Friday, December 29, 2017

Dave Reviews: Boxed Racism


Let's just talk about the game itself first.

Ancestree is a clever little game of neighbor-bashing, where your goal is to build a more impressive family tree than the people next to you. There are five different dynasties that can run through the generations of your family, some of whom add wealth, others of whom add marriages--surprisingly few, given the number of parent-child relationships running through the game. But, hey, it's open-minded. Gender doesn't matter in the marriages, and if you find a character with a half-heart on each side of their tile, that character can have two legal marriages!

No word on whether those marriages are simultaneous.

Tiles connect either through matching half-hearts on tiles side by side (marriages) or touching the top half of a leaf to a bottom half of the same color leaf (parent-child). You do not need every possible connection to line up; there only has to be one legal connection to make someone part of the family. Stepparents, in-laws, cousins, and all sorts of rational combinations of family can be made part of the tree, which is considerably more interesting than the strict parent-grandparent-great grandparent trees we might be used to seeing.

The game plays out over three rounds. In each round, you add five more people to your family tree. Your goal in building your tree is to have longer runs in each of the five dynasties than your neighbors (which means a dynasty that runs from person to person through the generations; disconnected members of the same dynasty, or members of a dynasty in the same generation, don't count). Your bonuses increase the later in the game you get, so dynasty bonuses in round three are worth more than in round one. You also get bonus points after each round for the coins on the members of your family; these all count every round, so coins played early are worth more than coins played late. At the end of the game, you get bonus points for the number of marriages in the tree (the first few aren't worth much, but they become valuable once you hit four and up). High score wins.

Ancestree is a game that's fun with two people and fun with six. It's easy to understand, quick to play, and requires just enough thinking to make a player feel like she needs to put real effort into winning the game. It might not hold people's attention through twenty playthroughs, but it's reasonably well-crafted and could, at the very least, be a hell of a lot worse.

Then there are the tiles.

I don't want to excessively hammer the designers for this. Even though it also serves to make the game better, it shouldn't be ignored that their rules are very open in regards to how people connect into a family, and that every type of marriage (including multiple) is viable. I also think, or at least I want to think, that their intent in designing the dynasties that went into the game was to include as many cultures as possible rather than having a bunch of white folk in the game. And to some extent it works; you wind up with these bonkers combinations of people that can't possibly make the children your family tree says they made, but it's entertaining as opposed to weird or, really, in any way negative.

But holy shit, the depictions themselves are bad. Like, really bad. The dragon dynasty is Asian, the camel dynasty is Arabic, and so forth, and that's fine, but the characters are dressed in just about the most stereotypical shit possible. It's pretty bad when you open the game in front of a half-dozen different people and all of them say, "Holy shit, these are racist as hell."

The art doesn't affect the gameplay, and the art isn't so bad that it makes the game painful to play because you're looking at these pictures the whole time. A lot of people won't give a shit, and a lot of people will say this complaint is some social justice bullshit. If you're in the former group, that's cool; if you're in the latter, fuck off. Either way, know ahead of time that if you look at the pictures on the box and think, wow, those look pretty racist, it doesn't get any better once you have the package open. (In fairness again, they do put the pictures on the box, and it may have been a much wiser idea not to do that.)

The game's fine. If you want a large game where you're only worried about your neighbors, Seven Wonders is still the standard, and Between Two Cities is simply better than this, but if you have those, this isn't a bad addition. Just figure out what you think of the art before you lay down your money.

Score: Eight looping gifs of Richard Spencer getting punched in the head out of eleven.

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