Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Tedium of War in A Few Acres of Snow

My latest @PopMatters article is now live: The Tedium of War in A Few Acres of Snow.

As an avid tabletop gamer, I love getting the chance to write about board games. Their systems are all out on the table, literally. They just invite analysis. In this case, the historical context of A Few Acres of Snow, coupled with a twist on both the deck-building genre and the war game genre, gives it particular appeal. These games necessarily address warfare in one way or another. Interestingly enough, A Few Acres does it by injecting in a circular system of self-destruction. Honestly, it's stunning.

One of the most interesting aspects of board gaming, which I did not discuss in this article, is the tangibility of the experience. Like other two-player games of its type, A Few Acres is built for each player to set opposite the other. To stare another player down from across a table is inherently oppositional, even confrontational. While surely influence by necessity, it gently pushes you towards "othering" the opponent. I firmly believe these physical design choices increase the likelihood you call out your opponent for being a cowardly Frenchman or imperialist Brit.

Moreover, perhaps to accommodate the seating arrangement, half of the text on the board faces the opposite direction. No matter which faction you play, half the city names are upside down and your opponent's discard and siege piles also face the other way. The table is hard to read, particularly as you settle cities closer toward's your opponents side.

While I might find this frustrating in other games (theoretically they could have printed city names facing both directions), in A Few Acres of Snow, it completely resonates with the themes and the systems. War is difficult and unkind, particularly given this geography. The rhetoric of tedious war becomes physical as you attempt to accurately pronounce strange city names while craning your neck to the side. The unified experience is a fascinating act of systems-induced boredom.

1 comment:

  1. You may be interested to know that this game can be played for free as an online boardgame at Yukata. I've played it only once, but it was online, and I imagine that many aspects of gameplay are altered by this arrangement. Also, my best friend and I played it asynchonously, which I found frustrating (but not in a fun way). I really wanted to be there in person and find out the responses right away. It's a complicated game, and having spent about 4 days playing through my single game, I decided to make my next experience a table top one. Here's the link to the online version -

    I think playing it online is probably more enjoyable if you already know the game and feel comfortable with it. I found it really complicated to try to learn without being able to chat with my opponent.