I’m back to my slump again. I’ve not been playing as many titles as I’d like, or have as many repeated plays as I’d like. Some titles I’ve played on repeat, mostly those in this article, with hopes to write larger pieces about them, but to be honest, they haven’t been inspiring titles for me. But neither has anything else.
The most fun I’ve had playing a game recently is playing Haggis on repeat with my partner and their sibling. Despite what many others may say about the original rules for Haggis, I very much enjoy it at three and think I even prefer it there. I know I’m in the minority, but I just love card games at larger player counts, and I’m quite frankly burnt out on Tichu, so Haggis will serve that purpose just fine. If you have ever liked any card games ever in your life, from Bridge to The Crew, check out Haggis. It’s wildly out of print, but BoardGameArena has an implementation, and the Portland Game Collective will have the reprint up for crowdfunding SoonTM.
Anyway, let’s move onto those three titles that have gotten my eye and my time recently, outside of that perennial favorite.
After my article talking about upcoming titles I’m most excited for this year, Kevin Bertram of Fort Circle Games offered me a copy of Votes for Women for review. I happily obliged, as it has been on my radar since its initial announcement.
Votes for Women is a historical simulation game (aka the modern day wargame) that takes place from 1848 to 1920, covering the most active Women’s Suffrage Movement in the United States. In its most simple gameplay configuration, two players will take the side of either the Suffragists or the Opposition, and attempt to make their side succeed. The Suffragists want the 19th Amendment to be passed and ratified by 75% (36) of the states, and the Opposition wants the 19th Amendment to not be passed, and if it is, for 25% of the states (13) to not ratify it.
Players will be manipulating an electoral map of the United States with their own individual deck of event cards. These cards are broken down into three different Eras, and stacked accordingly during set-up. During each round, players will take alternating turns, always starting with the Suffragists, playing one of these cards. Besides playing the card for the event, players can use the cards to campaign in states (to play cubes of their color), organize (granting Buttons, a resource used to mitigate die rolls or as a currency to pay for some actions), and to lobby in Congress (to move some markers onto a track to get the 19th Amendment passed).
Outside of the traditional Suffragists vs. Opposition game mode, the game comes with a few other options. One is the Suffragists vs. “Oppobot”, which is an AI deck. This means that the game is able to be played solo, but this also means that it can be played cooperatively with a team of (conceivably) any size could go up against the Oppobot. I tried and enjoyed the solo mode of this game, but I don’t really have much to add about its design that won’t be addressed about the game as a whole. As for the co-op, I am not a fan of co-op and did not try it that way. The game could also be played as team vs. team, a team of Suffragists versus a team of Opposition, but again, I really don’t like team games, so I will not be touching on that mode either.
I’m usually not one to focus on these types of things, but the art and components in this game are second-to-none. The checkmarks used when the Suffragists win a state are such a nice touch, making a busy map instantly readable. The cards have such concise facts that reading the flavor text is a joy, not a chore. The “currency” of the game, the Buttons mentioned above, are based on actual campaign buttons from the time. There’s so much attention to detail, and no component is left bland or boring.
If you are completely new to wargaming, or the most you’ve ever dipped into the genre is Undaunted: Normandy or Memoir ‘44, I unequivocally recommend Votes for Women. Do not hesitate, go buy this game. Not only is it the most beginner-friendly wargaming title I’ve ever had the pleasure to play, but its mechanics mirror those found in the genre’s darling titles, like Twilight Struggle and 1960: The Making of a President, making it simple for those who still thirst for more can more easily make the step up to more complex titles. Also, it’s a tense game where it feels like either side can really win it at any moment, leading to tight games where each player is engaged the whole time. But most importantly of all within the realm of a beginner’s title, the rulebook is written in a way that most in the hobby will be familiar with, instead of the stereo instructions of the wargaming sphere.
If you’ve played wargames for a while and you’re invested in the theme of the game, I’d say it’s still probably worth checking out. If you’re not, then I don’t know how much this game has legs. For one, as I stated while I stumbled through my article about iteration, sometimes games are too close to one another to justify their existence in my collection, and for me, Votes for Women is not going to be staying over something like 1960. Tory Brown, the designer, has said on many occasions that 1960 was a big inspiration to her, and it shows. This is not a bad thing, as modeling a nationwide election in this way makes so much sense. But if I was going to sit down and play one of these two titles, I could never turn down 1960.
(The G.O.A.T. for games about the 1960 President Election.)
Outside of that though, I am concerned about the balance between the Suffragists and Opposition. I’ve only played four games, and I’ve never won playing as the Suffragists. However, I think that with my continued growing knowledge of the individual sides’ decks, I think the Suffragists would be able to wipe the Opposition off the map entirely.
Except for the end-game dice rolling.
The story I’m about to tell you is astronomically sad. I recognize this. But my experience here has tainted my opinion of the game, and has made me really want to go and revisit 1960 for comparison. Let’s set the scene: it’s the start of Final Voting. I, as the Suffragists, secured roughly 20 states, and the Opposition secured 6. I had all 12 Buttons that I could use for re-rolling, and all but three states had two or more Suffragist cubes in it. Both sides had played their cards to roll d8s instead of d6s, and I had played the “win ties” card. It was down to pure chance, and nearly every single state was in my favor: I rolled a 4, and the Opposition rolled a 6 and I had two cubes in that state, then we’d compare our results of 6 to 6, and I’d win the tie. So I won, right? After all this work, and phenomenal odds in my favor?
Does this mean the game is poorly balanced? No. This has nothing to do with balance. But regardless, in a tense two player game that can take 90 minutes to come down to a situation like that is just odd. So again, Grognards of Old, take that into account before your purchase. Equally matched, high skilled players will lead to some off-putting endings.
I am still unbelievably excited to see what Tory Brown does next, and will gladly recommend this to all new wargamers moving forward. I will be donating my copy of the game to the local women’s shelter, as well as matching the MSRP of the game as a donation as well. Shoutout again to Kevin for sending me the game.
In an effort to expand my experience with solo gaming, I took the plunge to play one of the most famous and popular titles for solo gamers: Mage Knight. And despite my trepidations, I’m in love!
For those not in the know, Mage Knight is basically a dungeon crawler deckbuilder. What makes it stand out is its use of mana as a temporary and permanent resource. You can use mana to power up cards in your hand, meaning you use the bottom portion of the card instead of the top. Sometimes this is a small change, like doing two additional damage, and other times it’s a complete change to what the card does. This gives an already flexible deck and system even more flexibility, allowing players to do nearly whatever they want to do every turn, if they’re willing to spend the cards and the mana to do so.
I don’t really want to do any more of a review or teardown than that, because frankly, I’m so hung up on one particular thought I can’t focus on anything else: Why the BGG Weight?
Mage Knight’s initial release in 2011 has a Weight of 4.35. By that metric, it’s the heaviest game that came out in 2011. It’s apparently heavier than War of the Ring. My initial thought was that it was just too heavy for its time, but there were some heavy hitters (pun intended) that came out that year: Eclipse, A Game of Thrones (Second Edition), and Ora et Labora. Ok, so I went to the 2018 Ultimate Edition BGG page that included all of the expansions. A lot of time, if a game has been out for a while, the re-releases will move down in Weight, as the hobby gets more used to new mechanisms and embracing a bit of complexity creep.
It is now in roughly the top 10 highest Weights on BGG.
I feel so confused by this. In my mind, Gloomhaven is more difficult in both aspects often attributed to a game’s Weight: rules load, and difficulty to execute well. Nearly every single review for a Kickstarter, plastic, beat-em-up, expansion-laded game should be higher than Mage Knight.
The rules are not hard to understand. There’s amazing player aids in the box, and even better ones online if you feel they’re needed. Heck, Paul Grogan, one of the most popular content creators specifically around rules, designed some of the official content for the game and rewrote the rules to make them easier to follow! The game follows the usual conventions of a deckbuilder with no real added changes except for the mana mentioned above, and no other systems in the game are really changed in any major way to make them wholly unique . My only guess is that people give it such a high Weight rating because it truly is one of the most successful implementations of a sandbox I’ve ever played.
I’m sure it’s a difference in how people internalize a game and its systems, but part of my exasperation is because On Mars, often touted as the heaviest Euro game, took me over a week and four total three-handed playthroughs to feel comfortable teaching my group and playing it. Mage Knight? After a third of one solo scenario I had ditched nearly every player aid.
Regardless of my confusion, I’m greatly enjoying the game, and if I write about it here again, it’ll probably be within the topic of fan-made content, and all of the joys and… ick that can surround it. If you’d be interested in hearing about that, let me know in the comments below!
I have seen so many people do entire videos or write entire articles covering their post-mortem of the unboxing and initial setup process. At first I thought that was incredibly excessive. Now though, I realize that it’s entirely on-brand for the whole experience.
I’ve put roughly 8 hours into the game.
I’ve yet to play any part of it.
There’s so much. This whole game is so much. GMT broke their box mold for Pacific War in 2022 to create their first 4 inch box, and Mr. President comes in with a 5 inch box. There’s 180 cards and 600ish counters for a solo-only game. I bought a 6-foot folding table to store this on while playing, and I am still using two side tables for the 9 booklets and 6 player aids. The board itself has something like 200+ counters for set-up alone, which took me an hour, only after spending 4 hours reading the component guide and sorting the pieces while punching it.
As our very own David W. stated in his article about the game: “To that extent, Mr. President betrays having spent a lot of time being designed/developed on Tabletop Simulator, where the opportunity cost of adding more boardspace and chits is minimal.” I understand this criticism, and the call from many in the hobby to play an online implementation in Vassal or TTS, but I gotta say, even amongst buying it its own table and sorting through 23409283467 booklets, it’s truly a marvel. Looking at the game while it’s set up fills me with anxiety, anxiety that I’m going to miss something or screw something up. It parodies what it must feel like to need to know everything about everything all the time, and the immense pressure that comes from that. And I love that.
Regarding the rulebooks: These are some of the best, and some of the weirdest decisions ever.
For one, I adore the Turn Sequence Book. To have the overly-wrought Turn Sequence in a literal spiral bound flip book is brilliant. To have the most used booklet in the game in a more sturdy, easier to use form that also conveniently lays flat is brilliant. It makes me sad that the actual rulebook is also not like this, but beggars can’t be choosers.
The game has so many great sources to learn the rules, but I almost feel like there’s too many individual rulebooks. There’s two or three sources of “How to Play” and “Start Here!” that are repetitive or spread so thin that reading the sentences have almost wrapped all the way back around from being so dense that they are difficult to comprehend what they mean, to being so shallow that it feels impossible to understand where they could even be going with a thought that basic. Besides that, the repetition of certain topics makes the mental burden of the game higher than it should be because I read the same simple description three or four times.
Finally though, my biggest pet peeve with the 234712098237 booklets is the five different booklets for die roll results. This is a solo wargame, I’m used to these and expect these, whatever. It’s a design trope I don’t love, but in a game about the randomness of the world and how The President responds to them, it fits. My issue is keeping track of the five different books, and finding space to keep them organized with all the other wackiness of the game. I understand that making one booklet that’s 80 pages for these charts would fall apart quickly, but even two 40 page booklets would be better than 5.
I already have some real issues with the apolitical stance this game tries to take, but I’m going to save those thoughts for future investigations. Just know, this game’s politics has about as much of a spine as a slug.
(Me too, buddy. Me too.)
So, as I continue to figure out how to lead the Free World, what do you all want to see from me next? Should I continue my dormant series about video game adaptations? Another designer diary? Or if you’re feeling frisky, name a game and I’ll look into it!
My current trajectory is to spend some time looking at playing my first hex-and-counter games, as I’ve never played one before. Because I have no self control, I’m wanting to play three different scales, from three different publishers, in three different time periods, and from three different designers. I have my preliminary list selected, but I’d love to hear some recommendations for titles as well!