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Friday 19 May 2023

Magazine Madness 22: Senet Issue 5

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 5 was published in the Summer of 2021 and heralded the then return to a degree of normality following the extended periods of lockdown and limited social interaction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The elaborate lock and key cover hints at this, but the editorial expands upon it, highlighting how the pandemic kept us apart and kept us from socialising through the play of board games and in that welcoming everyone back to the gaming table, it should be that everyone is welcome. As is usual, the issue opens with ‘Behold’, a preview of some of the then-forthcoming board game titles. Unlike in Senet Issue 4, none of the titles truly stand out, although League of the Lexicon from Crazy Clever Games looks to be least interesting if you like your words as it explores the history of words, letters, and punctuation, whilst Keymaster Games’ Caper: Europe could be a decent filler game after the depth of the publisher’s well received Parks.

‘Points’, the regular column of readers’ letters, calls back to the editorial and the sense of community and togetherness that playing games engenders. The first letter discusses whether or not it is appropriate to call the end regular department in Senet the ‘Shelf of Shame’ or not. The correspondent makes the point that she does not associate the gaming hobby with a sense of shame, and whilst possible to sympathise with her, it is clear that the use of the term is lighthearted and other than exclusionary. It is also clear that, whilst he listened and symphonized with her, the editor has not made the change in subsequent issues, although this is the first real point of contention in any of the issues to date. Were it not revisited later in the actual ‘Shelf of Shame’ it might not been have rated as even that. In ‘For Love of the Game’, Tristian Hall continues his designer’s journey towards Gloom of Kilforth. In previous issues he explored how the game became a vehicle for roleplaying and storytelling and used the mechanics to bring the game and its background to life, but in this issue, he looks at marketing and how his friends helped him market the game. In so drawing upon his community contacts as the basis of his marketing campaign, it matches with the theme’s issue of togetherness.

Each issue of Senet explores a theme found in board games, its history and the the games that showcase it to best effect. This issue, the theme is one that refuses to stay dead—zombies! In
‘Turn of the Living Dead’, Own Duffy explores the origins of the genre in George A. Romero’s 1968 classic, Night of the Living Dead, before looking at the appearance of the genre in board games, beginning really with Twilight Creations, Inc.’s Zombies!!! Although Night of the Living Dead got its own board game in 2020, it clear that the dominant game line since 2012 has been the Zombicide series, and even the Night of the Living Dead game is a Zombicide game! Zombicide also highlights zombie-themed games tend to be action orientated and so the author has to pick and choose with some care to really to look for something deeper and finds it in Dead of Winter, the 2014 game from Plaid Hat Games, where survival involves negotiation with the survivors as much as building barricades against the zombie attack and attempting to stop them. Duffy works hard to explore the genre in board gaming, but the thematical limits of the genre are quickly reached.

The first of the two interviews in Senet Issue 5 is with artist Catherine Hamilton, whose near death reaction to the oil paints she had been using lead to a change in mediums and subject matters. Now painting in water colours, her works have been best showcased in the board game Evolution, but here we not only see some of Hamilton’s favourite pieces, each and every one receives a short commentary too. Senet as a magazine has really given a space for board game artists to show off some their board game illustrations, and in
‘Call of the Wild’, Senet Issue 5 is no exception. Her art stands out all the more because it is done in an unfamiliar medium for the hobby, but is no less stunning than if had been done in oils. The second interview is in ‘Boxing Clever’ and is with Isaac Childres, the creator of Gloomhaven, one of the most popular board games of recent times. The interview explores the development of and comparisons with Gloomhaven and its sequel, Frosthaven, as well as Childres’ history with board games and working outside of the ‘Havneverse’ setting. The interview is interesting and informative and overall, a decent read.

For its mechanic, having done
deck-building in Senet Issue 2, ‘Roll-and-Write’ in Senet Issue 3, and tile-laying in Senet Issue 4, Senet Issue 5 turns to a lesser device—the ‘rondel’—in ‘Full Circle’ by Alexandra Sonechkina. The rondel is a wheel-shaped game mechanism which provides numerous options, but limits player choice by forcing them to move around the rondel and onto to other options instead of repeatedly performing the same option again and again. It turns out that this device is relatively recent, having been invented in the early eighties by designer, Walther ‘Mac’ Gerdts, and really implemented for the first time in the civilisation style game, Antike. Whilst it is interesting to explore the history of a mechanic so new and have a chance to discuss it with its creator, writing about the rondel proves to be slightly difficult. This is because as a design it has not caught as a possible mechanic and its use to date has been limited. This does not stop the author examining as many games that do use it as she can, not only including Antike and its sequel, Antike II, but also board games like Vikings and Shipyard. The feeling is that author had to dig deep to find these and much like the earlier ‘Turn of the Living Dead’, ‘Full Circle’ feels as if it exhausts the limits of its subject matter, whereas previous articles on game mechanics have felt more expansive.

As ever, the ‘Unboxing’ section of Senet Issue 5 covers only a relative handful of games, but the choice is as ever interesting and covers a range of games, not just the big Euro-style titles. The big review is saved for Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile, which is rated as ‘Senet’s Top Choice’, a sprawling civilisation style game designed to be played again and again if its depths are to be fully reached. Other interesting games include Surrealist Dinner Party, a drafting game with an off-the-wall theme and absolutely beautiful artwork, and Cryo, a worker placement game about the crew of crash-landed spaceship that must survive on an icy world. None of the reviews are unnecessarily long and they are all beautifully illustrated with shots of the games and their components, and again, the issue manages to maintain a decent balance of titles and types of game being reviewed.

Rounding out the issue is Sara Elsam’s ‘From Turntable to Tabletop: How to Playlist’, which looks at the idea of using music to enhance game play. This is common enough in roleplaying, but board games? It turns out to be the case, with not only board games receiving their soundtracks, such as Escape the Dark Sector: The Game of Deep Space Adventure, but players putting together their own playlists for particular games and genres. The article is a solid introduction to the concept with some suggestions and handy hints. Lastly, in the
‘Shelf of Shame’, the hosts of Our Family Plays Games pull a game off their shelf that they have not yet played and try it out. The game is Paris: La Cité de la Lumière, a game which once on the same table, they enjoy. However they make the point that no game of theirs sits on a ‘Shelf of Shame’, but rather a shelf of opportunities to learn something new. 

Physically, Senet Issue 5 is very professionally presented. It looks and feels as good as previous issues of the magazine.

Yet again Senet Issue 5 contains an excellent mix of articles, interviews, previews, and reviews, but much like the Senet Issue 4, the articles often feel limited in their subject matter. In the previous issues, the reader always knew that he could go beyond the subjects matters explored in the issue and make discoveries for himself. With Senet Issue 5 that is not necessarily the case, whether that is true of the mechanic explored or the theme. Nevertheless, the quality of the magazine and its writing continues to be excellent, maintaining its place as vehicle to show off and explore some of the best ideas, contributors, and games in the hobby.


Senet magazine will be at UK Games Expo
from Friday 2nd to Sunday 4th, 2023.

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