Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The wayward genius of Phil Eklund

I've just been playing Pax Renaissance, the latest masterwork from Phil Eklund at Sierra Madre games, playing it through solo to get the hang of the rules, and what an experience it has been! Deeply immersive, intriguing, satisfying, full of historical interest. Best of all, like all Phil's games, it is a game of ideas, the polar opposite to the idea-free mechanic-driven designs that dominate Euro-gaming, or indeed the high-fantasy miniature-bloated big boxes that regularly emanate from Kickstarter-world.

As you can see, I'm a bit of a fan of Phil Eklund games. And this isn't even my whole collection. I've just said that a big part of their appeal for me is that his games are games of ideas. They give you something to think about. That doesn't mean that his ideas are necessarily very palatable. For example, Phil seems to be some sort of American libertarian. I'm all in favour of personal liberty, but the Ayn Rand style libertarianism that Phil seems to espouse is more about liberty for corporations. The entrepreneurial spirit of capitalism operating in free markets is the great driver of human progress. At least that is what the rule booklet for Pax Renaissance tells me. My response to that is – tell that to the people in Bhopal. Pax Porfiriana, Phil's epic game of the Mexican revolution, teaches us that the world is divided into makers and takers, in other words taxation is simply extracting money with menaces. I prefer to think of taxation as a (very imperfect) common purse, to which we all contribute for the common good. Bios Megafauna, Phil's simply magnificent game about the last 250 million years of evolution, has a throwaway line in the rules about mankind's heroic efforts to avoid the next "snowball earth" by digging up and burning as much fossil fuel as possible. So much for the scientific consensus on climate change.

But I don't really mind all that. The great thing is that Phil Eklund reads widely and deeply, and builds his often heterodox conclusions into the structure of his truly excellent games. Giving me not only something great to play, but some truly interesting ideas to chew over and disagree with. Give me that over the latest idea-free Euro-deckbuilder any day.