|Meeple Like Us
|Medium Light [1.68]
A review copy of Corinth was provided by Asmodee Nordics in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Did you miss me?
I did say I’d be back when my hiatus was over. Like the Tesco Value Terminator that I am, I have kept my word. But boy let me tell you, I could have hiatused for years. I’ve been playing a lot of video games, and you know what? They’re pretty good. Coming back to board games with their tedious manuals and inscrutable systems has been Effortful. It’s more important than ever to me that tabletop games do something genuinely worth the additional entry cost of administration. So it’s encouraging to know that we’re going to kick things into high gear from the start with a very functional game that does nothing new. It’s Corinth, from Days of Wonder!
I’ve been saying for a while now that I haven’t seen a genuinely innovative board game for quite some time, and Corinth doesn’t at all break that pattern. It’s a perfectly enjoyable roll and write game but I’m pretty sure these days you can right click in Microsoft Word and insert a randomly generated equivalent from standard built-in macros. That’s really the problem Corinth has to overcome – most games of this ilk, if we’re honest, are basically the same game. The only substantive exceptions I’ve seen are Ganz Schon Clever / Doppelt So Cover – a pair of games that aren’t so much roll and writes as they are passive-aggressive Sudoku puzzles set by the Riddler. They’re all perfectly fine Pop Tarts, and all you need to do is select the most appealing flavour.
What attracted me to Corinth though was the name on the box. Sebastian Pauchon has appeared a couple of times previously on Meeple Like Us – with the pirate themed drift-racer Jamaica and the phenomenally moreish Jaipur. Given how much I enjoyed the latter of those I was hopeful that he could give a real novel spin to a tired premise. And alas – no. Don’t get me wrong, what’s here is as good as roll and writes get, but it’s no better than that even with its little twists and tweaks.
Here’s how Corinth works. You roll a pile of dice, and allocate them to a board of options. All dice of the highest face are allocated to the top of the board, and the rest are allocated lowest to high in the remaining slots from bottom to top. Each player takes it in turn to select one of the rows, collect all the dice associated, and marks off the correct number of entries on their pad. Goats and gold can be used to purchase buildings that give you certain power-ups. Gold too can be used to temporarily buy a set number of golden dice which sweeten the pot for the current player. If you don’t fancy the option that a particular row gives you, you can use it instead to move a steward around a little map for access to other bonuses and preferments. Most points at the end wins.
It’s all fine. It all works. It’s a perfectly nice way to spend some time with friends. The erraticity of its resource distribution lends a weight to the decisions you take, and the compounding scoring opportunities provided by the steward give you a few paths towards victory. It’s also a reasonably attractive game, which is unusual in this design space. Roll and writes normally look like the proof of concept ticket for a budget scratchcard. But it’s also all just… so safe. And, disappointing. Honestly, I just expect more from Days of Wonder.
We’re moving into a phase of overwhelming supply in the board-gaming hobby – a Cambrian explosion of consumption where the market is being expected to absorb a truly astounding number of genuinely mediocre offerings. For a long time, Days of Wonder were a staunch stalwart against that – every year they’d pick the one game that they thought had the potential to be an evergreen product. Something good enough, and polished enough, that they could build predictable revenue stream atop. And for the most part, they’ve done that exceptionally well. Look at their product catalogue – Ticket to Ride, Memoir 44, Small World, Five Tribes, Shadows Over Camelot. It’s like being a music producer and only ever signing up bands with the longevity of The Beatles.
But somewhere recently that shifted. Yamatai was a stumble. Deep Blue and The River failed to make a splash. And now Corinth. It’s perfectly adequate but I can’t imagine that anyone at Days of Wonder genuinely thought they’d build a franchise upon its shoulders. Days of Wonder, like many of the publishers and designer in the hobby, now seem to have embraced the guiding philosophy that ‘good enough is good enough’. And you know what, I get it – there’s precious little evidence that the market rewards innovation. Incremental variations on a tiny collection of themes is what hits the mark. Kickstarter in particular thrives on the promise that what you get isn’t going to be too upsetting or unexpected. Where’s the reward for a designer to do anything truly revolutionary?
And really, it’s not like there isn’t merit in incremental iteration upon concepts. That’s how designs gradually grow to fit their perfect evolutionary niche. It’s where survivability comes from, finding ever greater micro-adjustments to the base formula so that you can fit ever more snugly into ever more minutely textured ecological ecosystems. I’d argue we’ve already seen the perfect economic negotiation game, but until there’s a game everyone would rate a ten in every category, well – life will find a way. And truthfully, when a game actually does enter the mainstream, it’ll do so on its merits as a finely-honed version of overly-specialised prior experimentation. What is Wingspan really but Terraforming Mars with a pretty theme and the interesting bits sanded down to a smooth and inoffensive finish?
As I gradually emerge from my hiatus cocoon and blink as the light hits my eyes, I’m taking stock of what I’ve missed over the past few months. I cut board-game media consumption down to virtually nothing, so I didn’t know what I had missed. And honestly the answer seems to be ‘nothing exciting’. Every day is Groundhog Day. For three years now I have looked at the sea of upcoming releases and seen nothing that genuinely gets my plums pumping. Good games almost everywhere. Great games in abundance. But nothing interesting. Nothing novel. Nothing that comes across as remotely risky.
Corinth, in that respect, is maybe the absolute perfect example of a good game that is utterly unnecessary. It’s Railroad Ink. It’s Welcome To. It’s Roll Through The Ages. It’s all of those games behind a pair of novelty glasses and an unconvincing moustache. It’s ephemeral and needless and frustrating because of how much time it would have taken a talented production team to develop something so… unremarkable. I’ve spoken a lot in this review, such as it is, about the flood of ‘okayness’ that characterises the last few years of modern board games. I’ve not spoken a lot about Corinth, because honestly I have nothing new to say. And that is I think fair, because Corinth has given me nothing new to talk about. Do you want to know what I thought of it, really? What I thought about it in depth? Take my review of any other roll and write, remove the rules bits, and do a find and replace on the name. That’s my review, and I’ll sign my name to it if you like.
At the time of my hiatus, I had covered a total of two-hundred and sixteen games. I’ve now reached the point where 95% of what I think about the new games I play can be constructed from the component parts of what has come before. And not even in terms of small, discreet chunks of evaluation. I think you could just bang together two or three reviews and make a serviceable account of most of what’s coming up. I had hoped to come back to the blog with a renewed sense of purpose and joy in the hobby, but really all that happened was that I got out of the habit of pretending each game had something of unique value to impart.
Really from this point onwards, games for me need to answer one crucially important point if they’re going to get a fair shake in a review. It should be an easy one to address. ‘Why would I suggest you over other games like you?’. Honestly, being fun to play is too low a bar now. I expect that of every game. Being beautiful to look at is just a basic assumption. I need a ‘unique selling point’. It can’t just be ‘X, with Y’. I’ve played X. I’ve played Y. The union of these things requires no more creativity than my own board game idea generator regularly displays and honestly I’d play a good 75% of what that suggests over the loving and lavish boxes that appear on my shelves with the dull thunk of obligation.
Increasingly over the past few months I’ve felt that my burnout from the site wasn’t really due to the workload. Rather it was due to the unceasingly need to be the one making all the effort to cast games as unique or distinctive. That’s exhausting in an environment when so few were willing to really meet me even half way. I shouldn’t be struggling to find something novel to say about your game. I should be struggling to choose which of its novelties are most important to the reader. That was easy when I hadn’t covered over two hundred games. It should still be easy now. I think the fact that it isn’t says more about games these days than it does me. It’s not a lost cause – I still have games on my shelves for which I hold out considerable hope, and games in the review pile which I know will receive glowing endorsements. That should be the norm, not the exception. Seriously, if anyone has suggestions for excitingly interesting games, send them my way. I’m in the market for creativity and risk taking.
So that’s your review. Corinth is a good game that has done nothing to really deserve any of your attention. I recommend it, or not, mostly on the basis of whether you like its theme more than that of the other identikit roll and writes you can buy. If you like all themes equally, go and buy the cheapest. If they’re all the same price, grab the one that is literally closest to you on the shelf of your local game store. Life is too short to agonise over the mini-differences between what are virtually functionally identical experiences on the table.
In retrospect, maybe I should have picked a game other than Corinth with which to start the newest season of Meeple Like Us. Stay tuned for the accessiblity teardown though, because I’ve got a lot of nice things to say there.
A review copy of Corinth was provided by Asmodee Nordics in exchange for a fair and honest review.