, but the Lord did not forget this poor and feeble cattle and has sent special agents to defeat darkness and postpone the end (it turned out it was a more entertaining show than expected, so it probably deserves a bonus season). You are that agent. Or rather, you are two of these agents, because the solo game plays two-handed. The rest of the game is all about battling demons using action points and clever card play. Saving the world has turned into a cardboard beat-them-all.
Saving the world is fine and all, but as one of the best agents of the Lord, the time has come to raise your ambitions a little and start playing god yourself. So you show up in front of the boss, expecting your hubris to be chastised a little, but no; apparently there is a whole program for it already, except you didn't know. A bit grumpy at the prospect of having been kept in the dark for so long, you dive into Civolution, where you must lead your civilization to prove that you are the best deity - the most caring, the most efficient, the most optimizing. This Stefan Feld title features games lasting from 1.5 to 3 hours, dice as input randomness, tree techs, and no actual fights in the game. My biggest question is what the solo will look like. The game will be released to retail in the second half of 2024.
I needed at least one Fantasy adventure game to feel content with that post, so instead of featuring an expansion as usual, I am sneaking in Boundless Stride: Into the Denlands, by the same publisher and designers team that brought us Kinfire Chronicles. This is a co-operative legacy game about exploring the land (don't ask me more about the theme, I read it twice and it passed on my mind as water on a stone), adding stickers to the map as you gradually explore it. It also features narrative choices, puzzles, and the learning of new animal languages.
I'll end this post with some long-term perspective, provided by our traditional PnP pick of the week: Above and Beyond. It's not about freeing humankind from its earthly shackles by granting it the immensity of the whole cosmos to explore and disperse throughout; it's about nine warlords fighting over nineteen worlds, but only you are truly human - the other eight follow a merciless flowchart algorithm, with flaws you must exploit to your advantage in order to stand a chance. All files are available in the corresponding section on BGG.