March 16 2017
Board Game Geek
- Video● Time for the SPIEL '18 Re-Broadcast with Game Demo Videos Galore!BGG Twitch channel — or don't feel the need to watch every item covered — we've now started to post the individual game demo videos on the BGG YouTube channel, with each of those videos also appearing on the appropriate game or publisher page in the BGG database.
More specifically, you can head to the SPIEL '18 playlist to see the fifteen videos posted so far — most recently an overview of Dice Settlers — and I plan to post a new video each hour from 8:00 to 20:00 EST (GMT-5) each weekday until the video spigot runs dry. (That schedule depends on others doing the actual editing, and BGG.CON 2018 might interrupt that timing, but right now even with only the videos from day 1, I'm set through Friday, Nov. 16 at 9:00. Fifty-four videos just from day 1 coverage! And if the timing works out, we'll be done with SPIEL '18 coverage in five weeks. We'll see...
Aside from the videos shot in the BGG booth, this playlist will include those I recorded elsewhere during SPIEL '18, such as this overview of the forthcoming Vampire: The Masquerade – Heritage from Babis Giannios and Nice Game Publishing.
I didn't record too many videos on my own as I was also taking pics in the press room, recording notes about upcoming games in 2019 (such as those from Portal Games [link], Lookout Games [link], and IELLO [link] that I've posted about already), and running around like a maniac for a wide variety of reasons. I vow to do whatever it takes to get through all of this material before the pressure of the 2019 Spielwarenmesse and FIJ conventions starts building — although I have started assembling that preview, along with ones for Gen Con 2019 and SPIEL '19. No time to waste!
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- Designer Diary: The Great City of Rome, or How Long Did You Say Rome Was Gonna Take Again?Matthew Dunstan (with italicized interruptions by Brett J. Gilbert)
As the saying goes, Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was the game that went on to become The Great City of Rome.
I had been tinkering with city-building games at many different points over the past seven years, always trying to emulate that familiarity and fun associated with games like SimCity.
There were many prototypes hastily built, then abandoned after one play (not a recommended strategy for actually finishing a game), and while on holiday in Snowdonia in 2015 I even went so far as to hand-make 150 cards for an entire city-building game that was never actually played — an act of lunacy that stands out in my memory even today.
•••Matt's ability to "just do it" and make something is miraculous. I am reminded of a period during which he would regularly arrive each week at our Tuesday playtest meet-up with a brand-new, completely realized Eurogame, brimming with multiple, interconnected mechanisms and replete with boards, tokens, cards — and perfectly playable! —Brett
I guess you could say that I hadn't found the right starting point — or more accurately that I didn't have enough patience. It was lucky then that in the days after SPIEL in November 2015 that I would come up with an idea that worked on the first time!
Trawling back over the files in my computer and emails with Brett like a forensic accountant reveals a now-familiar process about how we go about co-designing.
I have an idea and hastily put together a hand-drawn prototype. The reason I know this happened for The Great City of Rome is that the versions of the prototype I have on my computer actually start with B, the A version being only a half-finished Excel file which I'm sure I gave up on in favor of actually getting the game to the table in time!
In this case, my idea centered around a classic trade-off between better choice and better actions during a player's turn (a trope we explored previously in Pyramids), with players playing their pieces on an action strip in order.
•••While we're here, let board game historians record that The Great City of Rome and Pyramids are both part of a single thread of tableau-building games we've developed, each based on a different geometry, with Pyramids being a triangle and City of Rome a square. Keep your eyes peeled for a new game with two lines of parallel cards ("walls"), and — maybe! and even then not till 2020 at the earliest! — one that stacks cards vertically ("towers").
The position of each player's piece on the action strip would determine not only the order that they get to pick new buildings, but also the actions they would have available to them as they would receive the actions printed on their space and everything ahead of them. Do you place early, ensuring a good pick but few actions, or do you place near the end, being able to do a bunch of actions but having the worst choice of new cards?
These cards would all be built in a 4-by-4 grid and would score for various things being adjacent to them, such as having different amenities close to different apartment blocks. I was able to finally meld that city-building vibe with a simple enough shell that could be played!
Playtest with Brett at the Cambridge meet-up. I even know the exact date — Tuesday, November 3, 2015 — and player count (five). Having a weekly meet-up always provides a good motivation to actually get a playable version ready and onto the table (which is probably why I abandoned a more time-consuming option for Step 1).
•••I don't recall that first playtest — it was three years ago! — but I do recall one I ran in January 2016, which I mention here not for the details of the game itself, but for the calibre of the players. I was joined around a cramped pub table on that particular chilly Tuesday evening in Cambridge by two other designers: Alan Paull (entrepreneur, wargamer, raconteur) and Wolfgang Warsch. (Such a nice guy! I wonder what happened to him?)
Wait for Brett to email me, usually the day immediately following the playtest. He will most likely have a number of extremely useful insights into the playtest, with precise suggestions for improvement. In this case, it is spooky to see how many of these suggestions (made after the first play of the first prototype) were right on the money and feature in the final game:
* Game perhaps shouldn't play up to five — too much downtime. (In the end, we settled on a 2–4 player game.)
Change the starting factory (now production buildings) to give money, not more cards, as this ensures players can more readily buy more symbols that they need.
* Players need some starting money so that they also have more freedom early to be able to buy symbols they need.
* The final tourism card (now influence cards) should work like the others and be awarded only to the player with the most influence rather than an alternate majority scoring. Also, the cards don't all have to be worth the same number of points as the game progresses, so there can be more to play for later in the game.
* Players should receive 1 point for each $1 remaining at the end of the game.
* Transport cards (now aqueducts) should be simpler; perhaps they can be placed only in a row or column that doesn't already have one.
Right here is the core of why Brett and I can get games finished so often. I am quite adept at pinning down a new idea into a playable prototype quickly so that we can see what it plays like (and often I'm the one quite down after the first test that doesn't work out quite how I'd hoped). Then Brett turns his developer brain on and quickly points out the key places for improvement, all the while assuring me that the game is, in fact, not terrible!
•••Matt's being uncharacteristically complimentary, but this combination of skills really is at the heart of why we've made so many games. This basic efficacy is certainly necessary, but hardly sufficient to ensure we make *good* games, but that's not the point. Do, or do not...as a man operating a diminutive plastic puppet once observed in the 1970s. And I personally think The Great City of Rome is an exemplar of how effective and immediate that collaboration can be at its best.
Iterate! With a good core and suggestions for specific improvements, I make new versions, we test, we analyze, and so on. The last version on my computer is dated Dec. 10, 2015, beyond which Brett took over designing a much prettier looking prototype. (Another one of his valuable skills!)
•••Getting stuck in making a "pretty" prototype often reveals structure in a design that was otherwise hidden — but simply making something look nicer is vastly less important than making it mean more: color, layout, iconography, typography can all be put to work. And when I really get into this, I very often begin to see the game in different terms, which can often bring details to light that feed directly back into the game design process.
Pitch. We were lucky that "City Cards" — we're not that inventive with naming our prototypes — came together quickly, so quickly that we were ready to pitch it to potential publishers at the Spielwarenmesse Toy Fair in Nürnberg, Germany in February 2016.
Amongst these meetings was one with Matthias Wagner at ABACUSSPIELE. We'd been meeting with Matthias regularly at SPIEL since 2012 but hadn't yet presented the right project to pique his interest. He took a copy of "City Cards" away with him, and in April 2016, he offered us a contract to publish the game. Success!
•••Reflecting on this timeline now, it's remarkable. I don't do German board game publishers any disservice by observing that they are deliberate in their decisions. Generally speaking, that means those careful choices take time — and quite right, too! We did a good job as designers and made something good and made it well. We were thrilled to finally hit the target for Matthias, and his and his colleagues' enthusiasm and passion for the design shines out of the final product.
Wait. Matthias was quietly developing the game in the background and also revealed the new theme for the game: building Rome!
The only downside of this thematic shift was that our powerful building "Statue of Taylor Swift"* would have to change its name. Darn.
•••* Surely a monument that any self-respecting city would be proud to erect?
A bit more waiting.
•••But we busied ourselves designing more games! And patience, in any case, is a virtue. Some things should simply not be hurried.
Z-Man Games, and was released at SPIEL '18, amazingly finishing at the top of the Fairplay rankings.
•••The appearance of the game in the Fairplay rankings was a complete surprise to us, but a fantastic endorsement of the work done by ABACUSSPIELE. They were very pleased indeed with the game's reception, and I was very pleased for them. Bravo!
I've been happy (and surprised as always) with the positive reception the game has received, and kudos must go to Matthias (and Steve Kimball from Z-Man Games) for making such a wonderful product.
Turns out you can build (The Great) City of Rome in around three years, and we can't wait to share it with the world!
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- Game Industry Happenings: Goliath Buys, Buffalo Sells, Dietz Founds, and Kovaleski Founds Monster Fight ClubGale Force Nine, the company that he founded and ran for twenty years. Kovaleski is joined by fellow veteran GF9 game designer Aaron Dill (co-credited with the game design of most of the GF9 gaming range) and former GF9 operations expert Peter Przekop, who has been in the hobby game industry for over twenty years. Asked why they've split from GF9, Przekop (who serves as spokesperson for MFC) said, "Our departure from Battlefront/Gale Force Nine was completely amicable. There were some factors regarding our office space in Virginia that required some action, and we felt it would be a good time to split off from the company and focus on our own projects and ideas."
In addition to developing its own hobby game products, Monster Fight Club is forming an in-house digital design studio and a master-class resin casting facility and is partnering with other hobby game and entertainment companies to provide creative and manufacturing services.
As for previously announced titles from GF9, Przekop said, "I can no longer officially speak for Gale Force Nine, but I know that they have a robust schedule of games and game expansions to release and future plans for other games. Our Virginia-based design team has long completed work on crew expansions for Firefly Adventures and the new board game, D&D Vault of Dragons. Before we left the company, we completed designs for two-player expansions for Star Trek: Ascendancy as well as work on a small expansion for another GF9 board game. (I don't know what they have announced, so I don't want say what it is.) Work on the Doctor Who expansions and the Aliens game [Aliens: Another Glorious Day in the Corps!] was being handled by another team within the company, so our departure should have no effect on those projects. We're excited to see all of those projects on the tabletop upon their eventual release."
Jolly Roger Games in 1996, sold the company to Ultra PRO in 2015, then subsequently left that company when, in his words, "my ideas for how to run a business didn't jive with the person hired to 'supervise' me". Rather than start a new game publishing company, in July 2018 Dietz founded the non-profit The Dietz Foundation. Here's what he has in mind for this new venture:
The intention of the Foundation is to promote education through scholarship endowments, funds to schools for purchasing alternative materials for education, and hopefully in the near-future, funds for teachers/school administrators to go to conferences to learn how to use games, group projects, etc. in new ways — because the world is constantly changing.
I want to do that through producing games and books — just like a normal publisher. The difference is that the profits aren't going into my pocket — they are going back out there to do good.
completed its purchase of jigsaw puzzle and board game manufacturer Buffalo Games for an undisclosed amount. From the press release:
Mason Wells, along with Nagendra Raina, Chief Executive Officer of Buffalo Games, and other members of the management team, acquired the business from the founders, Paul and Eden Dedrick...
Founded in 1986, Buffalo Games is the largest manufacturer of jigsaw puzzles in the U.S. and a leading provider of party and board games for adults, children, and families. The Company designs and manufactures millions of puzzles each year at its Buffalo, New York headquarters...
"The last few years we have seen Buffalo Games achieve rapid success in both the board game and jigsaw puzzle categories across the retail landscape and, in particular, with mass market and online retailers. Buffalo Games' biggest asset is our team and innovative culture that nurtures creativity and consumer engagement in a fast-paced and fun environment," said Raina. "This partnership with Mason Wells will continue to accelerate growth and open up new opportunities for us. Importantly, it will allow us to extend our strong innovation and growth platform, and further strengthen our deep relationships with our retailers, licensors & inventors. This is an exciting time to be a Buffalo Gamer."
Goliath Games has acquired MacDue Toys & Games, which was founded in 1980 (the same year as Goliath) and which the press release describes as "one of the top ten companies in the Italian toy market". An excerpt from the press release:
Goliath and MacDue are pleased to announce their cooperation for the Italian market. Goliath, global leader in the toy and game industry, has decided to invest strategically on the Italian market, relying on the distribution expertise of MacDue Spa, a company with a history of toy & game distribution for over 40 years.
"We are delighted to welcome MacDue's team to the Goliath family. Having done business together already for many years, they are an excellent fit for us, similar family business principles and with already many products that we also sell in the rest of the world. With our recent acquisitions and European success, it made perfect sense to take this step", said Adi Golad, founder of Goliath. MacDue, currently the exclusive distributor for Italy of the Maisto, Bburago, Polistil and Rubik's brands, will support the launching of Goliath Italy in the distribution of the vast Goliath portfolio — including Otto il Maialotto, Mr Ficcanaso, Acchiappa il Coniglio, Triominos, Sequence, Rubik's Cube and "Essere o non Essere".
• In mid-September 2018, UK publisher Games Workshop announced that it had signed a lease for its five hundredth "Warhammer and Games Workshop" store. From the announcement:
Read more »It's been a busy few years for our stores, with dozens of new shops popping up across the globe, in Europe, Asia and America, including the much-anticipated opening of the Warhammer Citadel in Texas.
This new 500th Warhammer store will be located in Hong Kong, China, situated in the Amoy Plaza shopping centre.
- Lucca Comics & Games 2018 I: Cleopatra Returns, The Dutch Prevail, and Costumes AboundLucca Comics & Games fair in Lucca, Italy started only three days after SPIEL ended, so I made the short hop from Düsseldorf to northern Italy to take in this fair once again.
The experience differed greatly from what I encountered in 2017 — covered in three reports here, here, and here — partly because I had already encountered the show once and knew what to expect (reminiscent of why I think it's so important to play games more than once prior to reviewing them!) and mostly because rain on the first three days of the fair kept me and my family saying, "We'll go the next day" repeatedly until we finally did attend on Saturday, and hoo boy, was the show ever crowded!
The train from Florence was jam-packed before we even left the station, with me harassing people to move their bags from the seat so that my mother- and father-in-law could sit. Did you pay for a ticket for your bag? I don't think so, signore, so move it and make way for Nana!
My son Traver and I found seats after the third stop when some folks departed, but from that point on the train got only more crowded, filled with jedi, anime heroes, alien creatures, and Hogwarts students from every house. If J.K. Rowling gets a cut of every wand, scarf, and robe sold, then the HP books could disappear from store shelves and she'd still be set for life. When I attended Lucca in 2017, I went on my own, so I didn't recognize many of the anime characters around me, but now my son could point out everyone from Naruto, One Piece, Fairy Tale, and many other manga and anime series. As he said later, he didn't care about missing Halloween in the U.S. because it was way more fun watching adults dress up in far better costumes at Lucca.
Once off the train, you shuffled through the streets following the cosplay crowd, several people wearing costume-style onesies, and many more people wearing "normal" clothes to the fair's main entrance. You didn't have to buy a ticket to enter the Lucca Comics & Games fair because the event takes place across the entire city center of Lucca, which is surrounded by the remnants of walls from Renaissance times. If you wish, you can walk the city for free people-watching, but to enter the fenced-off locations of the fair that contain Japantown, the games hall, and the other specialized exhibits, you needed to buy a ticket (€19-21 for those ten and over, free for younger attendees).
Inside the game hall, I found a layout reminiscent of what I saw in 2017: game publishers occupying roughly three-fifths of the hall, with role-playing publishers, fantasy artists, retailers, video game publishers, and tchotchke sellers splitting the rest of the space.
Two new booths stood out from everything else: Z-Man Games was hosting the 2018 Pandemic Survival World Championship during the Lucca fair, and game designer Matt Leacock was on hand to observe. (Leacock noted that the challenges during these events are designed in-house by Z-Man and not by him as they used to be, mostly because Z-Man wants to give him the opportunity to focus on designing new games instead of one-off scenarios.)
I was on hand for the start of the third round of play, with eight teams of two being introduced to applause from the crowd (with cheers on behalf of the Italian home team). One interesting holdover from the previous ownership of Z-Man Games by Canadian Sophie Gravel is that Canada holds separate events for English speakers and French speakers — and the winners of each of those events were still in competition for the grand prize at this stage of the tournament. Perhaps someday the tournament will end with an all-Canada finalé, leading players from other countries to protest for an equal shot at winning, but in 2018 the Dutch team prevailed, following near disaster in the second round as Leacock watched them on the verge of elimination for turn after turn after turn until they turned things around.
The other new booth that proved to be a huge draw was an area reserved for artists to create new works in front of an audience, with those works then scheduled to be auctioned for charity. I walked by the booth several times, and at least a half-dozen artists seemed to be at work each time, a crowd around them admiring the work. Plenty of artists had separate booths where they sold prints and books of their work, but this booth stood out as a way to watch someone exhibit their skill in real time — which is not something that game designers could do in a similar way.
As for the new games being sold and demoed at Lucca, many of them had just debuted at SPIEL '18 the week beforehand, but now they were being sold in Italian by Italian publishers who had far larger stands at Lucca than they had at SPIEL. In Essen, for example, Giochi Uniti had two new games — Gnomeland and Monstrite — that were a focal point of their booth, but in Lucca they had those two titles, along with Italian versions of many other new games, not to mention an extensive back catalog of games as well as a separate shed filled with games at clearance prices.
In Essen, dV Giochi is always located within the ABACUSSPIELE booth and practically invisible if you aren't looking for it, whereas in Lucca dV Giochi had an enormous stand with many more titles than the Catalyst and new Deckscape game seen in Essen. You want new SPIEL '18 releases Forum Trajanum, Cuzco, U.S. Telegraph, and more in Italian? Then you'll find them waiting in the dV Giochi booth.
In terms of announcements of forthcoming games, I didn't see much that was new to me. CMON Limited, for example, was promoting several titles hitting the Italian market in late 2018 and throughout 2019, but I had already seen these games — Narcos, Wacky Races, Trudvang Legends, Sugar Blast — at the press event during Gen Con 2018 and some titles, such as Kick-Ass: The Board Game, were being touted as future releases despite being out in the U.S. While some parts of the international game market have moved toward simultaneous release, as with the dV Giochi titles mentioned above, other companies still roll out games in bits and pieces based on the specific demands of each potential marketplace.
One interesting aspect of the CMON booth is that it wasn't a CMON booth at all, but rather an Asmodee booth that featured titles from CMON Limited. In the U.S., CMON delivers its own games to a variety of distributors, whereas everywhere else (to the best of my knowledge) CMON partners with Asmodee for distribution, possibly due to Asmodee having purchased the main distributors in locations such as the UK, Germany, Italy, and the Scandinavian countries. Gamers in the U.S. might think of Asmodee and CMON as adversaries for market share and mindshare among gamers, but elsewhere the two work hand-in-hand as increasing sales of CMON titles outside the U.S. benefits Asmodee through the distribution side of its business.
Trudvang Chronicles RPG
One announcement that was new for me, and possibly for you as well, is that Italian publisher uplay.it edizioni is founding a new brand — Mojito Studios — for the publication of a new version of Cleopatra and the Society of Architects, a Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc design that first appeared from Days of Wonder in 2006.
This new version will feature artwork by Miguel Coimbra, and instead of using the box top for the base of the palace, players will build a 3D palace over the course of the game, adding elements to it to make it more complete. Creative director of uplay.it Giovanni Messina says that Cathala and Maublanc have been redesigning parts of the game based upon more than a decade's worth of feedback and additional design experience, and the company will start talking about the game in more detail at the Spielwarenmesse and FIJ conventions in early 2019 ahead of a mid-2019 Kickstarter campaign.
The Long Road, a new design by Stefania Niccolini and Marco Canetta, who are well-known for the far more involved Railroad Revolution and ZhanGuo. Here's an overview of this game:
In the old west of The Long Road, players have the difficult task of leading large herds of beef through prairies and highlands to the livestock markets. In the course of the journey, players try to guide the long caravan according to the most favorable route. Once they finally get to the destination, they split the proceeds from the sale. This division, however, doesn't happen fairly, but according to the rules of the far west: The best armed (or the smartest) takes most of the booty.
A player's turn takes place as follows:
• You MAY change your caravan cards.
• You MUST play one caravan card on a destination.
• You MAY play a character card if you didn't before on this destination.
• You MAY apply the effect of the caravan card.
• You MAY buy one weapon.
• You MAY assign weapons to one character.
• You MUST draw cards to refill your hand of three caravan cards.
When a destination is full, the sale takes place and the players get proceeds from the caravan cards based on the effects and values of the characters they've played, a value that could be increased by weapons. Then character cards are split as well.
The game continues until the fourth sale triggers the end. At that point, the richest player wins.
Messina told me that uplay.it has been in contact with multiple possible publishing partners for an English-language edition of The Long Road, but for now the game is available only in Italian. I'm taking a copy home with me from the show and hope to get a translation from the publisher in order to play at BGG.CON or elsewhere...
The other item from uplay.it edizioni is a new edition of Kramer and Ulrich's The Princes of Florence that appeared only in Italian at the end of 2017 with new art from Mirco Paganessi, metal coins, and a new look with the graphic design.
I have more to post about the games and publishers at Lucca 2018, but let's save that for the next post and wrap this report with a tiny sampling of the cosplay on display during the fair. The most audacious costume by perhaps only one was this:
Why do I label this the most audacious cosplay? Because this woman had an entire bed as part of her costume, and she was rolling it with her down the street!
There's a weird dissonance with many of these cosplayers, though, and that's the reaction of those who admire the work and want to post with the person. Here's the uncropped image of what's shown above:
Dude, you look awful happy to be posing with a demon-possessed little girl. What gives? This experience is repeated over and over again during Lucca as with these women who also posed with the faux-Regan. Note also the anime character behind the priest, the other anime character with green hair across the canal, the costumed man tending to his companion's sort feet behind the first anime character, and the woman with a dog in the stroller. That's the spirit of Lucca in one shot!
These two had a nice set-up, but I'm baffled by the heads floating above the hands instead of laying in them or in the crook of the arm. Am I missing a pop culture reference here?
I saw fewer Game of Thrones characters than I would have expected, but perhaps that's my fault since I've actually watched GoT and seen barely any anime relative to what's been released. Saw a few other Daenerys Targaryens around, including in line at the Il Trono di Spade booth, but no pics of them, alas.
My son seems indifferent to being turned by the Night King. Oh well.
The best way to attend such a fair in cosplay seems to be as part of a group. These folks memorialized their experience in Japantown prior to walking the streets.
More to come! Read more »
- Previews of IELLO's 2019 Line-Up: Little Town Builders, Legendary Forests, Bunny Kingdom: Cloud Kingdom, and Much MoreIELLO ran me through some of the titles they plan to release in 2019. Note that many of the games shown in this post do not have final graphics, and in many cases I'm giving only a sampling of the gameplay. BGG plans to be at the Festival International des Jeux in Cannes in February 2019, and by that time IELLO will be releasing some of these titles and have final or nearly-final versions of others that we can preview in more detail.
For now, though, we have overviews, as with this new version of Shun's Little Town Builders, first released in Japan in 2017 by Studio GG. The Little Town Builder, as this version is tentatively titled, features the same gameplay as the original release:
In Little Town Builders, you lead a team of architects and must dispatch workers to the town, collect resources and money, build buildings, and develop this little town.
In the game, which lasts four rounds, you can acquire resources such as wood, stones, fish, and wheat from the surrounding squares by putting workers on the board, with three workers being placed each round. When you place a worker, you acquire the resources available in all eight surrounding spaces. You can build buildings by using these resources, and you — or any other player — can gain the effect of the building when place a worker next to it; if you place next to a building owned by another, however, you must pay them a coin before you can collect those resources.
Players collect victory points by using the powers of buildings, by constructing buildings, and by achieving goals dealt to them at the beginning of the game. After four rounds, whoever has the most victory points wins.
• Legendary Forests is another JP design being reworked by IELLO for a new edition, with the original release having been Toshiki Sato's 8bit MockUp from his own Sato Familie brand in 2017. This design won a "Best Game" award from voters at Tokyo Game Market in December 2017. My description below is for the original game, but it's applicable to Legendary Forests as well if you replace "monument" with "tree" and make other word replacements
8bit MockUp is a multiplayer solitaire game akin to Take it Easy! or Karuba as each player has an identical set of tiles and plays the same tile at the same time to their own tableau — but where each player places each tile may differ...
In more detail, each player creates their own world by connecting the landscapes on their tiles. Each player starts the game with the same starting tile in play. One player, the "Leader", shuffles their tiles face down, then removes five tiles from play without looking at them. On a turn, the Leader reveals the next tile, calls out the number on it, then everyone places that same tile somewhere in their landscape, with the adjacent edges of each pair of tiles needing to match.
When the Leader draws a tile with a red number, everyone places their piece, then starting with the player who holds the God piece (initially the Leader), everyone draws a monument tile from the center of the playing area and places it on an area in their landscape. Monuments come in three colors (while the landscapes have areas in four colors), and you use only two monuments of a color for each player in the game. After placing monuments, pass the God piece clockwise to the next player.
The game ends after everyone has placed their twenty tiles, then players score points based on the areas where they have monuments. Each non-purple edge of a tile has a half-circle on it; when two such edges are placed together, the owner of those tiles has created a "cookie" in that area. To score, you look at each area where you have a monument. If you have no half-circles in this area — that is, the area is completely enclosed — then you score 2 points for each cookie in that area. If you have any unconnected half-circles in this area, you instead score 1 point per cookie. Whoever has the most points wins!
Richard Garfield's Bunny Kingdom will expand to new realms in February 2019 with the release of the Cloud Kingdom expansion, which includes new cards, new types of resources, a set of playing pieces that allow five bunnies to play in the same game, a larger type of building that increases your influence in that area by a factor of five, and a new game board to the world of Bunny Kingdom that allows you to link fiefs in the sky with those on land.
Kanagawa: Air for Bruno Cathala and Charles Chevallier's Kanagawa from 2016. This expansion includes cards and scoring elements for three new elements — kites, parasols, and paper lanterns — and to use them, you replace any two elements in the Kanagawa base game with two new elements.
Some of the cards in this expansion include a yokaï symbol that is visible whether you place the card in your painting or in your studio. When you place such a card, you take a yokaï marker from the reserve or from another player, and if you collect all three such markers, you receive a reward. You hope that someone else will claim them later, though, because players with yokaï markers at the end of the game lose points.
Topa Topa prototype, which puts its own twist on the genre by having players draft cards that they draw on their individual player board. The game lasts three rounds, and in each round you score for completing levels, using different shapes in your area, and doing other things as well. Coins allow you to break the rules for drafting and drawing.
8Bit Box, and in its press area it showed off 8Bit Box: Double Rumble, an expansion in development meant to simulate the fighting arcade games of old. In the game, players need to confront the bad guys facing them, either in a solitaire game or playing co-operatively with one other player, in order to defeat the boss at the final stage of the game.
High Risk, a 2-4 player game from Trevor Benjamin and Brett J. Gilbert, wasn't on display in the IELLO press room, but the game was included in its catalog and press file, so here's the little that I know about it:
In the press-your-luck game High Risk, you want to move your climbers up the mountain at the right pace without getting greedy and risking a fall...
LOKI, with Monsieur Carrousel being a Sara Zaria design (or perhaps a Sara Faria design depending on how you read the typeface) that will debut at the FIJ 2019 in Cannes in February. Here's what happens when you take the game for a spin:
Each turn in Monsieur Carrousel, the active player rolls the colored die. If a space of this color is open, you place a child disc in this space, with everyone trying to remember which object is under which child.
You then spin the carousel. If the child ends up on the yellow half of the game board, you pick up a yellow stick — representing a ray of sunshine — and place it in a trough on the board; most troughs need two sticks to fill, and if the stick doesn't fit the space exactly, then you place it back in the reserve, so pick carefully! If the child ends up in the gray half of the game board, then you instead add a raindrop to the board.
If you roll a color that has children in both spaces on the wheel, then you spin the carousel. If the clown on the game board is now pointing at a child, then you must successfully state what's under this disc. If you do, place a sun stick; otherwise place a raindrop. The game ends when either the sun comes out fully or rain covers the sky!
Monsieur Carrousel includes multiple image wheels for variety in gameplay.
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- Steph's Photo Guide to Spiel 2018!
by Steph HodgeSteph's Awesome Spiel Photo Guide 2018!
Tribes: Aufbruch Der Menschheit
Tokyo Highway (four-player edition)
Pandemic: Fall of Rome
Rising Sun: Kami Unbound
Caverna: Cave vs Cave – Era II: The Iron Age & Patchwork Express
BATTALIA: The Stormgates
Strange Vending Machine
Discovery: The Era of Voyage
Realm of Sand
A Pleasant Journey to Neko
UBOOT: The Board Game
Atlantis: Island of Gods
Cerebria: The Inside World
Magnificent Flying Machines
Founders of Gloomhaven
Walls of York
Adrenaline: Team Play DLC
Staka & Team UP!
Roll & Wall
The Great City of Rome
7 Wonders: Armada
Rolling Bandits & Once Upon a Castle
Slide Quest (Blue Orange Games 2019)
My First Adventure Book- Finding the Dragon (Blackrock)
Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
Here Comes the Dog
Eclipse: Second Dawn for the Galaxy
7 Wonders: Armada
Tokyo Highway (four-player edition)
Tales of Glory
A Feast for
OdinAldie: The Norwegians
A Thief's Fortune
7 Wonders: Armada with Antoine Bauza
Crossroads of Heroes
The Tales of Ki-pataw
The Frog Kiss
Chocobo Party Up!
Robin Hood and the Merry Men
Architects of the West Kingdom
Passing Through Petra
KeyForge: Call of the Archons
Catch the Moon
Age of Civilization
DIG IT UP
Random Assortment of Con photos!
Always a line @ Feuerland Spiele
Thanks for joining me!
-Steph Read more »
- Designer Diary: Marvel Strike Teams, or A Marvel Zombie's Love Story
by Andrew Parks
Marvel Strike Teams is not a game about zombies, but it was designed by a zombie, specifically a Marvel Zombie, which I've been since the age of 5. For those who don't know, "Marvel Zombie" is a derogatory term for people who love Marvel Comics so much that they don't read other comic books.
That's not entirely true in my case as I've read plenty of DC and Dark Horse Comics over the years, but my comic book heart has always resided primarily within the Marvel Universe and its rich collection of characters. And so as a game developer who had been designing licensed games for over twelve years, I was determined to make a game that summed up everything I loved about Marvel.
Here's the story of my love affair with a board game.
Entering the Marvel Universe
The normal process for a game designer to work on a licensed property is to be contacted by a publisher who has worked with the designer in the past and who now has the opportunity to publish a game based upon a particular license. Often, the publisher already knows the kind of game they want and has already laid out the design parameters, leaving the designer to fill in the blanks and make a complete game. This was the case when WizKids and I worked on the Justice League Strategy Game, for example. Other times, the publisher has the rights to reimplement an existing game based upon a new license. This was how things got started for us with Star Trek: Frontiers, which reimplemented Vlaada Chvatil's Mage Knight Board Game.
But it's less common for a designer to propose a brand new game based on an existing license from scratch. Yet with the rising popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and my own continuing love for Marvel characters, I was determined to propose a new Marvel game to WizKids, with whom I have worked on many games. It's a long process to go from concept to published game, but I was ultimately given the task of creating a "one vs. all" miniatures game that pitted one Mastermind player against 1-4 Hero players, with variable map layouts, a wide variety of characters, and story-based missions. In other words, it was a zombie's dream come true!
Quixotic Development Meeting
For the past fifteen years, I have worked with a team of incredible developers who have made all of my designs possible. Fortunately for me, the Quixotic Games designers are also big Marvel fans, so before getting started on my own, I hosted a meeting with about a dozen game developers who were interested in working with me on the project. Since I teach game design at Rutgers University, I also invited one of my former students, Banan El Sherif, who is an avid Marvel geek; she may even border on zombie status. I've found that bringing in the next generation of game developers always improves our games, and Banan would end up being a priceless member of the team going forward.
Stories and Character Relationships
At this meeting, we settled on broad design parameters that we determined would be integral to the overall design. Foremost on everyone's mind was the game's story. The word "story" was probably mentioned a hundred times during this first meeting. After all, the unique stories of the Marvel Universe are what sets it apart from other comic universes. Unlike other "one vs. all" games, we wanted the players themselves to contribute important details to the story. So instead of setting up each mission from a booklet, we wanted to have each mission procedurally generated from a set of scenario cards, with individual plot details being supplied by the players themselves.
It was also important that the stories focus not only on thwarting (or promoting) villainous schemes, but also on personal relationships among the characters. To simulate the Marvel Universe, it wasn't enough to just be trying to destroy a superweapon; you had to be trying to destroy a superweapon while carrying on a strained romantic relationship and/or working out internal conflicts with another teammate, sometimes with your fists!
It was Banan who made the boldest statement during the meeting: "It has to be possible, in the middle of the game, to discover that Captain America is secretly a traitor." Now Banan loves Cap more than any other Marvel character, so this was quite the suggestion on her part. These sorts of things happened all the time in the comics — Skrulls, alternate reality versions, sacrificing one mission for the greater good, etc. — but I initially balked at the idea that a character controlled by a player could suddenly be revealed as a traitor. Yet the game designer in me said, "Can we make that work?" (Hint: The final version of the game includes a "Stop the Traitor" scenario card.)
How to Handle Luck
One of the parameters that we discussed was limiting the amount of luck that occurred during the game and to make the experience less about dice chucking and more about the players' tactical decisions. There would be plenty of variable elements during mission set-up, but once the mission started, we wanted players to be able to attack and defend tactically, to outmaneuver one another like in the comics rather than by rolling better dice.
But we knew that there had to be an element of randomness to the combat to avoid chess-like paralysis, so we settled on a "press your luck" element whereby a player could roll a die to achieve bonus action points (the main economy of the game), but if the player rolled poorly, they would instead cede the extra points to the opposing team. This meant that a player could avoid rolling dice entirely if they wanted, or roll for extra points each and every turn if they were adventurous enough.
A World That Breaks
One element that became central to the design was the concept that everything in the world could be used for cover, smashed to pieces, or even picked up and thrown at an enemy. Therefore, we developed a material strength system in which every door, wall, and object in the game would receive a label that would determine how durable it was, as well as rubble tokens that would simulate things getting destroyed or tossed around. We never wanted a mission to end without the place getting completely trashed!
Missions Aren't Just About Fighting
Combat is central to the gameplay of Marvel Strike Teams, but based on our desire for rich stories to develop during the game, it was important that the mission elements also involved non-combat elements. Otherwise, some characters would have little value since they don't possess the same degree of raw power as others.
In the comics, some characters had special skills that were absolutely necessary to complete a mission, even if they weren't as physically powerful as the other characters. It was important to us that each heroic character be given equal usefulness in the missions. Some were certainly better at fighting, while others could better inspire and coordinate the team, or use their skills to make the mission succeed in other ways. We never wanted anyone to feel that their character was an inferior member of the team, so individual character utility became an essential part of the design.
Heroes and Villains
Marvel Strike Teams is set in the mainstream Marvel Universe from the comics, but we knew that many players, especially younger ones, would know the game's characters primarily through the movies and television series of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). We therefore determined to choose characters who were in both the comics and the MCU. Based on our desire to see missions focus on all sorts of activities, we wanted a mix of characters with superpowers and those who had other skills, such as the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. who often work with the Marvel superheroes on delicate missions.
We initially proposed that sixteen characters be in the base game, but WizKids suggested that we split the initial release into two games (the base game and the Marvel Strike Teams: Avengers Initiative expansion that's releasing at the same time) so that it would be less expensive for players to try out the base game. With this in mind, we settled on four starting heroes, as well as a starting array of villains. Captain America and Iron Man are two of the most popular Marvel characters, so they easily made the cut. We also added two of the most popular Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: the super-powered Quake (Daisy Johnson / Skye) and Agent Melinda May. Since these four characters have never gotten the chance to work together in the MCU, we thought it would be exciting for fans to see them co-operating for the first time.
For villains, we wanted to start with powerful masterminds who would each have the equivalent game value of two normal characters. Loki and Ultron were easy choices due to their popularity, and they ended up being included in the Avengers Initiative expansion. Since we were going to use Hydra Soldiers in the base game as henchmen on the map, we wanted to tie the villains together thematically using Baron Strucker as the mastermind and the Winter Soldier as a main villain. We had room for one more villain in the base game, so we chose Radioactive Man, whose powers were a great complement to those of the other villains during our playtesting sessions. (He's actually the only character we created so far who is not yet in the MCU.)
Many of the other heroes we developed would be included in the Avengers Initiative expansion mentioned above, including Vision, Black Widow, the Falcon, and Agent Phil Coulson. We were choosing groups of characters who had a variety of talents and fighting styles, so that a "strike team" of heroes would be those who had abilities that worked well synergistically to complete each mission.
For expansion villains, in addition to Loki and Ultron as masterminds, we added the Absorbing Man as a villain to take full advantage of our material strength system, as well as the traitorous Agent Ward.
The First Playtest: A Disaster Worthy of Doctor Doom
Sometimes your first playtest allows you to see a glimpse of your design vision in action — and other times, well, it doesn't. After several weeks of prototyping, I sat down with testers for our first dry run of the game, and we were all excited to try out the new system. Too bad the game didn't work at all. In fact, it couldn't even start!
The engine we had created centered on an action point economy that would be used for everything: moving, attacking, activating special powers, and interacting with the map. Each character would generate a certain number of action points each round, and any points they did not spend could be used for defense during the opponent's turn, or saved up for the next round. We didn't have a mission for the first playtest as we were just going to test the combat system, and guess what? Everyone decided almost immediately that the best strategy would be to just sit at the opposing entrances doing nothing but accumulating action points. Whoops!
Part of this would be solved when we added missions since they would have limited durations, but the limitless accumulation of action points was a flaw that would always be waiting to be exploited beneath the design surface if we didn't correct it right away, so rather than play the first game, we sat and talked...for three hours. Some suggested that we simply cap the points for each character at the amount they generated each turn, with no possibility for accumulation. This would have certainly fixed the immediate problem, but removed a lot of strategy once the heroes and villains met face-to-face to battle and accomplish tasks. After all, if I saved points for Captain America's defense, my opponents would simply attack someone else, and those saved up points would be lost. It was essential to the system that Cap be able to bank those points until the next turn if no one attacked him.
We finally settled on the concept of two different sets of map zones that would exist in the game: Starter Zones and Battle Zones. Characters would be capped at their starting amount of action points while in the Starter Zones, and capped at a much higher number (12) while in Battle Zones. After many tests, we realized that the Starter Zones could be relatively small, as long as they weren't far from each other. This allowed us to keep our tactical system in place without players hanging back for a few turns at the start of each mission, which would have been a design disaster worthy of the King of Latveria.
To Roll or Not to Roll: The Action Die
Once the game actually started working, our early playtests focused on the game's core action system. Storylines and other fun stuff would have to wait until the core mechanisms were firmly in place. I spent a lot of time during these early months watching (and re-watching) all of the MCU movies and shows to get a feel for how superhero combat should work.
One of the things that impressed me was how some characters could defend themselves so adeptly, even when facing a more powerful foe. Or how some characters would slowly build up to a moment when they would launch a sudden barrage of attacks, hoping to land at least one solid blow. To simulate this, we allowed players to move and attack as many times as they could afford each turn, with no maximum (except for henchmen, whose actions were more limited). This would allow characters to focus on defense for a turn and save up points to launch a big attack later.
Occasionally, the characters' best-laid plans plans would fail because they were short by one or two action points, so we dealt with this in two ways.
First, we added command dials that allowed each team to accumulate command points at the start of each round. These command points created a slowly growing pool that could be transformed into action points for one character on the team. This allowed the team to work together to build up to an epic moment in which a single character would be able to move just a bit further, or launch one more attack, or defend themselves when all seemed lost.
Second, we had the action die provide an option for more points. In our early tests, we kept forgetting to use this, even if someone yelled, "Oh, what I wouldn't give for one more point!" It was Banan who would always remember first, and without saying a word, she would pick up the die and slap it meaningfully on the table in front of the complaining player — and there it would sit silently for a moment, a source of terrible temptation but also of heroic possibilities.
Getting the odds correct for the action die was not easy and took a great deal of testing. During early tests, there was a 50% chance of either something good or something bad happening if you chose to roll the die, and we soon realized that no one wanted to take that chance because the consequences for failure seemed too grave. We upped the odds to 2 in 3 of something good happening and 1 in 3 of something bad happening. At first, players thought the system would be broken and announced that they would simply roll the die every turn since, over time, the odds would be in their favor, but fortunately that strategy never seemed to succeed as hoped, and we weren't sure why.
We finally realized that the bad result — giving points to the opponent — had an extra sting since, unlike the rolling player, the opponent wasn't taking any risks to receive their free point. Also, to keep things easy to track, we had ruled that if you rolled a negative result on the die, the extra point would go directly to the opponent's command dial, which provided the opponent with versatility since they could use the point for any of their characters. In this way, there was a hidden opportunity cost to rolling the die since you were taking a risk and your opponent was not. Also, if you failed, you would give your opponent something greater than what you were attempting, even though the odds of achieving your goal were higher.
Another function of the action die was that you could achieve up to three bonus action points, but you had to declare how many points you were attempting to achieve before you rolled the die. You would declare a number from 1-3, then roll the die. If you declared "1" and rolled a black 1-3 (a positive result), you would receive only a single action point, no matter how high you rolled. If you declared "3" and rolled a black 3, then you would gain three action points; if you rolled a black 1 or 2 after such a declaration, neither you nor your opponent would gain anything. And of course, a red 1 (a negative result) denied you the extra points and awarded your opponent one command point instead.
The die's final odds are shown below:
There was a time when one of the red numbers was a "2" and awarded two command points to the opponent. This ended up being so devastating that we realized it was simply too much of a penalty, so we returned both red numbers to "1".
After scores of playtests, the decision to roll or not to roll the action die remained a tough choice based upon the circumstances of the game state, so we were confident that we had struck the proper balance.
Once the core mechanisms were working smoothly, we started playing with the scenario card system. There are three stages to every mission, and each stage is represented by a different, randomly drawn scenario card. In addition, there are parameters on the scenario cards, such as placing objectives and designating the characters who share special relationships, that are chosen by the players themselves. This allows unique stories to develop during each mission.
One of my favorite scenario cards is the Stage 3 "Master Plan", which requires the mastermind to save up and spend twelve action points to explain his scheme to heroes who are nearby. The heroes must do everything in their power to avoid being subjected to his wearisome monologue!
One issue we encountered with the scenario card system over time is that certain combinations of missions created bizarre stories that didn't make much sense. For example, if too many relationship-based stories came out at once, there wasn't room for mission-based objectives. We experimented and came to the conclusion that certain types of missions had to be divided into categories that belonged to each individual stage. In this way, two scenario cards with similar goals wouldn't be drawn for the same mission.
Stage 1 scenarios ended up being long-term scenarios that had consequences for all three stages; Stage 2 scenarios were plot twists that added new intricacies to the story; and Stage 3 scenarios were climactic moments that provided opportunities for an exciting finish. The players themselves would suggest thematic reasons why the three scenarios belonged together. The players' involvement in crafting the story together was exactly the outcome that we had hoped for right from the first meeting.
We experimented with allowing the players to take turns placing map tiles during set-up to determine exactly how the battleground for each mission would take shape. In theory, this sounded like a good idea, but in practice, it was very time-consuming and invariably created maps that were slanted too much to the advantage of one side or the other.
We simplified this system by printing six different maps on map cards that would serve as blueprints for creating the various maps out of the map tiles. One map card would be drawn at the start of each mission. The placement of individual elements on the maps, such as spawn points and objective tokens, would be chosen by the players according to particular criteria determined by the scenario cards.
Our initial playtests took place in a warehouse filled with crates, barrels, forklifts, and furniture that could be used for cover or destroyed by weapons, but after several playtests, we were hungry for more varied elements. We therefore decided to create a second map type (the enemy base) which would be printed on the reverse sides of the map tiles. Each map card would therefore feature either a warehouse map or an enemy base map, the latter of which allowed us to add ammunition dumps that exploded when attacked or thrown at enemies, as well as gun turrets that could be controlled by carefully positioned characters, and this added a whole new layer of tactical decision-making to the game.
The Campaign: Leveling Up and Gaining Power
Part of our hope from the beginning of the design process was to make Marvel Strike Teams a campaign game, which would allow players to level up their characters between missions and watch them grow in power. To make this work, we needed to create eight unique action cards that were devoted to each individual character, then allow players to "build" their characters with these action cards by spending build points that were based upon their character level.
During early testing of the campaign system, we required the characters to earn new action cards rather than allowing them to have access to the full suite of powers available to their character. As we playtested entire campaigns, we learned that it was much more fun to give players full access to each character's unique action cards right from the start of the campaign and to allow them to build their characters however they wanted based on the number of build points they had to spend and the parameters defined by the current mission. The same character could enter a new mission with a completely new combination of their own action cards, for example. This provided much more variety at the start of every mission and allowed each character to shine for the particular mission on which they were about to embark.
It was an imperative part of the design that Marvel Strike Teams be a fun experience with the full range of players (2-5), and therefore two players needed to be able to play a full campaign and have the same amount of fun as five players. In order for this to work, we needed the game to flow naturally even if both players played multiple characters. Although new players can choose to play one hero per player, the system needed to work just as well with players controlling up to four characters each.
To make sure this would work through an entire campaign, I sat down for a long playtest weekend with Kyle Volker, a Quixotic developer who I've been friends with since the age of 10. In fact, he was the first person to ever call me a "Marvel Zombie". (As kids, he read from a much greater variety of publishers than I did!) In the 1980s, Kyle and I had also played tons of missions together from TSR's Marvel Super Heroes RPG, so we both had a sense of what we wanted to experience from a full Marvel campaign.
For six consecutive missions, leveling up existing characters and intermittently introducing new characters throughout the campaign, we played through every scenario card and map in the game. While we did so, we were particularly excited not only about the stories that developed during each mission, but the longer storylines and character relationships that evolved over the course of the entire campaign. This weekend represented some of the final playtest sessions of the development process, and we were very excited to share our stories with the other players after the full saga had been completed.
The Future: Solo Rules, Mutants and More!
We developed and fully playtested many characters who didn't make it into the base game or the expansion, including Nick Fury Jr., Mockingbird, and the Chitauri henchmen, and they are ready to go if we are asked to create future expansions.
We also have countless expansion ideas, including bringing the X-Men, Deadpool, and countless other characters into the mix, as well as standalone expansions with new scenario cards and settings with new sets of map tiles.
We're also developing solo rules that allow one player to face an AI-driven collection of enemies during a solo mission. This involves the use of a dynamic deck of cards that changes based upon which villains are in the game, as well as which scenario cards are in play.
We hope you get a chance to try Marvel Strike Teams when it releases in November 2018! If the game is well received, there is no limit to what we can create. We hope you join us for the cosmic journey ahead.
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- New Game Round-up: Jonathan Strange, Men in Black and Ghostbusters Come to the Table for a Piece o' CakeOsprey Games plans to release Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: A Board Game of English Magic, an adaptation of the 2004 novel by Susanna Clarke by designers Marco Maggi and Francesco Nepitello, with art by Ian O'Toole. Here's an overview of the game's setting and what players need to do:
After centuries of absence, magic has returned to England, but not all are using it for good...
Take on the role of an aspiring magician and start your journey down the path to greatness. Collect rare books, flit between social engagements, and impress your peers with feats of magic. Be careful to strike a balance between your studies and your status, for the gentleman with the thistle-down hair has plans of his own, and it will take all of your strength to stop him.
In Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: A Board Game of English Magic, players take on the role of four principle characters from the novel — Jonathan Strange, Mr. Norrell, Miss Redruth, or John Segundus — and travel around England and Europe, attending social engagements and performing feats of magic in the hope of becoming the most celebrated magician of the age.
On their travels they encounter a host of familiar characters, from the jovial Mr. Honeyfoot and beautiful Lady Pole to the extraordinary Stephan Black and the enthusiastic Lord Portishead. All the while, they must build up their magical abilities as the gentleman with the thistle-down hair is weaving his magic in the background and must be stopped for any player to have a chance of claiming victory.
Ghostbusters: The Card Game due out in Q4 2018 and now late 2019 will see Men In Black/Ghostbusters: Ecto-terrestrial Invasion from the unexpected sources of IDW Games, Panda Cult Games, and Ninja Division.
More specifically, IDW Games is the publisher of record, with that company having signed a licensing deal with Sony Pictures Consumer Products for "a series of tabletop games for both Men in Black and Ghostbusters franchises", with the crossover game mentioned above being the only title revealed for now. Here's the short pitch for it:
Men In Black/Ghostbuster: Ecto-terrestrial Invasion is a miniatures games that pairs the world's foremost protection teams to take down a threat like they've never faced. The Ghostbusters team includes Peter Venkman, Egon Spangler, Ray Stanz, and Winston Zeddmore, and the MIB team includes Agent J, Agent K, Agent L, and Zed. The game features fast dice-rolling and take-that card play as well as detailed miniatures from Ninja Division.
Panda Cult Games is credited with the game design. The press release notes that "Additional stand-alone games for each franchise are also currently in development and slated for release next year", i.e. in 2019.
Rio Grande Games has picked up Vladimír Suchý's Underwater Cities, which debuted at SPIEL '18 from Delicious Games, for release in the U.S. and elsewhere in the first half of 2019.
• North Star Games has announced a September 2019 release date — and a Gen Con 2019 prerelease date — for Oceans: An Evolution Game, which has been in the works for several years. For more details on this standalone title in NSG's Evolution line, along with watercolor artwork from Catherine Hamilton and an opportunity to sign up as a playtester of the nearly finished design, head to the NSG blog.
Jeffrey D. Allers' 2006 game Piece o' Cake was transformed from after-dinner filler to a main course meal (sort of) with the release of New York Slice from Bézier Games in 2017, but now Japanese publisher New Games Order will debut a new version of Piece o' Cake at the Tokyo Game Market in November 2018, with new cake imagery to match the tastes of the Japanese public.
For those not familiar with this title, in each round one player lays out the pie tiles at random to form a complete pie, then splits the pie in a number of pieces equal to the number of players. Starting with the player to the splitter's left, each player takes one piece, with the splitter taking whatever's left. When you take a piece, you can keep the individual tiles or eat them to score the whipped cream points on them. At the end of the game, you score for a type of pie only if you have a majority in it, so eat now or forever hold your piece?
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- Links: Variability, Rulebook Quality, and Game Classification
• On his blog Go Play Listen, designer Chris Marling advises us that "variability doesn't equal replayability", pointing out that "[d]esigners and developers are flogging themselves to death creating variants which can be set up 'X' different ways for games which will likely sell a maximum of 5,000 copies and be played once or twice by each purchaser". An excerpt:
If you look at the games that have stood the test of time, they haven't needed this kind of variety to make their reputation. Poker, Chess and Go – or modern classics Pandemic, Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne – couldn't be simpler on setup and components. They rely on simplicity, randomness and interaction rather than powers, variable setups or asymmetry. Even Catan, with variable setup, uses everything in the box. Classic modern war and board games that have been in print for decades are usually similarly unburdened. Most games don't need it to be successful.
article on Opinionated Gamers, Chris Wray introduced the concept of the Rule Quality Index (RQI). Says Wray, "RQI is simply the number of ratings a board game has [on BGG] divided by the number of rules threads a game has inspired. It's a crude way to evaluate the problem, but it's the best method I could think of." The problem to which Wray refers is one of rulebooks that make it difficult for one to play the game, something that seems antithetical to what a rulebook should do. An excerpt:
I was recently chatting with some fellow game reviewers about Charterstone, a game I gave a negative review after struggling to figure out how to even play parts of it. They seemed skeptical of my criticism, so I pointed out that, despite it having only about 5,600 ratings on BGG, it already had more than 740 rules threads. That's shockingly bad: there's a rules thread for about every 7.5 ratings.
Wray included all types of caveats for his measuring system since not every player rates their games on BGG. He also noted that legacy games seem particularly prone to rule questions, possibly because each playing of such a game has more relevance and consequence than something that's a one-off experience.
• The graph above comes from Reddit user Shepperstein, who downloaded BGG data for board games released between 1990 and 2018 that have at least twenty ratings in order to visualize how board game categories on BGG relate to one another. The graph below indicates how games within categories relate to one another in complexity (with larger nodes indicating a higher average complexity) and in ratings (with redder nodes indicating a higher average rating).
Designer Oliver Kiley riffed on Shepperstein's work to create a relationship chart of his own that merges information related to both categories and mechanisms to see how these overlap and get a better understanding of how such things could be reorganized. An excerpt:
In the dead center are a few big communities, including card games and the obviously associated hand management, along with Dice and press your luck type systems. Some of these, like cards and dice are so ubiquitous across domains of games that it's not at all surprising to see them in the middle of the graph with connections to just about everywhere. I tried excluding them from graph and it basically had no structural impact at all, more or less confirming this assessment. Of course you get things like "take that" games and "trick-taking" games [that] are very closely associated with card games, so I left it in for clarity and completeness.
I also thought it was interesting to compare opposite sides of the graph. Wargames are directly opposite to Children's games. Highly thematic games in the Fantasy/Fighting, Science fiction, and Cooperative realms are all opposite to Economic (euro-style) games and abstract games. Likewise, games that focus on area control/majority elements and derive much of their deep strategic play from spatial positioning and the like are opposite to party and deduction style games, which emphasize an entirely different sort of player-to-player interactions.
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- In 2019, Lookout Games Brings Grizzlies to Bärenpark, Roll-and-Write to Patchwork, and Card Play to MandalaLookout Games in the first half of 2019, so naturally I thought I'd share what I know with you, dear reader.
Let's start with the original title of the batch: Mandala from Brett J. Gilbert and Trevor Benjamin, which from the short presentation I received seems like pure card game goodness. Here's an overview of what will be the latest title in Lookout's two-player game line:
In Mandala, you are trying to score more than your opponent by collecting valuable cards — but you won't know which cards are valuable until well into the game!
The playing area has two circles on it with a horizontal area that passes through both circles. Each player has a hand of cards, and on a turn, you can play cards of one of the six colors to either the center horizontal area of a circle or to your side of a circle. Once a color has been placed in the circle, then more cards of the same color can be placed only in the same location, so if your opponent places red cards on their half of the circle, then you can't play red cards in that circle at all. If you play cards to the central area of a circle, then you draw more cards; if you play cards on your half of the circle, then you don't.
Once a circle has all six colors of cards on it, you resolve the circle. Whoever has placed more cards on their half of the circle wins the cards in the middle of that circle. If they have not claimed cards of this color previously, they place one of these cards in their lowest scoring area and the rest of the cards face down in a pile to be scored at the end of the game. The scoring areas are worth 1-6 points, so cards of the first color you claim are worth 1 point each, cards of the second color you claim 2 points each, etc.
Once a circle has been scored, players can start playing cards into it once again. Once the game ends, players tally the points for everything in their individual scoring pile, and whoever has the highest score wins!
Phil Walker-Harding's tile-laying game Bärenpark has been well-received and even more people would probably be buzzing about it if the game supply hadn't vanished along with Mayfair Games in late 2017. In any case, the base game has been reprinted by main publisher Lookout Games and is on its way to the U.S.. Aside from that, Lookout is preparing an expansion that adds new elements to the game. Here's what to expect in Bärenpark: Die Grizzlies sind los! (a.k.a. "The Grizzlies Are Coming!"):
Bärenpark: Die Grizzlies sind los! contains three separate modules that can be used individually or together with the Bärenpark base game.
One module contains a set of new goals that can be shuffled together with those in the base game.
A second module allows you to add grizzly bears to your bear park, with the grizzly bear tiles occupying six squares in a park section. That's quite a lot, isn't it? Well, to give your park room to grow, you now must add a fifth park section and fill it in order to complete the game. This expansion contains four new park sections, each with an exit gate so that visitors won't be stuck inside your park forever.
A third module contains skinny monorail tiles that start with a value of ten points and decrease in value as you add them to your bear parks. How does one add a monorail? First you need to place tiles in your park that each contain space for a pillar, and you need to place them at the proper distance. Once you have two pillars in place, you take the topmost monorail tile, then balance it on the pillars. Now everyone can scoot around your park looking down at the bears!
Uwe Rosenberg's Patchwork from 2014 wasn't the first title to use polyominoes, but that game's success has seemed like the origin point for many other such titles in recent years, including several such games at SPIEL '18. On top of that is a blitz of roll-and-write games, with every publisher seeming to have at least one in their catalog, some of which also feature polyominoes, as with the SPIEL '18 releases Bloxx! from Noris Spiele and Brikks from Schmidt Spiele.
Now Lookout Games will have a roll-and-write of its own in the form of Patchwork Doodle, which specifies that it supports up to eight players, but I think that's because the box will have only eight starting cards and pencils. Gather more writing utensils and allow for duplicate cards, and the player count is limited only by visual access to the cards in play. As for what you're doing in the game, which is due out in Q1 2019, here's a summary of gameplay:
In Patchwork Doodle, each player has their own 9x9 grid to fill in over the course of the game. Each player sets up by drawing a unique polyomino card from the starting deck, then drawing that on their sheet.
In each round, players lay out a number of polyomino cards in a circle, then place the rabbit between two cards. On a turn, someone rolls the die, moves the rabbit forward, then removes the card indicated by the rabbit. Each player must draw the polyomino indicated on this card in their grid. Once a certain number of cards have been played, the round ends, players score points, then you lay out more cards for the next round.
Each player has four special actions available to them during the game: You can choose to draw the card before or after the chosen card, you can cut a polyomino into two pieces before adding each piece to your grid, you can fill in a 1x1 space in your grid, and you can do one of the above actions a second time. When you take one of these actions, you mark it off as each can be used only once (except for the one you use a second time, if you know what I mean).
You lose a point for each space that you don't cover, so try to pack everything in as tightly as possible!
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- WizKids Fills Its 2019 Release Calendar with Warhammer, Waterdeep, and Much MoreWizKids has announced the latest title coming from its partnership with Games Workshop, a 1-4 player design from Rustan Håkansson called Warhammer: Age of Sigmar – The Rise & Fall of Anvalor that's due out in April 2019. Here's a summary of both setting and gameplay:
In the region of Aqshy, even if your uneasy allies place their resources in the perfect place, your mutual enemies can be strong and unpredictable. You'll build resources to block your allies from developing their strongest options, and they'll return the favor. They'll weaken enemies and you'll try to deliver the killing blow. Each turn provides many choices, so you need to pivot as you learn the strategies best suited to your common enemy as well as your allies. One thing's for certain — whether Anvalor survives the siege on it or not, things are sure to get heated!
In Warhammer: Age of Sigmar – The Rise & Fall of Anvalor, your official task is to help build and defend Anvalor together with the other factions.
However, your real goal is to gather the most influence and secure dominance over Anvalor, even if it might ultimately cause the fall of the city. Gather the most influence for your faction by building city buildings and defeating enemies during vicious assaults. At the end of the game, the player who has the most influence over the city reigns supreme and secures their dominance over The Great Parch!
With more than 180 tiles, nine different factions (six player factions, three enemy factions), and four play variants beyond the standard game, The Rise & Fall of Anvalor features an enormous amount of gameplay content!
WWE-branded HeroClix and Dice Masters titles and items covered in this post include The Expanse Boardgame: Doors and Corners, a collection of five modules — Leaders, New Tech, Resource Tokens, Protomolecule, and Variable Setup — due out in February 2019 that can be mixed with the base game any way you like. As for what these modules do, here's an overview:
Leaders go with fleets and can add influence when they move with a fleet. New tech allows variety and surprise in what powers are available because when a tech is earned, you have three random choices for that tech. Resource tokens can be spent in several ways, including helping to pay CP costs, adding up to 4 AP to a card, moving up the initiative track, and earning bonus points for having the most at final scoring. Protomolecule adds a new scoring opportunity. Variable set-up allows fleets and influence to be placed anywhere at the start of the game.
Adam Porter's Thrown is far removed from his 2018 trick-taking game Pikoko, although trick-taking is what drives this new design as well. Here's what to expect in this January 2019 release:
Thrown is a trick-taking game with a new way to play into a trick, namely by using dice! The colors of the dice represent the suits. The lead player rolls 1-3 dice of a color (the suit), then the other players try to roll in-suit to get the highest value on the table. If you do not have the right suit, then you can roll for trump; rolling a natural 6 on one of your dice in an off-suit will beat the highest value in-suit.
Winning a trick gives you gold. The game ends following a number of rounds played equal to the number of players, at which time whoever has the most gold wins.
But wait, there are cards in the game, too! These cards give special abilities which are paid for, or activated with, dice of particular colors. Some of the effects include flipping your dice or an opponent's dice to their opposite sides, removing dice, re-rolling dice, and automatically winning with a particular roll!
post from May 2018 in which I pointed out that WizKids was soliciting orders for the generically-named Dungeons & Dragons: 2018 Adventure System Board Game without saying much about what that game actually is. I think we finally have an answer thanks to more recent solicitations for Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage, a Kevin Wilson design for 1-5 players that is planned for release in March 2019 in both a standard edition with 42 "single-color" miniatures for $80 and a premium edition with pre-painted miniatures for $160. As for the setting awaiting in this thick box, which can be combined with the other D&D Adventure System co-operative play board games:
In the city of Waterdeep rests a tavern called the Yawning Portal, named after the gaping pit in its common room. At the bottom of this crumbling shaft is a labyrinth dungeon known as Undermountain, domain of the mad wizard Halaster Blackcloak, who has seeded his lair with monsters, traps, and mysteries. As an adventurer in Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage, you plan to explore Undermountain in search for treasure while navigating numerous traps and ominous monsters.
Following in the path of the other critically-acclaimed D&D board games, Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage features multiple scenarios, challenging quests, and gameplay designed for a single player or a cooperative group of 2-5 players. The game features new environment and bane/boon cards, as well as the trap and spell decks that premiered in Tomb of Annihilation.
Kodachi is a May 2019 release from designer A. B. West and WizKids that has this high-level overview:
In 12th century Japan, you rested after the Gempei War, retiring your ninjato sword, desiring a life of peace. But, once again, the ruling families call for your special skills to establish their honor. You will need stealth and strength, cunning and intrigue, and the swiftness of a Kodachi sword!
In Kodachi, you seek to steal treasures by facing guards in one of two ways — with strength, which requires you to play cards with higher numbers than the guards, or with stealth, playing cards with lower numbers than the guards. Successfully acquired treasures can be used to generate rumors, bribe envoys, and strengthen your skills.
Clan tokens are gained by playing envoys and when the last clan token is taken, the player with the highest score wins!
• The final upcoming WizKids title I'll cover for now is Star Trek: Conflick in the Neutral Zone, which combines two familiar elements of the hobby game industry: Star Trek and disk-flicking games. Hmm, I just posted about the space-based FlickFleet from Eurydice Games the other day. Now people will have (at least) two options should they want a flicking game set in space!
This February 2019 release from Mike Elliott is for 2-4 players, bears a playing time of only twenty minutes, and plays as follows:
Resource-rich planets have been found in the Neutral Zone, and both the Federation and Klingon Empire are out to exploit them!
In Star Trek: Conflick in the Neutral Zone, players flick discs representing the various ships found within the Star Trek universe, and these ships are used to collect resources or attack other ships. Collecting resources — that is, energy and command points — is accomplished by bringing a collector ship within range of an energy or command point planet.
To attack, you must use your attack ship to hit an opponent's ship off the planet or board. Successfully attacking an opponent awards a command point, but attacking isn't always easy as players can add in asteroids in order to block shots and protect their ships.
Your fleet can be expanded during your turn by purchasing more ships, which allows you to increase the strength of your forces and ultimately claim the planets for yourself.
As soon as someone claims ten command points, the game ends and that player wins.
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- Portal Games Delivers Expansions Galore in 2019 for Detective, Robinson Crusoe, Stronghold, 51st State, and Alien ArtifactsIgnacy Trzewiczek of Portal Games held a seminar in which he announced some of the titles coming from the publisher in 2019. My notes from this seminar are a bit haphazard as I had had only a few hours of sleep the night before and was hitting a wall. Sitting down was my first mistake!
Probably the biggest news from this seminar is that the second edition of Trzewiczek's Stronghold: Undead, previewed as far back as SPIEL '16, will be released in 2019. What's more, this item is no longer an expansion for the second edition of Stronghold, but instead a standalone expansion, meaning that it is compatible with that game while also being playable on its own. The setting of this item remains the same as when it first appeared in 2010:
The Necromancer leads an undead army toward the stronghold walls. A powerful artifact lies within the stronghold. A magical item imbued with immense energy. The Necromancer's powers are weakening, and his magical essence is fading with each passing moment. He will regain his powers if he manages to take the castle by storm and claim the artifact. Thus, if the undead army succeeds in breaching the stronghold within eight turns, it will capture the artifact and attain victory. If not...well, if not, the Necromancer's powers will fade completely and the undead army will turn to dust.
Stronghold: Undead includes a new board with new paths to siege the castle, undead mechanisms, and more ways for both sides to secure their victory!
Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game – L.A. Crimes, which unlike the original Detective base game is set in the 1980s instead of in the modern day. Here's an overview of this expansion, which is due out in the first half of 2019:
Detective: L.A. Crimes, the first campaign expansion for Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game, consists of three separate cases that come together to form a full story. Travel to sunny California, and delve deep into the drug-filled Los Angeles of the 1980s. Experience being an L.A. detective, and realize that sometimes, like detective Foley from Beverly Hills Cop, you may need to stretch the laws a bit to suit your needs. Try some controversial methods to solve your case, all the while battling with the red tape of bureaucracy. Use all-new mechanisms of stakeout and observation to learn more about your suspects. The choices are yours, but are you willing to cross the line?
Asked how this expansion would work given the lack of an online Antares database in which to submit your findings, Trzewiczek gave the time-honored answer of "Wait and see". At least that's what I have in my notes...
Robinson Crusoe: Mystery Tales was first announced at SPIEL '17 as Robinson Crusoe: The Lost City of Z, but this expansion for Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island has grown beyond that initial offering. Here's an overview of what's in the box, which is due out March 2019:
Robinson Crusoe: Mystery Tales is the second big expansion for Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island. Unlike its predecessor, it not only includes a campaign (titled "The Lost City of Z") in which you follow great explorer Lieutenant Colonel Percy Fawcett, but also a full set of rules and components that can be played with the base game of Robinson Crusoe, along with two standalone scenarios.
Robinson Crusoe: Mystery Tales introduces ten new characters, the new deck of event cards, three new decks of adventure cards, new beast cards, new mystery cards, and the new mechanism of sanity that you can use in the base game of Robinson Crusoe to change it into a game of dreadful stories! Additionally, the expansion includes five missions that form a long and epic campaign: "The Lost City of Z".
51st State: Master Set – Allies, another item due out in the first half of 2019:
In 51st State: Allies, the second expansion for 51st State Master Set, you discover new ways to ally your factions! Cards now include a new alliance mechanism that grants you new unique bonuses and features. Will you try to unite the factions of the 51st State, or are you going to be a lone wolf? Will you create powerful combos between your allied cards? Finally, do you plan a welcome party for the three new factions that have crossed the wasteland and joined in the fray? Allies introduce Steel Police, Uranopolis, and Sharrash! With them, you will discover new ways to dominate the wasteland!
• You might notice a running theme with these announcements so far, a theme that continues with Alien Artifacts: Breakthrough, an expansion for Alien Artifacts that contains at least forty new cards, allowing for many new card-driven combos. As with the expansion above, Breakthrough is due out in the first half of 2019.
Trzewiczek noted that Portal would have more announcements on January 26, 2019 at its Portalcon event, which coincides with the 20th anniversary of the company. That said, he warned people not to expect a new giant game from him in 2019, with the focus for the year instead being on supporting and expanding their existing game lines. In that vein, he announced that Detective would be appearing in Chinese, Dutch, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish editions in 2019, while its SPIEL '18 release Monolith Arena — which hits the U.S. in November 2018 — will have Czech, French, and Spanish editions in 2019.
For a last bit of news, Trzewiczek said that Tides of Time would be released in a digital format by Asmodee Digital "soon". Read more »
- New Game Round-up: Printing Money, Flicking Ships, and Walking with the Dead Once MoreGavin Birnbaum's auction game Q.E. is getting a new, non-wood edition courtesy of BoardGameTables.com, which moved into board game publishing in 2018 with owner Chad DeShon's On Tour. DeShon says this new version of Q.E. will have a player count of 3-5 and possible minor changes to the set-up and housekeeping rules. In case you're not familiar with the game, here's an overview:
Financial crisis has occurred. Sixteen "too big to fail" companies from four countries need bailing out. The central banks have unlimited financial resources, so lots of money is going to be printed, but the central banks also face disaster — print too much money and the country they represent goes bust.
In Q.E., you play the role of a central bank. You bid on different size companies to accumulate various levels of victory points. The amount you bid is unlimited since you are the central bank and you own the printing press! After the initial "open" bid by the lead player, the other players bid in secret. After the sixteen companies have been "bailed out", bonus victory points are awarded for company sets of nationalization, monopolization and diversification.
Player markers on the scoring track now reveal which player has the most victory points, but this is not the end. Players must now add up the amount of money they printed and the player who printed the most money loses all their victory points!
FlickFleet is a flicking, space combat game coming in 2019 from co-designers Paul Wilcox and Jackson Pope, the latter of whom owns publisher Eurydice Games, which is launching a Kickstarter to fund the project in early November 2018. Here's a quick look at the setting and gameplay:
For 10,000 years the Imperium of Earth has ruled the stars with an iron fist but now The Uprising have thrown off their totalitarian yoke and are gathering a following and a fleet. An Imperial battle fleet is dispatched from Earth to end them...
The fate of the fleet is in your hands, literally. Flick your ships to move. Flick dice to attack. FlickFleet is a two-player dice dexterity game which combines tactical ship-to-ship combat with a dexterity element. Raise your shields and get your flicking finger ready!
The game can be played as a points-based freeform game, with each player choosing the ships they wish to field, or by using one of a number of scenarios. Includes 22 fighters, bombers and capital ships in the box and five introductory scenarios in the rulebook (with more available online).
The Imperium versus The Uprising — hmm, why does that sound so familiar? I've played the prototype a bit with Pope when he visited my hometown on a business trip, and it's a fun take on flicking games.
CMON Limited has announced a licensing deal with Living Dead Media to publish Night of the Living Dead "branded board games and associated play accessories (including miniature PVC figures, board, dice and tokens/coins, cards) based on Romero's original iconic movie.
These new games are officially approved by Image Ten, the original production company and custodians of George A. Romero's iconic film, making them the definitive tabletop products based on the horror classic."
No details of any game were included in the press release announcing this license, but it was accompanied by the following mock-up cover, which notes that Night of the Living Dead will be "A Zombicide Game", which makes a fair amount of sense.
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- VideoSPIEL '18 Post-Mortem: First Thoughts After the Show
Nearly every person who I spoke with about SPIEL '18 — what they had played and liked, what they saw others buying, what seemed interesting — sort of shrugged and suggested that while they've seen others be excited about things, they weren't sure what to make of the show. Of course most of the people I speak with are designers, publishers, distributors, and other industry representatives who have a skewed perception of the show relative to "normal" people. Few of us play games at SPIEL '18, other than perhaps a few turns of something so that you can write a summary of it or see whether you want to take home a prototype (if a publisher or member of the press) or finished game.
That said, I did play Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra twice as I was able to get a review copy from Next Move Games on the Tuesday when I had arrived in Germany and I wanted to write a preview of the game before the show opened. I suspected many people would be looking forward to this game given Azul's status as the 2018 Spiel des Jahres winner and a big seller at SPIEL '17, and Sintra both topped BGG's GeekBuzz list for SPIEL '18 and placed well in the Fairplay rankings.
I played Stefan Feld's Carpe Diem from alea twice as well because Ravensburger could not come up with someone to present their game on camera, and I was determined to record an overview at the show. Following a three-, then two-player game on Saturday night to familiarize myself with the rules and learn how to both play and present the elements of the game, I got to serve as "guest" on camera in the BGG booth on Sunday to explain the game.
Beyond that, I played Verona Twist from József Dorsonczky of Mind Fitness Games, who spoke with me about the game for an intense twenty minutes following a demo game, an interaction that led to me waking at 04:00 the next morning having conversations with myself about the game. Quite intense. That might have been all, but everything's a bit of a blur at this point, possibly due to lack of sleep.
As for coverage of the show, the BGG team did a fine job, I think, with us sticking to our schedule and having only a few minor delays (as far as I know) over the five days that we livestreamed interviews with designers and publishers about their new releases. (For reference, our SPIEL '18 broadcast schedule is here.) Today Jeff Anderson is overseeing the shipment of five or six pallets of games to the U.S. so that we'll have all of these featured titles and more available for play by attendees of BGG.CON 2018, which opens on November 14. So soon!
Youtube VideoWhat was running through my head at SPIEL '18 — I love this film and had watched it again on the flight to Germany
The packaging and shipment went relatively smoothly. We had asked publishers to drop off games on Wednesday during set-up day so that we could pack as quickly as possible, track what was still missing, and have time to research other games we might need to pick up. I know that at the end of Friday we had more than 80% of the games we had anticipated collecting, despite having broadcast only 60% of our programmed schedule. Thanks to all the publishers and designers who presented games on air! If you plan to attend BGG.CON 2018 and will play new SPIEL '18 releases, please take a picture of yourself playing the game and tag the publisher on it to share your appreciation of their efforts.
What did not go smoothly was our scheduling process, for which I'll take the blame. Starting with the 2018 Origins Game Fair, I've been using Google forms to solicit information from publishers while simultaneously requesting preferred demo times from them so that we could co-ordinate our broadcast schedule. Thanks to the forms, I could get the info I needed for the Gen Con 2018 and SPIEL '18 convention previews, while someone else — Steph Hodge for Gen Con and Doug Garrett for SPIEL — could contact publishers to set up demo times.
While Gen Con is somewhat packed, with us having to deny space for only a portion of the games newly released, SPIEL is far more of a challenge. Many publishers release two, three, or four games, and we tell them that we can give them space for one or two on air. We'd like to feature everything, but we literally don't have the time available to do so, even though we start livestreaming on Wednesday before the show actually opens. Sometimes we've covered a game in prototype form at Spielwarenmesse, GAMA, Origins, or elsewhere, so we set aside the request for demo time at SPIEL '18, figuring that we'll book games we haven't seen at all first. Sometimes we decide to feature one game over another because the latter game is derivative of something else or not something we expect our audience will want to see. Sometimes we receive information late in the process, and sometimes we just goof up.
My main goof-up for SPIEL '18 is twofold. First, I didn't emphasize in my initial note to publishers and on the Google form that they are indicating a preference for a particular day and time, but they are being guaranteed nothing. Someone else could have requested that day and time earlier, of course, but more likely we have run into one of the issues above.
Second and more importantly, I didn't write to everyone we didn't fit on camera to tell them that the schedule was filled and to invite them to submit information to be on a reserve list. (We constantly drew from the reserve list that we did have and managed to wedge many additional presenters onto the livestream.) Many publishers arrived at the BGG booth to say that they had scheduled a demo at this day and time, and I had to tell them that no, they had requested to demo a game at this day and time, but we had filled all of the available slots.
For conventions in 2019 and beyond, I will emphasize to publishers that they are requesting a time, that someone else might have already called dibs, that we might want to feature only one or two of their titles, and that nothing is confirmed until they hear from us — then I need to ensure that every publisher receives a response along these lines. Given the rate at which new games are released, we will have to be even choosier at Gen Con 2019 and SPIEL '19. (I joked with Lincoln about having a second livestream booth at SPIEL '19 along the lines of ESPN2, and he looked like he wanted to strangle me, so don't expect this to be an option anytime soon!)
The other negative to talk about related to SPIEL '18 is theft. Multiple publishers were robbed over multiple days, typically by a group of people. One person would engage with the booth help in some task that required them to go in the back room or otherwise leave their post, while a second person asked about a demo or just started stealing a game in an obvious manner to distract other booth help, while a third person would grab the lockbox or cashbox, sometimes even if the box was locked away in some manner.
Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr. Hub Games was hit on Thursday for a loss of €3,000 — Fox said he preferred to think that a hundred copies of the game had been accidentally incinerated — but while robbing Artipia Games — which coincidentally debuted A Thief's Fortune at SPIEL '18 — the next day, one of the thieves was grabbed by an Artipia representative. I believe that some people actually sat on the thief to keep him from leaving, and when the police arrived, they discovered a taser on him, which is illegal in Germany. Unfortunately, they did not grab the guy who snatched the money, so Artipia has only the satisfaction of seeing someone punished, not getting back their earnings from that day. (Artipia's Konstantinos Kokkinis detailed this experience on Facebook.)
I talked with Dominique Metzler from SPIEL convention owner Merz Verlag about the thefts, and she stated that no matter how much it might make sense to have security cameras at various places in the Messe halls, privacy rights in Germany (and in Europe more generally) would not allow for that to happen. She also said that two hundred security officials walk the Messe in plainclothes throughout the show, but a police presence would not happen unless there was a clear reason for one to exist — which means that publishers who have been stolen from would need to file reports to demonstrate that the fair was a risky affair for those running a business. Even so, that might not bring about a police presence since they have to allocate their staff for the city as a whole.
For gamers and publishers, SPIEL remains largely an all-cash business, so perhaps the ideal solution would be wifi access throughout the Messe so that vendors could more readily accept payment via bank and credit cards, something that has become fairly common at Origins and Gen Con in the U.S. (A great portion of our BGG Store sales at these conventions requires only a few taps on an iPad, a card swipe or insertion, and a signature, with the sale completed While we wait for that to happen, publishers need to better ensure that their cashboxes can't be grabbed and emptied within seconds. Maybe we all need to run a few LARPing sessions to simulate and test such things prior to a show opening...
That's it for now as I have a plane to catch, so let's close with a goodbye pic from fellow on-air host Rodney Smith of Watch It Played:
[twitter=1056586592184401921] Read more »
- Publisher Diary: Scientia, or Finding Something Unique from Typical Elements
by Jade YooBoardM Factory. I want to introduce stories behind our new game Scientia. Of course, every game has its own efforts and stories behind it. I just leave it as our (publisher, designer and artist) precious records. I hope it will be the interesting article for you.
Evan Song — who designed Double Mission, Doremi, Slide Blast, and Rising 5 — majored in chemistry at university and was enough of a science maniac to subscribe to scientific magazines as a child. As such, he has always had the desire to create a game based on science.
Alongside that, he was interested in the game systems of two designs: Dominion and Splendor. These two games — Dominion, in which players use "used" cards to perform actions, and the simple and fast-paced Splendor — motivated him as role models for the type of design that he would like to create.
The Boardgame Exhibition of Amateurs Convention (BEACON) in Seoul, Korea has always been a showcase event for a designer, and at this convention Song unveiled "Science", the prototype of a game that would combine the ideas of science as a theme, simple and fast progress, and the combination of cards that he had been thinking about.
In fact, "Science" did not come together until a week before the event, just after the designer was sick in bed. In the end, he started work with a renewed mind and three kinds of "flow" for the game came to mind:
1) Decide which topic to study
2) Take the time to study
3) Complete the study
The completed prototype was a way to do this, with cards to study in the center of the table. As soon as players took the desired study card, they placed the number of cubes displayed, with these cubes being removed over time to complete the card. The game had a lot of features that allowed players to take benefits when they completed their cards.
Following that, the way of playing changed so that players rotated cards rather than removing cubes from them. Cards had to be turned four times (360º) in order to be completed, and with this change the prototype of "Science" was born.
"Science" received a good evaluation at BEACON, with BoardM Factory offering a contract that evening after playing the game at the venue. However, the game needed to be upgraded in many respects, and the contract was postponed for almost a year. Evan Song was also the producer of the GATE, a BoardM project with designer Gary Kim, so he collaborated as developer there while collaborating on the other side of the table with "Science". By 2017, BoardM and Evan Song had decided that their "Science" project was coming together, and they settled on an anticipated launch date of the end of 2018.
BoardM was also interested in retaining the game's theme of science, but suggested change the game's title to Scientia, which in Latin means "knowledge' and is the root word of 'science".
While Evan Song was thinking of the game's balance and development, BoardM looked for an artist and decided upon Vincent Dutrait.
Teaming Up with the Master-Hand Again
Vincent Dutrait had worked on BoardM's game Sherlock 13 and exhibited good teamwork, so after Sherlock 13 ended, he half-jokingly said, "Let's work with different publishers/designers for the next project and meet again for a bigger one!"
But BoardM felt again the need to work with Vincent Dutrait with this next project. Not only is he a superb illustrator, he is also an eminent professional in the implementation of icons and edits, and Scientia is a game that literally requires a lot of icons and editing implementation.
For Dutrait, Scientia was also a challenge because while he had attempted medieval, modern, and fantasy backgrounds and settings many times, topics such as pure science themes were largely unexplored areas. In the end, though, he decided to do the artwork and graphic design for Scientia. At the same time as the contract, BoardM requested two things:
1) Create an atmosphere through the cover and graphic design that is extremely cold.
2) Express such a sharp-edged feeling that no one who sees it would immediately think "This is Vincent Dutrait's style".
He quickly understood BoardM's request and started work.
Trial and Error
The progress of Scientia was more difficult than we thought. We had to think of a combination of cards, but we simplified as we didn't want a complicated game. The production team, who had thought that the progress time of the game was connected with its flow, monitored time with a stopwatch every game play and concluded that the game was almost done as it took about thirty minutes, even in the case of a four-person game. After that, we registered the game information and posted a rough summary on BoardGameGeek.
At this time, Scientia was a game that started with twelve cards in four scientific fields, three different cards from each field. Players could develop cards with two slots at the beginning of the game and advance technology cubes related to the completion of cards studied.
When a player reached the rightmost space of the field track, they took another tech cube — and even after card development was finished, the card was returned to its original position instead of discarding it. When the space for that card was empty, the card was turned over to use a new effect. After the end of the game, victory points were given to the four fields of physics, chemistry, biology and astronomy in a different way. It seemed to draw the strands of the game together to some degree.
But a trip to the Cannes International Game Festival in France in February 2018 gave us quite a dramatic change to Scientia. One of the biggest contributors to this was Sébastien Pauchon (Jaipur, Jamaica), who visited Korea during the Masters Class in 2018. Pauchon pointed out that the game was still unnecessarily long and difficult. It lasted only about a half-hour for a team of four players who played all the time, but the game was too complicated for a new player, and there was too much information to know at the start. In fact, in the field with new players, the four-player game suddenly lasted more than an hour.
After the trip to France, Scientia has been simplified a lot. First, we eliminated the point obtained by reaching the rightmost space of the fields, as well as the use of both sides of the card. The game still starts with two slots and gradually expands, but we also simplified the expansion conditions for these slots.
In addition, Dutrait watched all this progress and thought about proper layout and artwork.
To Become a More Exceptional Game
Most of these steps were done early in 2018. By this time, the boom of "engine-building" games that Splendor had started was underway, so we developed and emphasized unique factors in the design by comparing it with other engine-building games such as Century: Spice Road and Gizmos (which is also localized by BoardM in Korea).
And ironically this emphasis happened by eliminating extra elements in the game. There were three major changes:
1) Eliminate random elements.
Scientia consists of twelve cards at the beginning of the game, and there are no cards to draw or dice to roll. This change began to crystallize by eliminating the rule of turning the card over during the game. There is no unfairness with the player who already knows the back of the card. Gameplay is, of course, simplified because players need to grasp only twelve cards during the game.
2) All cards have the same conditions for completion with no resource elements.
Unlike other games with different types and amounts of the resources of the card to complete, Scientia is completed by just four rotations. Therefore, there are only four rotations with the concept of "time", with no separate resource accompanying it. In the end, choosing and racing with a combination of the order of twelve cards can determine the outcome of the game.
3) Interaction of collaboration rather than interference.
The fact that there is no big interaction other than preempting the card is not much different from other engine-building games. On the other hand, Scientia has another interaction that gives greater benefit to a player who shares or gives a 1 VP flask cube to another. In fact, this is also connected to the theme — scholars studying science fairly — so the interaction of disturbing feelings is avoided in this game as much as possible.
In addition, there is also a factor of replay apart from the playing of the game itself. While we don't use both sides of a card within a game, we allow either side of a card to be face up at the beginning of the game. Therefore, the combinations in the game change depending on which card fronts and which card backs are showing. Here, we increased the number of cards per field to six (and choose three for a game), maximizing the number of combinations that vary from game to game.
In the end, the game includes 48 kinds of cards, while using only 12 of them in a single playing. As a result, there are more than 20,000 combinations of cards in the game.
Efforts for Balance
After the rules of the game were decided, the effort for card balancing was enormous. Interestingly, designer Evan Song worked mostly on the train: on KTX to Busan to participate in the Busan Event, on TGV to Cannes Fair, and on the night train to China on business.
After all the rules and cards of the game were completed, the game seemed novel at the time of planning, but in 2018 we had a sense of déjà vu once again after seeing games pop up with a science theme and games with a white-toned look with a dry feeling, and most of all, quite a few engine-building games.
That said, all of this work seems to have born a novel game that is pretty beguiling, and we hope that Scientia will receive a good response at home and abroad while being demoed at SPIEL '18 and when released in Korea at the end of 2018 or early in 2019.
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- Designer Diary: Tour Operator, or Designing Games with Your Ear
by Nestor TyrTour Operator, newly released at SPIEL '18 by Keep Exploring Games, designing a game is not about the tools you add to your own abilities, but about a tool you already have when you're born, okay, maybe two tools: your ears.
About Tour Operator
Tour Operator is a worker placement traveling game with a queue mechanism that helps the game keep its theme. The game went through a lot of changes over the one-and-a-half years I have been working on it. It started as a trivia game in which you commanded a tourist through their vacations in Greece, and you had to answer tourist-related questions that would get you VP by answering them. I chose Greece because that's where I am from and I thought I would sell the game to a Greek publisher. I quickly scrapped the trivia idea, though, after talking with people in the industry and realizing that I would have a hard time selling the game to a publisher since trivia games are not quite the "hottest thing" right now.
Traveling Too Light
Disheartened as I might have been, I wasn't going to give up on TO. I sat down and reworked the whole game in every aspect. First, I dropped Greece as a subject and adopted international traveling. The map changed and the logic of the game, too. Now players had a set of 4 out of 36 characters with different tourism interests, and they needed to take them traveling around the world, satisfy their tourist interests, and get their money. I even did some illustrations for the game on Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop and started posting the images in the board game Facebook groups.
At that time, I was pretty sure I would self-publish the game, so I was posting to get feedback. The comments I got were divided. Most people would like the theme and where the game was going, but some noted that the illustrations were subpar. It was hard for me to accept that since I had spent quite some time working on them, but on the other hand I didn't want to put a mediocre product in the market, so again I listened and started looking for a professional illustrator.
Meanwhile, I was putting my game to playtests. The feedback was lukewarm. It was not bad, but it was not good either and it came from experienced gamers, so I knew I was not going the right direction. Actually, I knew exactly what was wrong. Having designed TO as a party game originally, I had kept it all this time too light for what it was meant to be and what people were expecting it to be. I knew that, but to fix that meant I had to rework the whole game from scratch and I wanted to avoid doing so.
But by that time I was convinced that fixing small things wouldn't help. If I wanted to move forward, I had to scrap everything I had done and start all over...
Towards the Final Destination
After sleepless nights and countless working hours in my free time, I redesigned the game to its "final" version. I am sure that all of you have understood by this point that "final" is a big word for game designing, so let's keep it in quotation marks. What I mostly did was give the game a number of choices that it didn't have before, thus making it appealing to more experienced players. I still kept the rules simple and straightforward though, so TO could be played even by casual players. I really hate complex or obnoxious rules.
I also found a great artist to work on the illustrations. Thanos Tsillis is an excellent guy and an awesome artist as well, and he made some amazing pieces of artwork for the game. I remember when I posted the first image that everybody was positive.
And the gameplay was finally getting somewhere as well. We ran playtests with experienced players, and the feedback was finally what I was hoping it would be. Tabletopia helped a lot with playtests, especially with people abroad. It does take a bit to do the pieces and upload the game but once you do, you can edit things easily, so I would suggest you try it sometimes.
Anyway, not long after I started posting the new art, Martin Looij from Keep Exploring Games contacted me, saying that he liked the theme and the art and that he would like to check out the game. While I was happy to receive that kind of acknowledgment, I was reluctant to give TO up, to tell you the truth. I had done too much developing and marketing for it to just let it go. The TO Facebook page alone had more than seven hundred fans and we were growing quickly; at the same time, other Facebook groups such as Board Game Exposure, the Board Game Spotlight, and Everything Board Games had been really supportive, the word about TO was finally getting out there, and everything looked promising.
I had a long talk with my wife and some boardgame friends about that. They mostly thought that I needed outside experience to help bring the game to market since I hadn't done any publishing before, so they suggested I give it to Martin, see how it goes, and later try something on my own. I listened to them and signed it over to KEG, and I haven't regretted it since. Here we are, about a year after and I have my first game published and featured at SPIEL '18 — isn't that great?
I would paraphrase The Doors, saying that game designing is about keeping your ears on the road and your heart upon the wheel, meaning that when making a game, you should always listen to people around you: playtesters, publishers, and gamers. Listen not only to their words but to their faces and their reactions, too, because faces speak and sometimes they speak louder than words.
That said, always keep in your heart your ultimate goal, to make a game that you and other people would like to play. Don't give up if the feedback is negative; correct and move on. Be prepared to question everything you have done and to change even when changing is the most painful thing to do. It will eventually pay off.
Nestor Tyr Read more »
- Designer Diary: A Long Journey to Adventure Island
by Lukas ZachAdventure Island at SPIEL '18 in Essen by Pegasus Spiele. The game is very dear to our hearts as we have put several years of our lives into its design process.
In Adventure Island, two to five players take on the roles of castaways and try to survive on an island full of secrets, supernatural mysteries, and terrible dangers by relying on good teamwork and collective decision making. We would love to ramble on about the story and the twists and turns it contains, but naturally we do not want to spoil the surprises awaiting in the game. However, what we may talk about is its development process.
It had been our dream for some time to develop a narrative game that players would be able to explore through a series of game sessions while greatly influencing the course of events. Certainly this dream was in no small part based on our active engagement in roleplaying and our fascination with making such an experience available for a broader audience. The rules were to be so easy that there would not be any obstacles for finding a way into the game, yet the decisions to make in the game were to be as hard as they can get.
Then, however, the trends of the game market hit us hard as the great ascent of narrative games had begun. For game creators like us, it is always a shock to work on a game you think is innovative, only to see other games like it on the market before finalizing it. Our first instinct was to release it as quickly as possible and to speed up the development process considerably. Therefore, we knocked on the door of Pegasus Spiele, still carrying with us the urgent feeling of the pressure of time.
The editorial staff at Pegasus Spiele was thrilled by the game right from the start and managed to convince us that our game was set apart from the trend and that we could thus put as much fine-tuning into it as we had originally planned. In cooperation with the Pegasus Spiele team, we refined a version that took the journey to Mallorca. There it was tested at small group events by bloggers, game fanatics, and representatives of other game publishers.
Two things in particular about the reactions were remarkable. At first, the reviewers held back — but after about two weeks emails reached us comprising several pages of feedback. You could feel that the testers thought about the game even after their return from Mallorca. Over the course of the following development phases, the players of these test sessions regularly asked about the game when they met us.
In a nutshell, the feedback clearly showed us that the players were fascinated by our adventure game — yet it also revealed a weak spot, which we had to attend to. We had designed the game in a manner so that it would have different endings. We thought every player would want to find and experience every ending. However, as it turned out, many players were satisfied with finding only one ending. In cooperation with Pegasus Spiele, we thus decided to give the game a new structure. Stefan Stadler, the responsible editor, played a particularly important role in this process. It was his idea to structure the game in episodes, each of which had their own goal — but at the same time we wanted to keep the freedom of action as it has always been a well-liked element by the test players, too.
This way the game has become what it is today: a co-operative and narrative adventure game that is played episodically. Players can decide themselves if they want to venture into the next episode or if they would rather replay the last one to discover more secrets and thereby improve their preparation for the things to come.
We were very glad not only about the support of the whole editorial staff at Pegasus, including Klaus Ottmaier, Sebastian Hein and André Bronswijk, but also about the fact that every single card got its own illustration and that, above all, by the illustrator of our choice, Lea Fröhlich, who got some back-up on her way to the finish line by Lisa Lenz.
Now, at the end of this long development process we are completely convinced of the game and we are excited to hear what you think of it.
Michael Palm and Lukas Zach
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- Eurazeo Completes Sale of Asmodee to PAI Partners; Asmodee to Acquire ADC Blackfire Entertainment
First, in July 2018 I had noted that Eurazeo, the private equity firm based in Paris that owns game publisher Asmodee, had entered "exclusive discussions" with PAI Partners, another Paris-based private equity house. On October 23, 2018, Eurazeo announced (PDF) that it had completed the sale of its stake in Asmodee to PAI Partners. A translation of the press release:
This operation is a perfect illustration of the profound transformation carried out in recent years by Stéphane Carville and his team with the support of Eurazeo. Asmodee has seen in four years its turnover increase from €125 million to €442 million, 75% of which is international, an annual growth rate average of 37%. At the same time, its share of publishing has reached about 2/3 of game sales. The group has also completed twenty acquisitions, representing more than 140 million sales. Proceeds from the sale of this transaction amounted to €565 million for Eurazeo and its investors, including €426 million for the Eurazeo share, a multiple of almost 4x its initial investment and an Internal Rate of Return (IRR) of about 35%.
ADC Blackfire Entertainment, which has worked with Asmodee for many years. Here's the press release announcing this development:
Read more »Founded in 1999, Blackfire is present in 3 markets and distributes collectible card games, toys, boardgames and pop culture products.
The synergy between Asmodee's catalogue and Blackfire's operations in Czech Republic and Romania creates a great opportunity to improve the supply of games, from the Asmodee Group studios and from all Asmodee partners, directly into these markets.
The acquisition of the newly developed, high-quality operations of Blackfire Germany will allow Asmodee to offer an even better service to vendors and customers in Germany and all over Europe.
"We are delighted to welcome Blackfire to the Asmodee Group. We have been working with them as partners for many years. We have always shared the same passion to provide our audiences with great games and entertainment experiences. Today the combination of Asmodee's and Blackfire's highly seasoned and professional teams will enable us to strengthen our operations and presence in Europe. Our key objective is to continuously offer the best products and services to our communities, consumers and retail partners", said Stéphane Carville CEO of Asmodee Group.
"We have been successfully building Blackfire for almost 20 years and a good part of this path has been with Asmodee as a great partner. We are now happy to announce the next step in our relationship, a merger which I have no doubt saying will create an awesome synergy of experience, brands and products. Our ultimate goal and vision to deliver the best entertainment to kids, families and fans of games is going to be much easier to fulfill. We are looking forward to write the next great chapter of our story", said Martin Polak, CEO of
Blackfire Czech Republic.
"Over the years both companies have become key players in their segments of the games industry — and now we are taking the next step forward to grow best in class, combining a comprehensive assortment of distributed titles and owned intellectual properties with state-of-the-art logistics and customer service. I am sure this will create game-changing synergies from which customers will benefit greatly", said Alexander Dubynski, CEO of Blackfire Germany.
"I am thrilled that over just a couple of years Blackfire Romania, our youngest branch, has become one of the biggest distributors of toys and games in Romania and the preferred partner for major manufacturers and licensors. This merger will yield great synergies and benefits in the years ahead", said Loredana Orzață (Dobraniș), CEO of Blackfire Romania.
- VideoSPIEL '18 Preview: All the Rest, or Short Takes on Discover: Lands Unknown, Dare to Love, and Dozens More New Gamespreview video like this for Gen Con 2018 that showed off more than two dozen games, and it was the most watched video I've created in 2018.
That said, I don't create videos for the views. Views are nice and all, yes, but if I just wanted views, I'd pump out new videos every day and cover, say, the top ten most anticipated games on the SPIEL '18 Preview to the exclusion of the games in which I actually have an interest. Everyone's tastes are unique, and my videos tend to reflect my tastes and interests. I tend to focus on the games that come to the table enough that I can comment on them in a reasonable way based on multiple playing experiences.
At this point, though, I've run out of time for individual reflective and purposeful game previews, so let's end with a blitz of game info, with most of the commentary being based on one or more playings of a game, but with some of what I'm saying based solely on a reading of the rules or background knowledge of the game, designer, publisher, or world at large. I would have liked to have talked about each of these games in more detail, but time is not kind — especially considering that I tried to render this 69-minute round-up multiple times at 1920x1080 and Adobe Premier kept laughing at me. I need to strip mine my laptop, I suppose, to recover more working space in the backroom for such things to render. Thus, this video is being presented at only 1080x720. I'm still HD in real life, though, if that's any compensation.
I apologize to the publishers and designers whose creations I failed to cover in the time allowed. Perhaps we can start earlier on such things in 2019, please?
Additionally, I'm finishing this post at SPIEL '18 on Wednesday when I have multiple press appointments to attend, so I regretfully have not timestamped anything. If someone wants to create such a list — e.g., 1:03:40 - Fantasy Flight Games - Discover: Lands Unknown — I will shower you with GeekGold. Call dibs if you're interested!
Youtube Video Read more »
- Designer Diary: A Pleasant Journey to Neko, or A Journey to Game Design
by Citie LoCitie Lo, designer of A Pleasant Journey to Neko. I'm from Taiwan and now based in Berlin, Germany. I test my games with some publishers or groups here, like Spielwiese. You guys definitely do not know me, because A Pleasant Journey to Neko is my first game. I do both game mechanisms and illustrations for the game. To be more precise, I do everything myself as a standalone studio.
I started my board game review blog in 2012. From time to time, not only do I review a huge amount of games, I note any new ideas flashing through my mind, so that I have design notebooks to record something fresh and rough. And I hoped one day I could make them real.
Several years ago, I started to organize those ideas after I played more and more games and wrote more and more articles. I found that gradually I could make a complete prototype and draw roughly initial rules after I'm conversant with almost all kinds of mechanisms. So I try to start from my dice game because I really like dice game much. I especially like the dice games from Stefan Feld. (Yes, I'm a big fan!) You fight for the dice luck, but still you can use them strategically.
Main Mechanisms in A Pleasant Journey to Neko
1. Dice drafting
The first idea I introduce in this game is a new drafting system for dice. Actually we can't call it new, but you haven't seen it in dice games. At least I haven't tried any yet, but you might have tried 7 Wonders or Between Two Cities, those kind of drafting games before. You draft cards and tiles turn by turn until you have specific items in hand or have played certain items in front of you. But how about dice? Does this way of drafting also work for dice? I was curious and soon made my first prototype. Without a second thought, I drew ocean creatures on cards and grabbed some dice to test.
It works like this: Each player rolls six dice. They pick a die at the same time from the dice they just rolled by counting on "3". Place the die aside and move the remaining dice to the next player in clockwise order. Again, players pick one die at the same time from the dice they just caught. Repeat the procedure until each player has six dice again. So the problem is: Which number should I take? Can both big numbers and small numbers be good? After more and more playtesting, the answer is more clear.
Unlike cards or tiles, which are mostly concealed, dice are not. You see everything after rolling dice unless you distribute a screen to each player. I decided to leave the dice public for strategical and tactical reasons. Players should have an insight into which dice are in play and what they really need. That's why players should count on "1, 2, 3', then pick a die at the same time.
This mechanism worked very well after the first few playtests. I tried to make both small numbers and large powerful. Balance between big and small values on a die is important, but taking care of the changing values in everything is also an issue in this game. It impacts the value of which die you would like to take as you think about whether to use it for bidding or activate the hub or card effects. You might need different values of dice but not only small or big values.
2. Bid with dice
Another main mechanism: Use the dice you pick to bid on cards. This is also one of the ideas from my secret notebook. Most bidding games use money or items (e.g., meeples) to bid, but can you imagine bidding with dice? This was what I was curious about and wanted to try in a game.
At first it worked well when I tested it the first few times. And for sure, if you always pick big values on a die, you'll win the bid easily. This is a big problem and definitely creates balance issues, so I decided to do some adjustments to make it more balanced, such as punishing the player with the largest sum of dice or requiring you to have small-value dice to activate hubs and cards.
Another way to balance the dice is a new bidding method. When you bid on a card, you must at least match the number of dice currently being bid on a card. For example, a player has used two dice (a "1"and a "3") to bid on a card. If you also want this card, you must use two dice, even though you have a "6", which beats the sum of those two dice. Thus, you might decide to use a "6" and a "1" to bid on the card. This way of bidding ensures that you can protect your bid even if you have many small-value dice.
I didn't change much here, with the dice-bidding becoming the essential part of the game without frequent modification or testing. Players have to decide which dice they want to use for bidding and which to keep for activation. You have tension between the need to sacrifice dice on a bid (since you must match the number of dice used on a bid) and the value fluctuation of everything else. If you think you can make powerful combos or drill more points from it, don't hesitate to sacrifice your dice and go get it. Evaluation and investment are keywords for the game.
3. Hub combo
Here I try to create something new, like the concepts of hub and ship lane by using cards. Initially, there are only effects on the card. Some of them you need to use a die to activate. After some testing, I found that small value dice are too weak, so I tried to connect each card I bid to form the ship lane and make more interactions between small-value dice and cards.
In this game, when two cards connect together, they create a hub via the left or right edge of a card. A hub shows a value and a resource icon. You can use the designated value of a die to activate the hub. You can also move a ship to a hub to activate the effect. Here I use only "1" and "2" in a hub, which definitely makes small-value dice powerful and works very well. I especially like the numerous combinations between two cards (hubs), and you can always build variable ship lanes in each game as well.
There is an important resource in the game: fish. You can exchange different things by spending your fish, so it works a bit like a wild item, something I introduced it in the late testing period. Actually it's quite difficult to take care of each kind of resource in this game because you need money to buy the cards you win, you need fuel to move your ships, and you need goods to fulfill the cargo spaces. It's not easy to acquire them all! These issues also impact adjusting the dice, and surely the game takes too long and makes a big burden for our brain due to things happening in this way. To make the game more easier and flexible, I introduced fish in the mid- and late testing period.
Now, each time a hub contains a ship and a die at the same time, you not only receive a reward for the hub but also a fish! Imagine the die represents your workers (fisherman) and when they stay on a ship, they naturally catch fish. This idea makes the game better, and I really like it since you have more operations on the ship lanes and combos.
So far, this is very close to the final version of the game. The structure of the game was confirmed after few tests, so the biggest issue is balance and finally it has been stable. I thank those who helped to playtest A Pleasant Journey to Neko because it's an important and meaningful design to me.
One of last few prototypes
Theme and Artwork for A Pleasant Journey to Neko
Originally the design was a set-collection game set in the ocean. Players collected different kinds of creatures to create a beautiful ocean scene. As more playtesting went on, the mechanisms became more complicated and the scale of the game grew larger. Hence, the ocean theme was not suitable anymore. The game was already heading in the direction of a Eurogame, so I decided to call it "Megaport" since I had introduced ship lanes into the game.
For most of us, it's difficult to visit Antarctica in our lifetime. We all know that global warming changes ecology on Earth. The scene in Antarctica is not immune as well. The issue about eco-crisis arouses my concern in recent times. The ice sheets are melting, living beings will suffer from a collapse of the environment, and the penguins are in danger!
During this time, I was thinking maybe it's the best theme to fit this game: Go to Antarctica and try to let more people pay attention to it. To see the penguins or to ignore the eco-crisis on Earth, in this game or even in reality, we are the intruders (or more precisely, the killers) actually. Therefore, we might be disturbed when doing some aggressive activities during the journey. So i decide to integrate the concept with Interference Tile in the game. Hence, i change the theme from just a harbour theme to Antarctica expedition.
(The illustration combined real and fantasy.)
i started to do the artwork after i decided the Antarctic theme. The first image i drew from this game is the captain on the cover. The captain image combined my landlord's story and my imagination. My landlord is a ginger. His father is a veteran sailor. He told me many stories about his father. i really enjoy those stories like how they live on the boat and what the strange things they met in the sea. It's really a good material for me to create such figure concretely. So i drew the captain smoothly and quickly. That's what i want to show on the cover. In the following, i imagined and created captain's friends or actually the passengers on the journey. They wear different clothes in different colors in order to distinguish the player color.
(illustrations for cards)
The most difficult part will be the cover and card layout. i try to assemble many pieces from online Neko harbour images with my imagination to create a "my version" Neko harbour. It looks real but also a bit fantasy just like my dream land. i applied the way of drawing on each card i used in the game. Combine with the icons and graphic, i tried numerous version of layouts and chose the one i like the most. Surely, i printed it and used it when i playtested the very last few games to see if the icons are clear or if there is any problem in layout.
i processed designing the mechanic and drawing the images of the game at the same time when i developed the game at very late period. At this time, everything was just almost determined. i tested the game in the day time, drew the images in the night time. i experienced two different status of creating the game alternatively. Although it's really hard to carry both, it made the progress efficient. i like to control everything because i'm really a perfectionist. Just one thing that i still have to compromise is about User Experience. Playtester and some players' feedback sometimes are right. There are still something i'm missing or unseen. i thank everyone who gave me precious suggestions. They improved the game and made the game better. In the following i would like to show some pictures for you.
(part of tokens, here i show the coin tokens from sketch to 3D rendering.)
(Cover art. i assembled two images here)
(Card layout. i tried to make the layout looked more fit the illustration and also made the icon clearly.)
(i started to introduce the player board and main board after the harbour theme has confirmed. From top to bottom, there are several changes between versions.)
(3D rendering of the box and components.)
(proofreading and making the layout of rulebook really overwhelmed me.)
Finally, the production of A Pleasant Journey to Neko has done and will show up at SPIEL. It's just the beginning and i still have some games under playtesting at hand. i really enjoy the journey of designing games so far. Thank you for reading the article and look forward to seeing you at my booth (Hall5 #E112) in SPIEL. 😀 Read more »
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