Modern hobby board games are sometimes, somewhat pretentiously, called “designer games,” but not without reason. Game designers put their names on the box and most of them have a style or flair that is recognizable. Sometimes just hearing the designer’s name gives you a vague idea of the kind of game it will be.
Among the most noteworthy and prolific is Vlaada Chvátil. Chvátil is a huge gamer himself and and has created some of the most beloved and enduring titles on the market today, such as Mage Knight Board Game. The epic fantasy narrative allows the players to become supremely powerful mage knights who swoop in to destroy wizard towers, raze keeps, explore tombs, and fight a wide array of enemies. The Mage Knights go from powerful to supremely powerful and can be played competitively, cooperatively, or in a variety of scenarios.
In that same vein, he also created Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization, a spectacular card based civilization building experience. You take your people from antiquity to the modern age, carefully managing military, production, happiness, governments, leaders, technology, colony acquisition, and other considerations. A good military defense is needed lest the other player’s think of starting wars, but you’ll need more than armies to break out and win the game.
Chvátil’s designs aren’t confined to just the epics (and their epically long play times). Space Alert is a cooperative game where your ship warps into a dangerous sector and then, in real time, you have to prevent it from exploding. This means powering shields, firing lasers, and even wiggling the mouse so that the main computer doesn’t go to sleep. After everyone has played their cards and you think you’ve fought off the invaders and avoided destruction, a resolution round occurs in which you evaluate everything in order. So often, those high fives you gave when you thought you succeeded are replaced by groans when one player used the wrong card or when you realize there was a critical miscommunication about who was going to divert power to the shields. Figuring out how to deal with all of the threats, and doing so while the timer ticks down, is a joyfully adrenaline pumping challenge.
In a competitive arena, you’ll find Galaxy Trucker. Players reach for a shared pool of tiles in real time and try to build a spaceship that will survive the trek. You’ll need lasers, shields, cargo space, crew, life support systems, engines, and the batteries to power everything. And so do your opponents. Once built, the ships gets sent through a gauntlet of pirates, asteroids, and other hazards. It’s not uncommon for to see dramatic explosions as ships are torn asunder. Figuring out how to put your ship together in a way that avoids devastation requires careful thought under pressure.
In Dungeon Petz, you run a family of imps trying to raise, sell, and maintain pets. Those pets have a mind of their own and every round, they’ll present you with a new set of needs. Sometimes, that means playing with them or ensuring that their cage stays strong. Other times, you’ll need to feed them or avoid mutation. And, yes, sometimes it means cleaning poop, which is a thing you totally have to do or the pets will get depressed. And depressed petz don’t bring many points.
A defining feature of most Chvátil games is the humor, which can really enhance the fun factor. Space Alert contains a learn-to-play manual written in the style of a reassuring instructor who tells you that the ship probably won’t explode. Probably. In Dungeon Petz, the titular petz can die if neglected. If that happens, the rules require you to lose points and “feel bad.” However, if they instead mutate and escape to an alternate dimension, you still lose points but, “don’t have to feel as bad.”
Mechanics-wise, Chvátil’s games are all over the map. Real time games, epics, quick ones, brain-burners. The one thread that is present throughout, though, is that his designs require players to think. Even Bunny Bunny Moose Moose, which is probably his silliest title, requires you to constantly reevaluate which hand signals you need to use to get the most points. And to determine whether you want those as Moose or Bunny points.
It’s hard to go wrong with a Chvátil game. His designs are consistently humorous, interesting, and innovative. But most of all, his designs will get your brain going. If you enjoy puzzles, brain teasers, and double-thinking that nevertheless provides crazy fun, then his designs may be for you.
Have you played any games by Vlaada Chvatil? Tell us your experiences in the comments.
Featured Image Credit: Czech Games Edition
Image Credit: WizKids, Rio Grande Games