Episode 121: A More Perfect Union

Release Date: Feb. 21, 2011

Running Time:  155 min.

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We the people. We break out the powdered wigs to review Founding Fathers, a game where players write or rewrite history by creating the Constitution.

News & Notes: Cheapass Games, English Fauna, Bits, Mohenjo-Daro
The List: 
Founding Fathers
Truckloads of Goober:  Carcassonne anniversary items, Secret of Monte Cristo
Designer's Workbench:  Games as simulations
Game Sommelier:  5 potentially offensive games

Mail Bag:  Moons are not planets, Facebook Q&A

Complete Show Notes continue after the break.

News & Notes

The Return of Cheapass Games! Link

Pioneer of small press game companies, Cheapass is releasing many of its titles as print and play downloads. They are using a donation model to generate funds and support for their business. If I didn't own virtually their entire catalog, I'd be in trouble already! I hope we see new titles from them soon.

English edition of Fauna  Link

Fox Mind Games is publishing a version of the Spiel des Jahres nominee in English. The board will be double sided and feature metric and imperial measurements.


Pirates vs Dinosaurs Link

Upcoming title from Jolly Roger Games (publisher of Founding Fathers). Designed by Richard Launius. Players control pirate captains and their cutthroat crews, all with partial knowledge of the whereabouts of buried treasure on a forgotten Pacific island.

The catch? They don't know the island is the final home of dinosaurs, survivors of millions of years, and they aren't happy to let outsiders explore their island. Of course, the pirates also don't know that the island is sinking or that there are other pirates looking for the same treasure. Who will get away with the most loot and become the pirate remembered by history?



Follow up to the Tetris style puzzle game FITS, players arrange their domino like pieces to creat or avoid certain shapes to score points.


Gaming in Mohenjo-daro  Link

Dissertation by Elke Rogersdotter, University of Gothenburg

The focal point for this study are game-related finds from the Bronze Age Indus Valley settlement of Mohenjo-daro, one of the largest urban settlements (ca. 2500-2000 BC).

At this site, almost every tenth find was related to leisure—dice or gaming pieces. And they’re not uniformly scattered. The artifacts are clustered together in what might have been ancient, say, gaming halls or courtyards.

These finds constitute a basis for an analysis of play as a social phenomenon, which is the main theme of this thesis.

The List

Founding Fathers Official Site | BGG  Buy It

Players take on the role of a influential member of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Using delegate cards as voters, debaters or to enact events, you attempt to craft a document that aligns best the factions within your caucus, one article at a time.

Truckloads of Goober

Carcassonne: Jubilee    Official Site  |  BGG | Buy It

The 10th anniversary edition includes special tiles, acrylic meeples, and a meeple shaped box!

Carcassonne: Entourage    Official Site  |  BGG 

Acrylic "phantom" meeples sold separately from the Jubilee edition.

Carcassonne: Dice Game    Official Site  |  BGG 

Award winning dice game given a Carcassonne re-theming.

Secret of Monte Cristo    Official Site  |  BGG 

Spiffy looking marble slider determines actions each round!

Designer's Workbench

Games as Simulations

Short list of titles/categories mentioned

wargames (real/imagined) - Squad Leader, Conflict of Heroes, Star Fleet Battles
sports games - Strat-o-matic, Pizza Box Football, Formula De
economic games (general or specific event) - Tulipmania, Agricola, Automobile, Monopoly
political games - 1960, Okolopoly, Die Macher
all-encompassing - Civilization, Through the ages, 20th Century, Life
literary - Lord of the Rings, Arabian Nights, Pillars of the Earth, Fury of Dracula

The Game Sommelier

The Challenge: 5 potentially offensive/controversial games

Road Kill Rally (gratuitous violence)
Endeavor (slavery)
War on Terror (playing terrorists)
Funny Friends (sex/drug themes)
Mr. Jack (serial killing with a light tone)
Inquisitio (Spanish Inquisition - avoid being burned at the stake)
Lunch Money (beating up little kids, artwork)
Escape from Colditz (Nazis)

Next Challenge: 5 games improved by removing dice


Music credits (courtesy of IODA promonet) include:

No IODA tracks this time

Non-Ioda Music:

Stars & Stripes Forever by the Muppets

Hail Columbia  United States Marine Band  | Buy It

Stony Point  by David Hildebrand | Buy It

Named for the British stronghold on the Hudson that was captured in 1779 by General Anthony Wayne, this tune was very popular in the 1790's.

March to Boston  by David Hildebrand | Buy It

Like "White Cockade", this simple American march was a great favorite in the army and in the parlor. It is played today by traditional musicians in New England under the title "Road to Boston"

British Grenadiers  YouTube | Buy It

A marching song for the grenadier units of the British military, the tune of which dates from the 17th century.

Free America   | Buy It

Set to the tune of British Grenadiers, the lyrics are by Dr. Joseph Warren, of Boston. Warren was one of the original Minute Men. Warren was Chairman of the Committee of Safety in Boston in 1775 and the man who sent Paul Revere to Lexington to warn John Adams and John Hancock of the British advance, setting Revere off on his famous ride.

Washington's March   YouTube  |  Buy It

James Hewitt (June 4, 1770 - August 2, 1827) was an American conductor, composer and music publisher.

Constitution Preamble - Schoolhouse Rock  YouTube  |  Buy It

The 1970s classic.

The Eagle / The Egg - 1776 (Musical)  YouTube  | Buy It

Yankee Doodle Never Went to Town  by Billie Holiday  |  Buy It

Yankee Doodle Bongo   by Bob Rosengarden  |  Buy It

I'm sure there are some goofs in there somewhere. Let us know if (when?) you find one!


The best Spiel episode in quite some time, buoyed by the expected history lessons accompanying Founding Fathers, which made me appreciate all of the points you raise all over again. The quotes were fascinating; I’m going to have to look up Patrick Henry’s rat. (As with  many idealists, disappointed pessimism fell upon many of these men in later years, especially Jefferson.) Only The Spiel would take the time in a game review to read the Bill of Rights; I listen to some of them with more concern these days. The unexpected bonus history of the archaeological findings is more grist to studies which suggest that, as you say, almost every human culture does some variant of this strange thing. Throw in your digressions on simulations (I'll let the M thing go this week, but what about Clue2?) and you have the weightiest Spiel yet and a pleasure to listen to.

And yes, a challenge well met. Although, hey, I like The Club and wish the DJ Expansion was available in the states. As too the artwork in Mr. Jack, the squidgy feeling did indeed come from knowing the lurid details of the historical horror which were surprisingly hard to purge from my mind. So yes, I might initially have been more comfy had it been treated either as a straight horror game or centered on a fictional homicidal maniac. (Juve and Fandor feverishly trying to unmask and capture Fantomas in turn of the century Paris?) I understand why my favorite childhood game, Ideal’s equally cartoonish (and admittedly just plain wrong) Sinking of The Titanic was briefly renamed Abandon Ship. The closer you get to reality the fuzzier things get. Road Kill Rally floats by because, like its obvious influences, it is simply too much of a Looney Tunes cartoon to take seriously. By contrast, War on Terror engages reality head on, but for a carefully considered and well-executed reason- there are truths about the international situation in that silly board game that few politicians have the temerity to mention and as with the follow up Crunch, its cartoonish tone disguises a genuine satirical anger.

Escape From Colditz is a slightly different kettle of fish and chips. Far from being sympathetic to the Nazis, it's the creation of the thoroughly remarkable Patrick Reid who actually lived the title. However, while other more violent wargames require one player to take on the German role, Colditz is apparently a full-fledged family classic in Britain and, in that context, it does feature unusually conspicuous use of one specific symbol. My own copy is a later (and cheaper) edition featuring the eagle on the box rather than the swastika but I understand the original runs into trouble on some websites. It’s a fine game of its type, even more intriguing given its designer’s history, but yes, I might be uncomfortable putting it on a table in public.

Fiese Freunde Fette Feten  (bowdlerized in its English translation as Funny Friends) is the sort of thing I had in mind when making my suggestion on this challenge. It split people between those upset that the US edition was to be censored and those upset that it was to exist at all. Some seemed to argue that it had moved into altogether inappropriate territory for games, yet the stature of the designers made it difficult to dismiss altogether. It prompted one of them, Marcel Andre Carasola-Merkle, the man with the name from everywhere, to comment:  “The absurd fear of German publishers of producing games that could ignite even just a small bit of controversy... causes a bunch of tamed down ever repeating themes that get squeezed to death....  I don't appreciate offensive themes that are just pasted on to get a little bit more attention; but if a theme fits and the game is fun and there is a target group, then I would consider it.”

Ironically, the most recent potentially offensive content I’ve seen came from the very company I recently dismissed for sanding all the rough edges off. Days of Wonder’s new Cargo Noir, aside from shamelessly reveling in a level of racial caricature somewhere between Wok Star (whose “Free Meat” card frequently gets groans from the table) and the jaw-dropping “gangsta” character in Formula D, allows the customer to smuggle weapons, alcohol and (choke) ivory. It stops short of mentioning certain contraband but it’s not difficult to imagine customs officials slicing open those cigars with a satisfied smirk as the perspiring smuggler before them watches his situation get that much worse. It’s sordid and tawdry. It’s also brilliantly illustrated and it may on the whole be the most satisfying game I’ve seen DOW release yet.

And coming full circle, the newest expansion for Cosmic Encounter loops nicely back to the subject that set you off on all this with the introduction of The Chosen, an alien who is for all intents and purposes, connected up with the one, true omniscient superbeing call it what you will. I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that they’re there or the philosophical implications of losing with them.

Deep and weighty doesn't always mean better, but I think this one turned out nicely. Glad you liked it!

Funny I just played Sinking of the Titanic for the first time a few weeks ago. What a great little game. I love the rotating ship and the race to get off before it goes under. The end game gets a little silly, but I was totally charmed by it.

Games that play fast and loose with stereotypes certainly run the risk of offending even when the intent was only gentle humor. DoW and Asmodee are certainly publishers where this applies more often than you might think.


Still on the fence for founding fathers , need to play it before buying I guess.

Liked the new segment on game design - maybe a tighter focus might help - taking on simulations was a huge first task but I see great things in the future here.

Wanted  to add that ,based on prior episodes, I picked up Survive and Telestrations for our recent family trip.  Both were great fun.  Everyone loved eating someone with a shark (guess this doesn't say much for my family) and we all agreed with Dave - no reason to score Telestrations it was so much fun with out it.   

Keep up the great work 

Thanks! If you get a chance to try Founding Fathers, let us know what you think.

I knew simulation was a lot to bite off on our first go, but since it was the subject that inspired the evolution of the Designer's Workbench, it seemed only fitting to jump in and give it a go. I would envision future trips to the workbench to be more focused as you said.

Survive and Telestrations are great fun. Seems like I instantly forget where my 6s and 5s are once the island starts to sink. With party games, so many fall into the why-keep-score? category. Time's Up is another one where I couldn't tell you who won or lost 99% of the time but everyone playing has a blast.

Thanks for the tip on the CheapAss PNPs!  A few seconds later I was the proud owner of 3 of them. :-)

I'm glad to see Devil Bunny Need a Ham is available after their latest Ransom-o-meter pledge drive.

Francie made little painted devil bunnies for our copy using Easter ornaments with diabolical enhancements. If I can find the little fella, I'll snap a picture.

Great to see Founding Fathers getting the Spiel treatment - it's currently my favourite game and I keep pushing to get it more table time (a few rules bloopers by the way - for example you deal out the initial Virginia Plan with the historical side up so you do not start with a 'deviation' - but nothing that really affected the overall feel of the experience).

I was interested in the discussion regarding the potential 'overpowered' cards and agree with your assessments that there are checks and balances and no real game breakers. Sure "George Washington" is very useful to have, but only if you are at a point where you need to vote early and that can be difficult to achieve if you are holding him for just the right moment (as you are reduced to only playing two cards until George is 'ready'). Also, don't forget that the "Robert Morris" persistent event nullifies Washington and makes it a dead card in your hand for the entire round. "Benjamin Franklin" is great if you can get some influence markers out quickly with single delegates but it takes time to pull off.

Personally I find "John Langdon" a great card to get early as he increases your Caucus to four which can make a big difference when you are trying to keep your options open.

At the end of the day, though, each card has an event which can be powerful dependent on the current state of play. There's always a 'here and now' element which means that the usefulness of each card ebbs and flows.

It's a great game which gets better with every playing.


On another note, I was amused by the somelier challenge.

I put together a geeklist a few years ago on "Games that push a sensitivity button" (not mine, other peoples). I'm surprised you did not have Guillotine or one of the many evolution games.

The random-draw VA plan is a house rule and I forgot to mention it as such since we always play that way. I like having a Constitution that is more likely to deviate from the real one each time we play.

Your thoughts on John Langdon are right in line with my own. Having the extra card especially early in the round is super powerful. but as you said with Washington and Franklin, his utility is still very situational. The stars (and stripes) have to line up for his ability to really kick in in  major way.

Since I already had Roda Kill Rally, Mr Jack and Lunch Money for gratuitous violence, Guillotine would have been overkill... :)

Thought-provoking list over at The Other Place, S’pike.  It would have completely slipped my mind to consider games based on evolution or the recent dustup over the global warming game CO2, which will hopefully at some point be properly released because it looks interesting. Strange that because I have no problem with it, it completely slips my mind to think that anyone else would. I suspect others would be equally surprised at my slight distaste at the, to me, somewhat cynical way religion seems is occasionally pasted onto an existing game that otherwise had nothing to do with it as an apparent marketing tactic.  (I would be intrigued to see a game in which this sort of subject was more thoroughly integrated.) I must stress that taking offense can be a perfectly legitimate reaction; when I hear satirists in interviews deflect questions by saying, “Well, you know, I make fun of both sides equally,” my reaction is “Well, what’s the point of you then?” Taking offense can help us learn who we are if we take the second step of checking that reaction. I'm impressed that Stephen’s list  led with something I had myself expressed an initial problem with only to enjoy playing later. It gets complicated because I think that at a basic level, much frequently depends on the context of the audience’s previous experience. By strange coincidence, Road Kill Rally is up on Tanga today and the message board is full of aghast people refusing the deal. I appreciate the game, I increasingly realize, largely because of my familiarity with the 1975 film that supplies its unofficial source material.  (Even getting the joke on that level, the first close-up photo of the green pawns did give me pause- I really hadn’t noticed.) Mr. Jack on the other hand caused few to bat an eyelash while I couldn’t quite get out of my head  touring Whitechapel and hearing the grisly condition in which some of those shabby little rooms were left. Actually, I can imagine some people having the same problem with Guillotine, which strangely hasn’t provoked the same reaction from me. Maybe if you imagine the soldier on the Memoir 44 cover as Elmer Fudd, you’ll begin to understand my disconnect.

 I sometimes wonder if I am the strange one because I am yet to find a game which offends me. I worry that either my skin is too thick or I just don't get it.


What are the games with pasted on religious themes of which you speak?

The only one that springs to my mind is David and Goliath but I am wondering if they don't get published this side of the pond due to the lack of a ready market (we're a pretty godless lot) 

Oooh, everytime I submit something like that,  as soon as I hit send... oooh... I probably shouldn't have... hrmmm... sigh...

(reaches beneath desk and pulls out huge sign disclaiming that the following comments may not reflect those of The Spiel. Pulls on flame-retardant suit and mask. Sits back down to speak; thinks again. Stands up and pulls chain-link fence across front of stage as well. Sits back down. Pauses for thought, then takes microphone and sinks down with it behind desk for cover.)

Okay, I'm thinking here specifically about things like Settlers of Canaan or glaringly Christian/ Jewish Fluxx (what, no Muslim Fluxx?) This is a fuzzy point and I hope I can make myself clear. First, it's another issue of context and one that might not communicate to the UK. It should also be stressed that this is where you run up against my own prejudices. Guilty. But right or wrong, I imagine on one side a seller who may not personally subscribe to a belief but knows he can squeeze a dollar out of those that do and a buyer that, despite the absolute lack of objectionable material in the original, still cannot comfortably approach it until it has that label on it, like a paper band reading "sanitized for your ideological comfort". You must understand here that I grew up in Texas, where one of my friends was forbidden to watch The Neverending Story on the grounds that the poster depicted "a satanic wing-ed beast" and was working in a library when some people decided this Harry Potter thing was downright dangerous. This is a subtle point and an inflammatory one, so I tread carefully here. It comes down to whether the creators strike me as business people who may or may not share certain beliefs but bet there are sales in those that do (Apples to Apples: Bible Edition, Bible Pictionary or Christian Fluxx) or as people who have certain beliefs that, even if I don't share them personally, are trying to sincerely illustrate them through the medium (David and Goliath, The Journeys of Paul and... er... suggestions?).  Having read the God survey on your blog a couple of years ago, I trust you may have some glimmer of where I'm coming from here. As with all questions of controversy, it comes down not to the subject matter, but to the intent and sincerity.

Moving that distinction into a different field, consider The Suicide Bomber Card Game stacked up against the reply of the War on Terror creators who, when asked if they didn't think it obscene to create a board game about a War on Terror, said that on the contrary they thought it was more obscene to have one in the real world. One is exploitative, the other considered.

 Heh - the God Survey, I had forgotten about that on my blog. That was some time ago.

Certainly I am not offended by your rant. Culturally, of course, we tend to have less trouble with this whole god thing in the UK although interestingly I do have in-laws who subscribe to the Religious Right (or the Church of the Latter Day Nutter as I used to call them in my previous blog).

They, too, wish to burn Harry Potter and were most upset that Steerpike Jr was reading the Percy Jackson novels.

Actually, I was simply curious as to the religious games that you were referring to - now that you have named a few I see more where you are coming from. Christan Fluxx is probably the most interesting seeing as it sits on the same shelf as Stoner Fluxx. A certain Looney wanting his (dope) cake and eating it?

 I'm not sure those two are mutually exclusive; there are probably Christian stoners out there. After all, it's a peaceful and tolerant  philosophy taught by someone who could make forty loaves of bread show up. Having both Christian and Jewish Fluxx though does seem- well, insincere, that's the thing. It did lead me to ponder the idea of Buddhist Fluxx, in which you must empty your hand of cards before anyone has played a goal. I do like Looney Labs very much indeed, but its odd that Pirate Fluxx hit just when the phrase "jump the shark"  was reluctantly coming to mind. I hope to be proven wrong about that.

" I sometimes wonder if I am the strange one because I am yet to find a game which offends me. I worry that either my skin is too thick or I just don't get it."

Even a game like Darkies in the Melon Patch wouldn't offend you?  If you were black (assuming you aren't) could you see it offending you?

 I've never actually come across "Darkies in the Melon Patch" and was surprised to find that it was a real game (looked it up on BGG).

Does it offend me? Not sure really. It looks like it was produced in 1935 and is a sad reflection on attitudes in that era. I guess if it was released today I would certainly have a different reaction.

I personally really get into the theme of a game.  Even with pasted-on themes, I enjoy thinking about that theme as I play, and have an active imagination, so it enhances the gameplay for me.

I think it takes a combination of that theme-eager, imaginative gamer PLUS a personal (and depending on the degree, recent) connection with a given theme to result in an uncomfortable, if not necessarily offended, vibe.

For that reason I can relate to this:

"Mr. Jack on the other hand caused few to bat an eyelash while I couldn’t quite get out of my head  touring Whitechapel and hearing the grisly condition in which some of those shabby little rooms were left."

I had kind of a similar reaction to the game of Puerto Rico when I was first introduced to it.  I had just read A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn, and had read about the colonization of Puerto Rico and the killing, enslavement and maltreatment of natives who had been living there.  So I couldn't see myself really enjoying a game themed around that time and place in  history.

Now, 4 years later, well-removed in time from having just learned about that disturbing period of Puerto Rican history, so that it's now not such a visceral reaction, I have no problem with playing the game.


I thought it was interesting that in the wake of the conversation over Puerto Rico’s oblique treatment of slavery the makers of Endeavour chose to include it by name, forcing the players to confront their own actions and choices. I have not had the privilege of playing yet, but it looked interesting.  That said, this issue was only one of the things that doused my interest in Puerto Rico, which I always viewed as impressively well-engineered but saltine-dry and unappealingly themed. Its success seemed to me one of the first cases of a limited number of critical outlets making and breaking a game and one of the early indicators of how badly out of step with that conventional opinion I tend to be. I have greatly enjoyed some of the later games that built on some of its ideas though.

Great discussion, folks. Glad we have a place on Spiel Central for talks like this.

I wonder if the more time that separates us from history's uglier events, or perhaps the less personal connection we have or feel to the events, the more we are able to approach subjects from a perspective that can incorporate games. For good or ill, I find myself in this position with most games that concern older historical events.

Likewise, more recent events give me greater pause; the Nazi propaganda game, Juden Raus, for example, I don't think I would ever want to play. It's not really a game in my book, more an instrument of reprehensible politics.

So maybe that's the core issue for me: does a game that takes on a potentially sensitive subject stand up as a game first and not a vehicle for a particular agenda? Dealing with a possibly controversial subject in the light of day is not the same as endorsing it.

I think this line is one that has to be drawn and respected on an individual basis. And it's a minefield whichever way you walk into it.

I agree, but would only add the word "merely" i.e. "does it stand up as a game first and not merely as a vehicle for an agenda". War On Terror obviously has a definite agenda in describing its interpretation of the historical relationship between empires and terrorism and Fiese Freunde... in its description of some sexual politics. Heck, even Monopoly's original antecedent had a political agenda. I think it's a self-correcting problem though in that only the strong games are going to endure long enough and gain enough visibility to get their "agenda" across. No sane individual is going to view Juden Raus or Darkies as anything other than unpleasant historical artifacts, where things like Illuminati! or Paranoia, games which at least in their early days had a recognizable political edge, survive in some form decades later. Of course, a lot depends on what your agenda is in the first place, not to mention how closely that agenda is tied to your specific time.

This is a difficult tightrope in any medium; it's awfully hard for example to write a novel to carry a message or point without accidentally slipping into merely speech-making. Star Trek and The Twilight Zone usually did this very well- the message of an episode was too broadly drawn to miss, yet they continued to function as adventure stories. Interesting that you've gone on to discuss Doctor Who in the new episode- if you ever read some of the novels, especially the ones that came under the Virgin imprint in the '90s, they have a truly painful tendency to drift away from the story and into pages of indulgently righteous political moralizing. (That's when you know it's really gone off the rails- when you basically agree and you're still annoyed.)

 One potentially offensive game I played recently was Labyrinth from GMT games. The game itself was really good, but I was a bit uncomfortable with the subject. Plus, since I was playing it pbem via ACTS/Vassal, I am pretty sure it put me on multiple watch lists.