Board Games of Terror

I was supposed to advertise the beginning of the ENnies voting today, but looks like EN World is down (except for the chat room, #enworld on irc.otherworlders.org) and the ENnies voting is postponed because of technical difficulties. Those seem to be in vogue, with the Gleemax also on the fritz. RPG.net, at least, works fine, if occasionally sluggish.

So, instead, I’ll talk about board games.

I had a board game night with some friends on Sunday. Well, board game day – we started at 13:00 and ended some ten hours later. We have these about one a month, when we gather at a friend’s place, everyone brings games and then we play. Ticket to Ride: Europe is a big favourite, as are the classics like The Settlers of Catan, Samurai, and Puerto Rico (Prime breeding ground for politically incorrect jokes. “Colonists”, indeed…). Then there are longer games that can take most of the day to finish, like Talisman, Arkham Horror, Robo Rally and a personal favourite, Junta, a game that encourages backstabbing, plotting and generally being a bastard. I wouldn’t say that I excel, but I do enjoy. SquareMans has an interesting post on Junta that I think outlines what makes it so awesome.

Then there’s Twilight Imperium, but we don’t play that on board game days. We play that in Twilight Imperium days, because it takes that long. An awesome game, though. My style is too timid to succeed with most races in TI3, but I still love it, because even when playing a losing game, I can still do something. It really takes concentrated effort to completely play someone out of it.

Yesterday, though, I only participated in two games. One of these was a game of Arkham Horror that lasted six hours and ended unresolved because everyone had work in the morning, mostly because we ended up with Hastur, the James May of the Great Old Ones, as our adversary. He’s not dangerous as such, but he immensely slows down the game with the requirement of eight Clue tokens to shut the gates. It didn’t help much that the game box was a brand new one and the cards weren’t shuffled properly.

The main event, however, was before that, in another brand new game box: Terror Bull Games’ War on Terror.

War on Terror is a political satire in the form of a strategy game, ribbing on Dubya’s ill-conceived oil grab and assault on civil liberties. Unlike many other satire and parody games (Star Wreck, Violence), however, War on Terror also works as a game. The mechanics are a pretty decent reflection of how things work (or don’t work) on a macro level. Every player starts as an Empire and the game begins with a big grab for strategic territory and oil.

Every territory on the world map laid out to a stereotypically American view of the world (while I do acknowledge that most Americans I know have a rather better picture of the globe, I in turn expect them to acknowledge that a not insignificant number of their countrymen does not) has an oil counter on it, and oil revenues are distributed according to a system lifted directly from The Settlers of Catan. This is the main way of acquiring money.

The thing about terrorists in the game is that they’re cheap as hell and more effective than real warfare. Pretty much the only way that an Empire player can win is if all the Empire players band together to eradicate terrorism and declare World Peace. If they can’t unite and there’s a terrorist player on board (which there inevitably is when one of the Empires loses all their land), the terrorist will win. (The way Empires win is by collecting “Liberation Points”, awarded for conquering a continent and building cities.)

We very nearly won by World Peace, with me eradicating the single terrorist player by a Terrorist Buyoff card financed with my huge Asian oil reserves. However, Henri, with his inimitable style and base instinct to sow chaos, refused World Peace, sowed the map with terrorist cells, invaded Saudi Arabia, and then turned Terrorist.

Then I nuked Brazil, and things went south from there. The game was finally ended unresolved. During it, we’d nuked China, Brazil, Iran, the US Midwest and Eastern Europe (twice). It’s an interesting thing about South America and Africa in the game – due to how the map is set up, it’s possible to destroy everything on the continent with a single Nuke card (Extreme Liberation!!!). Geographic inequality in action, baby.

Also, the game comes with an Evil Balaclava (a ski mask, not to be confused with baklava, which is a dessert). It’s supposed to be worn by the rogue nation player, determined occasionally by spinning the Axis of Evil wheel.

The gameplay is rather loose and could probably do with a bit of tightening up for it to be better as an actual game. However, the satirical elements and the degree to which the gameplay elements and rules support the flavour and tone of the game are superb.

An excellent game, if one has the sense of humour for it.

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