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Friday 14 June 2024

Magazine Madness 30: Senet Issue 10

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, Senetis 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 10 was published in the spring of 2023. Where the Senet Issue 9 diverged from the magazine’s usual coverage of board and card games to touch a little upon the roleplaying hobby—and by doing so, leave the reader wishing that the roleplaying hobby had a magazine as good as Senet, this issue is definite return to the fold. Nary a mention of the roleplaying hobby in sight! Instead it is all board games with the usual mix of previews, reviews, articles, interviews, and regular departments. For the most part, it is another clean, tidy, and easy to read issue.

Aside from the mention in the editorial that the magazine’s co-founder, James Hunter, was named Art Director of the Year at the British Society of Magazine Editor’s Awards, Senet Issue 10 quickly gets down to business with ‘Behold’. This is the regular preview of some of the then-forthcoming board game titles. The most intriguing entry here is Cosmoctopus, a tentacle-gathering game from Paper Fort Games about attempting to summon ‘The Great Inky One’ that seems slightly tongue-in-cheek in its treatment of the cultists controlled by the players. ‘Points’, the regular column of readers’ letters contains some feedback on previous issues as well as the growing interest in the hobby. There is scope here for expansion of this letters page to give space to more voices and readers of Senet. One way of doing that is perhaps to expand it when ‘For Love of the Game’ comes to end. This regular column continues the journey of the designer Tristian Hall towards the completion and publication of his Gloom of Kilforth. In this entry in the series, he looks at the next step in the process in bringing the game to market by showing it off at conventions and encountering some of the advantages and pitfalls. As a regular convention attendee, this is an interesting look at attending conventions from the other side.

Senet follows a standard format of articles and article types and Senet Issue 10 is no exception. One explores a theme found in board games, its history, and the games that showcase it to best effect, whilst another looks at a particular mechanic. In addition, there are two interviews, one with a designer, the other with an artist. In this issue, the thematic article is ‘Roll and Movie’, an exploration of the relationship between films and board games by Alexandra Sonechkina. In the 2020s, we are spoiled by the number of board games based on films that strongly adhere to their themes through their mechanics. It goes back to one of the earliest of major filmic board game adaptations, Escape from the Death Star from 1977, pointing out that games of the period were based on tried and tested mechanics, before coming up to date with the output of design teams like that of Prospero Hall with games like Jaws and Rear Window, which are highly thematic and whose mechanics model the film sources. It notes how some films are difficult to adapt, like Rear Window, due to the age and the lack of familiarity for a younger audience and themes of the source material, but also how such adaptations can appeal to a wider audience and even to board game players who have not seen the source material. Having explored how board games have drawn from films for their source material and themes, the article switches around to look at some board games that have inspired films, such as Clue and Battleships. The author also looks at the theme of film making in board games and the challenges of adapting the look of a film and its cast to a board game. Here Alexandra Sonechkina runs out of space, as effectively, this is really three articles in one—one on film adaptations, one on board games about filmmaking, and one about the physical adaptation. Ideally, Senet will revisit these subjects—and they are multiple subjects—in future articles. One last issue with ‘Roll and Movie’ is that the images used are presented in too small a fashion so that the detail and look of these games is lost.

Dan Thurot’s ‘Tricks and Treats’ looks at the mechanic of the trick-taking game and its history, grounded as it is in the origins of the ordinary deck of playing cards and the games played with it, associating the mechanic with gambling! An interesting history in hand, the article comes to the contemporary era to look at obvious trick-taking card games like the well-received Scout and then moves onto designs where the track-taking mechanic is less obvious and more readily themed. Examples like this include the Kennerspiel des Jahres-winning The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine in which the players work together to keep their spaceship functioning, whilst Brian Boru: High King of Ireland which almost hides its trick-taking mechanics, combining the mechanic with an action per card. It also looks at designs to come, Cat in the Box: Deluxe Edition which adds the element of guessing, which thematically, has the players wondering if their Schrödinger’s cats are alive or dead. It is a good overview of the mechanic and a more rounded piece when compared to the preceding ‘Roll and Movie’.

The first of the issue’s two interviews is with the designer of one the influential board games of the last two decades—Matt Leacock. In ‘Legacy Builder’, he looks back to the origins of Pandemic and how it became success, driving the popularity of the co-operative game and how it became a cultural touchstone during the COVID-19 pandemic, before coming up to date with his latest design, Daybreak, recently nominated for the 2024 Kennerspiel des Jahres. It is an informative and engaging interview and Daybreak sounds a fascinating design dealing as it does with climate change and the attempts to ameliorate its effects. The second interview is with Naïade, illustrator of Tokaido and Namiji. In ‘Eastern Promise’, he guides us through some of his artistic highlights, starting with Tokaido and including the weirdness of One Key—Gandalf facing a toast demon, anyone?—alongside other titles. The artwork is excellent and once again, Senet does a good job of showcasing it.

The film adaptation theme of ‘Roll and Movie’ continues in the ‘Unboxed’, Senet’s reviews section with a review of Star Wars Villainous: Power of the Dark Side, plus there is some nostalgia with a review of Return to The Dark Tower. It does feel as if there are fewer reviews in this issue, but alongside the issue’s ‘Senet’s Top Choice’ of Undaunted: Stalingrad, there are interesting titles reviewed such as Spire’s End: Hildegard, a storytelling game and prequel to Spire’s End with fantastic artwork that is card driven rather than paragraph driven. It is rounded out with ‘The Best of 2022’, the magazine’s top ten from the previous year, of which Return to The Dark Tower and Undaunted: Stalingrad make the list.

Bringing Senet Issue 10 to a close are the regular end columns, ‘How to Play’ and ‘Shelf of Shame’. For ‘How to Play’, Andrew Brassleay explains ‘How being diagnosed as autistic helped me embrace my love of board games’, putting behind him the supposed adult aim of outgrowing them, and enabling him to navigate social situations because the the rules to games are more obvious and adhered to all of the players. It nicely paints a picture of board games being a force for good and a social enabling tool. Lastly, Black Orchestra is the board game taken off their ‘Shelf of Shame’ by Rachel Kremer and Heinze Havinga of Semi Co-op, a webcomic about games. The couple make it clear from the start that the game, with its theme of conspirators attempting to kill Hitler is not their taste, as they prefer games that are relaxing, but their version has a bit history, having been previously owned and amended by an older, avid gamer. Despite the theme, neither player had ‘fun’, but they learn more about the plots to assassinate Hitler and what it took to do that, so the experience is more interesting they would otherwise have thought. It shows the value of trying new things even if they have been stuck on a shelf for a while.

Physically, Senet Issue 10 is very professionally presented. It looks and feels as good as previous issues of the magazine.

Senet Issue 10 does feel slightly lighter in terms of the number of games covered, the number of smaller games previewed or reviewed having been severely reduced. However, that does not mean that the issue does not
offer a good mix of articles, interviews, and reviewsit does. The only real disappointment is ‘Roll and Movie’ and only then in the fact that it could have been much, much longer, a series of its own. After the aberration of the content devoted to roleplaying in the previous issue, Senet Issue 10 returns to the fold with a solid set of reviews, previews, and discussions of board games.

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