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—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 2 was published in the Summer 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 Frosthaven—the sequel to Gloomhaven, Kanban EV, The 7th Citadel, Viscounts of the West Kingdom, and more. Given as much prominence as a full review, what is interesting about these is previews is that each give ‘What they might be’, so Viscounts of the West Kingdom could be the next Gùgong and The 7th Citadel could be the next The 7th Continent. 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. However, they are pleasingly detailed and enjoyable two years on.
‘Points’ provides a selection of readers’ letters, whilst in ‘For Love of the Game’, Tristian Hall continues his designer’s journey towards Gloom of Kilforth. Here he talks about the difficulties and hurdles faced in its development, overcoming a flawed first version before pushing on to a proper prototype. This continues to be a fascinating path and it will be interesting to follow in in future columns.
The centre of Senet Issue 2 is given over to a quartet of four, lengthy articles. The first of these ‘Decks in Effect’, Alexandra Sonechkina examines the nature and explores the history of the deckbuilding mechanic, which it is surprising to realise is only a little more than a decade old. It goes back its origins in the Spiel des Jahres award-winning Dominion and goes forward to explore how the ground-breaking mechanic has proliferated in those years since. In the process it highlights how many Dominion-like games appeared in the years following its publication, before being used in more innovative ways in games like Mystic Vale. The article also tracks by genre the growth of the deckbuilding game over the course of its first ten years as a mechanic and it is surprising to see just how many deckbuilding games have appeared since. The article is also illustrated with some engaging pieces by Tom Gauld—who also drew the cover for the issue—and it is artwork that is the subject of the second article in Senet Issue 2. ‘Brush with Greatness’ is an interview with the much in demand artist Kwanchai Moriya, whose art has graced games such as Capital Lux, Flip Ships, 7 Summits, and In The Hall of the Mountain King. The interview is interesting, but the artwork is gorgeous and this is a lovely showcase for it.
Owen Duffy is the author of the most thoughtful and controversial article in the magazine. ‘The Empire Business’ explores the difficult subject of colonialism and empire-building and how it became a widespread and then contentious theme in board game design. Stemming from GMT’s cancelled Scramble for Africa, the article looks back to once widely regarded classics such as Puerto Rico with their expansionist mercantilism and casual disregard for its (plantation) workers and whilst pointing out how engaging these themes are, points out that in too many cases, these games are mostly designed from a decidedly European perspective. Even when moving to settings with no inhabitants to disregard, such as Mars with games like Terraforming Mars and On Mars, there is a still a sense of exploitation.
Duffy widens the remit of the article to gain the perspectives and opinions of other designers, who have either looked at the aftermath of colonialism and its impact, such as with Ragnar Brothers’ DRCongo: Hope Out of Horror, which is about building a better country or who are indigenous to those regions which were exploited. In particular, this is with the founder of NIBCARD Games, a Nigerian publisher of boardgames. This gives voice to a sector of the hobby which is only just beginning to be heard in the wider hobby—and barely that, given the dominance of the USA and Europe has over the industry. The article ends with a call for better research into cultures and peoples outside of designers’ own when wanting to explore themes outside of the European perspective. ‘The Empire Business’ is the sort of article that the hobby and industry needs, reflective and looking at itself from outside. More than the other articles in Senet Issue 2 this provides a snapshot of the hobby in 2020 and is not only a welcome snapshot, but hopefully similarly thoughtful articles will appear in future issues of the magazine.
The fourth of the longer articles in Senet Issue 2 is ‘Tearing Ahead’, an interview with Rob Daviau, which explores two strands of boardgame design. One is the legacy genre, in which an outcome of game play can have a permanent effect upon on a game, which Daviau invented with Risk Legacy and has subsequently been seen in the Pandemic Legacy trilogy, as well as a slew of other designs. The other is the restoration and redesign of out-of-print classics, such as Fireball Island and Return to Dark Tower. It is a lengthy and interesting interview that explores both strands in informative fashion.
The ‘Unboxing’ section of Senet Issue 2 includes solid reviews of Europe Divided, Flyin’ Goblin, Monumental, Parks, Rome & Roll, and more, whilst elsewhere Anna Blackwell, designer of the solo map games Delve, Rise, and Umbra tells you ‘It’s Okay to Break the Rules’ in ‘How to Play’ and Jon Purkis, owner of the YouTube channel of Actualol, reveals his ‘Shelf of Shame’. This is a boardgame which has sat on his shelf which he has never played and in this case, it is the Broad Peak expansion for K2, the mountain climbing themed board game. Anna Blackwell’s article is thoughtful and interesting, looking at the benefits and pitfalls of breaking the rules to a game—primarily, not knowing a rule itself properly, and is the closest that Senet Issue 2 gets to touching upon roleplaying. Unfortunately, ‘Shelf of Shame’ is not as interesting, probably because its revelation is far from amazing, but it brings the issue to a lighter close.
Physically, Senet Issue 2 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 2 maintains the high standards set by Senet Issue 1. This is a lovely looking issue in its simplicity and its use of artwork to beautifully complement its content, especially the four meaty feature articles at its heart. Above all, Senet Issue 2 is not just an engaging and informative read which treats boardgames and their play in a mature fashion, it is a pleasure to read as well.