Wiz-War and the Monumental Task of Updating Games

Roughly eight to ten years ago, Fantasy Flight was known for reprinting classic experiential games like Merchant of Venus, Dungeonquest, Talisman, and Cosmic Encounter. Of course they were also known for bungling those reprints. To be sure, there were some missteps. Their original reprint of Dungeonquest integrated a cumbersome combat system totally at odds with the breezy stupidity of the old-school dungeon crawl absurdity. The height of this absurdity was their reprint of Merchant of Venus, which through a mangled wreck of rights ambiguities, included both the original classic game and a totally redesigned version.

While the criticism was partially justified, I can’t help but think that in hindsight, it was a tad unfair. For my own part, Fantasy Flight served as my introduction to almost all of my favorite games. Cosmic Encounter, Talisman, and Merchant of Venus are all among my most beloved designs, and that can largely be credited to the handsome reprint jobs done by Fantasy Flight. The most grievous changes were almost always presented as optional (Merchant of Venus), purely cosmetic (Nexus Ops), or later corrected (Dungeonquest). I reflected on this as I taught my oldest son Wiz-War, the classic from designer Tom Jolly, itself reprinted by FFG in 2012.

I’ve written a number of times about Wiz-War. At its core it’s a classic take-that game where wizards do battle in a magical labyrinth. There are two ways to win: either be the last wizard standing, or steal two treasures from your opponents. You do battle with a deck of cards, all representing different spells. In the past this was done with cheap cardboard components and cards with only text. For FFG’s eighth edition, there were fancy plastic miniatures and nicely illustrated cards, but the overall effect is to my knowledge basically the same.

The minis is my copy look even nicer, because I painted them.

It would be disingenuous of me to compare the FFG version to earlier ones, since I have never played the game in any other form. I know a lot of old fans who took issue with some changes, such as card wording that affected timing or went against previous convention. Personally I’ve never had many issues with this ambiguity, but then I don’t actually know better. But other changes are more noticeable. Most of these are in the back of the original rulebook, so that players who want to can reverse-engineer something resembling the original game. Early on I rejected all the new rule changes, and it saved the game from the trade pile for me.

Overall I think this was the right call, but as I’ve played with my son I’ve started to see some of the wisdom of Fantasy Flight’s changes. The first one was how the deck itself was constructed. In past editions, all of the cards were in one big stack. But as FFG added expansions the number of cards nearly doubled. From the beginning, they introduced a mechanic called “Schools of Magic,” where the cards were divided into little 24-card packets arranged kinda-sorta thematically. Players would select a few of them each game, and leave the rest out. This was continued in the expansions, but I threw them all in the same giant deck. But after doing this for literally years, it felt like the game was starting to bog down too frequently. Not only that, but they didn’t have a lot of personality from session to session. Re-introducing the Schools of Magic created a much more focused experience. There are far fewer mechanical elements, but those elements are much more pronounced, making the whole thing more compelling and a bit more fast-paced. The variety from game to game has also gone way up.

Another big change involved the victory conditions. FFG introduced a system of victory points, where you get one point for either killing another wizard or stealing a treasure, rather than making it a duel to the bitter end. This is one of those shorter games where I think player elimination is actually a better fit, but as the player count goes up to five (with an expansion) the VP system begins to make a bit more sense. It makes for a shorter game, and it does create a different experience from the original game, but it’s not one that I think is unfaithful. To me Wiz-War always resembled Mario Kart more than, say, Starcraft. It’s a game of finding momentary advantages, not long battles of attrition. With lower player counts, it’s less necessary, but I’ll never play with five players any other way.

My son beat me in our first game. Now the circle is complete.

This whole process of bouncing between different variants to get a game to work perfectly has made me think about how we talk about reprints. I’ve now been in this hobby long enough to see games that I loved in their original form get reprinted with slight tweaks, and it can be a disorienting feeling. Game design is a holistic pursuit, and even slight changes can have unintended consequences to a design. When I see a new version of something like, say, Citadels show up, I am immediately defensive. I know that any change will result in something that is just a bit unfamiliar to me, and that’s not what I want.

This defensiveness can even extend to how I approach reprints of games I’ve never actually played. I’m a great lover of history, particularly board gaming history, and I want something “authentic,” as if there’s a moral imperative to play games as they have always been. But that betrays a bit of possessiveness on my part. Precious few games can ever exist without any changes at all, and so much art requires its original context to fully make sense. I admire the attempts to recontextualize old games to make sense to modern gamers. What a thankless task that must be. Not all changes are good, and some are catastrophic, but there are still new fans created. That’s how you grow the hobby while keeping it connected to its roots.

Fantasy Flight Games is today a very different company than the one that reprinted Wiz-War. Indeed, Wiz-War is now out of print, though I doubt it will stay that way for long. But I still want to take a moment to thank those tireless fans who work, through their craft, to explain to new players why the games they love are still relevant. So thank you to Fantasy Flight Games, Restoration Games, Stronghold Games, and any other publisher who is trying to recontextualize a game for a new age. It’s through the work of people like you that I have discovered the board games that have spoken to me in their own way. That is quite an accomplishment, and I will always be thankful.

Why You Might Not Like Cosmic Encounter

Cosmic Encounter is the best game I’ve ever played.

I’ve felt that way for over a decade now. It’s everything I want in a board game, a full embrace of what makes board games so special as a medium. It also happens to be one of the most influential board game designs of all time, directly informing genre-defining designs like Dune and Magic: The Gathering, and more niche designs like Citadels and Wiz-War. I’ve never been shy about my love either. I’ve written about it on numerous occasions on other platforms, and I even had a chance to interview one of its designers. It’s the best example of how board games can embrace social interaction, subtly brilliant design, and endless variety into something that still manages to be approachable and fresh with every new game.

But not everyone feels the same way. I’ve had a pretty high success rate introducing it to other players, and I’ve gotten down explaining this huge game to a science. Games may be for everyone, but the truth is that no single game is for everyone. It felt like a gap to not yet have an article on this blog about my favorite game of all time, but rather than simply gushing about it for a couple thousand words I thought it might be interesting to think of reasons why someone might not like Cosmic Encounter very much. I believe that all of these things are true about this wonderful game, but that doesn’t mean you’ll find it enjoyable.

It’s a really social game.
I’ve never played a strategy game that embraces every facet of social interaction in quite the same way Cosmic Encounter does. Lots of games embrace certain kinds of social interaction, whether it’s hardcore negotiation, alliances, cooperation, competition, or deception. But to me what separates Cosmic Encounter from all of them is that you need to be pretty good at all of those things without ever totally committing to any one of them. You certainly can play it as a very cut-throat game, but the situation will often call for a softer touch than that, and open collaboration can be extremely effective. Likewise open honesty can win just as well as deception. There isn’t one sort of social interaction that carries the day. A really good player needs to know how to switch between all of these modes, sometimes from turn to turn.

Without this embrace of these “soft” skills of negotiation, socialization, and collaboration Cosmic Encounter can seem pretty thin. It’s the sort of game that really needs those elements to function well. But the truth is that not everyone likes engaging that way. For some people heavy social interaction is a source of anxiety, and board games represent a way to put some limits on interaction. If you are one of those people, then you might find Cosmic Encounter to be a uniquely irritating game. It’s not just that it is highly interactive, it’s that the kind of interaction can shift quickly.

It’s a chaotic game.
Cosmic Encounter has a lot of mechanics that inject variety into the design. There are the artifacts and flares, cards that can change the game state unexpectedly in myriad ways. There are the vagaries of alliances, which shift every round. Most of all there are aliens, unique powers given to each player at the beginning of the game that allow them to break a specific rule. By themselves, each of these mechanics would make a varied and interesting design, but together they can create a chaotic maelstrom where things change instantly without warning. This represents the sci-fi setting better than anything, where there are always new interactions to discover and bizarre effects that I still haven’t seen before. It truly is a game about the unexplored edges of space.

Rather than attempting to temper this insanity, Cosmic Encounter leans into it. Wild reversals are common, and it can be hard to know what is and isn’t really happening in the game. No gain is permanent, and no setback is truly debilitating. It exists entirely in the moment, not caring much for the future or the past. Powers and card effects can fly fast and furious, and it only amps up with more players. Besides that, it’s just silly. This is a game that is comfortable making the players do zany things like call everyone “sir” and “ma’am,” or permitting a certain player to whine about how badly they are losing. There’s even a card that gives the possessor permission to cheat, and makes it easier if they get caught. It’s a strategic game, but it’s not a very serious one. It is perfectly fine being loony, and if you aren’t this one might really grate on you. It is possible to tune the game by excluding certain cards or limiting the number of players, but even then the game will threaten to go off the rails. New players should definitely be aware of this tendency before diving in.

More than one player can win.
In my experience this might be the single most controversial design choice in Cosmic Encounter. Through a system of alliances and card effects, it is entirely possible that two or more players can win simultaneously. Such shared wins are not really understood as ties, but simply as multiple winners. This is a weird design choice, but it’s also a necessary one. Cosmic Encounter is driven by a hand of cards, and with cards the deal is everything. It’s surprisingly difficult to get new cards too, so a bad deal can be devastating. Shared wins tend to come through negotiation and cooperation, and so they represent an out for players who were dealt a hand of garbage. They also tie back into the myriad forms of social interaction, allowing more non-competitive people to win in a way that they find appealing. If you are the type who plays with big groups, shared wins are also just about the only way to get a victory with six or more players. You really need someone’s help to walk away with a victory at that stage.

As far as I’m concerned this is a feature, not a bug. And for people who don’t like it I don’t get the impression that it’s a deal-breaker (so to speak). But I think a lot of those people can point to endings they found particularly lame, when two people suddenly decide they will win together and no one can stop them. If you are the competitive type, such an ending can be deeply unsatisfying, but to remove the shared win entirely puts the players much more at the mercy of their cards, dooming bad draws to likely defeat. So you’ve been warned.

(Another complaint that I actually have about my favorite game is that the end can happen a little anticlimactically if you aren’t experienced. New players will often find themselves in a situation where things are rolling along and, oh, the game is over I guess. I think Cosmic Encounter is one of those “journey before destination” games, so I’m not including it as a deal-breaker. But it’s definitely there.)

This is from The Walking Dead. It is notable for the shirt, and also for the fact that it looks so much like me it makes me wonder if I’m being followed around.

It’s easy to have a lousy game.
I love Cosmic Encounter, but I will admit that there are a lot of ways it can go wrong. Almost all of these boil down to the alien powers that are in the game. With all of the expansion content released for the current edition, there are lots of them that are, well, kind of lame. Lots of others are riffs on the same basic concept, and still more are only good in specific situations. That last one is, I think, the biggest impediment to having a good experience with Cosmic Encounter. A lot of powers are only good if there are a certain number of players. Still others would be great, were it not for that other power in the game that basically renders them useless. It’s not much fun for a new player to sit in a game and not be able to use the thing that makes their experience unique. Besides that, a deeply social game like this one makes it uniquely vulnerable to bad actors. Some people just want to ruin the fun for everyone, and this is a game that does allow some of that.

I don’t want to overstate the volatility here. The issue of jerk players is one that would be much worse in the hands of lesser designers. But there are checks on that sort of behavior baked into the game, like how it uses a destiny deck to determine which player will have an encounter with which other player. The alliance system, whereby players join with the offense or defense to get rewards or move closer to victory, forces players to keep a lose grip on grudges. But the issue of weird power mixes is one that I’m afraid is endemic to the design. You could always remove powers you don’t like (I don’t, but I’m lazy that way), but unless you handpick everything you play with you will sometimes just end up with a dud. Not too often, but it’s definitely a thing that can happen. If that happens to you enough, you might just swear off Cosmic Encounter altogether.

Let me be perfectly clear: I think you should play Cosmic Encounter. It’s a brilliant game filled with laughter, surprising strategy, and constant interaction. But because the game is so special to me I think it’s important to set expectations. Travelling through the galaxy and meeting alien species is treacherous work, but if you know what you’re getting into you might just discover that it’s the only game you’ll want to play.

Star Wars: Outer Rim

box cover

It’s hard for me to gauge the buzz in board gaming circles these days, but the release of Star Wars: Outer Rim this last summer completely passed me by. From way over here in Asia, it barely seemed to register at all. The consensus was one of muted approval, a perfectly cromulent game but little more. I’m glad I gave it a chance, because while Outer Rim is a different game than I expected, I am altogether in love with the game I got.

At first glance Outer Rim appears to be in a very particular tradition, that of the pick-up-and-deliver genre. Merchant of Venus is a good starting place for games like this, where the player builds a network of routes to move items around the board. Games like Xia, Merchants & Marauders, and the Firefly board game have all riffed on this in various ways, adding different narrative elements like ship customization and combat. The results are generally very appealing to me, which was what attracted me to Outer Rim in the first place.

Outer Rim certainly has all the trappings of the genre. You take on the role of a scoundrel from the Star Wars universe, and then make your way through the outlying planets in the galaxy. This can be accomplished by moving cargo around the board, but you can also be a bounty hunter or go around the galaxy doing odd jobs. These different activities make you money, which can then be used to buy a better ship and do more stuff. The end goal is to make a name for yourself in the form of fame, and the first person to 10 fame is the winner.

There is a fair bit going on here besides mere pick-up-and-deliver. Furthermore, if you go into Outer Rim with the logistics of trade as your primary desire, you might leave disappointed. The board is actually a long corridor of systems, surprisingly linear in its design as opposed to the large network of locations in, say, Merchant of Venus. It is never very difficult to come up with a route to what you’re doing; either your goal is close or it isn’t. In truth Outer Rim is much more interested in letting players explore the Star Wars setting, doing what they like and making a name for themselves however they like best. It actually has much more in common with big adventure games like Talisman or Arkham Horror, more a light roleplaying experience than an economic one.

Outer Rim has a weird arc instead of a traditional board, making deliveries feel far more linear.

In that regard Outer Rim succeeds admirably. Other FFG Star Wars games have sought to recreate specific situations from the beloved movies, usually large-scale conflicts. Games like X-Wing, Rebellion, or Armada all put players in the role of Rebels or Imperials, maybe with some Scum and Villainy thrown in for variety. But Outer Rim is the first board game I’ve played that seems to really recreate the Star Wars universe itself. It represents a vibrant ecosystem of characters, spaceships, and worlds playing out against a backdrop of intergalactic conflict, and the player is given the option to experience it as they think best. You can take the role of famous characters like Han Solo or Lando Calrissian, more obscure ones like Bossk or IG-88, or ones that didn’t even appear in the movies. The game pulls from all three film trilogies, the various TV shows, and even the comic books. And it’s all there for you to explore.

This sense of freedom is pervasive, even as the characters steer you toward different strategies. Indeed, the character you play can make a huge difference in how you interact with the galaxy. Some are well-suited to bounty hunting, while others are really built for smuggling. But there’s never a big penalty for mixing and matching, for taking on a small smuggling job to make some extra credits. You can also build a crew for your ship, made up of characters like Chewbacca or Maz Kanata who might fetch nice bounties if captured by other players. You can even turn on your own crew members and turn them in for bounties if you want to. Outer Rim offers a huge range of narrative possibilities, playing out with surprising specificity.

Other board games have pulled off this trick as well, but what impresses me most about Outer Rim is how efficiently the game does it. Instead of feeling like a sprawling mess of a game with piles of seldom-used subsystems, it feels like it was designed to use the bare minimum of cards and tokens possible. This has been interpreted by some as a lack of content, an obvious attempt to leave something for an inevitable expansion. The game doesn’t really need more cards though, because the variety here is not achieved through huge piles of cards, but through mechanical interactions. The game changes quite a bit based on where NPCs are located, what ships are available, how patrols move, and what characters are in the game. Of all of FFG’s designs, it reminds me most of Battlestar Galactica, another design that relied on permutations of the same relatively simple setup. (Indeed, the games share a designer in Corey Konieczka, here sharing design credit with Tony Fanchi.) Outer Rim feels like a complete and finished experience, and while I would love to see more characters and more planet encounters, it feels like the sort of game that could easily be brought down by an expansion that isn’t quite as well-considered.

The narratives generated in Outer Rim feel surprisingly detailed, without a whole bunch of mechanical cruft.

Design-wise, Outer Rim is not at all flashy. There are very few elements that feel innovative or particularly unique. But it’s a classic case where basically everything here works well. Fantasy Flight has an unfortunate history of games that are great aside from one particular issue, often the combat. This was also an issue in Merchants & Marauders, the very fun pirate game with combat so overwrought that the players avoid engaging with it. Nothing in Outer Rim feels like a hassle, and the efficiency of the design means that all of the different mechanics come up in basically every game. The lack of “innovative” mechanics also means that you can engage with the game’s fun parts right away. At no point have I felt like I was at war with the rules, or that they were forcing me to learn something before I could enjoy myself. It just works, and it lets the players have fun on the first try. The only bit that feels a little undercooked to me is the use of “secret” cards, special player actions that can be gained on different planet encounters. They aren’t something that kills the flow of the game, but they are the only part of the design that feels like an afterthought.

To be fair, the experience does have some bumpy moments. While the design feels cohesive and intuitive, it does have quite a lot of rules, and there will be some references to those rules while you internalize everything. It’s also not a particularly deep experience. A lot depends on card flips a die rolls, and those who want more control might find themselves frustrated. Perhaps more worryingly, the game takes a while to get going. The first third to the first half of the game are occupied by small stakes, easier jobs and simpler bounties that allow you to get better ships, crew, and gear, thereby allowing you to go for the big stuff. As a result, the early going can feel endless, since most of the fame generated comes in the back half. It’s hardly a deal-breaker, but it’s a 2-3-hour game, and patience is definitely required if you want to see what it has to offer. However, the pace does have its benefits. I always feel like I’m able to explore as much of the galaxy as I want, and a faster pace might cut that short. I am fine with the tradeoff, but others will think it too long-winded. That’s especially true if playing with the full complement of four players.

Look, I’ve only had this game a short time. But in that short time I’ve played a whole lot. I have yet to find any major red flags in Outer Rim that would prevent me from giving it my highest recommendation. It’s exactly the Star Wars game I’ve wanted for years, a chance to play in the universe I’ve loved since I was a kid with very few boundaries. The fact that it’s in a well-designed game with few mechanical issues is just icing on the cake. This is one of my favorite games in a long time.

Why I Love Merchant of Venus

avalon hill cover

There are a handful of games I’ve reviewed multiple times, which is something that can happen when you write about games for a long time. While this may seem like repetition (mostly because it is) it’s often a good indication as to the quality of a particular game. In the case of Merchant of Venus, it’s true that it’s a great game. Honestly, it’s one of my favorite games ever. But this is the third time I’ve written about the game, and part of the reason is because I’ve had a hard time pinning down exactly what it is about Merchant of Venus that I like so much.

That’s partially because Merchant of Venus is the rare game that I clicked with immediately. This was around 2011 or so, and I was playing someone’s homemade copy. There was something about the game that made me want to have its experience in my life. I never had to analyze something that wasn’t working for me, because it all worked right away. Part of this can just be chalked up to it being a genre I like. There’s a curious niche of thematic pick-up-and-deliver games out there, games like the Merchants & Marauders, Xia, Firefly, and Wasteland Express Delivery Service. There’s something fundamentally appealing to me about games like these, I think because they present a vision of really living in a fantastic setting. It’s not a struggle, and they aren’t (always) geared toward conflict. You need to go to places and do things besides fight other people.

Merchant of Venus is older than all of those games by at least a good 25 years, but it is telling that is also simpler than many of its descendants. As a space pilot, you are given a ship and a galaxy to explore. There are fourteen races scattered through different systems, each one producing a good that can be bought there are sold to several of the other systems. The early game features exploration pretty heavily, but that eventually gives way to setting up trade loops. You take buy one good in a location, take it to another to sell it for profit, and repeat that a couple times before ending up where you started. Since the goal is to reach a particular level of cash in the bank, a strong loop can be a huge advantage.

Full map
The whole galaxy on my dining room table.

There are different ships you can buy and upgrades that enhance your ride, and you will also be able to buy some businesses that will improve the infrastructure of the system, making trade easier. But for the most part the game is about trying to leverage the geography of the map and the layout of the different races into a stable trade route. It’s a fundamentally pleasurable gameplay loop, one that goes down so smooth it’s taken me years to figure out why it works so well. But an interview I heard with Sid Meier offered a clue to me. In that interview, the great video game designer was reflecting on the addictive nature of his magnum opus, Civilization. He guessed that it had something to do with the combination of short term and long term goals. Your overall goal might be to send your people to space, but it’s built on very small goals that take a few minutes to complete. You make the goal to settle a new city, or to build a certain wonder, or whatever, and the game gives those goals explicit endpoints. So you finish the Pyramids, but then you also have this settler who is about to be completed in another city, and then when they’re done you want to go settle that new city, and so forth. Before you know it, you’re in “one more turn” mode.

I found myself reflecting on this in my last game of Merchant of Venus, which was with my son. This is a game that gets the value of offering clear short term goals. You have cargo you need to get to another system, or an undiscovered planet whose denizens may have something good for you. You want to go somewhere to upgrade your ship, or to pick up a passenger and take them back to Galactic Base. The game does a great job at doling out rewards for accomplishing these goals, without ever making the whole thing feel like it’s only in service of winning the game. In that moment, the specific effectiveness of your strategy isn’t important, it’s all about your small goal. It’s fundamentally satisfying to, say, upgrade your ship, regardless of whether it ultimately helps you with your victory.

While old games from the 1980s have a reputation for being baroque and complicated, Merchant of Venus is quite focused, and is all the better for it. Everything is in service of the single goal: make money. You don’t explore for its own sake, you do it to open up the game’s economy and put new goods into play. You don’t upgrade your ship to shoot down space pirates, you do it because it’ll let you fly between planets faster or haul more cargo. Although I wouldn’t call Merchant of Venus a simple game, it is a refreshingly straightforward one. It presents a clear goal, and gives you a whole galaxy to explore to accomplish it.

2012 FFG version
The 2012 Fantasy Flight version.

This is something that its descendants haven’t quite figured out. Later thematic pick-up-and-deliver games always something pulling focus away from the gameplay loop, or abstractions that muck with the immersion of the experience. Merchants & Marauders has a clunky combat system and victory points. Firefly has a license to flaunt, and is also an absolutely sprawling experience. These are all fine games, and these details are meant to evoke a sense of setting and open up the scale of the experience. But the overall effect is that they also can feel a little overstuffed, their pleasures diluted through their scale. Fantasy Flight Games, who released their own updated version of Merchant of Venus in 2012 fell into the same trap. Their version added quests, space pirates, outside industries, and various mechanics. It wasn’t bad exactly, but it was a definite downgrade. (Thankfully, due to a weird licensing snafu, the original design was included in the FFG edition. That’s the version I play.)

It’s remarkable that even given the more focused design, designer Richard Hamblen was able to create an experience that was more immersive and richer than any of its progeny. It’s hard to pin down why it worked so well, though I think one big reason is that it’s fine with the little emergent details that emerge from the game. Because its endgame is a finish line and not a timer, there is room for the game to go a little long and for strange systems to develop. If you play to 3000 credits (and that’s the best way) some planets start to actually run out of goods to sell, which disrupts the game’s economy in the late game. It also had the good sense to tie the game’s variety to what systems go where, rather than the physical geography of the board. This means that while you can get used to the challenges of navigating the board, the need to go to different areas changes every time. Even choices like using dice for movement show a comfort with unexpected outcomes that is not common in modern designs. Sometimes stuff just doesn’t work like you wanted it to. Through all of that, Merchant of Venus gives the player a great deal of agency. It trusts you to play well, and gives you the freedom to play poorly. More than that, it somehow still manages to make poor play feel satisfying in its own way. After all, there are all of those little short-term goals you got to accomplish. You lost, but you chose exactly how you would lose.

I mentioned the 2012 FFG reprint, which is the most recent edition. Sadly it is no longer available. I have no idea how well the game sold, but its presence a couple years ago on the FFG Holiday Sale is something of an admission of failure. There could be a million reasons why it didn’t sell as well as hoped. The presence of two versions in the same box, FFG’s redesign and the original version, likely inflated the game’s price by at least $20. Perhaps it was successful and just didn’t fit into the corporate strategy. Maybe it wasn’t marketed well, I don’t know. But I suspect Merchant of Venus’s appeal is sadly a little limited. It’s not a hard game to learn, but it’s not an easy one to learn to play well. It also has a couple of old-fashioned elements, like its endgame and its requirement that players figure out percentages of profits here and there. On top of all that it’s comfortable with bad luck in a way modern gamers often aren’t. The unfortunate result of all of this is that a game that was once rereleased with so much fanfare is now back in the wilderness.

close up action
It’s worth travelling through the asteroid system for those fine melf pelts.

While I firmly believe this classic games deserve to stay in print, there is something vaguely romantic about Merchant of Venus being hard to get. It has always given me the feel of a DOS computer game from the late 1980s. It’s world is somehow made bigger and more expansive because of its lighter detail, and the whiff of absurdity in those details feels old-school. I mean, no one in 2019 would think to make “rock videos” humanity’s main export. Hamblen is often regarded as one of the great Avalon Hill designers, and Merchant of Venus is a clear demonstration of his prowess, not to mention a true classic.