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Road to Enlightenment, Gateway to Learning

October 13th, 2011 by Troy Goodfellow · 3 Comments · Board Games, Design, History

I am playing quite a few betas right now, but I don’t want to talk about them. Mostly because I can’t, they are connected to work and clients and there are real serious beta testers doing their jobs and anything I say would muck up the whole thing. I will say that I am privileged to work alongside some very talented people.

I am, however, also trying to make time for a play test of Dirk Knemeyer’s Road to Enlightenment. (Dirk is in our Out of the Park Baseball league, and a good chap and is letting me do this because he thinks I’ll have fun.) The game is nearly complete, doesn’t need a lot of input at this point though there is still some fine tuning to do, and the components are looking pretty sweet.

If you look at the link, you’ll see that one of the big features are cards with famous people on them. Dirk is smart enough to show you Newton and Cromwell and Rembrandt since you probably already know who these guys are. These luminary cards are my favorite thing and I compared them to baseball cards in a chat with Dirk; I just wish they had stats at the back.

Remember buying baseball cards as a kid before the internet and before cable TV? In New Brunswick, we would see maybe one or two games a week in the regular season (Expos on one channel, Blue Jays on another) and we’d never see every player; I did get my fill of Ray Burris being terrible. So baseball cards (and This Week in Baseball) would sometimes be the only way we’d even know anything about who played on the Seattle Mariners or who the hot rookies would be that year. Well, Ben McDonald never quite panned out, but that’s the risk Topps makes when they give cards to hot draft picks.

For a lot of people who are interested in history, these luminary cards will be a bit like that. You have your Medici and your Richilieu and your Stuyvesent. But you also have Ivan Vyhovsky, Woodes Rogers, and Christopher Polhem. There are no explanations of who these people are on the cards, merely attributes and actions drawn from their historical achievements.

But just like seeing on a card how terrible Johnny LeMaster’s stats were made me feel a (very) little bit better about having Doug Flynn at second base for Montreal, seeing that Polhem gives me four light bulbs and four pi and four money makes me want to compare him to other scientists in the deck – scientists that I have heard of.

And that’s when the magic happens in a game based on history, even for someone my age who just gobbles history like oxygen. I need to know who these people are and what influenced them and how they related to each other. Who were contemporaries? Who were rivals? Why does this soldier get an anti-Catholic bonus? Why are the different pirates sorted the way they are?

Europa Universalis did this to me big time when it came out in 2000. It led to my first great love affair with the Thirty Years War – Wallenstein and Tilly being all up in my business. You need to have some love of history, I think, to begin to appreciate these sorts of games, but with an open heart and mind they can take that love someplace really special and unique and teach about places and times that were just backdrops or margins around the stuff you already knew something about.

Road to Enlightenment isn’t about Swedish science any more than Europa Universalis was about the Thirty Years War. But it uses some of the names and gives those names power, and seeing that power in action makes you want to know why things are as they are. It’s not really about understanding the mechanics as much as it is trying to get a feel for knowing who you are putting into action and using against your opponents.

If I get a play test going this weekend, maybe I’ll report a little on people’s thoughts on it. If I get a board game group from the blog and podcast set up for next month, maybe I’ll bring this along, too.


3 Comments so far ↓

  • CraigM

    Very interesting, I love science and history. That said I got really excited to see what Tesla’s stats were, after all he would have to be game breakingly good at science. Then I realized wrong time period, now I am slightly less excited, but still interested.

    That said, beyond historical curiosity how does it play? Is the game fun only if you are a history buff, or fun if you are a strategy buff?

  • Troy Goodfellow

    Still going through the rules, Craig. It has military stuff, political stuff. Lots of strategic interaction with a nice history flavour. Liking history helps a whole bunch I think, but there is a solid system.

    My friend Bill Abner has play tested it and speaks very highly.

  • Shaun

    I cannot overstate my excitement for this game, but as Craig hinted at – I am terribly afraid that it wont be fun for my gamer friends who aren’t historians. Hope to see more critique of the game soon!