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Friday 3 September 2021

Magazine Madness 6: Senet Issue 1

The gaming magazine is dead. After all, when was the last time that you were able to purchase a gaming magazine at your nearest newsagent? Games Workshop’s White Dwarf is of course the exception, but it has been over a decade since Dragon appeared in print. However, in more recent times, the hobby has found other means to bring the magazine format to the market. Digitally, of course, but publishers have also created their own in-house titles and sold them direct or through distribution. Another vehicle has been Kickststarter.com, which has allowed amateurs to write, create, fund, and publish titles of their own, much like the fanzines of Kickstarter’s ZineQuest. The resulting titles are not fanzines though, being longer, tackling broader subject matters, and more professional in terms of their layout and design.


Senet—named for the Ancient Egyptian board game, Senet—is a print magazine about the craft, creativity, and community of board gaming. It is about the play and the experience of board games, it is about the creative thoughts and processes which go into each and every board game, and it is about board games as both artistry and art form. Published by Senet Magazine Limited, each issue promises previews of forthcoming, interesting titles, features which explore how and why we play, interviews with those involved in the process of creating a game, and reviews of the latest and most interesting releases.

Senet Issue 1 was published in the Spring of 2020 and carries the tagline of “Board games are beautiful”. It opens with ‘Behold’, a preview of some of the then-forthcoming board game titles, such as Oathsworn: Into the Deep Woods, Oceans, and Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile. Given as much prominence as a full review, what is interesting about these is previews is that each give ‘What they might be’, so Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile might be the new Civilization, Sub Terra II: Inferno’s Edge the new Escape: The Curse of the Temple, and so on. Many, if not all, of these titles have since been released and been subject to their own reviews and analysis, so these previews can be read with the benefit of hindsight to see whether their predictions were right.

‘Points’ provides a selection of readers’ letters, whilst in ‘For Love of the Game’, Tristian Hall begins his designer’s journey towards Gloom of Kilforth. Here he talks about the genesis of the idea behind the board game and its inspirations, laying the groundwork for the process to come. This should be a fascinating path to follow in future columns.

Thematically, Senet Issue 1 pursues a pair of the board gaming industry’s most recent trends—Mars and Vikings. In ‘Out of the World’, board game visualist Ian O’Toole shows how he developed the look and visual style of On Mars. It mentions other titles he has worked on, but in the main, the article takes the visual and graphical development of On Mars from start to finish, showing  the various stages through which O’Toole takes his design. It is a genuinely fascinating journey which throws the spotlight on someone involved other than a designer. The other theme is Vikings and board games journalist, Owen Duffy, looks at several of the high-profile Viking-themed board games which have been released over the last few years in ‘Vahalla Rising’. It notes our fascination with the Vikings, but makes the point that there is more to them than raiding and pillaging, which as much as raiding and pillaging is often part of Viking-themed board games, there are an increasing number of designs where that is not the case. For example, Shipwrights of the North Sea is about shipbuilding. The article points out that this may be just another thematic cycle, but perhaps not given our long association with Viking history and the fact that they too, played board games.

Similarly, two common mechanics are examined in the issue. With ‘Work Hard Place Hard’, Matt Thrower investigates the worker placement mechanic, which proved very popular in the late noughties and early tweenies, fostering competition without confrontation. It traces its origins back to a game called Keydom from 1998. Notable examples—Agricola, Caylus, and Le Havre, amongst others—are used as examples, and the examination looks at variations which use dice, involve time, and provide a sense of progress. Lastly, it looks forward to the future of the mechanic and then-forthcoming titles using it. There are numerous examples it misses of course, likely one of the reader’s favourites, but it is a case of hitting the notable examples. The other mechanic—or is that style of play—is the co-operative game. Alexandra Sonechkina writes the first ‘How to Play’ column which is entitled ‘Cooperative games can make us better people’, which provides a short history of the genre, emphasising that the removal of competition between players  not only removes conflict, but leads to stronger shared experience.

The longest piece in Senet Issue 1 is ‘High Flyer’, an in-depth interview with Elizabeth Hargrave, the designer of the 2019 Kennerspiel des Jahres winning Wingspan. This an interesting and informative piece, designer answering honestly about the challenges of being a female designer in the industry as much as her design process and the themes which attract her, which as Wingspan and her then-latest design, Tussie Mussie, are far from the traditional castles and similar elements. Hopefully, future issues will have interviews as nicely done and enjoyable as this one is.

No good gaming magazine would be without games reviews, and Senet Issue 1 is no exception. Just the ten, but all regarded as the magazine’s ten favourites from the year before, that is, 2019. Rounding out Senet Issue 1 is ‘Shelf of Shame’ in which a prominent gamer is asked to play a game that he has on his shelf, but never played. In this first column, the gamer is Paul Grogan of Gaming Rules! and the game is 1999’s Torres, also the 2000 Spiel des Jahres Winner. One obvious reason why he has not played this despite having a copy is the ‘cult of the new’, but he is not necessarily correct about a reviewer always getting more views for something that is ‘hot and new’. Retrospectives can generate plenty of views. The column feels less about the game and more about the fact that he has not played it, but is interesting enough. His very first play through of the game can be seen here.

Physically, Senet Issue 1 is very nicely presented, all pristine and beautifully laid out. Whether drawing on board game graphics and images, or the magazine’s own illustrations, the issue’s graphics are very sharply handled, living up to the issue’s motto of  “Board games are beautiful” as much as its subject matter does. 

Senet Issue 1 is a very impressive first issue and can be enjoyed whether you are relatively new to the hobby or a long-time participant. It sets out to inform and illustrate, and in doing so—sets a high standard for the issues to come.

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