Happy 4th Annual International Tabletop Day! I like all types of board games from childhood classics like 13 Dead End Drive to Scythe and play almost every week with friends. Tabletop games are a great way to bring people together around a table and have competitive or cooperative fun. Over the last 20 years, there has been an incredible Renaissance in tabletop games starting with the popularity of Settlers of Catan in 1995. Since then, you can peruse Kickstarter anytime and find people who want to make amazing games. Many libraries now have board game collections and host board game nights for patrons to try new games. As someone with a proclivity for storytelling games, I often think of comic book characters and storylines while playing tabletop games (my first D&D character was a rogue who was essentially Bandette…without me realizing until level 4!). To celebrate, here are some comics to check out if you like board games. Be sure to check out Twitter for more suggestions throughout the day. Game On!
Gloom by Atlas Game, is probably my favorite game ever. It’s a storytelling game in which each player has a gothicly horrific family they are trying to make as depressed as possible and kill, while making the other characters as happy as possible. Once a player kills off their last family member, the player with the ‘lowest’ score wins. Gloom is populated by Frankensteinian scientific families, traveling circuses, and the lords of the moors. If the alliterations in the actions cards don’t kill you, “terrified by topiary,” “distressed by ducks,” “driven to drink,” etc. then the death card “was eaten by bears” will. This is a fun game with a unique style that even the most hesitant of storytellers can get into.
The world of Gloom is a straight forward, if a bit darker, interpretation of the gothic era where as The Motherless Oven by English comic creator Rob Davis is a dystopian science fiction world that feels as foreboding as the looming death of Gloom. When the weather clock says it’s knife o’clock, you better lock dad up in the shed, tuck mother away in the cupboard under the stairs, and sit down to enjoy the Wednesday Wheel safe within your home. The Motherless Oven requires the reader to accept the fact that people have assigned death dates, parents look like 3rd grade art projects and are made by the children they care for, it periodically rains knives, and the police are geriatric officers in a slow moving jalopies. Scraper Lee, a teen slowly approaching his death day, befriends Vera Pike, a new and oddly independent student, and Castro Smith, a student with Interference Syndrome who talks with the ever present gods of egg timers, can openers, and light switches. They run away to find Scraper’s escaped father only to arrive at the end of the known world. The black and white watercolor inspired art is gorgeous and adds to the ominous nature of this book. Great for a rainy, dark night.
There are some board games that require skill, concentration, and a whole lot of time. Many of these games have a Cthulhu theme like Eldritch and Arkham Horror, both Fantasy Flight games. These games require your character to maintain a balance of sanity, aggression, and strategy as you attempt to close portals and keep the old ones quiet in their slumber. You can be a magician, occultist, or driver, but if you get too close to the old ones, you’ll be out of the game. Can you and your teammates prevent the non Euclidean geometric figures from invading our reality, or will you have to convalesce in the Australian outback after seeing the great old one? These games are incredibly difficult, so don’t be discourage if it takes you several play throughs before figuring out a strategy to win.
One comic book character who is more close to the old gods than any other is Hellboy, the over 20 year old character from Mike Mignola. It is a historical fact that the Nazi regime was interested in occult and supernatural objects, which is the basis of Mignola’s story. A German operative, the Russian mystic Rasputin, is trying to summon an other worldly power at the height of World War II; however, a young demon appears and is taken in by an American occult team and taught to use his stone hand and incredible strength for good. While there will always be forces in the world trying to use Hellboy for evil and chaos, his light hearted nature, and love for pancakes, keeps him fighting for the good guys.
Not all games require apps, huge tables, and three hours. Some like Love Letter by AEG games, are the perfect game to throw in your backpack and play while waiting for food or having a casual drink with friends. As we’ve all learned from our high school English classes, it can be difficult for a young Romeo to get a letter to his fair Juliet to declare their love, and in this game, you are trying to get a love letter to the prince or princess and win a token of their affection. Each player has two cards of varying values and abilities. You play a card and resolve the ability in the hopes of knocking out the other players or ending the round with the card with the highest value. Many people will help you get your letter to royalty including the lowly Clown to the stately General. And for those comic fans, there is also a Batman version.
I like Love letter because it is has a simple and effective premise, love will conquer, which is also a central theme of the anthology Fresh Romance. With contributors like Kate Leth, Marguerite Bennett, and Sarah Winifred Searle, among others, Fresh Romance explores four drastically different love stories each unique and heartwarming with a fresh look at what love means. A retelling of Beauty and the Beast shows compassion and empathy, whereas Ruined is about a Georgian Era woman who is quickly married off to a stranger to save her, and her family’s, reputation. The distinct art styles for each story helps to transport the reader completely to the new story, making the anthology exciting yet cohesive. The book made me eager for more modern, romance comics featuring unique and diverse characters.
One of the first modern, worker placement games I’ve played was Minion Game’s Manhattan Project. It’s the dawn of the nuclear age, and each player is attempting to make the ultimate bomb and earn the most victory points first. The board looks like an old factory cork board with all of the different moves your workers, scientist, and engineers can make during your turn. As you build factories, universities, and reactors, your workers can be deployed on your home board as well as the main board, but watch out! Other players can destroy your buildings with air strikes or send their workers to your land as spies and take up the limited spaces where you can place your workers. As you create plutonium and uranium, you can develop bombs, strap them to your bombers and earn victory points. This fun yet competitive game is well paced ensuring all players move at the same pace.
While it may seem a bit on the nose, the comic I’m recommending for the board game Manhattan Project is the Image comic Manhattan Projects by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra. In the game, you have to manage your money, workers, and yellow cake; but in the comic book, you have to manage a stoic Einstein staring at an obelisk, infinite Oppenheimers, President Harry S. Truman as an orgy loving Mason, and FDR is an AI stuck in a television screen. Throw in Richard Feynman and Laika the Russian K9 astronaut and you’ve got all it takes to unlock the mysteries of the universe…maybe. Hickman’s love for infographics and the stark use of colors add science fiction elements to these historically inspired characters. Warning, this book gets weird, but in the best way possible.
Board and card games are a great way to get to know new people and spend quality time with family and friends. What board games do you like to play?