Phirax's Magical Box of Hot
Keats and Yeats are on your side, but you lose... because Wilde is on mine.
Notes, disclaimers and warnings:
This document is based on a movie that contained a fair amount of adult language.
That language has been maintained here, so if you are uncomfortable with
profanity, then %&*$#§ you.
Okay, that was a test.
Sorry about that.
But seriously, you may want to %&*$#§ off now before we remove the filters.
This document is a re-imagining of a story with a fair amount of violence.
I have tried to eliminate all the violence from the script because I
realize that my intended audience is a bunch of Europeans who enjoy playing
non-conflict games about farming. If you are one of those people who feels
that Race for the Galaxy has just the right amount of interaction and
conflict, then this story might be a bit too much for you to handle.
This document uses the names of real people who are "celebrities" in the
BoardGameGeek community. Yes, I am aware of how absurd that sounds. I
don't know these people, but if they are included, then you can consider me
a fan. I poke a bit of fun at their public personas in an attempt to
elicit giggles, not to hurt feelings. Any opinions expressed are
superficial and without any real knowledge or understanding of the
underlying subject matter, just like your average UndeadViking game review.
If you are okay with all that, (and you are not an IP lawyer working for
John Milius or Francis Ford Coppola) then I proudly present...
INTO THE HEART OF DORKNESS
A SPIEL ESSEN STORY
The film opens with a young man sitting on the edge of a bed in a
disheveled hotel room. On the table behind him is the board game Caylus.
CAYLUS THEME SONG BY THE DOORS
This is the end
This is the end
My only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I'll never look into your eyes...again
Can you picture what will be
So limitless and free
Desperately in need...of some...stranger's hand
In a...desperate land
Lost in a Roman...wilderness of pain
And all the children are insane
All the children are insane
Waiting for the summer rain, yeah
Hotel room in Essen (6:05):
"Essen, crap. I'm still only in Essen. Every time I think I'm going to wake
up back in the Messe. When I was home after my first gaming convention, it
was worse. I'd wake up and there'd be nothing... I hardly said a word to my
wife until I said yes to a divorce. When I was here I wanted to be there.
When I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the Messe.
I've been here a week now. Waiting for a table to open up, getting softer.
Every minute I stay in this room I get weaker. And every minute my
opponents plan their next move they get stronger. Each time I look around
the walls move in a little tighter.
Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins
they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service."
Two board game VIP's approach the hotel room:
"Phirax? Are you in there?"
"It was a real choice mission, and when it was over, I'd never want another."
"What do you want?"
"We have orders to escort you to Board Game HQ."
"What are the charges?"
"I accidentally hit the board with my elbow. It wasn't clear that I was losing."
"There's no charges. You have orders to report to the HQ pavilion at the Messe."
"I'm not going anywhere."
"If you come with us we'll give you 15 free Geek Gold."
"Free Geek Gold?"
"Come on Phirax, you still have a few minutes to get cleaned up."
At Board Game HQ (7:30):
"I was going to the worst place in the world, and I didn't even know it
yet. Hours away and hundreds of meters up a passageway that snaked through
the convention center like a main circuit cable and plugged straight into
the heart of the board gaming world. It was no accident that I got to be
the caretaker of Phil Eklund's memory, any more than being back in Essen
was an accident. There is no way to tell his story without telling my own.
And if his story is really a confession, then so is mine."
"Come on over.. Take a seat. Want a complementary copy of the BoardGameGeek Game?"
"No, thank you sir."
"Phirax, have you ever seen this gentleman before? Met this member of the
gaming community or myself?"
"No, sir. Not personally."
"You have worked a lot on your own, haven't you?"
"Yes, sir. I have."
"Your report specifies intelligence, counter-intelligence, card-
intelligence, really any intelligence associated with gaming tokens."
"I'm not presently disposed to discuss these operations, sir."
"Did you not work for Hasbro on their Avalon Hill line?"
"Did you not file papers to indefinitely postpone the reprinting of Dune -
one of gaming's most beloved properties - on June 18, 1993."
"Sir, I am unaware of any such activity or operation - nor would
I be disposed to discuss such an operation if it did in fact exist, sir."
GENERAL DR. PROF. REINER KNIZIA:
"I thought we'd play a quick game of Fluxx while we talk. I hope you
brought a good appetite for randomness with you. You have a bandaged hand
there, are you wounded?"
"A little Dominion shuffling accident, sir."
"Dominion, of course... But you're feeling fit, ready for duty?"
"Yes, sir. Very much so, sir."
"Let's see what we have here... Fluxx Reduxx and..., usually it isn't too
bad. Deal the cards Klaus, pass them around. Save a little time, we'll
pass both ways. Phirax, I don't know how you feel about the Fluxx family of
games, but if you'll play it, you never have to prove your courage in any
other way... I'll play this card here..."
"Phirax, you've heard of the game designer Phil Eklund?"
"Yes, sir, I've heard the name."
"Rocket scientist, founder of Sierra Madre Games."
"Would you play that tape for Phirax, please. Listen carefully."
"October 26th, 0930 hours, vendor stand 9-31."
"This was monitored out of Hall 9. This has been verified as Phil Eklund's voice."
PHIL EKLUND (on tape)
"I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That's my
dream. That's my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a
straight razor, and collecting victory points. I think it was a Martin
"11th transmission, October 27th, 1100 hours, vendor stand 10-04."
EKLUND (on tape)
"We must destroy them. We must incinerate them. We must make them roll lots
and lots of dice. And they call me degenerate. What do you call it when the
degenerates accuse the degenerate? They are theme-less... they are theme-
less and we have to be merciful for those who are theme-less. Those
nabobs. I hate them. How I hate them..."
"Phil Eklund was one of the most outstanding game designers this hobby
has ever produced. He was brilliant and outstanding in every way
and he was a good man too. Humanitarian man, man of wit, of humor.
He joined the BoardGameGeek community. After that his ideas, methods have
become unsound... unsound."
"Now he's set up a stall in Hall 9 with his fan-boy army who worship the
man like a god and who follow every unintuitive rule, however ridiculous."
"Well, I have some other shocking news to tell you. Phil Eklund was about
to have his account banned for unorthodox game design."
"I don't follow sir. What did he do wrong?"
"Eklund had ordered the abolishment of some of gaming's most tried and true
concepts. Auctions. Worker Placement. Runaway leader prevention.
Mechanics he believed were destroying gaming. So he took matters into his
"Well, you see Phirax... In this business, things get confused out there,
power, ideals, the old morality, and practical business necessity. Out
there with these gamers it must be a temptation to be god. Because there's
a conflict in every human heart between the rational and the irrational,
between good and evil. The good does not always triumph. Sometimes the dark
side overcomes what Sid Sackson called the better angels of our nature.
Every man has got a breaking point. You and I have. Phil Eklund has reached
his. And very obviously, he has gone insane."
"Yes sir, very much so, sir. Obviously insane."
"Your mission is to proceed up to Hall 4 in a press contingent. Pick up
Eklund's path at the information booth, follow it, learn what you can along
the way. When you find Eklund, infiltrate his team by whatever means
available and terminate their game demonstrations."
"Terminate? The game demos?"
"He's out there operating without any decent restraint. Totally beyond the
pale of any acceptable human conduct. And he is still out there selling games."
"Terminate with extreme prejudice."
"You understand Phirax..., that this operation does not exist, nor will it ever exist."
At the press accreditation kiosk (8:50):
"How many game designs had I already killed? There was those six that I
know about for sure. Close enough to smell the toner on the design
document. But this time it was an established designer and a successful one
at that. That wasn't supposed to make any difference to me, but it did.
Shit...charging a man with bad game design in this place was like
celebrating Thunderstone for it's innovative mechanics. I took the mission.
Just like I still play Thunderstone. What the hell else was I going to do?
But I didn't know what I'd do when I found him."
In Hall 4 (9:25):
"I was being ferried through the convention with a blogger press pass, a
type of plastic I.D., pretty common sight in the Messe. They said it was a
good way to pick up information without drawing lots of attention. That was
OK, I needed the air and the time. Only problem was I wouldn't be alone."
"Morning Mr. Phirax."
"The group was mostly just kids, rock and rollers with one foot in their graves"
"How old are you?"
"The green-haired kid, the one they called Friese, was from some place
called Bremen. He was wrapped too tight for the Messe, probably wrapped
too tight for Bremen. Bowen Simmons at the front of the group was a famous
block gamer from the suburbs south of San Francisco. You look at him and
you wouldn't believe he ever ordered a pizza, much less an entire battalion
of 18th century cavalry. Chvátil, Vlaada Chvátil, was from some Eastern
European shit-hole. The fluorescent lighting and crowded booths of the
Messe really put the zap on his head. Then there was Wolfgang Kramer, the
Chief. It might have been my mission, but it sure as shit was Chief's
"There are two points where we can enter Hall 8. They're both hot, belong to Charlie."
"Charlie. The followers of Charles S. Roberts, the great progenitor who
created this mess when he decided to try his hand at game design on a small
hill in Avalon, Maryland. The very mention of "Charlie" scared the crap
out of these young Euro kids who have been weaned on 30 minute play length
and no direct confrontation.
Those grey-bearded Charlie bastards were like roaches - been here forever
and will be around long after the rest of us are done shitting up the
place. My mission doesn't concern Charlie, but we will have to deal with
him sooner or later."
"You know, Phirax, I've walked a few special ops through here before. About
two years ago, I took a man who was going up past the manga and anime
tables... He was "web press" too. Heard he mostly plays family games now,
if you catch my meaning."
PUBLIC ADDRESS SYSTEM
"Good morning Spiel Essen! This is Tom Vassel on Dice Tower Live.
It's about 82 degrees in Hall 4 right now and very odorous. And we have a
important message for all gamers in Hall 11 waiting for a table at the
Asmodee booth. Messe security would like you to please refrain from
starting games on the floor between the tables. Your Messe hosts want you
to keep Spiel beautiful...
We see Bowen Simmons playing Jenga behind the group:
"Hang on Bowen!"
The tower begins to collapse:
Phirax starts reading Eklund's dossier:
BGGPE - 177TS007
Board Game HQ
SUBJECT: Special Information, Eklund, Phil, Game Designer, Game Publisher
1976 Graduates University of Arizona; second in Class; third-generation
gamer. Completes Basic Training, Advanced Ballistics and Propulsion, JPL,
77-78 Assigned, Berlin, Rocket Game Division, Promoted Beta Tester.
79-80 Masters Degree, M.I.T., History (Thesis: Economic Engines Revisited:
American Gaming Policy in the 20th Century.)
"At first, I thought they handed me the wrong dossier. I couldn't
believe they wanted this man out of the hobby. Rocket scientist, top of
his class. Artist, philosopher, about a million thumbs on BGG, etc, etc...
I'd heard his voice on the tape and it really put a hook in me. But I
couldn't connect up that voice with this man. Like they said he had an
impressive career. Maybe too impressive... I mean perfect. He was being
groomed for one of the top slots of the corporation. Head Designer, SdJ,
anything... In 1994 he returned from a tour of game stores in Germany and
things started to slip. His report to the American Toy Council was
restricted. Seems they didn't dig what he had to tell them. During the next
few months he made three requests to incorporate the name "Sierra Madre
Games" in Tucson, Arizona. And he was finally accepted. Game design? He
was a 38 year old rocket scientist. Why the fuck would he do that? 1996 he
self publishes his first game with small wooden cubes..."
There are loud sounds in the distance:
"Hey, what's that?"
"Dice towers. Ameritrash in the vicinity."
"Every time I hear that something terrible happens."
"Abstracters won't even see or hear them, man. Dice rolling, sucks
the air from Abstracter's lungs..."
"Something terrible is going to happen."
"Randomization! Strategies melting."
"Ameritrash over there! Jesus, look at those dice."
"Take us over, Chief."
At booth 4-412 (9:50):
"It was the Memoir '44 demo team, First of the Ninth they called
themselves, our escorts to the mouth of Hall 9. But they were supposed to
be waiting for us in the next hall. Well, those Memoir '44 boys just
couldn't stay put. First of the Ninth were old Avalon Hill war gamers that
had cashed in their cardboard counters and combat result tables for blob
dice and plastic minis. They now spend their time tear-assing around the
Spiel halls looking for the shit. They've given Charlie a few surprises in
their time here. The game they were mopping up now hadn't even started a
half hour ago."
A Days of Wonder crew is filming the mayhem:
"Don't look at the cameras, don't look at the cameras...
Go on through... Don't look at the cameras.. Go by just like
you're watching the demo..."
"Where can I find the CO?"
"He's over there."
"I carry priority papers from BGG. I understand that HQ has briefed you
with the requirements of my mission."
LT. COLONEL RICHARD H. BERG
"What mission? I haven't heard from HQ."
"Sir, your unit is supposed to escort us into Hall 9."
"Well, we'll see what we can do about that. But stay out of my way."
Berg walks to a group of gamers quietly playing Gipf and starts tossing
playing cards at them:
"What we have here... 1 Unit Center, 2 Units Left Flank,
3 Units Right Flank, Artillery Bombard, Direct From HQ. Isn't one
worth a Center Assault in the whole bunch..."
"Hey Phirax, what's that?"
"Command cards. Let Charlie know who did this."
Abstract gamers are being rounded up and evacuated:
"We are here to extend a welcome hand for those of you who wish to return
to arms of thematic wargaming... This area is controlled by dry, boring
Berg walks to a dazed gamer holding a damaged copy of Zertz:
"Hey what's this? What is this?"
"This game is pretty badly damaged, sir. About the only thing that
is holding the pieces in the box, sir, is that rubber band."
"What you gotta say?"
YOUNG AMERITRASH GAMER
"This man is a dirty abstracter. He wants plastic baggies? He can use magic tape!
"Get out of here! Gimme those plastic baggies. Get outta here or I kick
your fucking ass! Any man brave enough to defend his game in this hell-
hole can use my baggies any day."
"Hey colonel, I think one of those press-guys is Bowen Simmons, the block gamer."
"Are you sure?"
Berg walks to Simmons, completely forgetting the Zertz guy:
"What's your name son?"
"Aspiring Designer, 3rd class, B. Simmons, sir."
(rolling his eyes)
"Aspiring Designer, 3rd class..."
"Bowen Simmons the block gamer?"
"It's an honor to meet you Bowen. I've admired your block games for
years. I like your tactical maps too. I think you have the best tactical
maps there is."
"Thank you, sir."
"You can cut out that sir crap, I'm Richard Berg.
"Wow, It's an honor to meet a real game design legend."
"Your games have been a real inspiration to us young designers."
"Don't mention it. I just try to do my part"
"I'm allergic to dice."
"As you might imagine, sir, my favorite is C&C: Ancients."
"No, ha! That game system was designed by Richard Borg."
(There is a moment of uncomfortable silence.)
"I'm Richard Berg. You know, Successors, SPQR..."
"Pax Romana, Blackbeard, Conquistador?"
"I think I've heard of Conquistador."
"Sure you have. Each player represents a European power during the Age of
Discovery seeking riches in the New World."
"Of course! We love that game."
"The English name confused us. We call it Magister Navis."
"That was your best design."
"I didn't design Endeavor. You must have at least heard of the Blackbeard
controversy. In that game there was a "rape-the-governor's-daughter" mechanic."
"Or the governor's son. We didn't discriminate."
"Raping the children of some governor was a design choice?"
"And they wonder why our generation prefers dry, pasted on themes."
"I keep telling everyone that this is what happens when you allow dice
rolling in games, but do they listen?"
"I like you guys, I really do. Let's go have some chow before I punch
someone in the face."
Back at the Days of Wonder booth (11:15):
"Lt. Col. Berg had a pretty good day for himself. Days of Wonder flew in t-
bones and beer and turned the entire booth into a beach party to celebrate
yet another Small World expansion. The more they tried to convince
everyone that the game was fun, the more they made everybody hate it."
Berg is reading the back of a box.
"Small World: Aerial Adventures. What the hell does that mean?"
"He wasn't a bad leader, I guess. He loved his boys and they felt safe with
him. He was one of those guys that had that weird light around him. You
just knew he wasn't ever going to get sick of this insane hobby."
"What happened to your mission, Phirax? Did HQ forget all about you?"
"Sir, two places we can get into Hall 9. Here and here. It's a pretty
wide entrance but these are the only two spots I'm really sure of."
"That booth your pointing at is kinda hairy, Phirax."
"What do you mean hairy, sir?"
"It's hairy. Got some pretty heavy ordnance there. I lost a few dice towers
there now and again. Is that goddamn booth run by Comsim or Consim? Damn
grognard names all sound the same. Chad, do you know anything about that
"That's a wall-mapper booth, sir."
"Their European theater maps are about six feet long. Made of some spongy
rubber material. You can roll them up and transport them in a tube. It's
unbelievable, it's just Tube City..."
"Well why the hell didn't you tell me that before? There aren't any
good World War II maps in this whole, shitty Messe. It's all goddamn worker placement."
"It's really hairy in there, sir. That's where we lost McDonnel - they put
us to sleep with all their movement point calculations. That's Charlie's point."
"Sir, we can go there right now. The crowds are only going to get worse as
the day goes on."
"We may not be able to get our group through. These German kids can't
handle movement point calculations."
"We'll escort you right past the booth, like a VIP, right to where you want
to be. This is First of the Ninth, son - we paint our miniatures.
I can take that booth and hold it as long as I like -- and you can
get anywhere you want up Hall 9 that suits you, young Phirax.
Hell, a six foot rubber tactical map, goddamn!
You go back to our booth -- Chad, take Bowen with you -- let
him pick out some wooden blocks, and bring me my special metal dice -- the
"I don't know, sir -- it's -- it's --"
"What is it soldier?
"It's pretty hairy in there - it's Charlie's point..."
"Charlie don't paint minis!"
At the Consim booth (12:25):
The name on the booth says Udo Grebe Gamedesign.
"Hey Jesus, Vlaada. You ain't gonna believe this. Look."
"Hey man, they're taking over the booth."
"How you feeling Alan?"
ALAN R. MOON
"Like a mean motherfucker, sir."
"All right son, let it ring."
Outside the Consim booth
"I've never been used to the pre-painted minis. I can't get used to it. Do
you prefer pre-painted or do-it-yourself?"
"Really? I thought all the young guys like pre-painted. In booster packs."
"You can't customize..."
"We've got it ready."
"Okay, assume attack formation."
"That's a roger. Ok, we're going in."
"We'll play this scenario, 'Out Of The Rising Sun,' and when we begin the
game, we'll put on the music... Yeah, I use Wagner -- scares the hell
out of the casual gamers! My boys love it!"
"Hey, they're gonna play music."
"Why do all you guys wear ear plugs?"
"So we don't get our ear drums blown out."
The game begins:
"Put on psych-war operations, make it loud. Shall we dance?"
Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries starts blasting from the speakers.
Chad Jensen turns off the lights and turns on a strobe light:
"Run away Harry Potter fans, lol!"
ALAN R. MOON
"I'm going after that artillery gun. I need to roll two grenade icons to take it out."
He destroys the gun:
"Outstanding, red team, outstanding. Get you a case of beer for that."
ALAN R. MOON
"I'm entering the first victory point hex right now, I think I see a tank
in the village, I´m gonna check it out."
"Well done, Alan, well done. Fire on those tree lines, ripple the shit out of them."
ALAN R. MOON
"Got a vehicle down the bridge, a 50 caliber onboard..."
"There they are, I'm going in myself..."
Destroys a car on the bridge :
"Nice roll, Richard."
The strobe light falls onto their game board, blinding them:
"It's just the strobe, get it out, it's just the strobe. Everybody all
right? Bowen, are you all right?"
At the next table:
"I'm not playing! I'm not playing!"
ALAN R. MOON
"We got secondaries down there..."
A dazed and exhausted gamer sits on the ground:
"Get the stretchers over here... Gimme some Red Bull. Where's that bag
with the energy drinks?"
"I want my wounded out of there and into the chill-zone in 15 minutes. I
want my men out!"
A young girl throws a Pokemon plushie at the strobe light:
ALAN R. MOON
"Those trees... We need suppression fire on those trees. Drawing fire,
drawing fire - taking hits... Mayday, mayday... I'm going in..."
"What do you think?"
"Well, it's really exciting."
"No, no. The minis... Look, I painted tiny crests on their chests, they've
been dipped so you can hold them..."
Back in the booth:
"This place is still pretty hot. Maybe we should game someplace else."
"What do you know about board gaming? You're from goddamn New Jersey."
"Come here. Come here! Set it up!"
"You mean right now, sir?"
"I wanna see how playable this game is. Set it up!"
"It's still pretty hairy out there sir."
"You wanna wargame, soldier?"
"That's good, son. 'Cause you either wargame or you end up designing games
about ice age insects battling monkeys. That clear? Now get going. I cover
for you. And bring some dice for Bowen. Bowen, I bet you can't wait to
get in there. See, you can roll both ways. One guy can use the dice tower
while his opponent uses a box lid. Simultaneous attack rolls. What do you
think of that?"
"I think we oughta wait 'til they finish their game."
"Bowen, come here. Look, look... These guys have AP. You wanna wait here
for six hours?"
We see two gamers staring at their board, doing nothing:
"OK fellows, quit over-thinking. Let's go, dickheads."
"Don't you think it's a bad time and place to run a game tournament?"
"If I say it's safe to game this booth, Phirax - it's safe to game this
booth. I'm not afraid to game this booth, I'm not afraid to game this
Berg yells at his assistant:
"Goddamn, I want that treeline hex bombed!"
"Bomb them to the Stone Age booth, son."
"Richard needs some napalm on that treeline hex over there. Can you put it over there?"
ALAN R. MOON
"Roger. We'll suppress some mortar fire off the treeline down there."
"Don't worry, we'll have this place cleaned up and ready for us in a jiffy,
don't you worry."
ALAN R. MOON
"Jets will bomb in 30 seconds. Everyone get back and clear the dice tower. This is gonna be a big one."
After the napalm attack roll:
"You smell that? Do you smell that? Cardboard, son. Nothing else in the
world smells like that. I love the smell of cardboard in the morning. You
know, one time we had a double-matted, linen finished board that we played
on for twelve hours. When it was all over I stood up to see what time it
was as the sun was coming up. The smell, you know that new paper smell, the
whole damn room. Smelled like - victory.
Someday this gaming convention is gonna end."
In Hall 9 (14:05):
"Someday this gaming convention's gonna end. That would be just fine
with the guys in the entourage. They weren't looking for anything more than
a few games to take back home. Trouble is, I've been back there, and I know
that it just doesn't exist anymore. Spiel Essen was everything now. If
what we had seen so far was the direction this hobby was taking, I began to
wonder what they really had against Eklund. It wasn't just insanity and bad
mechanics. There was enough of that to go around for everyone."
Talking to himself.
"I'm not here. I'm playing a game called French Fry Frenzy. The German
name is Fabelwelt Frites. Jessica Alba is my opponent. I bid on some
potatoes and Jessica smiles and says she passes. This is advantageous for
me because I can use the rest of my money in the next phase to purchase a
potato peeler. Jessica likes my hair.
He snaps out of the dream.
Hey Phirax, I wanna get some French fries."
"Just don't go out there by yourself. You don't wanna go in there alone,
unless you really know the territory."
"Do they sell American-style hot dogs here?"
"I'm gonna fetch some French fries."
Phirax and Friese leave the group to go to the snack bar:
"Yes, sir --"
"How come you do that?"
"Do what, sir?"
"Constantly use the letter F."
"What do you mean?"
"You constantly -- never mind. You're from Bremen, right?"
"Actually, I come from a family of philanthropists who founded Frankfurt."
"Philanthropist starts with a 'P-H'."
"What? I don't understand..."
Phirax hears something:
"What is it? Jessica Alba?"
Suddenly, Uwe Rosenberg appears from a booth and asks them if they would
like to demo his latest game.
Phirax and Friese start running back to the group, Friese screaming:
"It's the freakin' family-friendly guy!
"Never leave the group..."
"Another fucking worker placement game illustrated by Klemens Franz... I
don't wanna take this goddamn shit man... I didn't come here for this, I
don't fucking need this. All I wanted to do is play some fucking games, I
just wanted to learn to fucking design a game, maybe with an auction
mechanic or something. All right, It's all right, it's gonna be all
right... never leave the group... Hi Uwe Rosenberg, hi Uwe Rosenberg..."
"Never leave the group. Absolutely goddamn right. Unless you were going
all the way. Eklund left the group. He split from the whole fucking
program. How did that happen? What did he see here that first tour? 38
fucking years old. If he started self publishing, there was no way he'd
ever win the Spiel des Jahres. Eklund knew what he was giving up. The
more I read and began to understand, the more I admired him. His family
and friends couldn't understand it, and they couldn't talk him out of it.
He had to apply three times for a license and he had to put up with a ton
of shit, but when he threatened to move to Germany, they gave it to him.
The next youngest guy designing games was half his age. They must have
thought he was some far-out old man cobbling together demos to test. I did
it when I was 19 and it damn near wasted me. A tough motherfucker. He
finished. He could have gone for the SdJ, but he went for himself instead."
FRIESE (writes a letter)
"Dear Jessica. This day was really a new one. I almost got sucked into
demoing another vegetable production game by Uwe Rosenberg. Really
unfucking believable, you know. We are taking this guy, Mr. Phirax, into
Hall 9. He hasn't told us yet where we're taking him ..."
"October 1997, Essen. Eklund releases American Megafauna. What the hell
is a "Megafauna?" Release a major success. He received no official
support. He just thought it up and did it. What balls. They were gonna
nail his ass to the floorboards for releasing a game about ecology,
evolution and DNA but after the press got hold of it they tried to brand
him as the next great "Edutainment" designer. Oh man, the bullshit piled
up so fast in Essen, you needed wings to stay above it."
The group approaches a large booth (14:35):
"This sure is a bizarre sight in middle of this shit. Are they expecting us this time?"
"Damn if I know."
"You ever been up here Friedmann? Yo man, check out these games, man.
Pandemic, that's a good one.
This must be the guy... Can you give us directions..."
"Come on move, we need to sell a thousand more units before we close...
"Can I get Pandemic: On The Brink?"
"Yeah, I'll get you On The Brink. Destination?"
"My games don't have a destination."
"These guys are with me. Destination is classified. I carry priority
papers from HQ..."
"OK, right sir. Listen it's really a big night - hey, 25 bucks for that expansion -"
Phirax grabs him:
"Just give us the damn directions!"
"You got it. Hey Phirax, I'm really sorry for tonight. It's really bad over
here. Just take this over there to the desk and you got it. Hey listen,
would you guys like some seats, VIP seats, for the show? You want those?
Fantasy Flight big box release event. Hey Phirax, on the house, no hard feelings?"
A Fantasy Flight entourage walks by and takes the stage:
FANTASY FLIGHT REP
"How you doing out there? Hello to all you who work so goddamn hard to
support our hobby. Hello all you thematic gamers out there, and the mini
collectors, and the rest of you crazy fan-boys. I wanna let you know we're
proud of you, we know how tough and hard it's been. And to prove it we're
gonna give you entertainment we know you're gonna like.
Three bikini-clad woman wearing giant Cthulu tentacle heads go up on the
stage and start dancing:
"I'm here Ancient One, I'm here..."
"I think I just went insane!"
The show ends in chaos and the women make a speedy exit:
"Charlie didn't get much Fantasy Flight. He was dug in too deep. His idea
of high production value was color chits and mounted map boards. He had
only two ways home: death, or victory."
The group continues their journey (15:10):
"No wonder Eklund put a weed up HQ's ass. The hobby was being run by a
bunch of four-star clowns who were going to end up giving the whole circus away."
"Can you believe that? Real women! Here!"
"Late summer-autumn 2007:
Eklund's designs becoming more personal... philosophical...
Eklund releases Origins: How We Became Human. The game allows
population control via abortion... as a civilization advance. His design
choices have now become brutally honest and shocking. There are calls to
boycott the game but the game sells out faster than any of his previous
offerings. Guess he must have hit on the right design choices. The
mainstream establishment tried one last time to bring him back into the
fold. And if he had pulled over and made a game about penguins or vampires,
it all would have been forgotten. But he kept going, and he kept
succeeding his way, and then they called me in. They lost him. He was
gone. Nothing but rumors and rambling intelligence, mostly from some Yahoo
Groups web forum. The BGG community knew his name by now, and they were
scared of him. He and his play testers were reportedly working on a space
flight prototype -- 30 years in the making -- where water is used as fuel.
Water as fuel. He had finally gone too far..."
"How long has that kid been designing games?"
"His game designs specialize in busting my balls."
"They can be very heavy and somewhat lacking in theme."
"Oh yeah? What about yours?"
"I don't design theme. My orders are I'm not supposed to know what my games
are about, so I don't think about it. Just like this "press tour." I don't know where
we are going, but one look at you and I know it's gonna be hot, wherever it is."
"We're going to booth 9-31 on the other side of the hall past the comic book sellers."
"That's Cambodia, Phirax."
"Indie games. DIY. Games with no budget, no design sense and no
supervision. Cambodia games."
"That's classified. We're not supposed to be in Cambodia but that's where
I'm going. You just get me close to my destination and I'll cut you and the crew loose."
"All right, Phirax."
Phirax reads a letter Eklund has sent to his son:
I'm afraid that both you and your mother would have been worried for not
hearing from me these past days. But my situation here has become a
difficult one. I've been officially accused of overly complicated game
design by the powers that be. The alleged victims were casual gamers. We
spent years uncovering and accumulating evidence to support the design
choices we made. When absolute proof was completed, we acted, we acted like
game designers. The charges are unjustified. They are in fact, under the
circumstances of the state of this hobby quite completely insane. In our
hobby there are many moments for set collecting and blind auctions. There
are also many moments for ruthless mechanics, or what is often called
ruthless. But in many circumstances, the only clarity; seeing clearly what
there is to be done and doing it directly, quickly, awake..., looking at
it. I would trust you to tell your mother what you choose about this
letter. As for the charges, I'm unconcerned. I'm beyond their lying
morality. And so I'm beyond caring.
You have all my faith.
Your loving father."
Friese and Chvátil are fighting:
"Friedmann, knock it off. Give it a break. What do you think I said? And
give your jaws a rest. This ain't some goddamn video game convention. You
are a board gamer. Get off that grizzly video game looking shit and stop
smoking dope, you hear me. Simmons, what's with all the green paint?"
"Camouflage. Friedmann uses it in his hair."
"So they can't see me, they're everywhere Chief."
"Aha... I want you to stay awake there, man. You got a job to do.
The group arrives at the Rio Grande Games booth (15:50):
"Rio Grande was the last big-booth publisher that we would pass on our
journey. It was also the last opportunity to find a proper table to test
games on and the guys knew it. Beyond this there was only Eklund."
"Bowen, hey Bowen. What do you think?"
"Is there a Phirax in this group?
"Yeah, who's that?"
"Drakkenstrike, sir. I was sent here from HQ with these three hours ago,
sir. Expected you here a little sooner.
"We were delayed."
"Oh, that's okay. While I waited I made 47 components videos."
"I just made another. Yippee, 48!"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Would you like to give me thumbs for my videos?"
"Yay, thumbs! Here are messages for your group... You don't know how happy
this makes me, sir."
"Now I can get out of here and get back to the important work of making
components videos... Have fun, you're entering the asshole of the Messe, Phirax!"
"Very odd. Hey guys, I'll be right back."
"Where you going?"
"I gotta find somebody - I need some information. Pick me up the other
side of the demo area."
"Somebody go with him."
"I go. I wanna go."
Phirax and Bowen enter the morass of gaming tables. The tables are
packed and people are sitting and lying in the isles playing Dominion:
"Where can I find the person in charge?"
SOLITARY DOMINION PLAYER
"You came right to it, you son of a bitch!"
"Bowen, get over here!
Is anyone running this booth?"
SOLITARY DOMINION PLAYER
"Straight up the aisle there's a plywood fucking bunker called The Office
Where the fuck else you think it would be?"
ASLEEP DOMINION PLAYER
"Goddamn, you stepped on my face!"
"I thought you were dead."
SOLITARY DOMINION PLAYER
"I told you to stop fucking with me! You think you're bad..."
"Who are you yelling at?"
SOLITARY DOMINION PLAYER
"Opponents. What the fuck you think I'm yelling at... I'm sorry, sir...
There are opponents. But I think they left."
The Office is empty as Dominion had long since sold out. Phirax and
Simmons return to the group with some free mini-expansions:
"Shit! Hey Chief, man. Two guys just got thrown out of that booth over there."
"You hang on man. You're gonna be okay."
"Later with the Freebies. Keep an eye on those booths up ahead."
"There's nobody in charge here but I picked up some mini-expansions for the
guys. Let's move out."
"Which way, Phirax?"
"You know which way, Chief."
"Why do you wanna go on? The necessity of this mission is like the use of
theme in my games. Think about it. Who cares?"
"Just get us to Cambodia!"
"Fine. Whatever. Friese, on point. Chvátil, stand by."
The journey continues. Friese hands out the freebies:
"Shit, you got another Agricola promo card, Vlaada."
"No shit, is that it?"
"That's it for you. Bowen, there you go..."
"Far out, man. I've been waiting for this.
"I got another one, got a box from AEG."
PHIRAX (reading, v.o.)
"There has been a new development regarding your mission which we must now
communicate to you. Yesterday a man was ordered on a mission which was
identical to yours. We have reason to believe that he is now operating with
Eklund. They intercepted a text message he tried to send his wife:
SELL THE HOUSE
SELL THE CAR
SELL THE KIDS
FIND SOMEONE ELSE
I'M NEVER COMING BACK
(Sent from my Verizon Blackberry.)"
"He was close. He was real close. I could not see him yet but I could feel
him. It was as if our group was being sucked towards some end point. We
would soon arrive but the journey had become meaningless. It was like we
were playing 7 Wonders.
Whatever was going to happen, it was not going to be the way they called it
back at HQ."
They come under attack by a barrage of tiny cardboard chits that had
been neatly trimmed:
"Friedmann, it's OK. Quit yelling!"
"Cut it out! Quiet!"
"Chief, tell them to calm down. It's just little chits covered in numbers
and symbols. They're just trying to scare us."
"I'm too old for this shit. I've won the SdJ like a dozen times already,
what the hell am I trying to prove? I quit. Oh, and just for the record, I
thing Funkenschlag is a derivative pile of crap."
"Harsh. But you must admit he has a point.
"I'm just glad somebody else said it."
"You guys need to decide if you are going to continue with me."
"We should vote on it."
"Great idea. I think the vote should take place over three phases."
"We could have an auction in the first phase to decide the voting order."
"Make it a blind auction to add tension."
"Then in the second phase we place wooden discs on the space depicting the
type of vote you want to cast."
"Place the discs face down to add tension."
"Finally, in the third phase we reveal our votes and then consult a chart
on our player mat to see how much weight each vote has."
"To prevent a runaway leader, I suggest we have all the votes add up to the
same amount regardless of how many were cast for each option."
"But this system only applies to the first time we have to vote. Any
future votes will use a completely different system."
"And everyone will vote in reverse order of how they voted the first time."
"This design is so elegant."
"Working Title: Phirax's Fickle Friends."
"Phirax is also P-H."
"I'm out of here too. This journey is starting to take as long as a game
of Through the Ages, and that is something that I really can't bear."
Vlaada Chvátil leaves.
"The rest of you might want to leave also. My mission is to make it up
into Cambodia. There's a game designer up there who's gone insane. I'm
supposed to terminate his operation."
"That's fucking typical. Shit. Fucking Essen "press tour". We got to go up
there so you can terminate one of our own guys. That's fucking great,
that's just fucking great! That's fucking crazy. I thought you were going
in there to get some free mini-expansions, or play some fucking railroad
games or something."
"No, no wait. We go together. We keep the group together, we'll go with
you. Keep the group together. Okay? There must always be between 3 and 5
players in the group for it to work. Less than three requires interaction
and confrontation. I'll take anything but that."
Again they move on, but now it's only Phirax, Friese and Simmons (16:35):
"Part of me was afraid of what I would find and what I would do when I got
there. I knew the risks, or imagined I knew. But the thing I felt the most,
much stronger than fear, was the desire to confront him about his rulebook design."
They meet a group of fan-boys in white shirts, wearing pocket protectors
and quietly staring at them:
"Just keep moving... Bowen, keep your hands away from the freebie bags."
They arrive at the Sierra Madre Games booth. A nervous journalist is seen
navigating a path through the large number of fan-boys that now surround the group.
The journalist has a wild look in his eyes, the kind you typically see in the players
of deck building games.
"It's all right, it's all right. You're all being approved."
"I ain't going in there. Those bastards attacked us."
"Sound the siren...
There's Swedish games over there, there's Swedish games over there, and
watch out those goddam monkeys bite, I'll tell ya. Eh, that's a pretty one.
Move in right in towards me... I´m an American! Yeah, American civilian. Hi
yanks... American, American civilian. It's all right. And you got the
freebies, that's what I've been dreaming of."
"Who are you?"
"Who are you ...? I'm Dale Yu. I've covered the Messe since 2004. I've
been to Gen Con, Origins... I´ll tell you one thing, this group is the
perfect size for a quick game of Dominion."
"Who are all these people?"
"Yeah, well... They think you have come to take him away. I hope that isn't true."
"Take who away?"
"Him. Phil Eklund. These are all his children, as far as you can see."
"Could we, uh, talk to Mr. Eklund?"
"Hey, man, you don't talk to Mr. Eklund. You listen to him. The man's
enlarged my mind. He's a poet-warrior in the classic sense. I mean
sometimes he'll, uh, well, you'll say hello to him, right? And he'll just
walk right by you, and he won't even notice you. And suddenly he'll grab
you, and he'll throw you in a corner, and he'll say do you know that "if"
is the central mechanic in The Game of Life? If you can keep your head when
all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust
yourself when all men doubt you -- I mean I'm no, I can't -- I'm a little
man, I'm a little man, he's, he's a great man. I should have been a pair of
ragged claws scuttling across floors of silent seas -- I mean --"
"Have you gone completely insane?"
"Hey, uh, don't go -- don't go without me, Okay? I want to get a picture
for my blog."
He can be terrible, he can be mean, he can be right. He's fighting the war.
He's a great man. I mean... I wish I had words. I can tell you the other
day he wanted to kill me."
"Why did he want to kill you?"
"Because I rolled a one while entering an aero-brake hazard in his new
game. He said if I roll a one - I'm gonna decommission you. And he meant
it! So you just lay it cool, lay back, dig it... He gets friendly again,
really does. But you don't judge him like an ordinary man.
OK, now watch it. They are Americans... Americans. Can you feel the vibe of
this place? Let me take a picture. Hey, hello... hello. Would you hold it
for a minute."
Phirax sees a copy of the latest living rules of High Frontier:
"The rule book. You're looking at the rule book. I, uh -- sometimes he goes
too far, you know -- he's the first one to admit it!"
(reading the rules)
"He's gone crazy!"
"Wrong! Wrong! If you could have heard the man, just two days ago, if you
could have heard the man! You going to call him crazy?"
"I just want to talk to him."
"Well man, he's gone away. He's gone away. He disappeared into the Messe
with his people..."
"I'll wait for him."
"... he feels comfortable with his people. He forgets him with his people.
He forgets himself..."
"Phirax, maybe we should wait back outside the booth."
"Ok Friedmann. We'll go back outside for a while."
"Stay with Bowen."
Phirax and Friese return outside the booth:
"This Eklund guy - he's wacko, man. He's worse than crazy. He's evil. I
mean, did you see those movement rules... what the man has set up here is
fucking paganism. Look at all these calculations. Shit, he's loco."
"Then you'll help me."
"Help you? Fucking A. I'll help you. I'll do anything to get out of this hobby."
"I'll go up with Bowen, scrounge around, check the place out, see if I can find Eklund."
"What you want me to do?"
"Just wait here, and don't let yourself get distracted from the mission."
Phirax and Simmons leave:
"Everything I saw told me that Eklund had gone insane. The place was full
of brain-washed Sci-fi Geeks:, Civ gamers, Evolution junkies... If I was
still sane, it was because he wanted me that way."
Suddenly Phirax is surrounded by a group of fan-boys. They grab him and
carry him to a secret booth - to meet their leader:
"It smelled like slow death in there, malaria, nightmares. Like the back
room of your local game store. This was the end of the river alright.
There was a thin curtain dividing the booth in half. Through the curtain
one could see the silhouette of an obscene, bloated figure. As he spoke,
it became clear that this was not Phil Eklund, but instead an imposter
whose voice crackled with pompous self importance."
"Where are you from Phirax?"
"I'm from New York, sir."
"Were you born there?"
"Upper East Side, sir."
"How far were you from the Complete Strategist?"
"The game store, sir? About 20 blocks."
"I went to that store when I was a kid. There's a place in the store.. I
can't remember... Must have been where they sold individual units. All wild
and dusty now, but for about five aisles you'd think that heaven just fell
on the earth in the form of blister packs... Have you ever considered any
real freedoms? Freedoms - from the opinions of others... Even the opinions
of yourself. They say why..., Phirax, why they wanted to terminate him?"
"I was sent on a classified mission, sir."
"Ain't no longer classified, is it? What did they tell you?"
"They told me that Phil Eklund had gone totally insane and that his methods were unsound."
"Are his methods unsound?"
"I don't see any method to his designs at all, sir."
"I expected someone like you. What did you expect?"
"Quite frankly, I expected someone who understands game design."
"Tulipmania failed because of poor color choices by the printer."
"So you keep telling us. What did you do with Eklund?"
"His games are too "thinky." People should play games to socialize and
express themselves creatively."
"Do you know how creepy it is when you talk that way?"
"We're having fun, though, aren't we?"
"Who made you arbiter of taste."
"Why you did, Phirax."
"You and all those other gamers out there that spend your time riveted to
every nugget of "wisdom" that I dispense concerning board games."
"But why you?"
"Oh, that is simple. Because I own a video camera."
"You mean to suggest that any cardboard-addled fool can just blather on and
on and on and on about nothing and we would listen, so long as it was
presented in video form?"
"Are you familiar with UndeadViking?"
"He's great. I'm a big fan."
"We are simply a reflection of you. We are a manifestation of your need to
play with daaahhhls."
"Please stop that."
"Do you like horsies?"
"You are scaring me."
"Are you an assassin?"
"I'm a gamer."
"You're neither. You're an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks to collect a
bill. Now, get off my lawn!"
Phirax is then put in a cage. Later Dale Yu, the manic journalist, comes
to visit him and offers some water and a quick game of Dominion:
"Why? Why would a nice guy like you wanna silence a genius? You know that
the man really likes you. He likes you, he really likes you. He's got
something in mind for you. Aren't you curious about that? I'm curious, I'm
very curious. You curious? There's something happening out there, man. You
know something, man, I know something that you don't know. That's right,
jack. The man is clear in his mind, but his soul is mad. Oh yeah. This
hobby is killing his soul, I think. He hates all this, he hates it! But ...
the man's ... uh ... he reads poetry out loud, alright? ... And a voice! A
voice. ... He likes you because you're still alive. He's got plans for you.
Nah, nah, I'm not going to help you, you're going to help him, man. You're
going to help him. I mean, what are they going to say, man, when he's gone,
huh? Because he dies, when it dies, man, when it dies, he dies. What are
they going to say about him? What, are they going to say, he was a kind
man, he was a wise man, he had auctions, he had meeples? Bullshit, man! Am
I going to be the one that's going to set them straight? Look at me:
It's evening, Friese is sleeping in a chair:
"Almost two hours...
I sleep and I dream I'm in this shitty convention center.
Fuck - is has been two hours."
Jessica Alba approaches carrying a copy of Funkenschlag:
"Hi, I'm sorry to bother you, but are you Friedmann Friese the game designer?"
"Uh, ah, uh..."
"Could I get your autograph."
"Ooh, eeh, umm."
Jessica hands him a pen, but as he reaches over to sign the box, she
leans in close and whispers in his ear.
"That isn't what I want you to sign."
Friese vomits all over Jessica and her game, and then runs screaming out of the Messe.
Phirax remains in his cage. Nicholson comes to him and coldly drops a vomit
covered board game in Phirax's lap:
"No! No, oh Christ..."
A few minutes later Phirax is carried to meet the real Phil Eklund.
Eklund sits in his gaming temple with a group of his followers and reads
from section 6.1 of the High Frontier rulebook, the part that explains how
movement works in the game:
"We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without color,
Paralyzed force, gesture without motion;"
"Do you know what the man is saying? Do you? This is dialectics.
It's very simple dialectics. One through nine, no maybes, no
supposes, no fractions -- you can't travel in space, you can't go out
into space, you know, without, like, you know, with fractions -- what
are you going to land on, one quarter, three-eighths -- what are you
going to do when you go from here to Venus or something -- that's
dialectic physics, Okay? Dialectic logic is there's only love and hate, you
either love somebody or you hate them."
"I kind of miss the days when you could just roll some dice and move that many spaces."
Eklund angrily throws the rulebook at them:
"This is the way the fucking game ends! Look at this fucking shit
we're in, man! Not with a bang, with a whimper. And with a whimper,
I'm fucking splitting, jack!"
Dale Yu leaves:
continued in the comments section below