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Svarog's Den - Board Games

Play with Your Hands, Prepare for Tug-of-War, and Bring About the Enlightenment in Pax Illuminaten

by W. Eric Martin

Today I thought I’d round up a selection of tiny games, and few games will be smaller than Don Eskridge‘s Hand Games 21. These games can all be played solely with your hands, and Eskridge has posted the rules for each game on a dedicated website.

As Eskridge wrote to me earlier in 2022, “The goal is simply to put out 21 new hand games this year for anyone to play and enjoy. In the future I might make a small book out of them, but for now just hoping to share with everyone!”

• Somewhat more substantial is Cool Cool Cool, a card game from Keith Baker and Jennifer Ellis of Twogether Studios that was Kickstarted in October 2022 and due out in February 2023.

Each card in the deck has one or more words on it, and you deal out the cards evenly among the players. The game includes eight rule cards, three of which start in play. Players take turns revealing a card and saying what is on it — “Tight!” “Cool cool” — until a card play triggers one of the active rules, at which time players race to slap the card stack and claim all of the cards. When someone’s deck is empty, whoever has the most cards wins.

• At SPIEL ’22, designer Bernd Eisenstein of Irongames had some of his funds stolen from the stand. As a thank you to all those who donated to help him recover from the SPIEL loss, Eisenstein has designed and released a print-and-play game called Ploc:

Every year, the two villages of Plockton and Broadford send their best athletes to compete in tug-of-war. Each village prepares well to win the duel.

Ploc is a fast-paced dice game for two players. The athletes must be used at the right moment to show their strength when it counts. Taking risks is also necessary to leave the field as winners. The player who still has athletes on the field at the end of two matches wins.

You can download material for the game in English and German from the Irongames website.

• Designer Oliver Kiley has written a lot of interesting material on his BGG blog Big Game Theory!, with his June 2022 post covering “The Small Box Zeitgeist!” Here’s an excerpt:

At a broader level, I feel like gamers are getting more vocal about their preferences for smaller boxes and more efficiently designed products… Personally, I think I’ve crossed a wall of sorts in that I’ve actually started to modify — permanently — some of my games to fit into smaller boxes. I recently got the 7 Wonders Duel: Pantheon expansion, and I realized I could fit the whole base game and expansion in the much smaller expansion box if I cut the board in half. Mission accomplished. So much better now!

In terms of gameplay and box sizes, I’m always drawn to the “high gravity games” mentioned above [e.g., Innovation], and look for those few examples floating out there. And this crosses over into my own design work as well. I really enjoy carting around the prototype for Pax Luminous, which is about the same size as the Pax Renaissance (1st edition) box. I love the “heft” and how densely packed it is.

That link for “Pax Luminous” leads to a work-in-progress thread that Kiley started in September 2021, and now that game has been signed with publisher Ion Game Design for release in 2024 as Pax Illuminaten.

Here’s an overview of the 2-4 player game:

1776: Enlightenment era thinking has taken hold across Europe, setting the stage for the modern era, yet in Bavaria the Holy Roman Empire (H.R.E.) reigns supreme, suppressing the dissemination of revolutionary thoughts and ideas. Those wishing to undermine the H.R.E.’s authority and enact Enlightenment reforms must do so from the shadows.

University of Ingolstadt professor Adam Weishaupt, aspiring to mold Bavaria to the ideals of the Enlightenment, formed a secret society to make his vision a reality. His society was called the Order of the Illuminati.

Two-player game (prototype)

In Pax Illuminaten, players assume the role of an Areopagus, a top ranking disciple of Adam Weishaupt’s Order of the Illuminati. You are tasked with accomplishing a series of recruitment plots to extend the reach of the order and grow its web of sympathizers. Players will compete with each other to gain influence over this growing membership in a bid to accomplish Weishaupt’s designs ahead of their rivals and become the highest ranked among the Areopagites.


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