Choose dice, Choose a character. Choose a group of friends. Choose a venue. Choose a selection of yummy snacks. Choose halcyon times with great mates that will last a lifetime. Choose not constantly staring into a digital screen (well after you’ve read this of course).
Choose to get involved in a new Kickstarter venture that sounds like an absolutely fantastic adventure for everyone involved. Choose Senet.
The world of board gaming has evolved to such an extent in recent years that the games I played when I was young look like the first staggering hangover crawls of leggy-less fish bumpin’ into each other on the river banks of evolution. Today they are effectively the highest works of art, design, storytelling and communal experiences that are the forefront of modern entertainment, and all on your kitchen table.
I don’t claim to be well versed in this ridiculously exciting universe, but I soon will be (as will you) thanks to a very promising new magazine title that is currently gathering funding on Kickstarter.
Senet is the brainchild of wordsmith/alchemist Dan Jolin (Empire Magazine) and design wizard James Hunter (prolific editorial work, WAY too long to list) who share a love of all things great, but especially gaming. They plan to harness their creative expertise, knowledge, lovely peepsness, bringing in like minded, equally talented folk and sharing all the life enhancing attributes that the world of boardgaming enjoys via the portal of a brand new publication.
The magazine will a celebration of not only the games, but the people behind them, the designers, creators, writers, artists and all other facets that are part of getting these incredibly diverse journeys out into the world. Continuing the world of inclusivity that is at the core of the gaming world, Senet will act as a gateway for newcomers, giving insight, but will also aptly satiate lifetime gamers with in-depth interviews with the creative titans of these worlds.
Flush caught up with Dan to find out more about this wonderful new project, that hopefully becomes a household name very soon.
As the world seems to be retreating into their individual personal digital screens, it’s a beacon of hope (and punk attitude) that you’re encouraging the healthy bonding merits of board games. What are the benefits of board gaming & can you recommend any in particular for those who may want to roll their first tentative dice into.
I can get quite evangelical about the value of board gaming. Okay, so first, obviously, it’s fun. Especially these days, with the vast wealth of modern games which are specifically designed (for the most part) to encourage maximum enjoyability: they mitigate random elements, allowing for strategy to take priority; they avoid player elimination, meaning everyone shares the experience all the way to the end; they’re often gorgeously designed, so they’re just a pleasure to look at, with components that feel great to handle; and usually they offer multiple paths to victory, allowing for variation within and between games — while often its unclear who’s won until the final reckoning, which maximises engagement and keeps the drama levels high (in a good way).
So they encourage people to get together with a truly enjoyable social focus, in a direct, physical, face-to-face, eye-contact-encouraging environment. As opposed to online video-gaming platforms which throw people together, often hiding behind gamertags, without the physical proximity that, in my experience, generally encourages politeness, openness and a positive exchange of ideas. For the most part, the tabletop experience is guraranteed non-toxic, and one in which diversity can flourish, too. With the new wave of board games that have been arriving over the past few years of the current gaming renaissance, I feel there’s a far broader accessibility to people of all backgrounds and genders, and we’re moving away from the cliché of all tabletop gamers being pasty white guys who live in their parents’ basement.
As for recommendations for anyone wanting a taste of what modern board games can offer, well here’s a good start, no matter who you are or what you’re into: Sushi-Go, Pandemic, Blue Lagoon, Citadels, Codenames, Lords of Waterdeep.
What are your earliest & fondest memories of gaming? Was it a family event growing up?
I have dim, distant and fond memories of playing Happy Families with my Grandad, while Games Workshop’s fantasy-quest roll-and-mover Talisman became my most-played board game with friends and family during my early teen years. But the real life-changer was Dungeons & Dragons. I joined a D&D club at Bexleyheath Library when I was 10 years old, and some of the kids I met there are still close friends today… Who I still play D&D with! I really threw myself into role-playing games between the age of 10 and 17, with the Marvel Super Heroes game becoming our most-played during the latter years, all our own home-made superheroes running around the streets (and rooftops) of New York City, often causing more carnage than the villains we were trying to stop! The thing I loved about RPGs were they were limitless, anything could happen, you could be anybody and do anything. Ultimate freedom, and inherently creative, too. I spent hour upon hour drawing my characters, writing out their backstories (or relating their recent adventures), and still love nothing more than creating a new character, poring over every last detail.
What is your all-time classic game & also your current favourite.
It’s hard to define ‘all-time classic’, to be honest. I am NOT a fan of Monopoly, in any of its incarnations, and never really got into the likes of Cleudo, The Game Of Life, and all that. Risk I was quite fond of for a bit, so that might come close, and I’ll always play Chess. But really, sorry to bang on about it, I have to say D&D is the all-time classic for me, though of course it’s not actually a board game. In terms of current favourites, I’ll always have a place in my heart for Uwe Rosenberg’s Agricola, in which you play 17th Century subsistence farmers — so many choices to make, while there’s nothing more satisfying than building your own little farm and filling it with animals and crops — and D&D spin-off game Lords of Waterdeep, which uses an Agricola-like worker-placement mechanism to play out power-grabbing chicanery in an urban fantasy setting. Elizabeth Hargrave’s Wingspan is an awesome new game (probably my fave of 2019) and I’m also a huge fan of Isaac Childres’ phenomenal Gloomhaven, as much for its RPG-lite story-building / world-changing narrative as its slick card-based combat. And I couldn’t not mention Jamey Stegmaier’s dieselpunk warfare/area control masterpiece Scythe, which is inspired by the evocative artwork of Polish painter Jakub Rozalski. Finally (yes this is a longer answer than the question warranted, but forgive me – this is my passion), I do love games which I can play by myself, and I love the solo experiences created by Tristan Hall’s Gloom of Kilforth, John Kean’s Black Sonata, R. Eric Reuss’s Spirit Island, and, most recently (I only started playing it this week!), Adam Kwapinski’s Nemesis.
What was the gateway game that you realised that there was a whole other universe of play to be had.
Easy: Klaus Jürgen-Wrede’s Carcassonne. I instantly fell in love with its tile-laying rhythm, the way players together created a world on the table (while still playing competitively), and the fact that it didn’t involve any dice, making it close to pure strategy. That was when I started to realise that the modern world of board-gaming was far bigger and more exciting than I’d ever imagined.
The evolution of games has expanded rapidly in recent years, with many independently or crowdfunded developed games bringing unique approaches that the main houses could never do. Can you recommend a couple of recent games that show the creative strengths of independent releases.
I can, and I’d love to. I think the independent board-game sector is full of really smart designers coming up with some amazing experiences. Tristan Hall’s Hall or Nothing is a company to look out for; as well as Gloom of Kilforth, Tristan has designed two superb historical-battle card games, 1066, Tears to Many Mothers and 1565, St. Elmo’s Pay, both of which contain big decks full of lavishly illustrated cards, each of which is unique (i.e. no single card is replicated within the game). I was also recently impressed by Robbie Munn’s Summoner’s Isle, which compresses a strategically rich area control game into a quick-play, small-box format. Frank West’s The City of Kings impressed me with the way it replicated the MMO videogame experience in a fetching tabletop format, while Cole Wehrle’s recreation of “The Great Game” in 19th Century Afghanistan, Pax Pamir 2nd Edition, is possibly the most gorgeous game I’ve ever seen, and it plays as beautifully as it looks. Finally, if you’re looking for lighter, more family-friendly and/or party-based stuff, then definitely check out the many and varied offerings of Big Potato games, plus the output of Bez Shahari, whose Kitty Cataclysm is a wacky little hoot.
Are there any particular developers/designers/artists who we should be keeping an eye on? And their attributes that you believe enhance the game playing experience.
Well, there’s everyone I’ve mentioned so far! But I feel I should highlight Jamey Stegmaier and his company Stonemaier games, which released Wingspan this year, as well as all of Jamey’s own titles. They are always amazing-looking games, and always somehow easy to learn (and teach) despite often being quite complex. The games of Martin Wallace are always worth a look, too. Last year, his Wildlands just blew me away with the way it created a deep, tactical skirmish-battle experience using really deceptively simple cards, and this year that got reskinned as a 2000AD game, in which you can make Judge Dredd fight Slaine and Strontium Dog (both are published by Osprey Games, which has many great titles in its catalogue). Wallace’s Nanty Narking (a Victorian-themed reimplementation of the discontinued Discworld game Ankh-Morpork) has just come out, and I instantly fell for it, not least for the way anyone can pick it up and play it without reading the rule book, thanks to its super-intuitive rules and astonishingly useful player info cards. Also, Hub Games is doing really interesting things at the moment, from Rory’s Story Cubes, which are a great way to fuel kids’ creativity, to last year’s Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr, which boldly took a very mature, real-life theme, tasking players to work together as care providers for a dying man who shares his life’s regrets with them. Hub’s latest game is great, too: Megacity Oceania is a city-building stack-and-balance game which has enough strategic elements to lift it up beyond the reach of most dexterity games. All of these developers and designers obviously care about making the player experience as smooth and instinctive as possible, while also pushing the limits of what board games can do.
In terms of artists, I really love what Kwanchai Moriya has been doing recently, with my favourite title featuring his art being the sci-fi card game Capital Lux (check it out!), while Beth Sobel’s illustrations are always impressive, as is the work of Ian O’Toole, who we’ll be featuring in our first issue.
You’ve been gaming for years, and I know you regularly game with your family, sons and friends, but when did the concept of Senet first come about? And what does the name mean/come from?
Senet started with my co-founder James Hunter. A fellow tabletop enthusiast, he approached me earlier this year to see if I’d be interested in working with him to create a board-gaming magazine — he already had a bunch of visual concepts in mind (being a seasoned magazine designer) and wanted someone with editorial expertise as well as board-game knowledge who could do all the word wrangling. After many meetings and brainstorms, we came up with an editorial approach which we feel will mark it out from other board-game mags — one that we hope will make it the tabletop equivalent of Edge, or Little White Lies — and a cutting-edge visual style to match. Originally, we wanted to call it Meeple, but there’s already a mag called Meeple Monthly, so we thought and debated other name ideas, and eventually boiled down a long list to Senet. Senet is the oldest-known board game, played by the Ancient Egyptians, with game-sets often being buried with their owners, including a few Pharaohs. What I like about the name is (a) it looks good typographically, with that central ’N’, and (b) its meaning. The idea of the game (which no-one’s definitively figured out the rules to) is you have to be the first player to pass through to the afterlife. So, in a sense, it means ‘Gateway to Paradise’.
There is such diversity in gaming now, it’s not limited to the world of (lazily named) nerds. Senet will no doubt appeal to a broad and ever expanding church. What is the objective of the publication?
Primarily I want it to be a magazine which takes games as seriously as an entertainment and art form as other mags do movies, say or video games. So to a fair extent, we’ll appeal to committed and passionate gamers: the kind of people who have an extensive board game collection, who go to expos, regularly attend a game night and back games on Kickstarter. Plus designers themselves (quite a few have already backed us on Kickstarter). That said, we also want to highlight the appeal of board games in such a way that they are attractive to people new to the hobby, or who are curious about the wide variety of modern games on offer — not just (lazily named) nerds. I would love for Senet to be read by as many women as it is men, despite the industry itself still being male-dominated. I feel the visual and editorial style of the magazine will help bring in newer gamers, with a fresh creative approach that uses original illustrations and great photography, as well as the publisher-provided box and component art. Board games truly are open to everybody, not just people into high fantasy and/or sci-fi and who are into painting miniatures (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).
You have many years of experience in writing as features writer for Empire Magazine, so we know the very high standards you have in your work, have you met any gamers from the world of film (I remember playing a Star Wars board game when we were kids)? & might they make an appearance in Senet?
I have to confess I’ve not managed to discuss board games with a lot of the film-makers and stars that I’ve met over the past couple of decades — I rarely have the opportunity, as our encounters are usually brief, while board-game talk would be considered very off-topic in most cases! However, one director I know and whose work I admire — namely Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Gambler, Captive State) — is a board-game fan, and he’d always be welcome to come and be a part of Senet! I also know that Kristen Bell is a bit of a Catan fan and I’d like to talk to her about that one day, while Vin Diesel is, rather famously, a huge D&D player, so the idea of having an exclusively RPG-based chat with him has great appeal, too. I would like to make it clear, though, that the true stars of Senet will be board game artists and designers. I’d much rather highlight and celebrate their work than parachute in celebs for novelty pieces.
It’s early days, but I envisage many issues and the beginning of an ever-expanding and supportive gaming Senet family. The magazine is the first move, but what other cards would you love to play?
Wow, it’s great to hear that — thanks! We’re starting pretty small, and we are taking each step carefully, but it is my hope that if/when we hit our target at the end of the week, we’ll create a product that will attract a gradually growing audience of “Senet-heads” (as I call them) through positive word of mouth. And it is important for James and I that it is a physical product, just like all the games we love. Yes, we live in a digital world, but if you’re the kind of person who prefers a board or card game over a video game, then you’ll appreciate reading a magazine you can hold in your hands, rather than on a screen in pdf format. Of course, if we do well enough, we’ll obviously look at building a web site to complement the brand, and perhaps consider video-based spin-off content… And maybe even a modestly scaled gaming event or two. But for now, our focus is 100 percent on making the magazine itself, and growing that first.
Senet is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, which you can immediately bounce over here, and become part of something really special.