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Friday 28 April 2023

Magazine Madness 18: Senet Issue 4

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 4 was published in the Spring of 2021 and as is usual, opens with ‘Behold’, a preview of some of the then-forthcoming board game titles. Perhaps the most notable of these are Tales From The Loop: The Board Game and The Thing. Both are based on well-known properties, the former the roleplaying game, Tales from the Loop – Roleplaying in the '80s That Never Was, in which Player Characters are teenagers living an alternate Sweden and the latter, the 1981 film directed by John Carpenter. Both of these games have an emotional heft to them. Tales From The Loop: The Board Game in that the players are teenagers with difficult family lives as well having to deal with the mysteries of the Loop and The Thing with the uncertainty that one of your fellow base members might be a mutating alien infection! Other games previewed include Dreamscape, a solo exploration of H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands and HEL: The Last Saga, a dark fantasy co-operative board game in which the players create their own Viking saga. These are not quite full reviews, but they are given as much prominence as the reviews are later in the issue, and in each they entice the reader to investigate further.

‘Points’ provides a selection of readers’ letters, two of the letters making some interesting points about using board games as part of the teaching process, whilst in ‘For Love of the Game’, Tristian Hall continues his designer’s journey towards Gloom of Kilforth. In the previous issue, he explored how the game became a vehicle for roleplaying and storytelling, but here he he looks at how he uses the mechanics to bring the setting to life and have events going on in the background that can affect the lives of the Player Characters. There are some interesting ideas here that draw parallels with roleplaying worlds and much that will be familiar to Game Masters running their own campaigns. These connections continue to make the series a fascinating path and it will be interesting to follow in in future columns.

As with previous issues of Senet, the fourth issue of the magazine dedicates its centre section to a quartet of lengthy, immensely enjoyable articles. These begin with Owen Duffy’s ‘How The West Was Fun’ examines how the Western and the Wild West figures in board games. Perhaps the most well-known board game in the genre is the Spiel des Jahres-winning Colt Express, but as entertaining as banditry and shootouts is in games like BANG! and Flick ’em Up!, the genre offers more than just that. For example, Western Legends offers multiple means of achieving victory, including herding cattle and mining for gold as well as the banditry and the hunting for the perpetrators of such banditry. Along with recommendations for the best Western-themed board games, the article interviews several designers, most of them surprisingly European rather than American. This highlights how the Euro games that employ this theme are often inspired not so much by Hollywood as the bandes dessinées, such as those of the character, Lucky Luke.

Martin Wallace, best known as the designer of Age of Steam, Brass, and
Discworld: Ankh-Morpork, is the subject of the interview by Sara Elsam in ‘Lord of Creation’. The discussion focuses on his exploration of both history and technologymany of his designs involving trains and early industry, if not both—in games, before branching out to look at the fantasy games he has designed and the difficulties involved in making that switch. Written just before the release of Rocketmen and Wildlands: The Ancients, the interview is not quite as interesting as those in previous issues, but still worth reading. The artist interviewed by Dan Jolin in the issue is Dominik Mayer, whose work has been seen in cards for Magic: The Gathering, the cyberpunk game In Too Deep, and ISS Vanguard. His artwork is rich and deep and as with previous artists interviewed in Senet, it is given a fine showcase here.

Previous issues of Senet have explored various mechanics key to board game design and play, such as deck-building in
‘Decks in Effect’ from Senet Issue 2 and ‘Roll-and-Write’ from Senet Issue 3. The mechanic examined in this issue by Matt Thrower is tile placement in ‘On the Tiles’. Tracing a line back to medieval China with Dominoes, the mechanic is much older than those, and in modern terms is still predates those other mechanisms. Having appeared in Acquire and 1829—the later the first railway construction and stocks game which would spawn a large family of its own—before featuring at the heart of classics such as Settlers of Catan, Tikal (Tikal is in fact, this reviewer’s first modern Eurogame), and most famously of all, Carcassonne. In the case of the latter, and for most tile-laying games, there is usually a pleasing sense of organisation and having built something using the mechanic at the end of the play. In addition, there is also often a semi-co-operative aspect to play, the players building something together even if they are still competing for the points in doing so. It is a solid overview of the mechanic, but being an older one does feel as if the limits of what it can have already been reached and that sense comes across in the article.

As ever, the ‘Unboxing’ section of Senet Issue 4 covers only a relative handful of games, but there there is a range to them and they are all interesting titles. Leading the way are reviews of the big titles, Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion and Pandemic Legacy 0, providing roleplaying and dungeoneering and legacy-style espionage respectively, whilst Dune Imperium offer strategic play and intrigue and Mysterium Park, confrontation-free deduction. None of the reviews are necessarily long, but they are to the point and they cover a decent range of titles in smart fashion. Three of games reviewed also appear in the self-explanatory ‘The Best of 2020’, so their reviews are a pleasing accompaniment and like any good list, this one is worth checking out because it does contain some classics even two years on.

Rounding out Senet Issue 4 is ‘How to Play’ and ‘Shelf of Shame’. In ‘How to Play’, Andy Bush of the podcast, Bush’s Board Game Thing, discusses ‘The tricky art of explaining rules’ and how to get around the problem of someone having to explain how a game is played for the first time. It is a challenging problem still today, in general not for the dedicated board game enthusiastic, but certainly for the more casual player,
but there is good advice given here that is still useful. In ‘Shelf of Shame’, Ella Ampongan of Ella Loves Boardgames, in which takes her copy of Bärenpark off the shelf and plays it for the first time. Her verdict that it is better than Carcassonne, which is high praise indeed.

Physically, Senet Issue 4 is very professionally presented. Previous issues of the magazine have all looked sharp and attractive, and this issue is no exception, ensuring that the games it covers live up to the magazine's motto of “Board games are beautiful”.

Senet Issue 4 maintains the high standards set by the previous issues, another fine looking magazine with a good mix of reviews, interviews, and articles. In places the articles do feel shorter, with less depth to them, and so not quite as involving. Nevertheless, the quality of the magazine and its writing is excellent, maintaining its place as vehicle to show off and explore some of the best ideas, contributors, and games in the hobby.

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