The most astounding game you'll ever see
My friends, I have something to show you here that will change the way you see games forever. It's a life-changing vision, and one I'm afraid you can't unsee. If you don't want your perceptions changed forever, I strongly advise that you not look any further. And if you do look, perpare to have your mind permanently blown.
"Surely whatever this is can't be that amazing," you're thinking right now. You're thinking that I'm overselling this astounding thing right now, that you'll be disappointed when you look further down. Your skepticism is certainly rational, but by the time you're done here, I think you'll find that if anything, my words were simply inadequate to capture how stunning this thing is.
Now, I own a lot of games. No, seriously, a lot. What I get asked all the time is first "Have you played all of these?" (No.) But then, the next question is often "What is the best game you own?" That's not an especially interesting question, as there are so many ways to answer it. I could talk about what the most important game in my life has been (Dungeons & Dragons), a game that changed my life (Bridge), the most intense game I've played (Magic: the Gathering), the game I've probably spent the most time playing (our homebrew version of Warhammer Quest), but none of that answers "best". I could talk about most inspiring, most admirable, most impressive, and on and on until my interlocutor has wandered off and/or died of boredom, but "best"? No, that's not a very good question.
But. Turn it around. What's the worst game that I own? Well. That question most certainly does have an answer. And, to your great regret, you're about to find out what the answer is.
Where to start with this game. Perhaps the most amazing thing is right on that cover: the price. They wanted $27.95 for this game in 2001, which would be roughly $37 today. That's basically a full price for the game, which shows some serious chutzpah given the components. I ended up with this because I had a friend who was running an online game store, and he essentially ordered everything fantasy related that showed up in the catalog for me and just shipped things to me. Neither of us knew exactly what this was going to be, and my imagination was wholly incapable of guessing.
While bad, the cover only gives some hints about the perversion contained within. Every element of the cover is ugly, of course, but the best evidence of the insanity within is the person firing a handgun at the beak-faced hydra...thing in the background. I will give them credit, though, for putting the designer's name on the cover, which wasn't as common as it should have been in 2001. Of course, maybe it's an act of violence to the designer, given the game. Also, special mention to the logo, which reads like "Guild Blades of" and thus really captures the zeitgeist of the company. Let's see what we've got on the back.
Primary colors, that's what we've got on the back. Beneath an amazing run-on sentence describing the game play, we've got some eye-watering portraits. It's probably a bad sign for the contents of the box that the best of those portraits is the hawk with the dayglo yellow human arm growing out of its chest. Oh, and we get our first glimpse of the face-melting grandeur of the game board. And now, we can avoid it no longer, it's time to crack open this box and plumb the depths. This is an example of what the rules look like:
The most surprising thing about the rule book is that there's an editor listed. I can only assume here that "editing" involved mostly transcribing from the original napkins rather than, you know, editing. The rules give up information about the game grudgingly, slowly, a drip of information that serves only to highlight what you don't know about how to play. If you read between the lines and squint hard enough, it slowly dawns on you that this is just Talisman with the serial numbers ineptly filed off. And, of course, every single thing the designer ever heard of bolted on. You can travel to both Heaven and Hell. You can travel to Vatican II and become a Space Knight, somehow. There's a derelict ship because, well, of course there is. Money is called "sabers", because that's not at all confusing in a fantasy game. The game tells you that it's deliberately unfair in the victory conditions, as you can see. Androids and Elves rub elbows. We also learn that a bunch of areas on the board are going to have their own boards in the future. Thank goodness for that! We also learn an astounding fact, which is that they totally forgot to put in the table describing the area that you try and win the game in, and had to include it as a separate errata sheet. Again, because it deserves emphasis: they omitted the winning conditions. This was edited, remember.
And then the cards. Oh, the cards. Almost every one has a "hilarious" statement on them. Like the one where you get to kill the "Health Nuts", or the wry "drop the soap" joke on the fairies, or perhaps the delight of the endlessly farting demon. Just on and on, a non-stop cavalcade of top-notch cutting-edge anti-humor. Whoever wrote these was truly a comedic talent, able to loop carefully around true wit, never approaching it, but instead outlining humor by being the inverse. But I've saved the best for last. The box hints at how bad things might be, the rules suggest what the bottom of the barrel looks like, and the cards show the way towards the depths of the abyss. That abyss is this:
The first incredible thing is that the fact that it's on a warped piece of cheap, thin cardboard is the least bad thing about it. I don't even know where to begin. This board is on the inside of my eyelids now. In the darkest pits of my nightmares, that line of men in suits is waiting there for me in all their cruedly rendered glory.
That's the last image I'll see when I die.
This board manages to be garish and yet, at the same time, unclear. If form follows function, then the function of this board is not to provide a playing surface but to serve as a gate for the gibbering horrors of beyond. At some point, somebody involved in the creation of this monstrosity had a moment of doubt. "What if we shouldn't try and make this as eye piercing as possible," they asked themselves. And somehow, incredibly, that person was reassured that yes, of course they were on the right path. This really was the right way to present this game. Somebody chose this presentation and said, yes, this is what I want. Put my name on the box.
And that, my friends, is why this is the most astounding game you'll ever see. Because this game was made this way on purpose. And it had sequels.