Oath is a game with a legacy - in multiple ways. Firstly, the designer’s previous games have become either notable hits or well-loved cult favorites. Secondly, the results of each game influence the setup of the next.
Ok, that’s a lot to unpack, so let’s talk in a little more detail. Oath is designed by Cole Wehrle, and while he hasn’t designed a lot of games, his games have all developed their own ardent fanbases. His first games, An Infamous Traffic, John Company, and Pax Pamir, are detailed historical recreations of political scenarios from the 1600s to the 1800s. With each of these games, Wehrle proves himself as a game designer deft at recreating tense political scenarios, where trade is simultaneously cooperation and competition, and diplomacy is underscored with threats of war.
While these games are noted for their excellent design, Wehrle reached a new level of recognition with 2018’s Root. When Werle teamed up with Leder Games and their star artist Kyle Ferrin, Root became a Kickstarter darling, raising more than half a million dollars. Leder combined Wehrle’s expertly-designed asymmetrical gameplay with Ferrin’s exceptional art, and these aspects launched Root into board game history, quickly growing its fan base during and well after the Kickstarter campaign.
So this is the legacy Oath has to live up to. The same team of Wehrle, Leder and Ferrin are back, raising over a million dollars on Kickstarter for their next affair.
So what makes Oath different? Whereas Root is certainly more warfare-focused than Wehrle’s previous works, Oath returns to the politics of power imbalances. This aspect jumps to the forefront even as a game of Oath starts - right away, one player is the Chancellor, who can grant Citizenship to any of the other players, who start out as Exiles. And this Chancellor thing makes Oath unique in another way - the winner of the previous game starts out as the current game’s Chancellor.
Oath is a complex asymmetric political game that defies classification otherwise. While it features the charming anthropomorphic animal characters from Root, Oath reveals itself to be an intriguing and cutthroat game.
Frosthaven is also the followup to a game with a banner Kickstarter campaign. Its predecessor Gloomhaven raised over $300,000 in 2015, and impressed people inside and outside the board game hobby with its ambition. Gloomhaven was - and still is - the largest board game ever, in every sense of the word. Its 25-pound box contains enough adventure for four players to enjoy over years. It’s like a full year-long Dungeons & Dragons campaign in a box.
Gloomhaven delivered on its ambition, too. Players have almost universally fallen in love with its many facets - character development, branching storylines where player decisions matter, challenging combat systems and encounters, everything. So when an all-new, compatible sequel to Gloomhaven was announced, everyone stood up and took notice.
Frosthaven recently completed its Kickstarter campaign, and true to Gloomhaven grandeur, raised almost $13 million dollars - the most money a board game Kickstarter has raised. It’s likely that many of the Frosthaven backers missed out on the original Gloomhaven campaign. Gloomhaven must be one of the biggest manufacturing challenges, because of both its size and complexity. It took two years for Gloomhaven to finally reach its backers, then hit retail. Even then, it took another year or two for the hype train to slow to reasonable speeds so Gloomhaven is readily available as any other board game. Frosthaven appears to be just as big and complex, so no one wants to miss out.
So Frosthaven is projected to finally reach its backers and hit retail in 2021. This year, people will be able to experience the thrills and challenge of Gloomhaven in a new setting; there’s many new characters for players to play, and veterans can use their characters from the original Gloomhaven as well. All eyes are on Frosthaven, to see what twists and turns emerge in both its production and shipping as well as the stories the game tells.
Critical Role Adventures
There’s a new generation of tabletop roleplaying, and one of the biggest things driving this generation is Critical Role. Matthew Mercer and his voice actor friends began streaming their game sessions, and due to the group’s charisma and Mercer’s skill at storytelling, rapidly grew into a new and completely original fandom.
In contrast to the traditional image of RPG fans as almost exclusively straight white males, Critical Role showed the world a new kind of RPG fandom that is more diverse and inclusive. Critical Role helped open a door to RPGs and Dungeons & Dragons that many people were waiting for, and this throng of Critters is constantly growing.
So when the gang from Critical Role announced they were publishing board games in 2021, it made headlines. Darrington Press is a new way for people to explore Mercer’s campaigns and his friends’ character, through the medium of board games. Darrington is slated to publish four games in 2021, and the second of the four, Critical Role Adventures, sounds like a large legacy-driven experience that even non-fans can enjoy.
We don’t know much about Critical Role Adventures yet. However we do know that players play the characters from Vox Machina, the party from the series’ second campaign. It’s also been described as a “legacy-lite” avocation. Legacy games have emerged as a new genre where the board game changes subtly after each play session. Rules change, player powers change, new objectives emerge, and the game tells a grand story where each playthrough is a different chapter.
This makes Critical Role Adventures sound a lot like Gloomhaven and Frosthaven - or perhaps something more role-play and story-focused, like Mice & Mystics or Above & Below. At any rate, a long-form adventure game that’s more accessible than the capacious Gloomhaven, stoking the fires of a large and fervent fanbase, looks promising. Critical Role Adventures will be a fun game to watch, and hopefully one to play as well.