GAME STORIES (PART 2)

Last time, I talked about the various stories board games attempt to pass off. Are they legitimate, or are they just a skeleton on which to hang gameplay?  Let’s look at a few more.

COMANAUTS

Admittedly, Comanauts may win in this comparison because of the efforts by the designers to weave an actual story worth reading into the fabric of the game. Players are unknowns, lacking names, or implied personalities. They manifest within the game as avatars attempting to settle into the dream-like environments of the game. When an avatar is killed, the player switches to another while still being the same formerly nameless personalities. Yes, players are playing people that are playing characters. Like Mice & Mystics and Stuffed Fables (which we’ll go into later), Comanauts plays on an actual storybook with pages that are flipped to advance a story. However, with the other games in this series, Comanauts changes with each play rather than being a linked series of adventures. This ultimately works against the game as it deprives the title of any continuity.

Within the game, players are entering the mind of one Dr. Martin Strobal, a comatose genius who built the Mobius Ring meant to supply unlimited clean energy. Now a disaster has critically injured Strobal and set the Ring on a course to destroy the world. The only solution (apparently) is locked in Strobal’s mind. Yes, if this hasn’t struck you in the face yet, Comanauts is ripping off a variety of movies, most notably Inception, Paprika, and The Cell. And in defense, despite being derivative, it does spring from amazing source ideas. In fact, I would claim Comanauts as one of the best-written board game stories around with one notable problem. The catharsis and character revelations occur to Martin Strobal, the NPC. The players possess no personal connections to the story at all.  Too bad…so close.

Story Quality: 7/10

DETECTIVE: A MODERN CRIME BOARD GAME

Why is Detective on this list and not Chronicles of Crime? Simply put, characters. Detective has them; Chronicles of Crime does not. Both involve players attempting to solve a crime through the acquisition of evidence and the interrogation of people. So, yeah, Detective is a police story, but one where players must research various real-life people and events, breaking the 4th wall, if you will. More importantly, the cases are connected, allowing events and discoveries from earlier cases to bleed into later ones. If episodes of Law & Order can be considered good stories, then Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game must be as well. And yes, it’s better than Chronicles of Crime. I can’t go too much into the story of Detective because…well…I’m still playing the campaign and I don’t want the story to be ruined just yet.

Story Quality: 6/10

FIRST MARTIANS

Not a lot of people like this game, but I love it. It is a science-fiction variation of Robinson Crusoe. Most reviews point to its single-game scenarios, but First Martians is never meant to be played this way. While amazingly complicated, the game employs an app to aid in setup and maintain a consistent narrative. But the game’s real star is its legacy-style campaign books where the condition of the fragile Martian station is carried over between missions. Characters must keep their station running while withstanding dust storms, martian-quakes, and supply deficiencies. Keep the greenhouses running. Repair the life support. This station was obviously built by Samsung given how fragile it is. Characters have faces, names, but lack motivation other than staying alive. The narrative moments come in the form of character-specific crises as well as campaign-driven challenges.

The connected stories of First Martians are what truly wins me over and why I consider it better than Robinson Crusoe. It’s just a damn shame the manual is one of the worst written I have ever seen.

Story Quality: 7/10

FOG OF LOVE

Almost as entertaining to watch as it is the play, Fog of Love is a relationship simulator where two players assume the roles of semi-complex individuals with their own quirks and motivations. The core box offers a few episodes with more available for later purchase. These can involve the roller coaster turmoil of young love, the complications of a lengthy marriage, or…ghosts. 

Yeah, there is a romantic ghost story. Another deals with in-laws. Each episode/session creates wildly different relationships based on random character traits selected, even if the same scenario is played. These can create admittedly cliched scenarios that would be rejected by Hallmark. One game I played felt like a recreation of the film Out of Sight. Others were downright bizarre. Yes, these scenarios will come as cliched, but as dramatic exercises, they are incredibly fun.

Story Quality: 4/10