Monday, May 17, 2021

It’s An (Even More) Wonderful World: Expansions and Goodies

Back in the day – after my first play of It’s A Wonderful World at a 2019 post-Essen gathering, here’s what I wrote:
A slightly more gamer-y 7 Wonders-ish card drafting game of civilization building. The major difference is that you’re drafting a set of cards that you then use as resources (discarding them) or construction (building them). We were just over 30 minutes with 2 players… but both Dan & I are “play by the seat of your pants” players. I saw other games with more players that lasted nearly an hour – which indicates that the game proceeds at the pace of the slowest player. Good news: it worked just fine with 2 players “out of the box”.
Now, with 36 more plays in the intervening 18 months, I’d call myself a fan.

Which leads me to all of the ways in which you can expand the Wonderful World…

Corruption and Ascension

Corruption and Ascension is a true-blue expansion to It’s A Wonderful World, including a separate deck of additional development cards as well as extra bits to make the game playable with 6-7 players. Also in the box is a dry erase scoreboard which is a particularly nice add-on… and two new empire cards.

The added deck of 56 cards adds two new types of cards to the game:
  • Cards with corruption (that take away the production of a particular resource in exchange for a cheaper price and/or a more lucrative payoff)
  • Cards with dual scoring bonuses (that reward the player with points for combinations at the end of the game… for example, 6 points for each pair of Project & Financier)
The Corruption & Ascension deck has a different card back than the base deck… so cards are distributed in new combinations outlined in the rules. Otherwise, the game plays exactly as before – just with new possibilities and challenges to building your country into the powerhouse you knew it should be.

This is the easiest to find of the expansions (to purchase)… and is also the easiest to add to the base game without making the game more difficult to teach to new players. I really like the added variety to the decision-making on what to keep and what to pass on.

The Campaign Boxes

As part of the Corruption & Ascension Kickstarter, La Boite de Jeu also published two campaigns for It’s a Wonderful World. Both are similar in structure – the box contains rules for a campaign of 5 games in which the winner of the final game is the winner of the campaign. There are multiple sealed envelopes and “secret” boxes that are opened as a part of the set-up of each game which introduce a variety of variant situations and limitations as well as new game mechanics and cards.

At the conclusion of each campaign, there are booster packs to open that give you cards to add to your base deck to incorporate the twists of the campaign into your copy of It’s A Wonderful World.

While it sounds like I’ve just described a legacy game, none of the choices made in either campaign are permanent. All cards and game mechanics from the campaigns can be reset in order to replay the campaign or to simply the base game without the extra elements.

Both campaigns can be played with the Corruption & Ascension expansion in play with up to five players… and there are rules for solo play as well.

And now we get to the hard part – trying to describe/review two campaign boxes without spoiling any of the fun hidden inside. (Sigh.)

War or Peace

War or Peace is the less complicated of the two campaigns – while there are some unique challenges in certain scenarios, the overall effect on gameplay is relatively simple and straightforward. Players should have a few games under their belts before attempting this campaign… but that’s primarily so that the new twists won’t overly slow down gameplay.

War or Peace should be played before Leisure and Decadence (both for the “history” of the Wonderful World and to avoid some mild spoilers in the rules and mechanics.)

Solo note: for experienced Wonderful World players, I would set the threshold for a win at 60 points – 50 points is pretty easy to accomplish.

Leisure and Decadence

Leisure & Decadence adds two different new game mechanics that create new challenges for players (and should not be the first experience with the Wonderful World for a new player). 

Warning: the twist introduced in the third scenario does not carry over into the fourth or final scenarios… but I promise it will reappear at some point. (Is that cryptic enough?)

The same solo note applies here – 60 points is a more challenging threshold for solo games.

Note: Lucky Duck Games imprint is on the War or Peace box as well as the Corruption & Ascension box – but not on the Leisure & Decadence box. This may explain why Leisure & Decadence is only available through the La Boite de Jue website.

Kickstarter Goodie Box

I’m not sure the goodie box of Kickstarter extras is worth the hard-earned money I spent on it… but since this is a game we play a good bit, I love how the little plastic bit bowls and chunky wooden round marker make the game a little bit nicer. (Note: the bit bowls are very thin clear plastic – which means it is easy to pour bits out of them back into their baggies… and they don’t interfere with the art on the board.)

Also included in the KS goodies are 12 additional cards for the base deck with new twists and the same gorgeous art style… and five alternate empire cards with two different options.

And, yes, that’s a pretty serious pair of typos on one line in the list of contents.

It’s A Wonderful Kingdom

The newest offering in Wonderful World franchise is a Kickstarter for a two-player fantasy world game, using a similar card/resource structure… but with a really nice twist on the “I cut – you pick” mechanic. The initial player places two cards down – dividing them between a pair of selection areas (or even stacking them together). Then the opposing player chooses one of the selection areas and takes all the cards. Then the roles reverse… and any cards not yet taken remain on the selection areas until a player chooses that area. 

The game has multiple modules – quests, advisors, menaces (and even conquest with the available expansion). As my son & I typically play It’s A Wonderful World as a two-player game, it’s a no-brainer for us to back the whole kit and kaboodle.

Final Thoughts

Interestingly enough, adding all those extra cards to the game doesn’t actually dilute the original mix of card outcomes. I did a pretty detailed analysis of the card decks and the percentages of different card types, recycling bonuses, and cards that produce points all stay very close to the base deck in their mixture. That means that the variety of the deck increases without radically changing the feel of the original game – a triumph of thoughtful design and development.

In another nice touch, all of the expansions have subtle but easy to read symbols to help you sort them out from the base deck. 

If you are just going to pick up one of the boxes, I’d strongly suggest Corruption & Ascension – it adds the most to the original game while still being easy to set aside when teaching new players. (And the extra 3x Financier and General tokens along with the dry-erase board are useful no matter which mix of cards that you use.)

I especially like the solo scenarios in the Corruption & Ascension rulebook – the varied win conditions and “rating” my performance makes for an enjoyable solo experience.

My son and I played through both campaigns as two-player games… and while he emerged victorious (twice!), we both had a fantastic time exploring the twists and turns in the campaign boxes. I also played through the campaigns solo after we finished our two-player adventures… and can recommend them as solo experiences. I will say that more players may make things even more interesting with some of the challenges in Leisure and Decadence – but I’m sure he & I will confirm that with friends sometime in the near future.

A final thought: as is normal for reviews of expansions, these are unlikely to change your mind if you’re not a fan of the original game. But, for fans, they each increase the variety of the playing options as well as expanding the base game in interesting ways.

Play #37 likely coming this weekend!

This review originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.

Friday, May 14, 2021

The Myth of the Straight Line

My mom used to talk about her most hated class as a math major in college - Non-Euclidean Geometry. I don't pretend to understand even the smallest bit of the content of the class (I was lucky to escape high school Geometry with a C)... but I remember vividly the phrase that "the shortest distance between two points is not necessarily a straight line." 

That's one of the many things that popped into my head as I finished reading Heather Cox Richardson's book, How The South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continued Fight for the Soul of America.

While I agree with a number of her ideas:
  • the use of myths like The Lost Cause and the American Cowboy to perpetuate false narratives and questionable political positions
  • the tendency toward elitism and othering to exclude "non-desirable" people groups from having a political voice
  • the cynical choices of both political parties in the last 150+ years to ignore and/or reverse deeply held positions in order to maintain political power
I think there is a problem inherent in her book that, sadly, has become common in public discourse. That's the myth of the straight line.

It is profoundly tempting when attempting to make your point - whether it is drawing from historical precedent, religious text, or scientific data - to assert that since A happened, of course B occurred... and that inexorably led to C & D. 

When Drawing the Straight Line Leads You To Crooked Facts

Richardson's research assistants and editors let her down - or, in a less charitable explanation, she simply ignored easily available information - when it came to dealing with the Protestant denomination I grew up in and served as a pastor for nearly 30 years. 

Over the next few paragraphs, I'm going to attempt to explain my frustration with a set of historical circumstances I know well - and in some cases actually lived through - to show the author's tendency toward drawing straight, clean lines of cause & effect that may or may not accurately portray reality.
  • Comparing the footnoted story in The Atlantic about a meeting between two powerful SBC leaders to Richardson's text:
    • Atlantic article: "In 1967, at New Orleans’s historic CafĂ© du Monde, a young seminary student named Paige Patterson and Texas Judge Paul Pressler met over a plate of beignets to hatch a plan to unite conservative Southern Baptists and take over America’s largest Protestant denomination. The two men successfully executed their strategy in the subsequent decades, a movement they labeled the “Conservative Resurgence” and their opponents dubbed the “Fundamentalist Takeover.” Whatever one calls it, the result was a purging of moderates from among denominational ranks, the codifying of literal interpretations of the Bible, and the transformation of the Southern Baptist Convention into a powerful ally of the Republican Party."
    • How The South Won the Civil War: "Some deemed [feminists] such a threat to American society that in 1967 men determined to stop the church from embracing rights for people of color and women launched a takeover of the Southern Baptists, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, to turn the religion away from the new ways and back to fundamentalism."
Let me make a few comments here:
  1. The author leaves out the rest of the context of The Atlantic article, which goes into detail about the shunning of Patterson & Pressler in the SBC.
  2. "Literal interpretations of the Bible" isn't a full or nuanced view of the debates over inerrancy of Scripture and various interpretations of difficult passages. Even extremely conservative theologians hold that there are various forms of literature in the Bible (poetry, history, apocryphal writings, etc.) that are not all interpreted literally. This is a broad brush "look at how backwards these yokels are" kind of argumentation.
  3. "Fundamentalism" has become a curse word - and, in some cases, I completely understand why. But the very elasticity of its meaning makes it distinctly unhelpful when discussing theology and practice in a particular denomination (or, for that matter, any world religion).
  4. Southern Baptists have dealt with racism in increasingly clear terms. The first convention resolution with teeth was passed in 1989 (after the Resurgence was well underway). I'd also recommend looking at the resolutions from 1995, 2015, and 2018. (Yes, I understand that resolutions don't always work their way into practice - but they are clear indications of how the most SBC-committed pastors & laypeople are thinking.)
The "Conservative Resurgence"/"Battle for the Bible"/"Fundamentalist Takeover" was a real thing in Southern Baptist life... but the implications that Richardson draws by her truncated description and word choices do not adequately reflect the complicated nature of that period in Baptist history.
  • Incorrect information about Pat Robertson
    • How The South Won the Civil War: "By 1988 evangelicals had become politically powerful enough to push one of their own ministers, Southern Baptist leader Pat Robertson, for the Republican presidential nomination."
    • Problematic facts:
      • Pat Robertson resigned as a Baptist minister in 1987 as he prepared for the presidential run.
      • Pat Robertson's theology - which includes substantial amounts of charismatic doctrine (including his oft-maligned tendency to prophesy about politics) - is not in the mainstream of Southern Baptist theology or practice.
      • Pat Robertson did not have a history of being a denominational leader in the SBC.
So, Richardson chose the technically correct appellation for Pat Robertson that fit her straight line narrative... when "televangelist" might have hewn closer to the truth.

Note: there are serious disagreements roiling the Southern Baptist Convention right now about these very issues - the place of critical race theory as a tool in examining orthodoxy and orthopraxy, the appropriate response to the slave-holding parts of our heritage as a denomination, and the ways in which we platform, support, and encourage brothers & sisters of color. All of that is important work - godly work that requires a clear understanding of our history and a Biblical willingness to renounce sin and embrace truth.

I have a long history serving SBC churches as a member and as a vocational minister. I've seen abject racism (Sunday School teachers who advocate for the pernicious "curse of Ham" heresy, deacons who shut down youth ministry events because they attract students of color, etc.) as well as believers who advocate for civil rights and the truth of Galatians 3:28. I had the privilege of pastoring a church that was mixed with Hispanic and Anglo members... in a Baptist state convention led a person of color. The narrative about racial issues and Southern Baptists is just not that simple.

Note as well that I understand that Heather Cox Richardson wasn't writing a book about the SBC and it's role in supporting the political structures and decisions she is criticizing. On her way to proving her point, however, she drew a straight line through a much thornier and complicated bit of history.

And that makes it more difficult for me to take in the rest of the book - leaving me to wonder where else she elided pesky historical facts or sandpapered down sharp edges from individuals or movements she supports.

One more non-SBC related example from a kid who went to high school & college in the 1980s: another footnoted article from USA Today states that "Because of its violence, Red Dawn became the first film ever to receive a PG-13 rating." Richardson's text reads: "In summer 1984, director John Milius brought to the nation's movie theaters what was, at the time, the most violent film ever made. Red Dawn was..." Those are not the same thing. 

This is Not Just a Problem for "Woke Leftist Socialist Sympathizers"

It's vital to note that straight lines aren't confined to the work of Heather Cox Richardson or the pundits on MSNBC. 

I'll take a recent example: George Rep. Andrew Clyde's description of the incursion of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021: "Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes taking videos and pictures... You know, if you didn't know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit." 

Rep. Clyde is attempting (as has been his wont) to avoid labeling what happened an 'insurrection'. In that process, he's chosen to focus on the video clips from Statuary Hall. 

I had the privilege of taking a U.S. Capitol tour with a congressional staffer (well, two of them, actually) and my family back in the fall of 2015. I do not remember any part of my "normal tourist visit" allowing me to stand on the Senate chamber dais, enter the building through a window, or fight with a Capitol police officer.

Rep. Clyde is drawing a straight line - avoiding the facts that make his life (and politics) more complicated - in favor of a narrative that supports his own prior positions and support of the former President. 

The same is true of David Barton - whose Wallbuilders ministry has doubled down time and time again on America's founding as a Christian nation. That's despite ample historical evidence that shows a myriad of influences in the founding documents of the American experiment - some of which come from Scripture. By the same token, the religious affiliation and level of spiritual practice of the founding fathers varied widely.

There was an excellent article on The Lost Cause published on The Gospel Coalition website this last week that notes the same problem - the roots of this whitewashing (pun intended) of the Civil War are based in the same desire to draw a straight line that argues for a particular point.

Final Thoughts

There is much to like about Heather Cox Richardson's book - she notes some important ways in which the recent actions of "Movement Conservatives" echo the behaviors of some politicians both prior to and following the Civil War. As I wrote earlier in this piece, I see eye to eye with her on some of her main points. 

But just because I agree with someone does not mean I bury my head in the sand when they shade the story to make a point. As an outspoken critic of the former President and his habitual lying and gaslighting, I need to use the same critical eye to analyze the current President (the Georgia voting law has real problems, but it is not "Jim Crow on steroids"). Or any other writer, for that matter.