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Friday 3 March 2023

Magazine Madness 15: Senet Issue 3

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.


—named for the Ancient Egyptian board game, Senet—is a print magazine about the craft, creativity, and community of board gaming. Bearing the tagline of “Board games are beautiful”, 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 3 was published in the Winter of 2020 and opens with ‘Behold’, a preview of some of the then-forthcoming board game titles, such as Moonshine Empire, a game about moving bootleg alcohol around; Lawyer Up, a card game about courtroom drama; Gladius, a card game about spectators betting on gladiators in Ancient Rome; the Cyberpunk espionage board game, Into Too Deep; and quite a few 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 Lawyer Up could be the next Watergate and Frostpunk: The Board Game could be the next This War of Mine. 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 some two years on.

‘Points’ provides a selection of readers’ letters, including a poem dedicated to the city of Caracassonne in south-west France and the board game based on it. whilst in ‘For Love of the Game’, Tristian Hall continues his designer’s journey towards Gloom of Kilforth. Here he examines how the game has become a vehicle for roleplaying and storytelling and how this enhances the play experience of some players. This is not often highlighted in board game design bar the obvious titles with clear roleplaying origins or influences, such as the critical juggernaut, Gloomhaven. This series continues to be a fascinating path and it will be interesting to follow in in future columns.

As with previous issues of Senet, the third issue of the magazine dedicates its centre section to a quartet of lengthy articles. In Senet Issue Two, the article ‘Decks in Effect’ examined the very short history of the deckbuilding mechanic, but the mechanic examined by Alexandra Sonechkina in Senet Issue 3 has a much longer history. The eponymous ‘Roll-and-Write’ article explores the history and development of the roll-and-write mechanic from Yahtzee in the 1950s to Rome & Roll in 2020, in particular at the seeming proliferation of titles since the nomination of Qwixx for the Spiel des Jahres in 2013. The article also tracks the history of the mechanic as implemented in various games via a timeline, but the article never comes to a particular conclusion beyond that the mechanic is yet to mature and very much remains under development. Thus this is more of an introduction to the mechanic waiting to see where it might go.

Owen Duffy’s ‘Game of Life’ has a more serious tone and subject matter. Prompted by the playthrough of Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr that drove his wife to tears—though in a good way rather than a bad way—Duffy’s article looks at games inspired by real life rather than fantasy of Science Fiction or trading of goods in the past, and games that are about more than just winning or losing. In part, this does go back to the earlier ‘For Love of the Game’, since in games such as Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr and Fog of Love where stories are told and lives roleplayed, but it also examines older games which were designed to teach morality or explore aspects of society. Thus, The Noble Game of the Swan, The Chequered Game of Life, and the more recent Tokaido are examples of the former, and Suffragetto, about raising awareness of votes for women, an example of the latter. Of these, The Chequered Game of Life is interesting in that its modern incarnation is Game of Life, a game now about getting on in capitalist, consumerist USA, more about making a good life than living a good life. (Game of Life is also one of the games I loved as a twelve-year-old would be games player.) This is a fascinating introduction to a different type of board game and showcases what the form can do to emotions and how they can make you feel.

The artist and designer interviewed in Senet issue 3 are Kyle Ferrin and Eric M. Lang respectively. Kyle Ferrin’s anthropomorphic, bold cartoon style best known from Root: A Game of Woodland Might And Right—and consequently, the roleplaying game from Magpie Games, Root: The Roleplaying Game—is given an excellent showcase here in ‘Animal Magic’, including a full centre spread. Attention is also paid to his work on Vast: The Mysterious Tower and its family of skeletal warriors and interesting hero. His artwork is delightfully cute and this is an enjoyable interview by editor Dan Jolin. He also interviews Eric M. Lang, the designer of Cthulhu: Death May Die, Blood Rage, and Rising Sun, in ‘Myth Maker’. The interview begins by describing him as a ‘rock star’ designer due to the impact of his games and their use of big, heavy metal themes, many of them being adaptations. Accompanied by some fantastic artwork from Lang’s than forthcoming Ankh, the interview explores his origins as a games player and then designer, how he compares collaborating with other designers to working with fellow musicians, before coming up-to-date with his approach to designing a game based on the works of an author as difficult as Lovecraft and how the Black Lives Matter movement affects the board game industry. This is a solid piece, continuing the strand of good interviews in the magazine.

The ‘Unboxing’ section of Senet Issue 3 includes solid reviews of titles such as Santa Monica, High Rise, Abandon All Artichokes, Herd Mentality, Isle of Cats, and more. It is invariably difficult to really keep up with the constant of board games being released, and of course, Senet Issue 3 does not even attempt to do so, instead reviewing a wide range of titles and types of board game. For example, Herd Mentality is a party game, whereas Undaunted: North Africa is a card driven war game and Oceans a rich Eurogame. In each case, the reviews are not too long, but they give just about the right amount of space for each title. Elsewhere, Matt Thrower, author of the Haynes Tabletop Gaming Manual, explores his love of playing games solo—even games not designed to do so, such as Pandemic and Target Arnhem—in ‘How I learned to stop worrying and love playing solo’. There are some titles mentioned here whose appeal reaches out into the wider gaming hobby, including Space Hulk and Wrath of Ashardalon, highlighting the crossover potential. Coming up to date, the author notes that there are more and more board games which include options for solo play, so there are pointers here for the board game player and roleplayer both to explore solo play through such titles. Lastly, Fiona and Amy Dickinson of The Game Shelf reveal just one of the games on their ‘Shelf of Shame’.

Physically, Senet Issue 3 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 3 maintains the high standards set by the previous issues, another fine looking magazine with a good mix of reviews, interviews, and articles. However, its articles are not all  quite as interesting as in previous issues, with ‘Roll-and-Write’ feeling shorter, if less conclusive. This does not stop the issue from being engaging and informative and still treating board games as a form that can engage and have something to say.

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