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  • Game Overview: Federation, or Spicy Space Politics and Worker Placement

    by Candice Harris

    At SPIEL '22, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Anne-Catherine Perrier from Explor8 to get a gameplay rundown of Dimitri Perrier and Matthieu Verdier's 2022 release Federation, an innovative worker placement game all about space politics. Worker placement games, by default, have player interaction, but Federation pushes the needle further in an exciting way, which I experienced firsthand on a review copy provided by the publisher.

    In Federation, 2-4 players compete to gain the most prestige points and become the planet worthy of joining the Federation. Federation features a unique double-sided worker placement mechanism combined with what feels like multiple mini-games, making for a highly interactive eurogame.

    Federation was successfully funded on Kickstarter in October 2021 and available in Europe in Q4 2022. However, in January 2023, Eagle-Gryphon Games announced they partnered with Explor8 to bring the deluxe version of Federation to the North American market and launched a pre-order, which is targeted to release at Gen Con 2023. As a pre-order bonus, Eagle-Gryphon Games is also including an exclusive, full-color wooden President of the Senate first player pawn.

    The version I played is the deluxe version with dual-layered player boards, upgraded ambassador tokens and components, whereas the retail version from Explor8 would have all cardboard components without the dual-layered player board.

    The first thing you'll probably notice when you see Federation sprawled out on the table is a large, busy-looking board with a lot of different components. It may appear intimidating initially, but once you understand the flow of the game, you'll appreciate the excellent art and iconography by Miguel Coimbra. It not only makes the game easier to teach and play, but it's also fully language independent, which is a nice bonus. In addition to the main game board, each player has their own player board for managing their ambassadors (workers), resources, special missions, and more. The setup for your first game may take a while because you need to sort through and place several tokens and tiles around the board. However, once you have your first game under your belt, you can easily divide and conquer to speed up setup if other players are down to help.

    Federation is played over 5 rounds, and each round is split into 2 phases. In the Ambassador phase, players take turns in clockwise order, placing their ambassador tokens on action spaces within the Senate, then performing the corresponding action. After the Ambassador phase, there's an end-of-round Executive phase where players may gain income and score prestige points for political influence in the Senate.

    On your turn during the Ambassador phase, first you must play an ambassador token on an available action space of the Senate, either on its voting side or its funding side. You have two ambassador tokens with a voting value of 1, one with a value of 2, and one with a value of 3. On the opposite side of each ambassador token, there's a funding icon which looks like a coin, and a checkmark in a green circle, which represents you gaining access to a special mission (on your player board). The 2 higher-value voting tokens also give you a resource when played on their funding side. That added bonus of gaining a resource is often very tempting, and often necessary, so it's nice to have that option. Of course you have to decide if it's more important to play those tokens on their voting side though.

    The Senate area of the game board is divided into a left wing and a right wing. Most of the actions are available on both wings, but there are a few that are slightly different. Each wing has a 3x3 grid of action spaces, and at the top of each column are funding tracks. Each round, there will be 2 different law (scoring) tiles under each wing, which will factor into your decision of which action space to choose. There are also 5 different planet actions available on both sides which correspond to the matching planet actions around the board. Every section is color-coded, but there are also different shapes and icons to differentiate for clarity. The other action spaces represent rooms of the Senate, as well as an action space on both wings that allows you to spy, or spend a resource to copy another action space, which comes in handy since only 1 ambassador token can occupy a given space.

    Close-up of the Senate w/ Ambassadors placed
    During the Executive phase, after all players have placed all 4 of their ambassador tokens, whichever player has the most voting strength for each floor (row) in the Senate gains prestige points. Any columns that have ambassador tokens funding side up increase the corresponding major project funding track(s). Then you'll see which side, left wing or right wing, has the most total votes (all players), and all players score prestige points according to the law tile on the corresponding side.

    This worker placement system has so many interesting decision points to wrestle with. There are pros and cons to placing your ambassador token on the voting side versus the funding side at different points throughout the game. The voting side could lead to more immediate prestige points, but if you push the funding tracks where you have more influence than your opponents, you can score some big points at the end of the game. So you have to decide which side to place your token on (voting or funding), then you also need to decide which wing of the Senate to place your token on based on which laws might score at the end of the round. It's a worker placement game, so your opponent's may be blocking spaces you're desiring and you often won't have the option to choose which wing of the Senate you want to place your ambassador token on if you are hard-pressed to take a particular action. Ultimately, you're playing this area influence game with the voting side of your ambassador tokens, while also trying to take the actions you need (and want) to, and support the wing of the Senate that's going to score you the most prestige points if a particular law is passed.

    As I mentioned above, there are planet actions and Senate room actions. Each planet action works a little differently and feels like a mini-game within the main game, but they're pretty straightforward and can be executed quickly. Each planet action is going to increase your influence for the corresponding planet and give you a helpful benefit, but in its own way.

    Blue planet w/ Alteration tokensWhen you take the blue planet action, you move your mage pawn 1 moon space forward, and choose an alteration token from the space you moved to. Alteration tokens are really cool because they allow you to temporarily modify/upgrade your ambassador tokens. They are discarded after you use them, but they are increasingly more juicy as you move to further moons and increase your influence on the blue planet.

    The pink planet allows you to gain Erudite tiles that have special immediate or one-time use effects. Each tile you gain increases your influence by 1 for the pink planet.

    At the yellow planet, you can carry out trades in different stalls. The first level stalls are each worth 1 influence, but if you trade at the same stall more than once, it'll push your marker to the second level which has a better trade rate and is worth 2 influence.

    There are 4 different types of resources in Federation: lavendium (pink), coppernium (green), oceanium (blue), and gold diamond (yellow). The blue resource can always replace pink or green, and yellow is most precious since it's harder to get, and it can help you score points with the yellow planet action; in addition, it's required to build megastructures on the green planet, which can be worth a lot of victory points.

    The orange planet is a mining planet where you'll move forward each action, similar to the blue planet, but instead of snagging alteration tokens, you gain resources. There are some randomly placed asteroid tokens which can be very tempting and lucrative, but instead of stopping to grab one, you can move 2 steps forward in some cases to increase your influence faster.

    Yellow planet trading stalls
    Last, but definitely not least, is the green planet where you can spend resources to either build a production structure which gives you an immediate benefit as well as end of round income, or you can build a megastructure to immediately score a chunk of victory points.

    Your influence in these 5 different planets matters a lot for a few reasons. For one, you are racing your opponents to gain medals of honor. You can only have 1 medal for each planet, and they become increasingly harder to get the slower you are at getting your influence up. For example, in the 4-player game, the first person to have 3 influence for a planet gains the corresponding medal, then the next player would need 4 influence to gain a medal, the next would need 5, and so on. The more unique medals you have at the end of the game, the more points you'll earn from them. The game incentivizes you to get there before your opponents, but you can't do it all.

    The other reason planet influence is important is because that is how the laws score during the Executive phase. The higher your influence for the planet that scores, the more prestige points you'll gain. As an example, if the left wing has more votes in the Senate at the end of the round and there's a green law token, it means all players score 2x their green planet influence level. The end-of-round scoring in Federation really fuels so many tough decisions during the worker placement phase.

    Green planet Production Structures
    Besides the planet actions, the Senate room actions are important too. There's one that allows you to take the President of the Senate pawn to become the first player for the next round, and you also get a medal of honor of your choice from a planet that you don't already have. When you get the medal, you take the one placed on the highest level of influence. Being first player didn't feel tremendously critical in Federation and there are sometimes advantages to being last, since you might have the final say in which law is passed. Either way, the free medal is a nice perk when choosing this action.

    There are Senate room actions that increase your accreditation level on your player board and some that help you gain spaceships into the hangar on your player board. At this point, you're probably wondering why spaceships and your accreditation level even matter, so allow me to explain.

    On your turn, in addition to placing an ambassador token and performing the corresponding action, you may optionally send 1 spaceship to accomplish a special mission on your player board, assuming you meet a few conditions. You must have an available spaceship in your hangar, the special mission must be accessible, and you must have the required accreditation level. If you meet all of these conditions, you can take a spaceship from your hangar, put it on the corresponding space and perform the action of the special mission. It's basically a bonus action on top of your normal action, so while your brain is processing every other decision in this game, you'll also be trying to set yourself up with as many special mission bonus action opportunities as you can.

    On the left side of your player board, you'll keep track of your accreditation level. As you bump up to the next accreditation level, you open up more special mission opportunities that are in the corresponding row, in addition to being qualified for any special missions below. The special missions are almost identical to the action spaces on the Senate board, but you have to make them accessible before you can send a spaceship. Earlier I mentioned an icon with a checkmark in a green circle, which you can find on the funding side of your ambassador tokens. When you place an ambassador token on the funding side, you can add a checkmark token to the special mission matching the action space where you placed your ambassador token. Then assuming your accreditation level meets or exceeds it, you can send a spaceship there after your main action to gain a bonus action, which can lead to some cool combos on your turn.

    My player board w/ some completed special missions and lots of medals!
    There's also a Senate room action that allows you to increase your assistant die by 2, and make it available to you if it's not already. During the Ambassador/worker placement phase, your assistant die can be placed with your ambassador token on its voting side to boost that token's voting strength. This can be a tremendous help for winning majority scoring of each Senate floor at the end of the round, as well as influencing which wing's law passes.

    At the end of the round, after all players have played all 4 of their ambassador tokens, you begin the Executive phase. First, each player receives income for every production structure they built. Then players with an accreditation level of 3 or higher must pay a resource corresponding to their level. If you can't, you have to lower your accreditation level back down to where you can pay the matching resource, or drop all the way back to the first space of level 2.

    Then you increase the major project marker for each ambassador token on its funding side in the corresponding column. There's a joint major project that increases based on any excess funding, and that track has player markers to keep track of who contributed the most, which might factor into final scoring.

    After adjusting funding tracks for the major projects, you score each floor of the Senate. The player with the most votes on each floor scores as many prestige points as their level of accreditation. This is one of the main reasons you'll want to focus some of your attention on increasing your accreditation level, besides the special mission bonus action opportunities.

    The final push to fund projects before final scoring...
    Finally, you determine which law is passed depending on which wing (left or right) had the most total votes and all players score prestige points according to their level of influence for the corresponding planet. There are 2 sets of 5 different tokens corresponding to each of the 5 planets, so you can expect to potentially score each planet twice, but you won't know the timing of when exactly each law tile will appear, or which will be passed. Either way, you'll always want to be ahead of the pack or push for the law that will benefit you most. I love that this votes mechanism lends itself to politics around the table. You may want to work with another player to help push the vote in a direction that's favorable for both of you, or push it away from a player who's in the lead.

    At the end of the 5th round, the game ends and you proceed to final scoring. First, everyone scores points for their medals of honor, based on the lowest uncovered value. Then you score points for your remaining resources, followed by majority scoring for any major projects that funded, meaning the marker got to the last space on the track. In a 4-player game, whoever has the most influence for each funded major project scores 16 prestige points, the player with the second most scores 8, and the 3rd most scores 4. It's a significant amount of points so be sure to pay attention to these funding tracks, on top of everything else.

    I have been really digging Federation. It's the kind of eurogame that's right up my alley because it's oozing with awesome, tough decisions and there's so much player interaction from the unique worker placement combined with the scoring/votes mechanisms, and all of the competition for influence and medals on the different planets. Plus, I found the political theme actually shines through well as it leads to politics around the table as you're deciding which funding tracks to influence, or which wing of the Senate deserves your votes. I felt this constant (good) pressure playing Federation, as I was trying keep an eye on my opponents, and at the same time, always eager push ahead of them.

    I would say the rules make the game feel medium complexity wise, but all of the strategic decisions you're faced with makes it feel more complex, and to me, more interesting. Besides the fact that you're racing to beat your opponents to everything, from action spaces to medals, each planet action is very satisfying. You're always getting something cool, and it's a matter of figuring out what cool thing is going to help you most each turn. Sometimes you'll try to increase your influence for the planet which seems like its law will pass, but other times you'll march to the beat of your own drum and try to push harder for the law you want passed.

    EGG Pre-order bonus pawn
    (subject to change)
    Federation is a blast with 4 players, and when you play with less players, there's a neat, easy-to-run, neutral player(s) which blocks action spaces, and influences the voting strength based off of blocking and voting tiles you place at the beginning of each round, which was designed to keep things tight and interesting at lower player counts.

    There should be a decent amount of replay value from the variation of tiles and tokens on the different planets, in addition to the varied combination of law tiles that appear each round, but there's also an advanced setup variant where you can change up the green planet from game to game by placing production structure tiles and megastructure tokens for even more variation.

    If you're a worker placement fan and thrive on heavy, indirect player interaction, be sure to check out Federation. I'm definitely looking forward to playing it more and I'm happy that it'll be more widely available in the U.S. soon enough. Read more »
  • Stonemaier Games Launches Expeditions, Offers Fantasies and Futures for Tapestry

    by W. Eric Martin

    U.S. publisher Stonemaier Games has announced two new titles for 2023, with Jamey Stegmaier's Expeditions being a standalone game set in the world of Scythe. Here's an overview of this Q3 2023 release:
    Expeditions sends players on a new adventure into Siberia, where a massive meteorite crashed near the Tunguska River, awakening ancient corruption. An expedition led by Dr. Tarkovsky ventures into the taiga to learn about the meteorite and its impact on the land. Itching for adventure, heroes from the war privately fund their own expeditions to Siberia, hoping to find artifacts, overcome challenges, and ultimately achieve glory.

    Expeditions is a competitive, card-driven, engine-building game of exploration. Play cards to gain power, guile, and unique worker abilities; move your mech to mysterious locations and gain cards found among the tiles; use workers, items, meteorites, and quests to enhance your mech; and use power and guile to vanquish corruption.

    Expeditions is for 1-5 players, and rulebooks for the multiplayer game and solitaire game are both available on the Stonemaier Games website.

    • The other title, due out in Q1 2023, is Tapestry: Fantasies & Futures, a design by Chris Scaffidi and Mike Young that's dubbed the third and final expansion for Tapestry.

    Tapestry: Fantasies & Futures contains ten new civilizations, 38 new tapestry cards, twelve new tech cards, and a comprehensive rulebook that organizes all rules for Tapestry and the three expansions.

    Read more »
  • Designer Diary: Enola Holmes: Finder of Lost Souls

    by Phil Yates

    The original Enola Holmes movie from Netflix inspired me to read the books and, of course, develop a game for it, a game now on the market as Enola Holmes: Finder of Lost Souls.

    I already had a concept for a Sherlock Holmes game so that's where I started. I wanted to give players a sense of being the genius detective seeking clues to unravel the schemes of a criminal mastermind. Since few of us are anywhere near as clever as Sherlock (or his precociously brilliant younger sister Enola), the trick was going to be making the game require enough deductive reasoning for the players to feel clever, without being sufficiently difficult to make them feel foolish instead.

    The game that came to mind was the old Mastermind board game, the one in which one player selects four colored pegs and the other player has to deduce which ones they are. The game was simple, yet kept me and my little sister entertained for hours as we tried to outwit each other.

    However, I didn't want a game as abstract as Mastermind; I wanted something more narrative, with the players traveling around London and its environs recreating moments from the show, and I wanted it to be playable with up to four players.

    The hidden crime cards and revealed clue cards are the core of the game
    After a bit of playing around with ideas and a bit of back-of-the-envelope calculation, I grabbed a deck of playing cards and tested a small game with my co-workers.

    With a reduced deck, I'd secretly draw six cards, then get them to deduce what the cards were over several rounds. Each round I'd roll a die and use that to decide how many cards to deal them, then give them clues based on those cards. The number of cards and rounds it took to deduce the cards I held was nicely consistent, with just the right amount of variation. This became the core of the deduction side of the game: A criminal picking a scheme of some sort, and the detectives seeking clues to help them deduce that scheme.

    The criminal combines puzzle cards with the map to challenge the detectives
    The next part was to figure out how to get the clue cards into the detective players' hands. Here's where the narrative side would come in. The detectives would move around a map of London, investigating puzzling crimes to gain clues as to the criminal mastermind's overall plan.

    To increase the variety of puzzles and give the criminal player agency in this phase of the game, I came up with the idea of having cutouts on the puzzle cards. These revealed an additional talent for the map location, increasing the difficulty of the puzzle.

    The detectives play on the case cards to solve the puzzle, while the criminal's making trouble cards make it harder
    The puzzle-solving part of the game matches the talents on the detective's card to the talents shown on the puzzle. The detectives play on the case cards to add to their talent or otherwise outsmart the criminal, while the criminal responds with "making trouble" cards to make their lives more difficult. Should the detective succeed in matching the required talents, they get a clue card, either revealing one of the hidden crime cards or showing that there are no matching crime cards in the criminal's scheme. Once they have solved (or failed to solve) their cases, the detectives gather to make their next deduction. If they fail to deduce the crime before the game ends, the criminal wins.

    This basic concept survived contact with all of the playtesting, although the details have been refined many times since then. The highlight of this initial playtesting was a game I ran with the staff of another company that shared our office space. They weren't gamers, but quickly picked up the game and enjoyed it. However, soon after this, things got busy, and the game got sidelined as other things took my attention.

    Things changed when I discovered a second Enola Holmes movie was in the works and Gale Force Nine had gained the license to produce a board game for it. Out came the old design for a revisit. The first thing I decided was that I'd made the game way more complicated than it needed to be. If it were going to appeal to an Enola Holmes audience, it needed to be slimmer, faster, and less daunting, while at the same time retaining the gameplay that the experienced gamers on the playtest team loved.

    The revised game made a tidy package, with enough challenge but faster play
    I slashed the number of turns from six to four, the number of cards in the crime from six to five, the number of spots on the map from twelve to eight, and the number of other components commensurately. When I put down my axe, I was pleased that further playtesting showed that this streamlined version of the game played much faster, without losing the charm and challenge of the original version.

    The rulebook got a similar treatment, with all the complicated and hard-to-explain bits clarified, simplified, or simply removed as unnecessary. An example of this is the way the rules handled the criminal's first turn. Since the criminal's first turn was sort of a double turn, putting out twice as many puzzles, the old rules were quite messy. By moving the criminal's turn to the end of the round and adding the necessary parts of the criminal's turn to set-up, I managed to make things easier to understand for first-time players.

    The rules are split into the stuff you need to know and the details you can look up when you get stuck
    I also split the rules into a quick start rulebook and the main rulebook. The quick start rulebook runs the players through the game without getting distracted by all the ifs, buts, and maybes. It uses illustrated examples so that players can follow through it, page by page, as they start their first game. The main rulebook then covers the same ground, but from a more technical viewpoint, answering all the questions that may arise and advising on the finer points of play.

    As an all-against-one game, balancing it for two, three, and four players was one of the biggest challenges. One of the things that I'd done in my cleanup was to remove the previous attempts at balancing. Unsurprisingly, that didn't work, but it did make clear the exact extent of balancing needed. That way, the bits that I brought back balanced the game for any number of players, without unneeded complexity or making any player's task too difficult to manage.

    Once I had everything working with the experienced gamers that I used to playtest, it was time to try it out on teenagers, especially fans of Enola Holmes. This went well, with the players picking up the game from the rulebook with little difficulty, despite an unfamiliarity with board games. The players enjoyed the game, loved the theme, but weren't so enamoured of the way the deduction process was working. One family asked to take the playtest version home so that they could play more games!

    That took me right back to the beginning. Grabbing a pack of cards, I spent an afternoon with my (not at all competitive) wife tweaking the deduction game in all sorts of directions until we settled on its final and much more satisfying form. A little more playtesting confirmed the changes had solved the problem, and it was off to the graphic designers to make the whole thing look pretty.

    Inspired by the color palette and style of the movies, the graphic designers have created a visual look that matches the style of the game, simple, accessible, fun, and an intellectual challenge.

    Phil Yates

    Read more »
  • Sébastien Dujardin on the Future of Pearl Games

    by W. Eric Martin

    Sébastien Dujardin, founder of Pearl Games, has announced that the Belgian publisher is closing — or perhaps only changing hands.

    The future is uncertain at this moment, as he explains in this press release:
    Pearl Games, located in Frasnes-Lez-Buissenal, in Belgium, has been publishing board games since 2010. The beginning of the adventure was just a simple hobby that gave birth to my first published game: Troyes, created with my friends Alain Orban and Xavier Georges. The success of this first game, especially during the Essen show, allowed me to continue the adventure with 11 games (Tournay, Bruxelles 1893, Deus, Bloody Inn, to name a few). That's 11 games in 13 years, a few by today's standards, but I am happy about it, my credo being to develop each title as best as possible.

    In 2014, the French group Asmodee bought Pearl Games and made it an Internal Studio of the company. The confidence associated with the new organization allowed me to work more calmly. My strength is as a creative editor more than a business manager, so this collaboration offered me many new tools: openings to new markets around the world, competence in quality and manufacturing, logistics, after-sales services, etc.

    All good things must come to an end, and Asmodee has decided to end this collaboration. Asmodee will close the Pearl Games studio as of the end of March. Why? It seems to me that the most important reason is the evolution of Asmodee, which has become bigger and bigger, to the point that Pearl Games has struggled to keep its place by remaining faithful to its editorial line. Also, the game market has exploded in recent years, in quality and quantity. You have to take this into account and adapt to it, and that's what I will do!

    At the end of this adventure, the most difficult part to manage is the human aspect and the dismissal of Anaëlle, Martin and me. The most important are the moments spent with the players, my direct colleagues (Renaud, Martin and Anaëlle) and those further away from Asmodee, but also with the designers, illustrators, graphic designers, translators, demonstrators, manufacturers, etc.

    A question obviously arises: what about the future of Pearl Games? We are making arrangements with Asmodee so that I can retain the brand and catalog of Pearl Games, moving forward as an independent publisher. The challenge will be great, and it will take time to gather the funds, organize the new ideas, find new partners, finalize these game projects. For this project to be successful, a transition period without new releases and reprints will be necessary.

    Managing to create, develop, and publish games as soon as possible is an extremely exhilarating challenge! Several games are already under development, at very different levels, and I will do what is necessary to ensure that these ideas come to fruition, regardless of the organization to be put in place. Let's continue to have fun creating and playing!

    I'll note that Pearl Games' Time of Empires from David Simiand and Pierre Voye was released in November 2022 and Dujardin's two-player game Lofoten debuted in France in October 2022 and will be released in English, Spanish, Chinese, and German in February 2023.

    Good luck to Sébastien Dujardin — ideally your longship takes you where you want to go...

    Read more »
  • Game Overview: Tiletum, or To Let 'Em Stress over Which Die to Choose

    by Candice Harris

    When I see either Daniele Tascini or Simone Luciani's name on a board game, I'm instantly curious to try it since they're both highly reputable designers and I've enjoyed many of their games in the past. When I see their names together on a board game, I know I'm in for a treat, considering this is the same designer duo behind Tzolk'in and The Voyages of Marco Polo. After I demoed their latest release Tiletum from Board&Dice at Gen Con 2022, I wasn't blown away, but I thought it was a solid, classic-feeling eurogame with mostly familiar mechanisms that worked well together. It wasn't until I played my first full game of Tiletum, where I got the full picture and my eyes and brain lit up.

    In Tiletum, 1-4 players take on the roles of rich merchants traveling throughout Europe during the Golden Age of the Renaissance, gathering resources, fulfilling contracts, and competing for victory points at fairs in various towns. The gameplay for Tiletum is centered around a dice drafting, action selection mechanism where the dice have a dual function; the die you choose each turn informs which resource you gain and which action you perform.

    Tiletum is played over four rounds and each round is divided into five phases: Preparation, Action, King, Fair, and Cleanup. The goal of the game is to have the most victory points by the end of the game. This is a point salad game where you get points for a lot of different things, and it's not unlikely for scores to be in the 200+ zone by the end of the game.

    In the Preparation phase, you take a number of resource dice (based on player count) from the dice sack, roll them, and place them around the action wheel according to their number. There are a total of 20 resource dice in 5 different colors corresponding to the resources in the game -- gold (yellow), food (pink), wool (light gray), stone (dark gray), and iron (blue-ish gray). You get used to it, but there was often confusion with the different gray dice and the corresponding resource tokens. The action wheel has pie slices for each pip value, so when you distribute the dice, all dice with common numbers are placed in the same section of the action wheel.

    In the Action phase, the heart of the game, players take turns taking a die from the action wheel, then gaining the corresponding resources provided by the die, and performing the associated action. The color and number on the die you take indicates which resource you get and how many. Then the amount of action points you get is always the difference between 7 and the number on the resource die you chose. For example, if I draft a pink "5" die, I gain 5 food tokens but, I only get 2 action points for the corresponding action. Alternatively, if I pick a yellow "1" die, I only get 1 gold token, but I get 6 action points. So already, you can probably see how there's a lot to consider when choosing a die on your turn. You might need a certain amount of a particular resource, and at the same time you need to take a particular action, but often the stars don't align, so you'll need to do one or the other. That decision is often very tough, especially because your opponents will have their eyes on everything you're considering as well.

    On the action wheel, there are 5 different actions you can choose from, but there's also a joker action space, which allows you to take any action. In addition to the interesting choices that arise from the dice distribution and actions, there are also super juicy bonus tiles placed around the action wheel at the start of each turn. There's only 1 tile on each action space, and they're first come, first serve. Thus, they will also factor in your decision process when you're figuring out which die to take on your turn. As you can imagine, turn order is very important.

    There are 5 main actions in Tiletum, in addition to tasks (free actions) you can take at any point during your turn. Most of the actions have a variety of ways you can allocate your action points. Again, the amount of actions points you gain depends on which die number you draft.

    A big chunk of the game board represents a map of Europe, which initially gave me some Orléans vibes. Players start the game with a merchant (wagon) and an architect (pencil compass) in the Tiletum town space, and there are 2 actions that allow you to manipulate those pieces on the map. When you perform the Architect action, you can spend action points to move your architect around the map, to add a pillar from your personal supply to an empty pillar space in a town with your architect, or to take a bonus tile from the town where your architect is located. The Merchant action works similarly since you can spend action points to move your merchant, take a bonus tile, or you can place a house on an empty house space in the town where your merchant is located.

    During final scoring at the end of the game, you'll multiply the number of houses you have on the map by the number of pillars you have on the map and gain that many victory points. Also, when it comes to pillars, having pillars in towns allows you to build cathedrals which are worth a decent amount of points. On the other hand, houses are very helpful especially at fair locations, since you either need to have your merchant at the fair location or a house placed there to participate and score points. Therefore, it's usually a good option to place houses and pillars when you can. There are limited spaces at each town, so it's always a race to beat your opponents there.

    Before I explain how the Character and Contract actions work, it's important to note that each player has their own player board in Tiletum, which is where you'll be managing tiles you collect as well as juggling a set collection mini game. Your player board has a warehouse section to store 4 tiles, and a main section where you can place character and crest tiles in different rows and columns. Throughout the game you'll be picking up a variety of different bonus tiles (crests, resources, actions, etc.), as well as contract and character tiles. You can only ever have or take one type of each crest, and each column can only have one type of each character.

    My player board
    When you perform the Character action, you can spend action points to take character tiles from the character offer, which has 5 face-up character tiles to choose from. When you take a character tile, you immediately place it in your warehouse, so you must have an available empty space. With the Character action you can also spend an action point to discard all character tiles from the offer, and immediately refill it with new tiles. You can also spend action points to move a character tile from your warehouse into a room on your player board, noting you cannot have two different buildings (columns) with the same character. After you place a character tile, you'll also earn the bonus in the left corner of the tile. Each player starts the game with a house at the top of each column/building, which you can add to your supply once that column/building is filled with character tiles.

    Character offer, Contract offer, and King trackWhen you perform the Contract action, you can spend action points to take a contract tile from the contract offer, or you can exchange your resources for different resources. The contract tiles cost a varying number of action points based on their position in the offer, and they need to be placed in your warehouse immediately, similar to character tiles. They are standard contracts where you need to spend a number of resources to fulfill them, then you gain a number of victory points. When you complete a contract, which is a task/free action, you place the contract tile in the completed contracts area of your play board, which unlocks a pillar that is added to your supply. Plus, you gain points from the contract and additional points printed on the space you placed it on.

    The final action is the King action, where you can spend action points to advance on the King track. That is literally all you do action wise, so it may appear insignificant initially, but your position on this track relative to your opponents is important. During the King phase, you'll adjust turn order based on the King track and this is a game where turn order is extremely important. It's also worth noting that before the first player takes a die in the action phase, they will reveal the rightmost face-down corruption token under the King track and move all players markers back according to the number on the token (0, 1, or 2).

    After the last player has taken their third die and has finished resolving their last action for the round, there is a King phase. In the King phase, the player whose marker is highest on the King track takes or discards the bonus tile next to the track. Then players score or lose points based on their position on the King track. Finally, turn order is adjusted so the player highest on the King track becomes the first player, the second-highest becomes the second player, and so on.

    Then comes the Fair phase, where players have the opportunity to gain a decent chunk of victory points. The first fair is always in Tiletum, but the subsequent three fair locations (out of eight) are randomly selected at the beginning of the game, along with four (out of eleven) randomly selected fair tiles. The fair tiles have different scoring objectives such as scoring points for each pillar you have on the map, or for each contract you have fulfilled, or for each crest tile on your player board, or for sets of houses and pillars you have on the map, etc. The variety of combinations of fair locations and fair tiles forces you to change up your strategy each game; it makes Tiletum highly re-playable.

    Everything you're doing each game is to try to score as many points as you can at as many fairs as you can. You have this variety of different objectives that relate to a variety of different locations on the map where you need to have either a house or your merchant present the round it's being scored to even score it. There are just so many different ways the game will push and pull you as you try to come out ahead of your opponents each game. With limited spaces for houses in each town, you have to decide when it's worth it to move your merchant across town to make sure you can participate in the upcoming fair. Or maybe you neglect an earlier fair to get ahead of everyone for a fair in a later round which might be more rewarding. It's really cool and very challenging!

    After the Fair phase, there's a Cleanup phase where you'll replenish bonus tiles around the action wheel and on the King track. Then you'll return all dice to the bag and rotate the action wheel one step clockwise before starting the next round. Rotating the action wheel each round keeps things interesting as well.

    At the end of the Fair phase of the 4th round, there's final scoring where you may earn additional points for the houses and pillars you have on the map, as well as completed buildings on your player board. You can also cash in your remaining resources and gain a point for every 4 resources. Then the player with the most victory points wins.

    I glossed over crest tiles, but they also play an important role in Tiletum. You can gain crest tiles as bonus tiles or some may appear in the contract offer as well. To move them from your warehouse to the bottom of a column/building, you have to spend some amount of food, then you gain the bonus of the space you covered. You can cover up the crest spaces in any order you'd like, so if you have the right amount of food, you can strategically place one at the right time for a powerful, helpful bonus. For example, there's one space where you can immediately move your merchant anywhere on the map. There's also one that allows you to place a house from your supply onto any town on the map. Just imagine, your opponent could be gradually moving their merchant somewhere to be first to place their house, and you place a crest just before that and build a house where they were hoping to. The bonuses for placing crest tiles can be very powerful.

    If you manage to fill a building on your player board with character tiles and you have a crest placed below it, you get to add one of your bonus action markers near the action wheel space indicated on your character tile(s). These bonus action markers give you 1-3 permanent extra action points for the corresponding action. Action points are valuable so this is an awesome bonus that's worth getting as early as you can. Of course, there are so many things you'll want to do, but you can't do it all.

    Tiletum is an excellent, medium-weight eurogame that feels highly competitive. Everything you'll want to do, your opponents will be trying to do as well, whether it's drafting a particular die, or trying to build a house at the next fair location, or snag a particular contract or bonus tile. There is so much that everyone will be trying to do at the same time, which again, makes turn order very important...while also being another thing you'll be trying to beat your opponents on. It feels like there's always a tense race to do everything. Since your opponents will almost always be doing everything you'll want to do, it can be difficult to plan your turn in advance. You really need a backup plan to your backup plan's backup plan to keep the game moving along. There are so many satisfying options to choose from and exploring all of your options can be mentally taxing, so beware of analysis paralysis. If players are familiar with the game and aren't taking too long on their turns, you can play a 4-player game of Tiletum in less than 2 hours.

    Tiletum also includes a solo mode designed by Dávid Turczi with Jeremy Avery where you compete against "The Cardinalbot", an automated solo opponent. You win if you have more victory points than the Cardinalbot at the end of the game. In addition to the solo rules, there are also 8 challenge cards you can play with to modify the rules of the Cardinalbot.

    Because Tiletum is so competitive, clever, and highly re-playable, it feels like a classic already. I think part of that feeling comes from the classic eurogame theme as well, which is the weakest part of the game for me. As it stands, I really enjoy the gameplay and it's obvious that Tascini and Luciani are still going strong as a designer duo, but a stronger, more interesting theme would've made Tiletum pop even more for me.

    If medium-weight eurogames are your thing, I highly recommend checking out Tiletum. It is a very satisfying and competitive game that provides fresh challenges from game to game, primarily because of the fair location and objective variability, but there are so many other contributing factors, such as the dice distribution around the rotating action wheel, and the variety of bonus tiles, which all really vary up the gameplay and make Tiletum shine. Read more »
  • Describe Your Level of Interest in an English-Language Edition of Top Ten from Worst to Best

    by W. Eric Martin

    Aurélien Picolet's co-operative party game Top Ten debuted in France from Cocktail Games in late 2020. The game saw editions in Spanish, Russian, Italian, Korean, Hungarian, Chinese, and German in 2021, with the latter — a publication of Cocktail Games itself, not a licensed version — being nominated for the Spiel des Jahres award in 2022.

    As I explained in this overview post and video, Top Ten was my choice for SdJ based on how the design encourages interaction and creativity among all players. In each of the five rounds, you are given a topic — e.g., "You would like to dive into a pool full of... Complete this sentence, from the worst to the best." — as well as a number in secret from 1 (in this case worst) to 10 (best). You must give an answer to the prompt — sometimes just a word, sometimes a more involved presentation or full-on mime — ideally landing in the right spot based on your number, and that round's Captain needs to identify players from low to high.

    The game is all about being clever in unusual situations, but more than that it's about being clever based on what everyone else is doing. You need to figure out where they land on the 1-10 scale so that you can fit your performance to match, and the more you play with the same people, the more you read them correctly — which feels great! You have the joy of the performances themselves, as well as the feeling of guessing everyone's role correctly and winning, assuming that you do. (As I noted in my post, my father-in-law never quite seemed to get the game, but the rest of us adapted to try to make it work.)

    Why am I bringing all of this up six months after Top Ten lost the Spiel des Jahres award to Cascadia? Because at the time of the nomination, an English-language edition of Top Ten did not exist. Cocktail Games told me that it was looking for the ideal partner for this game on the vast U.S. market, and now that partner has finally been announced: Exploding Kittens.

    So when will the game be released? Well, not until 2024 because Exploding Kittens isn't just releasing the game as is. (I'll note that no edition is quite the same as another because the topics are customized to the culture of the audience. A French topic about creating your "Asterix and Obelix -ix name" became in the English mock-up that I received from Cocktail Games a topic about creating your Kardashian K- name. The concept remained the same, but the specifics did not.)

    Here's most of the press release for this announcement:
    Exploding Kittens, the leading game and entertainment company, today announced that it secured the rights to recreate the English-language version of Top Ten from Cocktail Games, the French party game and board game publisher best known for classics such as Hanabi. The reimagined game with an Exploding-Kittens twist will feature new game mechanics, title, and packaging, and is expected to be released in 2024.

    "I've been watching how Top Ten has captivated players throughout Europe, and it's pretty exciting to get the chance to adapt it for English-speaking players," said Elan Lee, Co-Creator and CEO of Exploding Kittens. "We've built an incredible pipeline for developing and publishing new games and we see a lot of potential in Top Ten to become a new household favorite in the U.S. and other countries around the world."

    Since its release in 2020, Top Ten has been a favorite party game in the European market. [game explanation removed] The game celebrates creativity, humor, and teamwork as players try to communicate secret levels of intensity in the answers they make up on the fly. Exploding Kittens' team of designers will build upon the game's existing fundamentals and update the mechanics to appeal to English-speaking markets, leaning on their experience in building easy-to-play, interactive party games that make players more entertaining.

    "Exploding Kittens has a fantastic understanding of English-speaking audiences and their love of party games, and Top Ten is a great fit for their library," said Matthieu d'Epenoux, Owner of Cocktail Games. "We can't wait for Exploding Kittens' new version to be played in all of the English-speaking countries around the world."

    Despite not feeling that any changes needed to be made with the design of Top Ten, I'm curious to see what will change. Exploding Kittens has a fairly successful track record, after all, and it's aiming for a market that is far larger than "what Eric likes", even though I often view myself as squarely in the SdJ audience, so who knows? Read more »
  • New Editions for New Times: Wiz-War, Expedition, Cranium, and Camel Up: The Card Game

    by W. Eric Martin

    • I first wrote about Steve Jackson Games acquiring the rights to Tom Jolly's Wiz-War in November 2019, and after more than three years SJG has launched a Kickstarter campaign for the ninth edition of this classic game, with delivery anticipated in Q3 2023.

    Steve Jackson, who has overseen development of this edition, notes that it's a back-to-basics version that is complete in one box with no expansions forthcoming. From the Kickstarter FAQ: "I absolutely don't envision any [supplements]. All the 'good stuff' for Wiz-War is in this game, and if we duplicated it with different spell names or something, we'd be cheating you. An expansion would not be a good use of our time or your $$$!"

    • A title three-quarters as old as Wiz-War is also returning in a new edition: Wolfgang Kramer's Expedition, which French publisher Super Meeple will release in July 2023 as Expéditions.

    In case you're not familiar with the design, here's an overview:
    Expedition is a game about moving three commonly held expeditions around the world in search of various archaeological sites. The board shows a map of the world with many different branching paths, and players advance the expeditions by placing plastic arrows. When an expedition arrives at a location that matches one of your private site cards or one of the public site cards, you score that card. Certain spaces on the board allow you to play again immediately, and other spaces allow you to pick up a bonus action card that you can play at any time on one of your turns.

    The game ends when someone has scored all of their cards, then whoever has the highest total score wins. (Public goals are worth more than private goals.)

    I found it amazing to look at the BGG page and discover that (1) I've played Expedition more than thirty times and (2) I haven't played it since 2009. I need to dig out my copy and introduce it to the youngsters who attend my game days...

    • Of a similar era is the party game Cranium, and in January 2023 Funko Games signed a licensing deal with Hasbro — which bought the Cranium game line in 2008, ten years after its debut — to celebrate that game with the Q2 2023 release of Cranium 25th Anniversary Edition.

    This game will feature eight hundred new questions across eighteen diverse activities that will have you sketching, acting, humming, sculpting, picture-puzzling, and word-unscrambling.

    In Q3 2023, Funko Games will follow this initial release with new editions of Cranium Hullabaloo and Cranium Hoopla, as well as the new title Cranium Big Brain Detective Game, which seems akin to the MicroMacro game line, with players looking for clues in a wildly busy image to solve mysteries (and with this game line being similar to earlier things that present similar challenges, of course).

    • Of more recent vintage is Steffen Bogen's Camel Up Cards, which debuted in 2016 and which is coming back to print from Pretzel Games as Camel Up: The Card Game, with new art by Chris Quilliams and a "crazy camel" similar to those in Camel Up (Second Edition) that race backward on the track. This title is due out late in Q2 2023.

    • And I'll have news of an even more recent new edition a few hours after this post goes live. Any guesses before the press embargo ends? Read more »
  • Can You Get Enough Azul Things, Villainous Stings, Mad Kings, and Lord of the Rings?

    by W. Eric Martin

    The more game announcements I've seen from publishers this year — and we're not even through January yet! — the more the approach seems to be give people more of what they already like.

    Next Move Games, for example, has announced the late Q2 2023 release of Azul Mini, a scaled-down version of Michael Kiesling's fantastic strategy game Azul.

    If you like Azul but find it too bulky for your travel bag, perhaps this version will be for you as the tiles are smaller, the player boards have plastic trays on them to keep tiles in place, and the game includes a travel bag that can apparently carry the entire game, in addition to doubling as a draw bag for the tiles.

    Ravensburger has announced the next "expandalone" title in its Marvel Villianous line, with Twisted Ambition featuring Doctor Octopus, Titania, and Kang the Conqueror.

    In Marvel Villainous, each player has somewhat the same actions available to them — move to different locations within their domain, carry out the actions there, and deal twists of fate to their opponents from a shared fate deck — while trying to work toward your specific victory condition. To win as Doctor Octopus, players must complete five schemes, such as defeating Spider-Man or amassing and paying power. As Titania, you need to gain strength to become empowered and defeat She-Hulk. Finally, Kang the Conqueror requires its player to unleash variants of Kang into other villains' decks and conquer four locations in other villain domains with robot duplicates.

    Each of the characters in Marvel Villainous: Twisted Ambitions can be played on their own in a two- or three-player game or be mixed and matched with villains from previous Marvel Villainous releases.

    This set will be available for pre-order starting in early February 2023, with Target offering a special edition that features a cardboard sleeve and a chrome character mover for Dr. Octopus instead of the gray one.

    • Speaking of Target, that retail chain will (initially?) be the exclusive source of The Lord of the Rings Adventure Book Game from Marcus Ross, Jay Little, and Ravensburger, with this game debuting in February 2023.

    Like the earlier releases The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game and The Wizard of Oz Adventure Book Game, this is a co-operative game told in chapters, with each chapter taking place on the pages of a game board book. The Lord of the Rings Adventure Book Game consists of eight chapters, with each chapter providing puzzles and challenges that players need to overcome to advance from The Shire to the fires of Mordor, all while avoiding the Eye of Sauron.

    Bézier Games has announced a February 7, 2023 Kickstarter launch date for Blueprints of Mad King Ludwig, a spinoff of Ted Alspach's Castles of Mad King Ludwig that will be released in 2024. Here's the pitch for this design:
    Test your architectural skills in Blueprints of Mad King Ludwig, a flip-and-sketch strategy game to draw the most extravagant blueprints for King Ludwig's next castle!

    Select rooms to add to your castle's floor plan. As you complete rooms' entrances by connecting them to other rooms, earn new abilities such as adding or removing entrances, earning new bonus cards, and taking extra turns. Keep your eye on the King's favors to beat out your opponents for public goals, as well as create courtyards and moats around your castle for some massive points to get ahead! The player who sketches the castle most suited to the whims of King Ludwig takes the royal victory!

    You can slide the room cards under vellum paper to determine how a room might fit — or not — in your developing castle. I took a few architecture classes in high school, and this detail is a nice touch!

    Trivia note: BGG has five titles in its database that contain the word "blueprints", and Ted Alspach has designed three of them, the other two being Age of Steam Expansion: Secret Blueprints of Steam Plans 1 & 2 and Age of Steam Expansion: Special 2008 Spiel Limited Edition – Essen Spiel & Secret Blueprints of Steam Plan #3.

    Read more »
  • Designer Diary: Endurance

    by Amabel Holland

    I began working on Endurance six years ago. The idea was that it would take the "three cups" mechanism I had used in my solitaire games Agricola, Master of Britain and Charlemagne, Master of Europe and apply it to a non-military topic: Shackleton's 1914 expedition to Antarctica.

    The game ended up not being a "three cups" game. That's one reason why it took me six years.

    But there's also the fact that the person who made those other games didn't make this one. I mean this somewhat literally. For starters, there's a different name on the box.

    Three Problems

    At the outset, I identified three problems I'd have to solve.

    First, there was the problem of agency. The previous solitaire games I had done saw the player on the move, winning battles, solving problems, building infrastructure. The actions that you took then directly impacted how your subjects felt about your rule: aggressive actions bred hostility, conciliatory ones quieted things down. A very basic carrot-and-stick model of leadership.

    But none of that really applied to this situation. This isn't a game about you making things happen, but about things happening to you, and how you and the desperate men you're responsible for react to that pressure. I needed a way to model this limited agency that didn't make you feel like you were just along for the ride.

    Second, there was the problem of suffering. The expedition was an agony in a physical sense. It was bitterly cold. Malnutrition and starvation wreaked havoc on the men's intestinal systems. When they ran out of toilet paper, they wiped with ice, which chafed. During a three-day lifeboat journey, having failed to bring potable water, they sucked on pieces of frozen raw meat so that its juices could slake their thirst.

    These were merely the more mundane horrors. They lived these months constantly on edge, never knowing when a sea leopard might attack, when the ice underfoot might give, when frostbite might turn gangrenous – all things which happened and easily could have proven fatal.

    This is not a heroic story, not an adventure; it's a very bleak, downbeat thing. The game, then, would need to be bleak and downbeat. It would need to communicate the misery and suffering at the heart of the real-life experience. The problem is, once you gamify something – once you assign it a numerical value – players are incentivized to treat it numerically. And with a story like this, that would feel ghoulish.

    Finally, there was the problem of probability. Historically, all twenty-eight men survived. Barely so, miraculously so. Which left me with the question of, how feasible should the historical result be? Which once again brings it back to the question of how the player's success should be measured. Which brought it back to the question of how much agency the player should have, and in what ways would they exercise it.

    Tight, Messy Little Knots

    As is often the case with games, these three problems fed into each other in such a way that I couldn't really solve any one of them in isolation. The solution for all three would have to arrive at once, or not at all. And so I spent a long time tugging in vain at this tight, messy little knot, hoping that if I managed to loosen it a little, I would catch a glimpse of the whole design, but that glimpse proved elusive. The knot seemed intractable.

    It wasn't the only tight, messy little knot I was tugging at. It wasn't even the one I had been tugging at the longest, nor the one that seemed the most intractable.

    Because for as long as I could remember, there was something wrong. I didn't have the words to describe it. When I had tried, no one ever seemed to relate to it. More than that, they didn't want to relate, didn't want to be around the weird, scared, desperately earnest kid who was hurting all the time for no reason.

    And I tugged at that knot for a long time – tugged at it for my entire life. Until, quite suddenly – finally, miraculously – it came undone all at once.

    Huh, Turns Out I'm a Girl

    When I started hormone replacement therapy, I purposefully didn't work on Endurance and other "heavy" games. I figured, hey, I'm going through puberty a second time. I'm going to have the emotional regulation of a teenager, I don't need to soak myself in harrowing stories of suffering and survival, so I did weird cutesy things like Eyelet and Dinosaur Gauge and Watch Out! That's a Dracula! instead. Things that would give me the time and space to find a new wardrobe, figure out what I wanted, stop sleeping on my stomach (ouch), and learn how to avoid door jambs (ouch!).

    Once I was a bit more together, I turned my attention back to Endurance — and I found to my surprise that not only had that knot finally come undone, but in a way, its solution was tied inextricably to that other knot.

    It took me thirty-eight years to figure out my whole gender thing. Those years take a toll. The decades of dysphoria compounded over time and hollowed me out. There are so many others who were crushed by that pain – pain that was already and always too much to bear – before they could find themselves.

    That was almost me. If my egg hadn't cracked when it did, I don't think I would have lasted much longer. Months, maybe. Weeks.

    I was saved at the eleventh hour, and when I look back at the circumstances that led me to that moment, at the chains of coincidence that made Amabel possible – I am intensely aware of how it very nearly wasn't. How improbable it was.

    And it became clear to me that the best way to honor the miracle at the heart of Shackleton's story was to lean into how improbable the historical result was. How very nearly it could have – by rights, should have – ended in disaster. I would observe the miracle not through recreation, but through its absence. This is how I addressed the problem of probability.

    Because the historical result is astronomically unlikely, I couldn't very well set it as a victory condition. And as I intimated previously, I wouldn't be comfortable assigning point values to simulated human lives – particularly when each human life represents a real and specific person, who really suffered, so there would be no scoring. Indeed, no victory conditions at all. The game ends, possibly with the rescue of any survivors, and then you decide what that means.


    This framework in turn informed my approach to the problem of agency. The player exists at the mercy of circumstances beyond their control. Thus, you're given a handful of options at a time.

    At the beginning of a round, you draw a hand of two cards. Each card has an Action and a Test. You choose one card for its Action and one for its Test. Actions involve rolling dice and counting up successes to earn a reward. For example, a hunt action can result in obtaining meat and blubber. Tests require the use of resources – for example, a food test might see you expend the meat you hunted.

    Failing an Action or a Test incurs a Penalty, resulting in men becoming demoralized. Demoralized men are less capable of completing Actions, and if they suffer a second demoralization they are injured. Injured men who suffer demoralization perish.

    This core works well enough, but it lacks texture. I needed to give the player a little more control over the proceedings. And so it is that each Action has ways to modify the number of dice rolled, usually through use of a resource. For example, it's a lot easier to hunt with a rifle.

    Specific men can also be flipped to their demoralized side to convert failed rolls into successes or to automatically pass a Test without the required resources. For example, flipping one of the two surgeons will automatically pass a Medical Test. Flipping one of the six dog team leaders will convert failures to successes for a sled action.

    In addition to enlarging the decision space, this adds a lot of texture to the game, making specific men stand out. This also comes through in the mix of demoralization Penalties; men who were historically more prone to depression or troublemaking are much more likely to become demoralized.

    Falling Apart

    As the ordeal wore on, morale naturally began to worsen. I very much wanted to capture this with the game's general arc.

    As I said, you start the game by drawing two cards, selecting an Action from one and a Test from the other — but soon you'll be drawing three cards. After choosing your Action and your Test, you'll have one card left over. For that card, you'll be forced to resolve one of the Penalties. Morale starts to crack a little.

    Later in the game, you'll be drawing four cards – choose an Action, choose a Test, then resolve a Penalty for each of the remaining cards. It gets more difficult to maintain morale. At the end, you'll be drawing five, and you can probably guess what happens then. Of course, with more men demoralized, it's going to be harder to succeed at those Actions, incurring further Penalties. And it's likely that you'll have fewer resources with which to pass Tests.

    As the game approaches its end, the situation mathematically bends towards hopelessness and instability. It's likely that certain types of actions will become impossible to perform – forcing failure if you choose them – and certain tests impossible to pass. (As a sort of cruel joke, the threshold for the heating test at the end of the game is literally impossible.) In a way, the game is ceasing to function the way you want it to.

    This isn't really new territory for me. I make weird, experimental games that are often deliberately fragile, built to become unstable. Usually this is to make a point about broken and unsustainable systems. (See This Guilty Land or For-Ex.) Here, I hope it evokes, in some small way, a certain kind of despair and desperation.

    Maybe not what the men of the Endurance felt. That I have no way of knowing — but I know what my own was like, when it felt like my life was falling apart, like it had always been falling apart, like it was designed to fall apart. Until, suddenly, it all came together.

    I know what it's like to feel doomed, and I know what it's like, against all odds, to be rescued. The person I was six years ago only knew the first thing and could never have imagined the second.

    Amabel Holland

    Read more »
  • Lookout Games Preps Nusfjord Big Box for 2023

    by W. Eric Martin

    German publisher Lookout Games has passed along a list of titles you can expect to see in 2023, but without images and details for the moment. I've found a bit of information about these titles in various retail listings, so here's what I can tell you so far:

    Nusfjord Big Box collects the Nusfjord base game from Uwe Rosenberg, includes the Plaice and Salmon expansions released in 2018 and 2020, and adds two new expansions: Trout and Besokende, with the latter deck coming from Tony Boydell, who initially posted the deck for fun here, with revisions here.

    Lookout says that Nusfjord Big Box is scheduled for release in Q2 2023, whereas distributor Asmodee North America lists it for Q3 2023, so expect it to land first in Germany, then swim the Atlantic to other shores.

    Additionally, Nusfjord: Expansion Collection #1 will package the Plaice and Salmon decks together for those who missed them the first time, while Nusfjord: Expansion Collection #2 collects the Trout and Besokende expansion for those who already have all things Nusfjord and want only the new stuff.

    Tipperary, due out Q2 2023, is a tile-laying family game from Günter Burkhardt in which players are challenged to create their perfect vision of an Irish county by placing polyominoes and collecting sheep, castles and whiskey. After twelve rounds, one player will be named chief of Tipperary.

    Eppi is a point-and-click-style of game due out in Q2 2023 from book author Felicitas Pommerening in the style of Cantaloop, which will see Book 3 – Against All Odds from Friedemann Findeisen and Grzegorz Kobiela close out the trilogy in 2023.

    As for Eppi, it's aimed at families and appropriate for players aged 8 and up, unlike Cantaloop's 16+ threshold. Here'e the pitch:
    Eppi is an interactive point-and-click style adventure book with a mission for parents and kids to play together.

    In the game, you embody Eppi, a creature that haunts the family basement. Who or what is Eppi? Eppi would like to know that, too! In order to help Eppi, it takes the cumulative wit and ingenuity of the entire family, from baby Manni to Grandma Tara. You can also slip into other characters during the game and solve the tricky puzzles.

    Patterns, a Q2 2023 release, is subtitled "A Mandala Game", but I've also seen listings online for Mandala: Contemplation, with this being a spinoff title of 2019's Mandala from Trevor Benjamin and Brett J. Gilbert in which players use colored "stones" to craft and claim valuable groups. Perhaps the name has changed since the original solicitation? No worries — I'll forgo a BGG database listing for now.

    That said, if you have not played Mandala, I will highly recommend doing so for its classic gameplay.

    Great Lakes, which Lookout lists as a Q3 2023 release with no other information provided. I'll gamely suggest, given the title above, that this is a standalone sequel to Great Lakes, which is from the same two designers, but actual information will come in due time.

    Read more »

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