Cardboard Children – Stream of Cardboard

Hello youse.

If you like board games and you know my column, then you’ll know that it’s been a long time since I went into one of my weird–


–stream of consciousness type of columns I say uh oh uh oh here we go!



Seriously, what a fucking amazing name for a board game. Merchant of Venus. Too many games are called things like “Steams of Wheat” or “Grain Enemies” or “Build A Castle For A Dude With A Codpiece”. But MERCHANT OF VENUS? Jesus, it is both a cool name and a gag too. Anyway, I have it now. I’ve never played it, so I’m keen to see what the game is all about. I’ll be playing the classic edition first (the newest print comes with the original game and a new tooled-up version of the game) and I’ll be sure to let you know what I think. With a name like MERCHANT OF VENUS I imagine it must be about being a priest on Mars or something.


Big news this week with the announcement of a new expansion for that game you only just bought. That game, which is similar to a lot of other games, was one of the big hits of last year in a community that constantly likes new stuff all the time. It was surely only a matter of time before that game was expanded by more cards, more plastic, more paper, more chits, more empty space inside the box, more just kinda general stuff so that the game you’ve only played twice is kept fresh for the third time you play it. If you even do play it a third time. Which is unlikely, because…


A new game, similar to that game you only just bought, was today announced in an announcement that had been funded on Kickstarter. The announcement had a stretch reward of two further announcements, and I’m excited to say that these other announcements are both about expansions for this new game that’s just been announced. Remember! It’s likely that the first print run of the announcement, the other announcements, the game, and the expansions will ALL vanish fast, so you better get your pre-order in early.


Are we still all playing Dominion? Me neither.


Years back, when I collapsed head-first into board gaming like NEVER before, a lot of games were coming out in these giant boxes we all called “Coffin Boxes”. Twilight Imperium III is a coffin box game. The magnificent Starcraft too. Horus Heresy, yep. Flying Frog’s Fortune & Glory is a coffin box game too, the idiots. But the age of the coffin box is OVER. How do we feel about that? It’s better, right?

Is it?

I remember coming home with the Descent 1st Edition coffin box, and it felt like I was carrying a universe over my shoulder. (I wasn’t actually carrying it over my shoulder, I just said that to make the imagery more cool.) Those giant boxes, big enough to bury a fat raccoon, were completely impractical but – OH MY. THAT WAS SOME BIG TOYS.

I miss them. We’re better off without them though, huh?

Just like we’re better off without those beautiful PC game boxes from years ago. Giant boxes, full of maps and giant rule books. Yeah.

Better off without them. Yeah.

**stares out of the window**


Let me talk to you about something you will probably understand – being an idiot.

I have this board game called OKKO: Era of the Asagiri. It’s based on a comic book, and it looks like this really cool skirmish game, with samurai and bad guys and ghosty women and all that good shit a person like me loves. I bought it years ago. A total no-brainer. Beautiful art, lovely slim box, full of cool stuff. The rules? Sure, I read them. Great rules! Interesting dice mechanic, nice rules for facing and so on. GREAT. Super!

I’ve never played it. Why? Because I found out that it was released alongside a bunch of beautiful miniatures.






And I can’t find them. And while I don’t have them I would have to play the game with the little cardboard standees inside the box. Cardboard. CARDBOARD BY GOD. YUCKY YUCK!

Here is why I am an idiot.

  • I am not playing a game because I want all these impossible-to-find and expensive miniatures first.
  • I bought the game and read the rules not knowing about the miniatures. And then I found out about the miniatures and I PUT THE GAME AWAY.
  • I might not even like the game. A normal human being with a sensible brain would play the game first to see if it’s any good. Not me.
  • You NEVER need miniatures. You can play a good game with matchsticks if you want.
  • Because I just am.
  • Because I just am, okay?

I am not playing Okko until I get those effing miniatures, okay? Do not JUDGE me.

Are any of you people idiots? Maybe you’re one of the idiots who bought all of the Arkham Horror miniatures. Maybe you’re one of those idiots who back board games on Kickstarter knowing NOTHING about the rules. Maybe you’re one of those idiots who won’t play any games with direct conflict involved.

Let me know what kind of idiot you are in the comments section below, as usual.

Kidding. Love U.


Talisman NEWS!

God, I love Talisman. And there’s another cool little expansion JUST ANNOUNCED. It’s called The Firelands, and get this, it sets your game on fire. No, seriously, it does. It brings all sorts of fire monsters into Talisman, and they start prowling around, burning up sections of the map and stuff.

God, I love Talisman.

I love Talisman because SURE it’s just a roll-and-move-and-see-what-happens game at its core. But beyond that? When you dig into the expansions, and the new areas, and all the variety you find with the new characters? And the TONS of different endings? Well FUCK YOU it’s the best.

Seriously, I will take Talisman to my grave. You think Talisman is boring? Then you’ve never played with me. You’ve never seen me attempt to kill a dragon about twenty times, almost on my knees in tears at every failed attempt. You’ve never seen me collect on my bounties from the City and wink in your direction, saying “Now your body is mine, baby.” You’ve never seen me take the Crown and point at you, screaming “VALHALLA UPON YE!”

And now, Firelands. There’s this monster, right, who appears, right, and then each turn a fire spreads out from it. Like, the whole AREA can go on fire. So you have to hunt him down before he burns everything up. How amaz-

I love it so much.

There’s another expansion called The Nether Realm, created by probably the biggest Talisman fan on the planet, Jon New. It brings TERRIFYING new baddies, and new endings that let you hunt those baddies, run a gauntlet of those baddies, or open Pandora’s Box to unleash hell on everyone.

Do not

Do not ever criticise

Do not ever criticise Talisman in my presence. It is magic. It is the essence of good-time dice-chucking board gaming.

Do not.


Back to REVIEWS. Maybe Merchant of Venus. Maybe Robinson Crusoe. Maybe Terra Mystica. What do you fancy?

Do not.



  1. Bremmy says:

    Could someone explain to me what cardboard children is about? I remember it being about board games a couple times but now it seems to just be mad ramblings… I mean if mad ramblings is the intention then no problem, I just want to know what to expect.

    • Tsarcastic says:

      I’ve been wondering the same thing for a while now. It’s kind of like a shitty version of the classic shitty joke:

      “BOARD GAMES! Alright, now that I’ve got your attention, let’s talk about sex.”

      • Frypan Jack says:

        I’m not sure what either of you guys are talking about. Of course its mad ramblings (wonderfully so), but its always been very on topic mad ramblings about board games. This particular piece more so than others, which is why its odd that its gotten this reaction. From your point of view, at what point did the mad ramblings in this column drift away from the topic of board games? I’m seriously curious because I don’t see it.

        • ArdentPenguin says:

          It’s about the boxes games come in, the pieces you play games with, how expansions are released for successful games, and how the name of one particular game is really good. The only part of this that is actually about a game (the game that you play, not the components or labels surrounding it) is the last part on the upcoming Talisman expansion.

          Maybe it’d be more precise to say that the column goes completely off-topic from the actual game (the more-or-less strategic competition you engage in with other people) and focuses instead on everything else around it.

          Or more simply: where’s the fun?

          • Frypan Jack says:

            The boxes, pieces, instruction manuals – in other words, the physical objects – are what define boardgames, right? Its fair enough that he gets excited about what is arguably a pretty big part of the hobby.

            Lots of other CC columns have engaged with the “game” aspect you are talking about.

          • DatonKallandor says:

            “Lots of other CC columns have engaged with the “game” aspect you are talking about.”
            Don’t talk to me about “notes” and “music” – what color is his guitar?!

          • gwathdring says:


            Man, if you don’t care about the instrument, you’re only listening to half the music. Every instrument brings something slightly different to the table. A good musician can make a good sound on anything. A GREAT musician learns not only the art of their music, but the specific art of their specific instruments. They learn their instruments with the same fervor and love one composes a song or forges a relationship.

            Of course we can be snippy and compare the bits and bobs surrounding board games to the *color* of the guitar. But that’s lazy.

        • Benjamin Sherwood says:

          What Frypan said.

    • X_kot says:

      Cardboard Children is a ludological miscellany. Previously, Rab has channeled the spirit of a raven to discuss why people play games in the face of mortality, and that of a table to discuss emotional connection that gaming can engender. There is no consistency beyond the theme of a collaborative effort called Boardgaming.

      If you’re looking for a more conventional treatment of board game reviews, Tom Vasel or Shut Up & Sit Down might be more to your liking.


      • The Random One says:

        Ludological Miscellany sounds like a store on the second story of an office building between a Subway and a dentist’s office where you can, in fact, find all of Okko’s miniatures.

    • P7uen says:

      I haven’t played a boardgame in about 20 years and I have no desire to start now, but I read every glorious cardboard children. Just relax, read, enjoy, or don’t enjoy, read other good things.

      If I ever ask “what’s it about, I don’t ‘get’ it” I will finally have turned into my Mum.

    • NightSod says:

      There’s hectares of analysis out there droning on about mechanics, often incorrectly as well. Rab’s column is one of the few that captures the emotional thrill of a good game. I finally got to play “Chaos in the old World”, with friends last night; and even if can’t remember a bloody word that Rab said all those years ago I now know his mad, fervant ranting about the game was justified.

  2. shadowmarth says:

    Talisman WITHOUT EXPANSIONS is kinda way too goddamned long for what it is. But enjoyable.

  3. plsgodontvisitheforums_ says:

    Lovely painted samurai!! Where can I get it??

    Oh, and I still do and enjoy it.

  4. Alistair Hutton says:

    Still playing masses of Dominion.

    I’m getting so much hot Dominion action that I need a new metaphor to expound upon how much hot Dominion action I am getting,

    • Dare_Wreck says:

      Same here – it’s the only game my wife and I both love to death. We’ve been playing it whenever we can for the last 15 months, and we only have about half the expansions.

  5. ArdentPenguin says:

    I really don’t enjoy these kinds of posts, or this column in general. I love Rock Paper Shotgun not just because I love computer games, but because the writers are excellent, the editorial standards are very high, and the writing, criticism, and journalism does the medium justice. I learn a lot, I’m pushed to think about games in interesting and critical ways, and often I’m entertained. Not to mention, it helps me decide what games to buy.

    I also love board games, but I don’t think this column does them justice. I don’t need or want to read a post about how the author doesn’t feel like playing a game they purchased because they don’t have neat miniatures, or a line about how nobody plays Dominion, or lame jokes about how successful board games have expansions, or how the name of a game is great. There’s a reason why stream-of-consciousness writing isn’t the norm and why editing is.

    When the column does actually review a game – which is rarely – there’s a lot of telling, repeating how great the game in question is, and almost no showing, or illuminating *why* the game is great (in this case it’s great because “FUCK YOU it’s the best” and because apparently the author gets really into it, which isn’t very helpful if I won’t ever play with the author).

    But I wouldn’t even mind the reviews as much if they weren’t overwhelmed with sketchy news updates or “here are some random things that are on my mind.” There are a lot of fascinating things going on right now in the world of board games, including *new board games.* This column doesn’t do them justice.

    • Tsarcastic says:


    • Frypan Jack says:

      Counterpoint- I love Cardboard Children because it is a regular shot of Robert’s vast energy and enthusiasm for board games. He writes from the gut instead of the head, sure, but when he is describing a game he tells you how it FEELS to him in an emotional and visceral way that I don’t see anyone else doing. If someone were just to describe Risk Legacy or Netrunner or Fortress America I might file them under “Sounds cool, maybe someday” in my head, but Robert telling me how they feel made me run out and get them which I do not regret in the slightest.

      There are plenty of great sources for hard news about the world of board games, but crazy impressionistic stuff like Cardboard Children is thin on the ground.

      Also, he gets a lifetime pass from me for this piece which I love with all my heart.

      • Bull0 says:

        OP’s doing the classic “I hate this thing because it isn’t something else”, which is a sort of self-disproving argument. I agree with you. If I wanted to watch people playing the game (which I’d never want, because I’m 27), Youtube has that covered.

      • alh_p says:

        I’m relatively new to boardgames as a hobby rather than something i played when younger with family, but over the last year or 2 I’ve discovered several really interesting and fun games as a result of Rab and SU&SD’s coverage.

        Rab’s enthusiasm and excitement are what make this column. But dare I say that they could bear some editing as, fan as I am, this post did go too far away from what I’d recognise as about a decent point about a game or other. Let alone what is actually fun about board games. It almost looks like a late homework assignment…

        The counter-counter point then: the internet is already full of mad and sweary ramblings. it most definitely does not need more. Moreover, should there be such a thing as an editor on RPS, this site is not to my mind in any way improved by waffle. Some over wordsmithing is fine by me when hunting for better analogies but this post is as loose as a wizard’s sleeve.

    • eldwl says:

      Congratulations, you don’t enjoy them. Move along and read something you do like. You didn’t pay for this content creation, so please stop being so flipping negative.

      Rab is an amazing writer, probably one of the best comedy writers we have in this country at the moment, and we’re bloody lucky to get a FREE column by him every week. Don’t go poisoning a well that others enjoy drinking from, just move along.

      • alh_p says:

        Why aren’t people allowed to voice their concerns or opinions about the quality of somehting they cherish?

    • X_kot says:

      I guess the question is: what do you want out of a board game column? You’ve identified a number of things you didn’t like in this post. My guess is that what you’re looking for is out there, being produced by a very knowledgeable person who has a BoardGameGeek or YouTube account. Rab fits the RPS ethos pretty well, I’d say – read some of Tim Stone, Porpentine, or vintage KG, and I think you’ll find Cardboard Children is in good company.

    • meepmeep says:

      The thing you are looking for, there is already plenty of.

    • Phasma Felis says:

      There are a hundred million jillion sites where you can read detailed, clinical reviews of new board games. And I do! I do read those sites. Let me have just this one that, occasionally, delivers crazy stream-of-consciousness rants about board games. And then you can read the million jillion other sites, and not read this one, and I will read this one, and we’ll both be happy. Okay?

      RPS is already the only site in the videogaming universe that realizes sometimes people like reading about games for the reading’s own sake, not purely as a purchasing guide. I like that they’re expanding that to a few related topics.

    • PoulWrist says:

      I love Cardboard Children exactly because it’s not a slavish readthrough of the rules of a game and some guy giving you his opinion of whether or not it’s balanced. There’s a tonne of that out there. Just like there are a tonne of game reviewsites that are much more to the point (AND GIVE SCORES OMG) to games. I come to RPS to read texts from people about people-things related to games. Not to read another dry review of a game.
      I mean, I can do that a thousand places.

      I’d also like to add that reading Cardboard Children has started me and a group of about 8-10 friends up on boardgaming again, and we meet up more or less every week to play a game or three of Cosmic Encounter, Spartacus, Infiltration and a bunch of other games we have based mainly on recommendations from this column. Precisely because they explain more the experience of playing the game than the dry rules of them. Hell, I even got a friend of mine who seriously hated Talisman to play through a game of Relic and enjoy it after I linked him the cardboard children article on Talisman…

      So yeah.

  6. meepmeep says:

    Of course we’re still bloody playing Dominion you fool. We will always be playing Dominion.

  7. eldwl says:

    Three times in the last month I’ve had to stop myself from buying Horus Heresy, purely because of lack of space. I really want it. And I’ve just bought the ship expansion for Eclipse so it’s nicer to play with. Big box games are so full of toys and expectations and toys and fun. But mostly toys.

  8. Easy says:

    I want a huggable plushy of Rab please. Also, I just ordered A Study In Emerald. Because (a) insane game that redefines games in a game-like fashion (b) Martin Wallace and (c) I did read the rules before buying. Who wants to play with me?

  9. jrod says:

    Robinson Crusoe words next week please!

  10. Shadram says:

    I’m an idiot that backs board games on Kickstarter without knowing the rules. I’m also an idiot who buys (preorders, even) literally everything for Descent despite only having played it a couple of times. I’m also an idiot because I just am, too.

  11. tnankie says:

    Idiot who owns too many games I’ve not played enough to warrant their purchase….many I blame Rab for (particularly spartacus)….although survive and cosmic encounter were also His fault and I love them to death.

    Idiot who keeps buying games for him and the Wife to play hoping that this will be the one….rather than addressing the reasons why its not working…

    idiot whose enthusiasm blinds him to reality.

    Idiot who has no interest in Talisman.

  12. Spacewalk says:

    With the release of OGRE Designer’s Edition we’ve moved on from coffins to the mausoleum itself.

  13. bhauck says:

    I don’t understand why I even need to post this, but this was my favorite thing I read today.

  14. kadeton says:

    With a name like “Merchant of Venus” I would assume it’s a game about space racism. SPRACISM.

  15. Wytefang says:

    Extremely keen on picking up Sails of Glory and Leviathans. :)

  16. Deccan says:

    The original Merchant of Venus is essentially [Traveller + Elite]: The Boardgame, and as such tapped directly into the parts of my brain that appreciate all that is good and right in the world.

    I am reliably informed that the new version bins loads of the stuff that made the old one cool (no differentiation between ships, just an upgrade race; exploration has been made dull). Its board is certainly a triumph of cluttered design. Visual clarity, pfft, that’s so 1992.

    • Deano2099 says:

      Arguable – I’d say exploration is now more interesting (with event cards and missions) and while yes, the ships aren’t different initially, you just upgrade them differently, you do choose a starting race, which changes some stuff. The lack of the ‘demand’ system (except as a variant) is probably the biggest change.

      Also if you don’t like it, you can just flip the board over and play the original version as it has all the pieces for that too!

  17. Funso Banjo says:

    A board game “reviewer”, who actually think Talisman is a solid game.

    It’s kind of like a literary critic who considers 50 shades of gray as a seriously strong peice of literary art.

    • NightSod says:

      Or maybe one who who is better at finding enjoyment in this game than you are? …and isn’t priggish about it.

      There’s loads of games I think are mechanically shit or just crude that are still a right laugh to play. “Arkham Horror”, “Talisman”, “Cosmis Encounter” all fit that bill for me.

    • Bull0 says:

      DIY then

  18. Bull0 says:

    The Relic expansion is some exciting shit, I’m all over that.

    There’s definitely something special about the impractical big long boxes games don’t seem to come in anymore. If they ever start doing the Warhammer starter sets in square boxes I will cry uncontrollably for days.

  19. NightSod says:

    Are we still all playing Dominion? Me neither.

    Bollocks. We played it last night. Randomised decks; still a perfect game.

    Big, heavy boxes full of stuff and counters to *pop* from the sheets are a real thrill in that ritual unboxing. I love other stuff too: that cute tray in “Small world”; the removeable tray bits in “Archipelago”; those hidden pieces in the new “Risk”. Savy designers must love playing with these thing themselves?
    When I open a game up and if there’s nothing to *pop*, I’m always disappointed…

  20. YogSo says:

    /Clicks on the Cardboard Children tag at the end of the article:

    * Marth, 4th: Stream of Cardboard, not review.
    * February, 25th: “Discworld: Ankh-Morpork” review.
    * February, 18th: “Caverna”, GOTY review.
    * February, 15th: “Cadwallon – City Of Thieves” review.
    * February, 4th: “Battlelore 2nd Edition” review.
    * January, 28th: “Hotel Tycoon” review.
    * January, 21st: “Eldritch Horror” review.
    * January, 14th: The Click, not review.
    * January, 7th: “RAMPAGE!” review.

    /Reads comments about how this column is about anything except boardgaming and boardgames, with no analysis or review info about the games themselves.

    So, folks, just between you and me, in that paralel dimension where you come from, did the Nazis won the World War II? Do you have hovering skateboards and flying cars already?

    • alh_p says:

      Speaking only for myself, the fact this isn’t “a review” isn’t a problem. The problem is more that this post is a ramble, and one of much lower insight or quality than usual – either for Cardboard Children or RPS. What is good about RPS is the quality of its posts (generally), maintaining quality is tough but frankly what keeps me coming back here.

      This post stands out as being a meandering, bland helping of what Cardboard Children usually serves up. If 1 post a week is too much, either to keep pace with new games or imaginative/interesting content, maybe 1 post a week is too much.

      • YogSo says:

        Sorry, my fault if I ended being a tad ambiguos. When I said “this column is about anything except boardgaming and boardgames, with no analysis or review info about the games themselves” I didn’t mean THIS particular column, but Rab’s articles in general, because the accusations that some people have expressed above is that THIS column is the common template, that Cardboard Children is almost always like THIS. My post was intended as evidence to the contrary, that THIS type of column is the exception more than the rule.

        With that said, though, I’m not gonna argue that THIS column is… what it is. Love it or hate it. Certainly not something that everybody will like, but that’s Rab for you.

    • Bull0 says:

      It’s a dimension in which they can click an article titled Stream of Cardboard, and then be surprised that it’s written as stream of consciousness, and then have the shamelessness to post aggressive comments about that. So, it’s a world full of idiots, but we knew that.

  21. Cheradanine Zakalwe says:

    Until very recently, I strongly disliked talisman. I didn’t hate it, but the randomness of it all annoyed the hell out of me. That and the fact that every seems to be playing it like a single player game – the chances for interaction were few and far between and were often actively avoided.

    Turned out I was just playing with the wrong people.

    I played a game at my friends house with his board game circle and I had an absolute blast. Two guys went rogue and concentrated on killing all the good characters and no-one else. The monk wandered around aimlesssly healing people and donating items to their cause. And I somehow managed to get turned into a toad twice and lived to see the end of the game.

    When you play talisman, you need at least 4 people (optimal is probably 5). You need to have different characters(edit: different personalities/goals/perspectives) in the sen and you need to all be actively interested in interacting with the other players (either by trying to kill someone or help them). Sure, it can be argued that its a poor board game for requiring these sorts of limitations – but I had an absolute blast with the game when everyone focused on one another rather than the single player feeling of the campaign.

  22. Deano2099 says:

    Rab – based on your past preferences, I reckon you’d prefer the updated version of Merchants of Venus. The original is perhaps stronger as a strategic game experience – it’s quite focused, all about the trading, finding those optimal trade routes and earning as much cash as possible for the win. Great fun as a competitive game.

    But the update just adds a ton of stuff which makes it more fun. It’s a lot more random, you’ll run off distracted in to doing some mission or trying to get a shuttle for your ship to try and corner the market on passenger transport before getting waylaid by pirates or having a random hypergate spawn on top of you, and end up painting your ship with go-faster-stripes instead. It turns it into much more of a beer and pretzels game that you can just take for a ride and enjoy what happens to you. Though it does have the Talisman ‘problem’ that it can run a little long for that sort of environment.

  23. cpugeek13 says:

    I think that many of Rab’s articles (including this one) would be much better suited to a personal or BGG blog. When he wants to, he can write some great reviews (like his Caverna one), but some times it just feels like he’s phoning it in. He may be trying to write more creatively to stick out from other board games journalists, but it comes across as mindless rambling. Look at the Shut Up and Sit Down guys for example, their writing is creative and witty, but at the same is also focused and insightful.

    Also, for those who say that they would rather read about the ‘feeling’ of a game instead of its mechanics — if you’ve played a lot of board games, then a nice, deep explanation of the game mechanics can give you that feeling. When it comes to board games, players personal tastes for games are usually more based on mechanics than on theme or ‘feeling’. This is different than computer games, where the mechanics often take a back seat to the presentation.

    • Deano2099 says:

      Not 100% on this, but am fairly sure it’s been mentioned before that Rab does these columns for free and has turned down offers of payment for them, hence the more inconsistent schedule and the fact they maybe don’t get the same editorial work as other contributors. Obviously that might have changed, but upshot is it’s not like RPS are spending money on this rather than commissioning other stuff. We can have this, or we can have nothing on board games at all…

  24. guygodbois00 says:

    Found this article to be consistently good. Merchant of Venus next week, please.

  25. Melipone says:

    Thanks for the column Rab. Also the recent recommendation of Earth Reborn – it led to a great few afternoons’ gaming reconnecting with a pal of mine who likes inordinately complicated and rich rulesets. STAY DICEY.

  26. Ergonomic Cat says:

    Love the column. As many others have mentioned, if I want a straight forward and mechanical review, I’ll go to Dice Tower. If I want glowing reviews of every new videogame out there, I’ll go to Gamespot. If I want people meandering and having huge personalities about things I also love, I come to RPS. It’s why RPS is the only boardgame and video game site in my “Daily reads” folder.

    Rab talks about games the way I talk about games to my friends.

    “It’s called Space Alert. The first time we played it, that super lovey dovey annoying couple? Yeah, them. They didn’t speak to each other for an hour after. I had to spend the entire game running in circles, and occasionally wiggling the mouse, but I also got to run around with a band of deadly robots, so it was kind of awesome! We totally need to play this, I already bought it!”

    I’m not trying to “excuse this article.” I’m saying this article is why I like Cardboard Children, and RPS besides.