March 16 2017
Board Game Geek
- ● Keep the Death Star from Completion in Star Wars: Dark Side RisingThanos Rising: Avengers Infinity War, but didn't care whether Thanos snapped away a bunch of superheroes or not, perhaps you will instead find yourself drawn to Star Wars: Dark Side Rising, announced today by The OP for release in Q4 2019 — albeit only in Europe, Middle Eastern, and African regions due to licensing restrictions.
As for the game's setting, here's an overview:
Star Wars: Dark Side Rising is a co-operative card and dice game inspired by the events leading up to and through Star Wars: A New Hope.
In the game, players must work together to recruit rebels and prevent the construction of the ultimate weapon, the original Death Star. Each player starts with an individual board that indicates the Rebel cell they are leading: Intelligence, Leadership, Support or Tactical. The player boards depict the Base of Operations — Tatooine, Alderaan, Yavin 4, or Lothal — and team leader (starting character asset) for each player: Captain Cassian Andor, Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker, and Hera Syndulla.
Players must coordinate efforts to recruit iconic characters, such as C-3PO, R2-D2, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Admiral Raddus and Han Solo, and organize their cells to thwart the Empire's rise to galactic domination.
The main game board features a custom-sculpted 3D Darth Vader bust that commands the Imperial operatives and actions with orders to wipe out the Rebels and to make the Death Star operational. Meanwhile, in a race against time, players must be one with the Force as they direct their Rebel efforts across different locations in the galaxy, including Scarif, Eadu and Jedha. To restore freedom to the galaxy, the Rebels must defeat enough sinister agents before the Empire can either complete construction of the lethal space station or eliminate too many Rebel assets.
Star Wars: Dark Side Rising retails for US$50 (in whatever currency is appropriate for the regions in which it's sold), and The OP plans to demo the game at UK Game Expo in early June 2019.
Which franchise might rise next, do you think?
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- ● More Titles at Tokyo Game Market in May 2019: Moon Base, Sinomilia, Elegantu, Natsumemo & Leiden 1593: The Beginning of Tulip Cultivation
While BGG is missing out on TGM this time due to us hosting our own event — BGG.Spring, which opens the same day — I've been opening dozens of tabs with new games that will be featured at that show and sending myself link after link after link of new games to check out. It's overwhelming, especially since each page I open typically leads to still more pages as I discover a JP version of an existing game and want to create a version listing for that, then yet another new game that has a co-publisher which also needs a new page, etc.
All that said, here's a tiny sampling of what will be at TGM, much of it courtesy of Jon Power, who helps encourage submissions to the BGG database by JP game designers and publishers and whose initials are (coincidentally?) JP:
• なつめも (Natsumemo) is a roll-and-write game for 2-6 players from 宮野 華也 (Kaya Miyano) and cosaic that has the most delightful setting ever:
"なつめも" (pronounced "natsumemo") means "summer memo", and it's the practice of children keeping a summer holiday diary.
Natsumemo is a flip & write game with a summer vacation theme. Each player receives a special calendar sheet and a hidden sheet, pencils and dice. Each round, the active player flips the card of the week and declares the day on which the event will occur. All players choose to join or not join the event all at once, and if they join, write them on their calendars. Of course, you cannot take part in the events of the day if you already filled that date on your calendar.
The biggest feature is the special bond that grows between the characters who participated in the same event. Players plan the events in order to develop friendships and score more points. "Oh, only Hana and Vivian and I are free on Tuesday, so if I suggest going to swim in the sea on Tuesdays and Wednesday, maybe only I can deepen the bonds with the two girls ...!" This is how boys and girls develop serious feelings and judgments are born one after another. Furthermore, "I was the only one who went to the sea when I tried to open the lid!" These goofy developments, the emotions that come from them are the most enjoyable!
Another feature is homework. Players must balance having fun with friends, and getting their summer homework done, too. If you do not reach a certain number of pages by the end of the holidays, you get deducted points. You will end up cramming all alone the last week, instead of deepening your new friendships. This reality is unbearable.
Saigo, who translates Game Market reports for BGG and who tweets about JP games, notes that a Chinese-language edition of the game is likely in the works, so perhaps someone will sign on for an English-language edition as well. We'll see!
エレガンツ (Elegantu) is a Mao-like card game from Osamu Iijima and ボボン・ボン・ボジワーイ連邦 (The Bobon Bon Bojiwaai Union) in which players attempt to play cards and gain points, but they don't know the "rules for etiquette" that are in effect this game. They'll discover these rules only during play when someone stops them (based on a rules card in their hand) and penalizes the player for doing something wrong. You must remember and follow all of the rules in order to play well!
Elegantu is a second edition of the game, with some English on the cards, whereas the first edition in 2018 had only Japanese text.
Leiden 1593: ライデン-チューリップ栽培の始まり- (Leiden 1593: The Beginning of Tulip Cultivation) is a speculation game from designer ハイライフ (high-life) and publisher Spieldisorder, which released the David Bowie-themed Across the Universe in 2017. Here's a summary of the gameplay:
As tulip merchants, players reclaim the garden, raise tulips, and ship them out. With the help of hired artisans, they aim to be the wealthiest merchant.
At the beginning of the game, several cards are laid on the table to form the tulip garden. Each card represents 2x3 squares of garden, which is single-colored or double-colored to represent species of tulip. Each turn, you may place a garden card, build your hut, or upgrade your hut into a house:
—When you place a garden card, you must partially overlay it on existing garden; the overlaid color of tulip becomes rare, so therefore its market value is raised.
—When you build a hut or a house, you discard several cards and place the building on the garden. You may hire an artisan when you have built a house. Each artisan has a special ability.
At the end of the game, for each color, you score victory points equal to the market value of that color multiplied by the number of squares your buildings occupy on that color. Then add some bonus depending on your buildings' location. The highest scorer wins.
Moon Base is a two-player game from Naotaka Shimamoto and itten, with players placing ownership rings on the craters of the moon. Each crater you place eliminates the possible placement of other craters, although as you build up craters, you can place other ones on top of them in a second or third layer. You're trying to place residential zones and resource facilities to score points.
• At TGM in May 2019, itten will also release Tokyo Highway: Cars & Buildings, an expansion for either Tokyo Highway base game that allows you to add four new building obstacles to the playing area, while giving each player a set of ten vehicles that range from the tiny cars of the original game to buses and tractor trailers.
συνομιλία, a.k.a. シノミリア, a.k.a. Sinomilia by designer Kengo Ōtsuka and シノミリアプロジェクト (Shinomiria Project). "Sinomilia" is the Greek word for "conversation", and this two-player game exists as a conversation of sorts carried out via gameplay. Here's a summary of how it works:
Each player receives a set of cards numbered 0-9 and fifteen chips. At the start of a round, each player places one of their cards face down to predict how many chips will be played that round. Players then take turns, and on a turn you can either place a chip in the playing area or pass. Do you add chips to get closer to your prediction at the risk of losing more of your chips, or will you pass and let your opponent control the conversation?
Once either both players have passed or a total of nine chips have been played, the round ends and players reveal their cards. If your card is closer than your opponent's to the total number of chips played, you win and collect all the chips played, plus two additional chips from your opponent. If the two cards are equally close to the total, whoever last took an action loses and whoever passed first wins. Play multiple rounds to determine the winner.
From the description, Sinomilia sounds as minimalist as The Mind, sounds like something that shouldn't work — yet I can already imagine how a round might play out, with subsequent rounds building on what's already happened. I need the full rules to know for sure what's going on and how the rounds relate to one another and how someone wins, but I'm already in. Now I just need to figure out how to get a copy...
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- VideoUpdate on the Origins 2019 Preview and Publisher PreordersBGG channel on Twitch.tv and watch the new and upcoming games being presented on camera by their designers and publishers.
To check out which games we aim to feature on camera, you can peruse BGG's Origins 2019 Preview, which now tops two hundred listings and which should grow quite a bit longer over the next 2.5 weeks as I'm poking and re-poking publishers who haven't yet responded to my requests for info. I want to ensure that those going to Origins 2019 will know about as many games that will be there as possible, while also getting folks scheduled for demo slots ahead of time.
If you will be at Origins, you might consider preordering games via our Origins 2019 Preview for pick-up at the show. As I noted in early May 2019, BGG has implemented a convention preview preorder pick-up system starting with this preview, and we intend to make this same system available in the Gen Con 2019 Preview, the SPIEL '19 Preview, the BGG.CON 2019 Preview (yes, we'll have one this year), and pretty much every con preview to come. How does this system work for you the user? Chaz Marler, who developed much of the preorder system, explains in this video:
For those who want the text version, scan the Origins 2019 Preview for titles available for preorder, click on them to add them to your cart, pay for the stuff, receive a confirmed order in your GeekMarket account, then bring proof of purchase to Origins 2019 and show it to the publisher to pick up your stuff. Specific pick-up details might vary depending on the conditions that publishers set up when they establish preorders. No one has yet demanded that you hand over a jar of Nutella upon pick-up, but I can imagine it happening at some point.
If you want to see only those items available for preorder on our Origins 2019 Preview, you can do so here. By preordering, you know the item will be there waiting for you, the publisher gets a better idea of how many copies to bring to the show, and BGG earns a 5% commission on the sale. It's a virtuous circle in which everyone wins!
thread posted by BGG owner Scott Alden about this preorder system, people asked whether we would use this system for items sold through the BGG Store, especially for items being sold at SPIEL '19. The answer right now is maybe.
Since I started creating con previews on BGG in 2011, I've focused on them including only new releases and games being demoed. Some publishers have asked about being able to list everything in their back catalog, especially when they have older material that might be appropriate for clearance, but I'm hesitant to add all of those games because it would be difficult to differentiate new titles from old. Ideally we can create a second type of convention preview listing that can be hidden by users who don't want to see such things, but available to those who do. I can see lots of uses for such a system as long as it doesn't detract from the previews main purpose — letting people see what will be at a show.
One improvement we are definitely doing, though, is adding a second type of preorder to the SPIEL '19 Preview. In addition to being able to preorder games for pick up at the publisher's booth in Essen, you will be able to preorder games for pick up at BGG.CON 2019 in November. To do this, we are partnering with Funagain Games, which used to provide this service through its website. Funagain will handle fulfillment of these orders and as with publisher preorders, BGG provides the conduit through which the sale happens.
All of these preorders are up to the publishers, mind you. They can sign up to place preorders in our convention previews or not as they desire. Ideally this system provides a benefit for them, both in terms of having a better prediction of sales and in handling less cash at shows. If publishers aren't handling thousands of Euros at SPIEL '19 but are instead fulfilling orders completed and paid for ahead of time, then that reduces their potential losses to theft during the show — and given the multiple thefts that took place at SPIEL '18, that might be all the incentive they need. We'll see what happens in the months ahead, including whether we can expand the convention listings beyond only what's new. Read more »
- VideoGame Preview: Die Tavernen im Tiefen Thal, or Use Beer and Money to Lure Nobles into Your Bar
To do this challenge properly, you'd have to choose somewhat obscure games from famous designers, not to mention making your own versions of these games with handmade components or public domain art so that someone couldn't recognize a title they've seen in passing; alternatively, you could liberate prototype games from the designers' homes so that no one would play something they've possibly played before. Conducting this challenge might take hours, given the number of games on hand and their playing time, but I'd be curious to discover whether game fans could find a Pfister or recognize a Rosenberg in a crowded field.
This thought experiment came to mind after playing Wolfgang Warsch's Die Tavernen im Tiefen Thal, a big box game for 2-4 players that German publisher Schmidt Spiele released in March 2019, and finding it similar in spirit to Warsch's 2018 The Quacks of Quedlinburg (and more distantly his games The Mind, Illusion, Brikks, and Ganz schön clever/Doppelt so clever), despite not sharing any game mechanisms with those designs.
When playing any of these Warsch designs, you'll experience huge highs and lows driven by large doses of luck, whether it's rolling exactly the dice you need in Brikks or GSC/DSC, flopping sequential cards in just the right order in The Mind, pulling all the right tokens from your ingredient bag in Quacks, or filling your tavern with the perfect combination of cards in Die Tavernen im Tiefen Thal, which translates as "The Taverns of the Deep Valley" and which will be released in English in Q4 2019 by North Star Games.
In the game, each player has their own tavern, which includes three tables, small storage areas for money and beer, a barrel of your custom house brew, a cashbox, a monk at the bar, and a beer supplier outside your door. You each have a deck of cards that consists of seven regular customers, a waitress, an extra table, and another beer supplier.
At the start of a round, you receive a bonus associated with that round — a treasured guest, your choice of a dish washer or a waitress, etc. — then you each flip over cards from your deck until all the tables of your tavern are full. The guests, sad and introspective, all want to sit on their own, so you might flip only three cards and be done; alternatively you might reveal and place all the cards in your deck other than guests, then finally fill the tables afterward. Mostly you'll fall between these extremes, just you do in Quacks when drawing ingredients from your personal bag.
After each player fills their tables, you each roll four white dice, place them on a serving platter in front of you, take turns drafting one die from your platter, then pass the platters to the left before you each draft another die, and so on until you've drafted four dice to accompany any additional colored dice brought to you by the waitresses. You use these dice to serve beer to guests (which requires placing a 1 or 2 for your deck's initial guests), get beer from beer suppliers (placing a 1 or 6), get advice from the monk (placing a 5), or dipping into your cashbox or drawing a beer from your house supply (placing any one die for each).
By drawing beer or getting beer from passing merchants and suppliers, you can attract new guests to your tavern, whether one of the slightly better guests from a fixed stack or one of four random guests in a drafting line. These guests have beer costs from 3-8, and you can acquire at most one guest a round — but any guest you do get is placed on top of your deck, which means they will visit your tavern next turn. Be ready for them!
By serving guests or dipping into the cashbox, you get doubloons, with which you can improve your tavern — whether by hiring beer merchants or dish washers, acquiring another table, or upgrading your tavern permanently. Most of these improvements are on cards that (like guests) you'll place on top of your deck so that you can first use them in the next round.
Permanent upgrades are what you're aiming for in the long term as they are not cards that you'll use once, then place in your discard pile, not knowing when you'll see them again. You can add an extra table, which means you'll seat one more guest, which means you'll likely place even more cards in your tavern and therefore do more stuff overall. You can upgrade the beer supplier so that you receive two beer for each die you place instead of only one or you can enlarge your safe so that you can store up to five doubloons from one round to the next instead of only two (and you want to store doubloons so that you can purchase other upgrades more easily).
What's equally important to improving your tavern for future rounds is that each upgrade attracts a noble in town, with you placing that noble card on top of your deck. I'm not sure why a noble would care that you hired a dish washer permanently instead of having only temp help, or that you have a larger cashbox that will allow you take three doubloons from it instead of only one, but we'll assume they're all simple-minded and move on.
Most cards that you add to your deck are worth 1-4 points, but a noble is worth 10 points, so you want to attract as many of them as possible. Nobles function as guests, so you can serve them beer in the future and make money from them, but mostly you care about them only for points — and as in Quacks, you can have giant turns in Tavernen in which you upgrade three things at once and add three nobles (and 30 points) to your deck or in which you serve twenty beers, with you being able to attract 1-3 nobles directly with 9-18 beer. As I said, simple-minded.
At other times, your turn might be largely a bust. You place only a few guests, pull only one beer merchant (who supplies only a single beer and can take no dice), and...nothing else. You have a 4 guest and 5 guest who would place lots of coins in hand if you could supply them beer — but no 4s and 5s are rolled that round (and you lack the dish washers needed to increase the number on a die). Again, this sensation mirrors Quacks as in that game sometimes you draw all the wrong ingredient tokens and bust for the round, which sets you back against everyone else who is landing both points and money instead of only one of those.
You can mitigate bad luck in a few ways — having the aforementioned dish washers; using one of the three treasured guests you receive to clear your tavern and start placing cards anew — but you can't eliminate bad luck completely, and you won't necessarily know when to use a guest until you've played the game through and see what can happen when over the course of its eight rounds. You want to buy additions to your tavern each round and attract a new guest each round so that all of your growth compounds over time, but you can't be sure that any of your many, many decisions will be correct until things play out in the future, and maybe the luck of the dice does you in anyway, even though your choices seem ideal.
To live out the game's high highs — in this case the thrill of putting together a huge turn — you need to risk having low lows as well, just as sometimes you lose lives repeatedly in The Mind by sequential card plays not going your way or you fail in Illusion by cards being only one percentage point off. This high luck/high thrill combination seems evident across Warsch's designs, and ideally you as a player experience enough of those unpredictable highs that you can shrug off the lows and still feel like playing again.
I've played Die Tavernen im Tiefen Thal four times on a review copy from Schmidt Spiele: twice with the base game, once with the first expansion, and once with the first two expansions. The game comes with four expansions in all — called "modules 2-5", with the base game being "module 1" for some reason — and you must use all earlier expansions when adding one to play.
These expansions add new twists to gameplay, with the first expansion adding schnapps to your menu and giving you new guests in the first five rounds that you can use each in one of two ways by serving them schnapps. The second expansion lets you earn reputation points based on the lower amount of the beer or money you earn in a round, with reputation earning you schnapps and nobles; bards become another tavern improvement option, with their performances increasing your reputation. The third expansion gives you variable starting decks, and the fourth expansion gives each player a signature book that newly arriving guests "sign", which gives you a variety of bonuses.
All of these expansions add rules and fiddliness to the game, and the base game already has a dense twelve-page rulebook, which can be a lot to absorb, despite the gameplay itself being simple. Tavernen is an ideal game to learn by playing, preferably from someone who already knows the game so that you can skip the long rule descriptions and get right into the game, but of course that won't be possible for most people. Perhaps my video overview, which goes into more detail than what I described above, will be enough to kickstart your game-playing experience...
Youtube Video Read more »
- Spiel des Jahres Nominations for 2019: Just One, LAMA, and Werewords; Carpe Diem, Detective and Wingspan Collect Kennerspiel Nominationslist of nominees that included Sid Sackson's Acquire and Sly, Alex Randolph's Twixt, the electronic games Simon by Ralph Baer and Merlin by Bob and Holly Doyle, and eventual winner Hare & Tortoise by David Parlett.
For its first few awards, despite the "Jahres" in the award's name, the jury of journalists who ran the SdJ selected nominees that had been released within the past few years rather than only the year immediately preceding — a practice that makes sense given that the award was meant to shine a spotlight on modern games for an audience of casual players that might not have been paying attention to everything that was being released.
These days the purpose of the award remains the same — highlight and suggest games appropriate for an audience of casual players — but the jury focuses solely on games released in Germany within the past twelve months. From my understanding, a game needs to be available in a German edition prior to the end of March to be considered. This cutoff date gives the jury members enough time to play potential nominees and consider them against one another before settling on three nominees in what is now three categories: the original Spiel des Jahres (SdJ), the Kinderspiel des Jahres (KidJ) for children's game of the year, and the Kennerspiel des Jahres (KedJ) for enthusiast's game of the year, that is, for those already comfortable with learning and playing new games.
As part of its fortieth anniversary, jury chairman Harald Schrapers attended an exhibit about the SdJ at the Deutsches SPIELEmuseum in Chemnitz, Germany and announced the SdJ nominees during a live broadcast on Facebook:
• Just One, by Ludovic Roudy and Bruno Sautter from Repos Production (video overview)
• LAMA, by Reiner Knizia from AMIGO (video overview)
• Werwörter, by Ted Alspach from Bézier Games (and in Germany from Ravensburger) (video overview)
In commentary on the nominees, Schrapers pointed out that the three nominees are all small games that you can learn and play almost immediately. LAter in his commentary, Schrapers writes, "We now have a large number of titles on the table that are very high quality compared to decades past. Of the games that the ten jurors have played intensively over the last twelve months, probably more than one hundred would have been a candidate for the leaderboard in the 1980s."
Aside from these nominations, the SdJ jury recommended the following six titles: Belratti, Dizzle, Imhotep: The Duel, Krasse Kacke, Reef, and Sherlock, a series of three standalone games from GDM Games that were released in Germany by ABACUSSPIELE: Sherlock: Death on the 4th of July, Sherlock: Last Call, and Sherlock: Tomb of the Archaeologist.
Note that the Spiel des Jahres award is primarily aimed at family gamers, i.e., those who play games but aren't heavily into the gaming scene.
Nominations for the Kennerspiel des Jahres went to:
• Carpe Diem, by Stefan Feld from alea (video overview)
• Detective, by Ignacy Trzewiczek from Portal Games (video overview)
• Wingspan, by Elizabeth Hargrave from Stonemaier Games (and in Germany from Feuerland Spiele) (video overview)
The SdJ jury recommended four other titles at the Kennerspiel level: Architects of the West Kingdom, Lowlands, Newton, and Paper Tales. The winners of the Spiel and Kennerspiel des Jahres will be announced in Berlin, Germany on July 22, 2019.
The titles nominated for Kinderspiel des Jahres 2019 are:
• Fabulantica, by Marco Teubner from Pegasus Spiele
• Go Gecko Go!, by Jürgen Adams from Zoch (video overview)
• Tal der Wikinger, by Marie and Wilfried Fort from HABA
The Kinderspiel des Jahres jur, which differs from the SdJ/KedJ jury, also recommended seven other titles: Bauernhof Bande, Concept Kids: Animals, Magic Maze Kids, Monster Match, Monster-Bande, Octopus, and Voll verwackelt.
The winner will be announced in Hamburg, Germany on June 24, 2019, roughly one month prior to the winners of the other awards.
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- Designer Diary: Designing Backwards by a MegaGame Designer
The logic of starting with a simple mechanism sounds reasonable. It's something you can quickly make into a prototype and start testing. The sooner you can test your game, the sooner you'll get feedback from others and the sooner you'll know whether you have a marketable game. If strangers enjoy playing a game that is hand-written on a few index cards, uses a modified poker deck, or features a large geometric board with a few dice or shuffling thrown in, then surely thousands of Kickstarter enthusiasts will pay for the opportunity to play the same game with art, theme, and a little hype, right? It's a simple, straightforward, ideal route to success. Sounds awesome — why not start now?
The problem, in reality, is that a game with only one mechanism will not hold someone's attention for more than three rounds. It quickly becomes predictable, so you need a second mechanism to make the game a little more dynamic — but even with two mechanisms, you still have a game in which the choices you should make are pretty obvious. You really need three mechanisms all interacting with each so that unexpected layers of meta-gameplay emerge that players could not have predicted simply by knowing the base rules.
Ideally two of these mechanisms will be familiar to players or similar to other popular games, and one would be truly innovative or unique. This way the game is an easy sell. It would then have enough familiarity for it to find its true audience (those who like other popular games with these mechanisms would be drawn in by hearing a new game has the same mechanism), and your one new innovative mechanism would be the hook that leaves a little mystery to pique their curiosity. This is why most new games are a modified improvement of some other game from its genre.
Introducing too many new innovations too quickly can be overwhelming to players. As a megagame designer, I am speaking from experience. Many board game enthusiasts know what designer board games are, but are familiar with megagames. My audience is mostly high school and college students. Many of them don't even know what a designer board game is, so introducing them to a political science simulation that combines designer board game mechanisms with tabletop RPG mechanisms and LARP style theatrical roleplaying is completely overwhelming. For a little literature on this, you might find the books The Creative Curve and The Blue Ocean Strategy good to read. Both of them make the argument that when innovating and trying to be successful in a market, you want to be a little ahead of the curve on a rising trend, but not so far out that you are ahead of your time.
Okay, so let's start with a dynamic set of at least three mechanisms, two of which are familiar. Still sounds pretty reasonable right?
My Achievements to Date
After designing ALLIANCE: The Ultimate World Leader Political Science MegaGame, a game for 8-72 players that takes at least two hours to play, with my game design class of high school students, I decided to try something a little smaller, so I then successfully Kickstarted, then designed — yes, in this order as I prefer to do things backwards — from 2015-2016. Great Boy: The Game, which was based on the rules from T.I.M.E Stories, taught students how to understand a specific story from the Bible. Most of my games are educational because I am first and foremost a teacher. I became a game designer only because I saw that students learn better from simulations than they do from lectures.
But even my Bible Study simulation game took two to three hours of gameplay if you played the full version that included the optional social deduction mechanisms. My audience complained that the game was too long, and the rules too overwhelming to learn. (Most of them knew only Monopoly and Poker card games.)
Then I made a microgame slightly more complicated than Love Letter but just as short. This game simulated David hiding from King Saul.
Since then I have made another strategy card game called Conspiracy for 2-9 players in which you can choose who you want to ally with, and who you want to conspire against or betray. Many can win together, but one must die. It was my first non-educational game, but it's a lot of fun. I also created a sequel to my original megagame called ALLIANCE Last Days in which up to one hundred players are given four hours to bring the world back from the abyss of the Apocalypse.
Obligatory Shameless Self-Promotion
Starting May 19, 2019, I will be selling eighty tickets for a game of ALLIANCE Last Days that will take place at Gen Con 2019. You can see more about this game and my other ones on this website.
Okay, now that credibility has been established and all business aside, let's get back to avoiding the straightforward easy paths when designing games.
My Least Efficient Tried-and-True Fun Technique for Making a Game that Works: Take The Scenic Route, Not the Short Cut
So after designing four-hour megagames that can fit one hundred players as well as short fast strategy card games what have I learned? What actually works when designing a game? Here are a couple of the tips I've learned:
Play games. Admire their mechanisms and admire their systems, but keep in mind that what we really love about games is the emotional experiences that emerge from those mechanisms. Designing games is a lot of work, and very few of us are really making any money from it, so it should be fun — not work.
Designing experiences is fun, so start by dreaming about the epic experience that you want to emerge from your mechanisms, not the mechanisms themselves. I like and want to make games in which players have to build trust between each other, then feel the tension of not wanting to betray that trust, but having such an overwhelming sense of desire to reach a morally justifiable achievement that they find themselves choosing to betray that trust. Or maybe you want a game in which no matter how much of a lead the winning player has they still feel fear that the losing player's big gamble could result in their own very personal humiliation at losing that huge lead at the very last second. These emotional experiences are what we remember and live to tell others about after the game. This is what sells games. This is what motivates us to make games. Start with the emotions.
This emotional experience you are designing for will not emerge from mechanisms that don't exist, so now I have to research like crazy, playing every game that I think might have the mechanisms I need to create this experience. Maybe I can combine some of the mechanisms from Dead of Winter with the mechanisms of Pandemic, and possibly even a little bit from the Fallout video game. This is how I designed ALLIANCE Last Days.
Now I'm working on a standalone expansion to ALLIANCE Last Days in which five different factions are all investigating Ground Zero. It borrows some decksploration mechanisms from T.I.M.E. Stories, a deck-building mechanism from Shadowrun: Crossfire, and a little from The Grizzled. This is how I work. I am so excited to create that overwhelmingly emotional experience that it gives me the motivation to do the research required. It's not the easy fast way to make games. It's the long scenic route, but it works for me.
I took the short easy path once, starting with a couple of simple mechanisms when I designed Conspiracy. The basic idea was that it would be a simple cloak-and-dagger strategy game like Coup (excluding the bluffing mechanism, which is really what makes that game fun), but with the simple twist that you always have the option to give away your secret role card at the end of your turn. This meant the odds were only 50/50 that a player still had their secret role card after they used it to stab you.
This was the fastest I ever designed a game, but I knew that this mechanism combined with secret alliance mechanisms would create the kind of emotional experience that I love about social deduction games. I got very lucky that the base mechanisms worked from right out of the gate. The only real issue was making those mechanisms tighter and not so clunky. This leads me to one of the biggest lessons I've learned from making games:
Begin with the excitement of designing the game you want it to be, but finish with the game that the game wants to be
2. Player Experience = Emotions
The player experience can best be described with emotion words or feelings. I want one player to feel betrayed. I want the players to feel the immense pressure of having to make difficult choices with horrible tradeoffs. I want them to feel morally calloused. I want my players to feel drunk on power. This player will be blinded by their ambition and shocked when a weak player humiliates them. They will feel a sense of mystery as they each have only partial information and feel pressured because they have to make critical choices in a timely manner based on faulty information. They will project a sense of false confidence by bluffing.
1. Mechanisms = Actions
Mechanisms, on the other hand, can best be described with action words. In order to introduce an element of randomness, players will shuffle cards or roll dice. They will have to choose which bonus they want. They will have to discard the card after they use it as their action.
This is backwards in the sense that emotional depth emerges from simple mechanisms, so to start with emotions and make them a priority I have to use what I call the shotgun approach with mechanisms. Try tens or hundreds of mechanical ideas until the experience you're designing for emerges from the mix. You are like Edison trying hundreds of different metal filaments until you find exactly the right one that will efficiently turn electricity into artificial light. This method is neither fast nor efficient, but it is the only way I really enjoy the process.
3. Adjust Your Dials: Information and Power Values
The third thing you need is to dole out information and to hold information back. But this is simply a dial you will crank up or turn down to facilitate balance between the other parts of the game. It's like the purchase cost of any card or its power value. You don't start with these values; at first you throw in somewhat arbitrary numbers, then you keep modifying them until they seem to create some asymmetric balance (at least in the kind of games I design).
You will have only a wild notion of what you think could make for a playable game. It might work with the initial mechanisms and values you first throw together, but more likely it will be wildly broken or uninteresting — and often both.
But that's okay because as long as some part of it seems interesting, then you can throw in or take out mechanisms randomly or try different modifications of the rules until the game becomes the game that it was meant to be. You have to let the game mature and sacrifice many of the initial groundbreaking ideas you thought would form the identity of the game. It's like raising a child. Raise it according to its own individuality once you give birth to your game. Converse with the game through playtesting. Find what works for the game. Ultimately, it should create one novel emotionally thematic experience.
For me, the emotionally thematic experience takes priority over clever mechanisms. If it comes down to it, I must sacrifice clever mechanisms for the greater emotional experience. Maybe you thought your son would grow up to become a great pitcher, but as it turns out he wants to play soccer. If he has the potential to be a good soccer player or have a lot of fun trying, then celebrate because your game loves sports.
This could also be said for theme, but anyone reading this article will already be familiar with the "theme should match mechanisms" message.
There is yet one more method I have used to make games. As you might have noticed earlier, I like to start with my favorite games as a template and turn them into the games I wanted to make.
My Painfully Backwards Four-Step Technique for Turning Your Favorite Game Into an Entirely New Game
I love Dead of Winter. I like the weight of the box created by the overwhelming number of counters. I like the stupid simplicity with which the mechanisms simulate a personal dramatic narrative. I like the severity of the meanest twelve-sided dice I have ever rolled in any game I have ever played. I even like the art. (I am a rare species of game designer who actually draws, paints, and designs all of my own graphics. I don't care for maybe 80% of the board games I've played, and I like the art of even fewer of those games.)
I also really like Coup. I like short cloak-and-dagger strategy games, social deduction games, and deep, long narrative games, and almost nothing in-between. I like learning games and admiring their systems, but I don't care for just playing them.
I also really like — and don't worry as I am getting somewhere with this — T.I.M.E Stories. Well, I like how they turned a linear narrative into a playable game, but I hate their narratives. Their mechanisms are also quite shallow, but at least their choices and exploration are really good. Basically after reading six books on scriptwriting and storytelling, I believe I can do better. And who knows? Maybe I can even add in some social deduction between the players. This idea was what inspired me to create Great Boy: The Game.
It's also the process by which I am currently working on a standalone expansion to my megagame ALLIANCE Last Days. The idea for this game is that I want to make a T.I.M.E Stories-like "choose your own adventure" narrative game that explores moral ambiguities like a great sci-fi novel. I also want it to have deeper mechanisms that actually serve the story. Pixar says "Story Is King", and they design all of their characters, write every line of dialogue, and compose every storyboard to serve the purpose of that story.
Also, if possible, I would like to make it into a game that can be played by as few as two players, but as many as twelve, so that it can be played through at least five different times five different ways or at least be completely replayable and have far deeper mechanisms.
My ambitions are big, and according to the method I described above, it's time to shotgun some mechanisms until the above mentioned features emerge. Where to start? My suspicion is that I could use deck-building (old familiar mechanism) to allow each player to fulfill conflicting objectives (old familiar mechanism) while exploring a set of locations with a linear narrative in the guise of five different factions from five different corners/starting points, each with 2-3 players/characters (a somewhat new mix of relatively new trending mechanisms).
To make this game I:
1. Researched all of the games I thought might have useful mechanisms, including three adventure deck builders, Fallout the board game, T.I.M.E Stories, and countless others. I created a word document that explained all of the mechanisms as abstractly as possible and looked for both the similarities and differences between all of these games.
I also created an elaborate list of possible mechanisms I could throw in to suit my game's theme or create the emotional experience I hope my players will have.
2. I created a hand-written copy of Shadowrun: Crossfire on index cards and played it with friends to hear what they thought of it, then played it by myself on TableTop Simulator.
3. I then built a spreadsheet of all the cards in Shadowrun: Crossfire and re-themed them, changing all of the key vocabulary to match the themes in my game.
4. I then removed many of the decks that complicate the game and replaced them with mechanisms/decks borrowed from other games. For example, I added some T.I.M.E Stories-styled mechanisms through tarot-sized narrative card location decks to go along with the newly themed deck-builder. I also threw in a secret objective deck.
Now I'm slowly but surely modifying and replacing every rule and every card to match the themes and facilitate the ugly trade-off between players working together or against each other that I love from Dead of Winter.
I'm also fine-tuning the game by doling out information asymmetrically to each player and withholding information. I also need to play the game enough to see whether the power values of each card are balanced or not, but this will easily get sorted as I playtest with more and more players.
The game will begin to break as you begin replacing the original mechanisms with mechanisms from other favorite games, but at least it will be dynamic. When starting from scratch, it's hard to get the bare minimum number of mechanisms interacting with each to make the game interesting enough for game testing.
My Technical Process
I use a combination of Photoshop, InDesign, and Spreadsheets to crank out large numbers of cards quickly. I do all the graphic design myself, and these days I do full graphics for even the earliest version of my prototype for two reasons, neither of which justify you following my example:
A) I love to do the graphics. Don't take my fun away from me.
B) I'm a snob, and I demand the aesthetic appeal of playing a game that looks good.
These days I'm playtesting my games on Tabletop Simulator, which is a great cheap way to play both by yourself and with others remotely through the internet. If you are interested in playing any of my games, hit me up on my Discord server.
In Defense of My Own Backwardsness
I do have one major piece of advice I'd like to give, and not just to justify what I have already deemed as a backwards method: Take your project from the first phase all the way to the final phase as quickly as possible as many times as possible. Don't get stuck in any one phase. Don't spend an absurd amount of time obsessing over some minor mechanism as a form of procrastination to stave off the real fear of putting a real prototype in front of real players with real opinions. Print out an unfinished copy of the game and see what it looks like on the table being played. Deal with the real problems instead of avoiding or delaying them. Face them like a champ. Be astonishingly disappointed by aspects you didn't expect early on instead of later on. Find out that there is not nearly enough contrast to be able to read the text.
Is there some phase of this process that strikes you with terror simply because you've never done it before? Then focus on dealing with that fear more than any other aspect, especially more than on the aspects of the process that you are familiar and comfortable with. This is, of course, useful advice only for those of you who want to bring a game to market. If that's not you, that's okay. Then my advice is to enjoy your hobby and don't worry so much about your achievements compared to anyone else's. Know what your end goal is, whether that is to bring a game to market, or to enjoy playtesting your own creations only with trusted friends, and start with the end in mind as your top priority.
Shaun D. McMillan Read more »
- New Game Round-up: From Mountains to Oceans, and From Galactic Emperor to Empire of the StarsAdam West released Galactic Emperor through CrossCut Games, which he co-owns. More than a decade later, he's revisited and reworked the design, with Empire of the Stars due to hit Kickstarter in 2019 ahead of a planned 2020 release. Here's an overview of the game, which sounds similar to the original at this high level:
Empire of the Stars is a fast-paced empire-building game of exploration, conflict, and struggle for dominance. The last galactic emperor has met with a sudden and quite fatal accident. Now there is a power vacuum in the galaxy, and you're one of the Planetary Dukes who wants to fill it.
Each of the 2-4 players takes one of 30 asymmetric powers and controls their own throne and sector of the galaxy. Using a unique action selection system, the game plays over several rounds, and within each round, the roles players choose determine what happens next. There are seven different roles: Explorer, Merchant, Steward, Engineer, Scientist, Warlord, and Regent. All players get a turn to act during each role, so the game is fast paced and everyone is always playing. Combat is thrilling and daring using a unique card combat system. There are 75 unique technologies impacting all parts of the game from industry and culture, engineering and the economy, and (of course) military might. Once the galactic throne is taken, every round after the game ticks down automatically, adding to the tension and excitement! Finally a 4x sci-fi game that guarantees a fast play time while arcing through an epic experience!
The player who uses all of this to their best advantage by exploring new worlds, expanding their empire, exploiting their precious resources and income, and exterminating their opponents to score the most galaxy tokens wins the game!
In this BGG thread, West details the changes from Galactic Emperor (which was for 3-6 players) to Empire of the Stars.
• Polish publisher Nasza Księgarnia has released new versions of two old-school two-player games: Głębia, which is Polish for "deep", is a new take on Stephen Glenn's Balloon Cup, with players now trying to sink in the ocean instead of floating high over mountains.
Kruki ("ravens") is a Polish version of the second edition of Odin's Ravens from Thorsten Gimmler, with the game's setting remaining the same and the otherworldly artwork being brand new courtesy of Marcin Minor.
Nasza Księgarnia has also released its own version of Zachary Eagle's Go Nuts for Donuts under the name Niezłe ciacho, which translates as "Pretty nice".
And the reprints continue with Fabryka czekolady ("The Chocolate Factory"), a new version of Nao Shimamura's Throne and the Grail, a two-player-only design that first appeared in 2016 from Taikikennai Games. In this game, over three rounds players either add a card from their hand to the river of cards or they take the most recent five cards from the river and add those cards to their collection. Collect majorities to score points, or collect all three grail cards to win instantly. The new version lacks a grail, of course, so you can try to collect the three bits of white chocolate instead.
Finally, we have Magazynier ("Shopkeeper"), a new version of Jog Kung's Small Warehouse that is for 2-4 players instead of only two. Each player builds their own collection of goods from cards that depict 3-5 types of merchandise on them. You can overlap the cards to create larger blocks of merchandise, and after you have eight cards, you score for each type of merchandise by multiplying the number of goods in that largest block by the number of different blocks you created.
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- VideoGame Overview: Sushi Roll, or You'll Die for Another Serving to GoPhil Walker-Harding thought he'd be connected with sushi for the rest of his life when he self-published Sushi Go! in 2013, but here we are in 2019 with Sushi Go! being a staple title in the game industry, a go-to suggestion when someone wants to gift a game to a stranger or introduce a newcomer to modern games.
Sushi Go! is appealing to many people because it's quick and easy to play; in each of three rounds, you pick up the cards dealt to you, choose one, reveal it and see what everyone else has chosen, pass the cards left, then choose again. You get a little surprise each turn, whether it's in the cards you've been given or the discovery that someone else has taken the lead from you for the endgame pudding bonus. When a round ends, you score points for the sets and individual cards you've collected, giving everyone a chance to evaluate who's in the lead and what you might want to do next round — assuming the cards work in your favor, of course.
Sushi Go Party! in 2016 expanded gameplay to eight players (instead of the game maxing out at five), and it included a catalog of card options that allowed you to customize the deck each game. Set-up time increased, yes, but so did the variety of the game experience.
For 2019, Walker-Harding and publisher Gamewright have released another tweak of the game system: Sushi Roll, a 2-5 player game that places the sushi on dice instead of cards. Gameplay is similar to Sushi Go! with players drafting dice over three rounds, scoring at the end of each round, then evaluating the pudding bonus at game's end, but the introduction of dice over cards changes a few elements of the game.
First, the game lasts fewer turns, with players starting each round with 5-8 dice (based on the number of players) drawn at random from the bag. Instead of having maki cards that depict one or more rolls, you now have a maki die that depicts 1-3 maki on its six sides; instead of a three types of nigiri cards, you have three types of nigiri on one die. All the sides of all five types of dice are helpfully presented on the menu that lies in front of each player, letting you know the odds of what might come up a die.
At the start of the round, you roll your dice, place them on your personal conveyor belt card, then draft one die from this card into your personal tray. After each player has chosen one die, you rotate the conveyor belt cards left, roll all the dice you just received, then choose one die again, and you repeat this until all the dice have been chosen. Each player starts with chopstick tokens that let you yoink a die from someone else's conveyor belt and replace it with one of your own and re-roll tokens that let you re-roll as many dice as you want on your conveyor belt before making your choice for the turn.
With dice replacing cards, the drafting choices are now open. When I pick a purple die with a tempura symbol, I can see how many other purple dice are in the game and where they are — which is important since I want to have some idea of how many such dice might be available to me over the course of the round — but I won't know exactly what's available to me on those dice since I have to roll them at the start of each turn. Sushi Roll replaces the mystery of which cards are being handed to you to which faces you'll see on the dice, while also giving you tools that allow you to manipulate fate in your favor — well, at least some of the time because you might bomb out repeatedly on rolling the sashimi you need to complete a set.
The other big change that comes with using dice instead of cards is that players now draft sequentially instead of simultaneously, possibly giving you a chance to respond to what someone else does. If you're leading someone in maki, which awards 6 points to whoever has the most rolls at the end of the round, and you each have a maki die on your belt, that player knows you can retake the lead if they choose it, so they might take something else. When you take a wasabi die, you place it on your tray, then place the next nigiri die you draft on top of it, tripling the value of that die — but you and everyone else can see where those nigiri are, and someone else might use chopsticks to take what you need before you get the chance to.
You can also use chopsticks to set up future turns, perhaps by swapping a die on your tray for a die on the player to your right. You'll get the die you want right now from that other player, then that player will ship that die back to you on the next turn, giving you another chance to roll what you need.
I've played Sushi Roll four times on a review copy from Gamewright, and gameplay with two seems notably different from gameplay with three and four players. You use only 16 dice at a time with two players, with each of you of seeing everything available, and the choices seem to play out in a somewhat obvious manner.
With three players you have 21 dice in play and with four players 24, so with more players you have more dice in play, with the turn order mattering (since you're not simply handing trays back and forth as in a two-player game) and with players competing for different things. It's not just you and me fighting for both maki and pudding and sets, but now I'm competing with Alice for maki and Bob for pudding and Cecily for sets, so you're pulled in multiple directions, while at the same time drafting fewer dice than in a two-player game, which makes each choice feel more important.
Youtube Video Read more »
- New Game Round-up: Race to Dig the Chunnel, and Try Not to Die in the ForestYesterday's post featured a new title from AEG that folks will first see at SPIEL '19 in October, so let's continue along those lines with even more games that most people will first experience in Essen.
Spanish publisher Looping Games will continue its historical series of games that are named "[year] [event/place]" with two entries, with those games being funded on the Spanish crowdfunding site Verkami through May 24. Esteban Fernandez' 1942 USS Yorktown is a 1-4 player co-operative game that the designer first released inline in 2011 under the name Sink the Carrier. Victory Point Games flirted with its own version of the game for a few years, but never released it, and now Looping Games will bring it to print in this guise:
On the stage of the Pacific battle, there was a concrete confrontation that marked a milestone in history, that of the American aircraft carrier USS Yorktown against the Japanese aircraft carrier IJN Shōhō. It is said that it was the first naval battle where the ships never saw each other, and they faced each other launching airplanes to locate their enemy and bomb them.
In 1942 USS Yorktown, you take the role of American pilots who take off from the USS Yorktown to try to locate and sink the Shōhō while you fight against the planes it throws at you. Time will be your main enemy since the whole game will be against the clock and there will be no time to prepare great strategies or for the dreaded "leader effect".
1987 Channel Tunnel, a two-player competitive game from designers Israel Cendrero and Sheila Santos that digs into a fascinating topic not previously covered in games as far as I know:
For centuries, the relationship between Britain and France has been marked by wars and rivalries, but also by mutual alliances. Both societies have a markedly different conception of Europe, but an intense commercial relationship that allowed them to work together in a common interest: the construction of the Channel Tunnel.
In 1987 Channel Tunnel, you get to put yourself in command of a team of builders from Britain or France to unite the two countries under the sea! You need to lead your team of workers, develop technology, and seek funding to bring the tunnel boring machine to the meeting point at the heart of this epic engineering feat. When the center of the tunnel length is reached, players earn points based on how far have they developed their technology tracks, which cards they have, and whether they haven't deviated with their machines too much.
When taking an action during the game, players play part of their tower of colored discs to perform it. This action won't be available for the rest of the round unless someone plays a taller tower (with more discs) on it. As soon as both players pass, return the discs to the bag, then start a new round.
Space Maze from Wacky Works, is launching new publisher Cinnamon Games with the SPIEL '19 release of Oh, Fox!, a quick-playing game for 2-4 players from first-time designer Hurby Donkers. Baudoin plans to demo the game at the UK Games Expo, which is becoming a familiar statement from European publishers who have new releases for SPIEL. Here's what to expect:
Read more »Only a few steps and those sweetly delicious berries you craved so much are yours to eat. They're right there, just take them! But you hesitate as things may not be as they seem. That vague shadow you spotted earlier could be anything and anywhere. It could be one of your forest friends, looking for food, as usual — or it could be something more dangerous, watching your every move, planning its time to strike...
In Oh, Fox!, players secretly take on the roles of animals of the forest, each with their own unique ability. Prey animals are gathering food while being hunted by the predator. Over seven turns, players move across the board by simultaneously playing one face-up movement card each turn. However, their figurines don't actually move until the end of the game! Until then, players try to hide their own identity while attempting to figure out who the others are before it is too late.
- Reform the Earth, Then Raid Islands with John D. Clair and AEGJohn D. Clair and publisher Alderac Entertainment Group have worked together on several designs, starting with Mystic Vale in 2016, then continuing with Custom Heroes in 2017, Space Base in 2018, and Edge of Darkness, which was funded on Kickstarter to the tune of $636k in March 2018 and which is currently scheduled to debut at Gen Con 2019 in August.
Turns out that this duo has several other titles in the works. Ecos: First Continent is a simultaneous play game — a genre also inhabited by AEG's recently released Tiny Towns — for 2-6 players that will debut at SPIEL '19 in October. Here's an overview of the setting and gameplay:
What if the formation of Earth had gone differently?
In Ecos: First Contient, players are forces of nature molding the planet, but with competing visions of its grandeur. You have the chance to create a part of the world, similar but different to the one we know. Which landscapes, habitats, and species thrive will be up to you.
Gameplay in Ecos is simultaneous. Each round, one player reveals element tokens from the element bag, giving all players the opportunity to complete a card from their tableau and shape the continent to their own purpose. Elements that cannot be used can be converted into energy cubes or additional cards in hand or they can be added to your tableau to give you greater options as the game evolves.
Mountain ranges, jungle, rivers, seas, islands and savanna, each with their own fauna, all lie within the scope of the players' options.
Dead Reckoning, which features the "card-crafting" system seen in other Clair designs, along with a whole lot of other material. Dead Reckoning is for 2-4 players, bears a 90-120 minute playing time, and is due out at some point in 2019. An overview:
Dead Reckoning is a game of exploration, piracy, and influence based in a Caribbean-eque setting. Each player commands a ship and crew and seeks to amass the greatest fortune. They do this through pirating, trading, treasure hunting, and (importantly) capturing and maintaining control over the uninhabited but resource-rich islands of the region. During the game, you can:
• Customize your ship: Your ship is represented by a token on the board. The board starts mostly unexplored and will be revealed as you venture into uncharted waters. You also have a ship board where you load cargo and treasure, and you can customize the guns, speed, or holding space of your ship.
• Card-craft your crew: You have a small deck of cards that will drive your actions in the game, with each card representing one of your crew members. This deck functions like one in a deck-building game, but the cards in the deck are sleeved, and rather than add new crew cards to your deck, you improve the skill and abilities of your crew cards by placing transparent "advancement" cards in those sleeves. Aside from the transparent advancements, your crew will also "level up" naturally during the game using a new card-leveling mechanism not seen in other card-crafting games such as Mystic Vale.
• Control the region: The region is filled with many deserted islands. These islands are a major source of treasure, and players will battle for control of these islands.
• Battle via a dynamic cube-tower: You can battle other players' ships or NPC merchant ships, and these battles are resolved via a new take on what a cube tower can be, with crew cards and ship powers increasing your chances of victory.
• Uncover secrets of the sea: Expansions for Dead Reckoning use a "saga" system in which certain content remains hidden and is discovered and added to the game organically only via playing. Rather than add everything at once, you gradually add it by playing and discovering. Depending on luck and player choice, less or more new content may get added each game.
Space Base: Command Station, an expansion for Space Base that includes components for two additional players (allowing for up to seven players to be in the same game) as well as "pre-deployed" ship cards "to adjust for balance and gameplay with more than five players". Introduce a problem, then solve it in the same box — sounds like a plan!
Space Base: Command Station retails for US$40 and is packaged in a large box that can serve as storage for the Space Base base game, the Shy Pluto expansion, and additional future expansions. Read more »
- Bézier Games Offers Silver Amulets, Bullets and More to Ward Off WerewolvesTed Alspach place werewolves? The answer, apparently, is all of them.
Alspach's Bézier Games has announced a new line of games that could be dubbed the "Silver line", with Silver debuting at Gen Con 2019 in August (ahead of a September 2019 retail release) and Silver Bullet arriving at SPIEL '19 in October. Each game is for 2-4 players, and the heart of the games is based on Mandy Henning and Melissa Limes' card game CABO, with Bézier not coincidentally having released a revised edition of this game in April 2019.
CABO is based on the public card game Golf, with players trying to have the lowest score at the end of a round. Most cards have only a numerical value, but a few of them have special powers, such as allowing the player who draws it to peek at cards and swap cards with an opponent to eliminate their high-valued cards. Silver and Silver Bullet build on this engine by having fourteen special-powered cards in each game. Oh, and werewolves, as explained below:
Your village has been overrun by savage werewolves, which are represented by the number on each of the cards that make up your village. To get rid of these fanged fiends faster than the neighboring villages, use your residents' special abilities and your powerful secret weapon: a silver artifact awarded to the village's protector.
Call for a vote when you think you have the fewest werewolves, but be careful; everyone else gets one more turn to save their own village first...
Silver is a fast and engaging traditional card game with a werewolf twist! Everyone starts the game with five face-down cards, with everyone being able to see two cards of their choice. Cards are numbered 0-13, with the number showing how many werewolves the character on that card attracts, and each character (number) has a different special power.
On a turn, you draw the top card of the deck or discard pile, then either discard it to use the power of the card (but only if it came from the deck), discard it without using the power (ditto), or replace one or more of your face-down cards with this card; you can replace multiple cards only if they bear the same number, and you must reveal the cards to prove this, being penalized if you're wrong.
Silver can be played as a standalone game or combined with Silver Bullet or other Silver decks. Each version of the game has different card abilities.
I've played Silver three times, once at PAX Unplugged and twice more on an advanced review copy from Bézier. The game is reminiscent of CABO, as you might expect, but thanks to the special powers, the variety of gameplay each round is wider since more things happen beyond people just hoping to snag a 0 quickly.
In more detail, Silver is akin to CABO in that you're trying to have the lowest total on your face-down cards each round. Some choices are easy; if you draw a 1, you're going to keep it and throw away one of your other cards, placing the 1 face down so that only you know what it is. Ideally you discarded a high-value card, but you know only two of them at the start of the game, so sometimes you just gamble on throwing away something unknown.
Once a card is discarded, it stays face up for the rest of the round, even though it might be brought back into play, say by using the power of the witch. Some cards have a power only while they're face up in someone's village, perhaps allowing you to draw multiple cards, keeping the one you want and returning the rest, thereby giving you information about what others take. Another face-up power creates multiple discard piles (sort of), which gives players better choices and accelerates the pace of the game. The bodyguard (3) can be used to protect another card, keeping an opponent from swiping it or forcing you to discard it.
As in CABO, when you place a card into your village, you replace one or more cards already present there as long as they have the same number. The doppelgänger in Silver can match any other card, so you want to use it wisely to get rid of something high-valued, but it's worth 13 points on its own and points are bad, so don't wait too long.
As soon as someone thinks they have the lowest sum, they can call for the end of the round. Each other player gets one more turn, which means they get one final chance to lower their sum or mess with you, then everyone reveals their sum. If you called for the round to end and were correct, you score no points and receive a special token — a silver amulet in one game, a silver bullet in another — that grants you a special power in the next round; if you called and failed to have the lowest sum, then you score the sum of your cards plus ten penalty points. Each other player scores the sum of their cards, and whoever has the lowest total sum after four rounds wins.
To integrate Silver with Silver Bullet — or one of the other Silver games that will inevitably follow — you use all the cards of a number from the same set, and you create a deck with numbers 0-13, with two copies of 0 and 13 and four copies of everything else. Thus, you could simply swap the 6s from Silver with the 6s from Silver Bullet, or you could do something more complex, such as having even numbers from one set and odd numbers from another, or you could have players draft the cards they want to use.
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- Adventure Games: A Choose-Your-Own Designer Diary
You find yourself back in Sydney, Australia, around Christmas in 2017. You enjoy being back home and escaping an English winter, as well as seeing your family. You have some spare time one day and are wondering what to do.
If you want to design a game by yourself, go to .
If you want to try to find a co-designer to generate some new ideas, go to .
In return for meeting up to discuss designs, you offer Phil a veritable horde of riches and wealth, an offer that in reality amounts to paying for a few drinks. Phil, being the extremely kind person that he is, turns the table and in fact invites you to his house to work — no bribes necessary! Go to .
Considering the rough state of the game, you decide to show the game to only a few publishers in Nürnberg. You get some interest — and even play a full scenario in one meeting — but no one quite sees the promise in the game that you and Phil see. That's not surprising considering how new the design is!
One of the final meetings you have is with Wolfgang Ludkte from KOSMOS, someone you have been meeting at fairs for the last eight years or so. It is always a pleasure to meet with Wolfgang, especially as he is particularly willing to be shown absolutely anything you are working on. He always wants to see designs — even if he will quickly say it is something KOSMOS is not interested in.
Brett Gilbert (center), Wolfgang Ludkte (right), and I at SPIEL '18
This is key as you had not really considered showing the Adventure Game to Wolfgang. KOSMOS publishes the already hugely successful Exit series, after all, and isn't this game just a bit too close to it? What do you do?
Leave the prototype in your bag — better not to risk it. Go to .
Take Wolfgang's encouragement and show him the prototype. Go to .
It starts with Phil's desire to make a system for an open adventuring game, something that acts as a scaffold for any type of story or mechanism, while offering interesting yet clear decisions. You quickly think about the old point-and-click video games — games, puzzles really, that relied on the myriad possible combinations between a few simple elements. Going straight from this inspiration, you think about having a deck of actions — Search, Talk, Take, or Use — and a set of cards laid out that represent different locations where you can perform these different actions. Players have a hand of action cards, and on their turn will move to a location and use a specific action there. Then they would draw a new card, and the game ends when the deck of actions is depleted.
Because each of the locations potentially has five different results based on which action you choose to use, we needed an easy way to access these results – it would be too difficult to list them all on the back of the card! Sometimes you don't need to reinvent the wheel, so in the tradition of games like Tales of the Arabian Nights, we turned to a paragraph book. Each action card has a specific number, as do the location cards, and to show the interaction between the two, you would simply add one to the other (a lá Unlock) and turn to that entry in the book. For example, you encounter a knight at a crossroads. Do you...
Search him? Go to .
Talk to him? Go to .
You enjoy some alone time, but can't seem to get any new ideas brewing. It's hard to concentrate when the weather is so good! But you still really want to make a new game, so you reach out to some friends. Go to .
One hot December day, you trudge through suburban Sydney to Phil's apartment. Once there, you undergo the usual meeting of design minds: seeing what each other is obsessed with playing at the moment, which games are in your collections, what it was like to work with publisher X. But the question that propels the discussion is this one: "What game are you really itching to make?"
"I want to make an easy-to-learn family game, maybe something with brightly colored pieces?" Go to .
"I want to make a crazy ambitious open-world adventuring game!" Go to .
You try to get started on an idea based on a deserted island and pirate treasure, but in the meantime Phil is so productive that he manages to finish a scenario with that same theme in only a few days! Cyberpunk it is, then! Go to .
While you haven't lived in Australia for almost ten years, you reach out to Phil Walker-Harding, having only met him a handful of times — fun side fact: you were the very first distributor of Sushi Go! in Europe, which in reality means posting a lot of parcels to the original Kickstarter backers — to see whether he is open to working on a game with you.
If you want to try to convince him by flattery, go to .
If you want to try to convince him with a bribe, go to .
This is the option you should have taken. It is certainly not recommended to show games to publishers that you haven't had time to playtest and iterate extensively. You don't want to waste their time, after all!
But in this case, well, you and Phil just instinctively know you have something here, even if it is still rough. You decide to show it to a few select publishers anyway. Go to .
You want a scenario that is a bit more sinister and dark. What better than a shadowy corporation in the near future that has developed a new wonder drug? And while Phil's excellent graphic skills are on display in his scenarios, your meager artistic skills lead you to rely on images from computer games with the required look. It's a tough slog, building a scenario from scratch, but you eventually have a first draft ready to send to KOSMOS.
But this is only the start. Over the coming months, you and Phil work with Ralph and Michael Sieber-Baskal, a role-playing expert at KOSMOS who takes the development lead for the project, going through iteration after iteration to find the best experience and story for the two scenarios. A lot of work is done to remove any elements not absolutely essential to telling a compelling story, and to reduce any overly mechanical experiences. You know that you couldn't have done it without Michael and Ralph (and indeed the rest of the KOSMOS team), and when the final product is ready to go to print, you are all extremely proud of what you've accomplished. Adventure Games: The Dungeon and Adventure Games: Monochrome Inc. will launch in German on May 16, 2019, and in English in October 2019, and you and Phil can't wait to see players making their way through the adventures!
The launch is imminent, and you consider writing a designer diary for BoardGameGeek. Do you...
Write a conventional kind of story, with a linear narrative? Go to .
Do something a bit different, more befitting the adventure games? Go to .
This system worked well and allowed a lot of surprising results, often from the fact we had to choose relatively generic actions that could work with people and inanimate locations — although even then it stretched logic a bit! For example, what would you happen if you "Interact" with that knight? What happens if you "Talk" to a lake?
But we also wanted a sense of progression, of discovery, of finding that key interaction that suddenly opens up all of these new options. Again turning to the source material of point-and-clicks, we remembered that these usually allowed you to pick up various items along the way, with these items then becoming a new way to interact with locations. It was relatively easy to implement new numbered items that you would receive at different locations, such as gaining an empty bottle when you Search the tavern. A player would keep items in front of them, and on their turn they could combine these with a location, or another item, again looking up the sum of the two numbers in the book. We also added new locations that were revealed if the players did certain actions, again opening up new options. Here we reached the same complexity of combinations from a small number of components that we were looking for!
You meet Phil a second time to work on the scenario in early January 2018, and before long it is time for you to travel back to the UK. With a little bit more writing, you have a full playable prototype, and Spielwarenmesse — the annual toy fair in Nürnberg — is only two weeks away! What do you do?
Work more on the game. After all, it's only about a month old and has barely been tested! Go to .
Playtesting — who needs that? Show it to publishers in Nürnberg! Go to .
Hasn't this story taught you anything about following your gut and taking a chance? Obviously it hasn't. You lose. Go back to .
You wax lyrical to Phil about the elegance and simplicity of his designs, from the moorish Sushi Go! to the chunky decision making of Imhotep. Despite him being extremely modest about his accomplishments, you sense your words have convinced him, and he invites you to visit him. Go to .
Phil takes out his enormous box of many colored cubes, and you start randomly moving them around on a piece of paper. Then a kind of slot machine mechanism starts to form, with you dropping pieces into different chutes and trying to get them to match colors where they land. Maybe the pieces are differently colored candies? But most importantly — there is something here with this idea...
You have designed a different game than what you were destined for. This is the end of this story, but it will be continued...! Go back to .
Here goes! You set up the game and start explaining it to Wolfgang. Within five minutes, he gets up and gets a colleague to join you at the table. This turns out to be Ralph Querfurth, the person at KOSMOS who had the original idea for the Exit series. Immediately they are both extremely excited by the game and start thinking about possibilities for the system. Rather than this idea competing with Exit, they think it could be a new line to follow it! They ask to be able to take the game back to their offices and test it further.
In the meantime, Phil has been working on another version of the system called "Trek" in which there are no specific action cards; instead the location cards simply show a series of numbers on different features of the card, and players can choose which thing they want to interact with by turning to that number. If, for example, you are in a dungeon, you can examine the window or the door, or perhaps look under the bed, and in each case you turn to a different number. You still have items, and these can be combined with any number present in a location or with another item; to do this, you place the smaller number in front of the larger number, then to that combination. In the example below, if you turn to entry 1011 this details your success in using the can opener on the can of cat food, and it gives you item 12 — an open can of cat food!
Seeing as the game is still progressing, we send this version to KOSMOS as well, and they begin testing both versions. It is quickly apparent that the Trek system is superior. Gone are the strange combinations of action and place, and it more closely resembles the adventure games: You can look at a location and directly decide what you want to investigate more closely. Furthermore, you can control the rate at which new location cards are added to give a better sense of pacing. Finally, the game is simple. On your turn, you simply examine a location or use an item.
KOSMOS agrees as well, and within two months they sign the game for publication! But the work is now only just beginning: KOSMOS wants new scenarios to test, to see what works and what doesn't. Phil continues to work on his dungeon concept, as well as [redacted] and [redacted] scenarios. Now you get a chance to write your first scenario with Phil's new system — what type of story do you want to tell?
Pirates! Go to .
Cyberpunk! Go to .
(Real entry from the initial prototype) Hello, stranger! I am afraid I cannot let you pass. But I am extremely thirsty and would happily share a drink with you if you had one.
Hmmm...where will you find a drink for him? Go to .
In some adventures you have to take a chance...but this is not one of those times. You leave Nürnberg with no interest in the game, and your adventure ends here. Go back to , and maybe try taking a chance this time!
(Real entry from the initial prototype) "What are you doing?" The knight doesn't take kindly to a stranger attempting to search his person, and he "thanks" you with a punch to the head. Discard all of your action cards, then draw three new action cards at the end of your turn.
Well, that didn't go too well! Go to .
I hope you enjoyed your adventure! You have made it the end of this designer diary, and the Adventure Games have become a reality. You win!
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- New Game Round-up: Claim Battlefields with Anthropomorphized Weapons, Then Participate in a Board Game Cafe FrenzyTGM May 2019 Preview. For every game that I add to that preview, at least ten others are announced and will never be seen outside TGM. So sad, but I'm doing what I can to shine a light on some of the newness, such as Heiki Strike Alternative from Jesse Li, Afong Lee, and Moaideas Game Design.
Yes, Moaideas is a Taiwanese publisher, not a Japanese one, but for the past couple of years they've used TGM as a launching ground for new titles that will be available at SPIEL later that year, so it's good to take our previews when we can. Heiki Strike Alternative is a two-player-only game that works as follows, assuming that I've understood everything correctly in the Google-assisted translation:
In Heiki Strike Alternative (兵姫ストライク オルタナティブ), the two players each build their own deck from the cards in the box, then deploy their princesses and anthropomorphized weapons to sea and air spaces in a fight to occupy the battlefields. To do this, a player must meet the "occupation conditions" for a battlefield, after which they take the battlefield card. Whoever claims three battlefield cards first wins.
Players will grow stronger over the course of the game through the playing of cards. If a player empties their deck, they shuffle the discarded cards in their reserve to create a new deck, rebuild their base, and now get more resources each turn — but if they run through their deck a third time, they lose.
The phrase "anthropomorphized weapons" was used a couple of times in the description, and one post about the game had what looked like a WWII airplane transformed into a manga-style princess — but with propellers and wings.
Shadow Rivals, a 2-5 player design from Halifa in which everyone is trying to rob the same mansion, and マーダーミステリー～約束の場所へ～ (Murder Mystery: To the Promised Place), a six-player-only murder mystery game that plays in 2-2.5 hours and initially seems available solely in Japanese (whereas most Moaideas titles include rules in Chinese, English, and Japanese).
• Another Taiwanese publisher selling games at TGM in May 2019 is The Wood Games, with designer/artist Citie Lo featuring Board Game Cafe Frenzy, a trick-taking game for 2-5 players:
You've opened a new board game café and want to earn as much money as you can — but others are doing the same thing, so you better figure out how to succeed better than them!
Board Game Cafe Frenzy is a tactical trick-taking game that consists of two phases, "Preparing" and "Opening the Door", with each phase lasting ten turns. In the "Preparing" phase, each player buys a card from the market each turn, and cards come in five types: board game, snack, clerk, store, and wi-fi. Each kind of card gives you different items that are important for managing your board game café.
During each turn of the "Opening the Door" phase, each player plays a card from their hand that they acquired during the first phase; players must play a different color than what's already been played, with higher numbers also being important. Hope that you prepared well! At the end of a turn, each player can use one action disk from their action bar to perform one specific action. After this phase ends, players undergo a final scoring, then add their coins to see who has the most money and has won the game.
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- New Game Round-up: Fight for the Eternal Throne, and Stay Current with Dragon's InterestPaul Dennen, designer of the Clank! line of games from Dire Wolf Digital and Renegade Game Studios, has a new title due out from that pair of publishers in August 2019. Here's a teaser description of Eternal: Chronicles of the Throne, which is for 2-4 players with a 30-45 minute playing time:
The Eternal Throne sits empty as scions of the royal family struggle for control. Dispatch those who oppose you by recruiting allies to your cause, researching powerful spells, and acquiring valuable relics!
Eternal: Chronicles of the Throne combines deck-building games and strategy card battlers into an intense strategic experience. Summon powerful allies to attack your opponents, or build an unbreakable defense. Will you exhibit patience and seek the power of the Eternal Throne, or forgo such a risky path?
Dragon's Interest was released by designer Jesse Li's Bwunsu Games in 2018, and now Tasty Minstrel Games plans to run a crowdfunding campaign in May 2019 for a new version of this 3-5 player design that plays in 60-90 minutes. What is the dragon interested in, you might ask? Interest, as explained below:
The war just ended. You spent almost every coin for the war, so now you need more funds to rebuild your kingdom. You have no choice but to beg the dragon for help. "Money for a new harbor? Interesting. I am happy to help you with all my treasure, but...", says the dragon, as she stares through tiny glasses on her nose, "...how much should you pay back?"
You don't have to worry about the financial crisis for now — but if you don't pay the debt on time, the flame from her mouth will bring an end to your kingdom!
In Dragon's Interest, players are going to borrow money from the dragon to build their own kingdoms. To pay the interest, players have to manage their money and knights carefully. Players are also able to activate their buildings' special abilities and buy buildings from their opponents. If someone cannot pay the interest, the game ends immediately. The player who can pay the interest in the last round and has the most victory points wins!
North Star Games plans to release Wolfgang Warsch's Die Tavernen im Tiefen Thal in English in Q4 2019. (For those curious to know more about this big box game, you can watch this overview video from Spielwarenmesse 2019 or await my personal overview video that I plan to publish on May 20, 2019, the day that the 2019 Kennerspiel des Jahres nominations will be announced. I'm not saying that I know anything about these nominees in advance — only that I suspect this title might be on that list. We'll see.)
• Ahead of the May 16, 2019 retail release of two Adventure Games titles in Germany by designers Phil Walker-Harding and Matthew Dunstan, KOSMOS has announced that a third such title will be released in the second half of 2019. (For more about these titles, check out Dunstan's designer diary on BGG News on Monday, May 13, 2019. The English version of these titles is due out in October 2019.)
• Ahead of the 2019 UK Games Expo, Board&Dice is teasing two announcements: a deluxe reprint edition of a game originally released in 2012 and a new design from Daniele Tascini that will be delivered with a cat on top of it.
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- New Game Round-up: Manipulate Dice, Find Insects, Create Towns, and Create Tricky LinesTokyo Game Market May 2019 Preview that I've put together. This list barely scratches the surface given that hundreds of new titles will be released at TGM — check out the vendor list here! — but I do what I can. I also appreciate the efforts of Saigo, Jon Power, James Nathan, and Rand Lemley to dig a few scoops out of the mountain and add more titles to the BGG database!
• We'll start with DAZZLING DICELINE from Masaki Suga and analog lunchbox, who have created waves before with Airship City and passtally. Here's a short description:
In DAZZLING DICELINE, use your red, green, and grey dice to perform dice actions while creating horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines with the bonus tiles you collect in order to score the most victory points. You need to anticipate what the other players will do and use your bonus tiles to perform bonus actions if you want to efficiently perform dice actions and score victory points.
POLAR POND GAMES, with this being a 2-6 player game for younger players that plays in 10-15 minutes. An overview of insect inc.:
In insect inc., a game that combines puzzles, cards, and picture searches, you are a researcher for a company of the same name that's developing colorful insects as art. A new kind of insect has fled to the forest thanks to a minor mistake by one of your colleagues, and because it is a new undiscovered species, it needs to be recovered quickly.
You must be careful when collecting insects for if you surprise them, they will mimic nature through camouflage. Can you safely recover the insects that fled?
Oink Games has a new tiny title from Jean-Claude Pellin — designer of Oink's 2015 release Nine Tiles — and Jens Merkl, a frequent design partner of Pellin's. Like Nine Tiles, Nine Tiles Panic is a real-time game in which players race to place tiles in a 3x3 grid; aside from that, the games are not similar:
In Nine Tiles Panic (ナインタイル パニック), each player has a set of nine double-sided town tiles.
At the start of a round, three scoring cards are revealed, such as most aliens on a single road, most dogs visible, or longest road. All player then race to assemble their town in whatever pattern seems best, trying to score points for one, two, or three of the scoring cards as they wish. As soon as the first player decides that they're done, they flip the sand timer and everyone else has 90 seconds to complete their town, then players determine who scores for which cards, with ties being broken in favor of whoever finished first. Players score points based on the number of players in the game, and players track their score on a chart over multiple rounds.
カラーギャングルズ (Color Gangsters), a trick-taking game — a popular genre among JP designers — from designers Takafumi Asano, Emi Hirano, and Yuya Hirano of BREMEN Games. This 3-5 player has a fair amount of Japanese text that is crucial to gameplay, so I can't even give you examples of the scoring conditions in the description below, but as is often the case with these games, I add something to the BGG database with the hope that others will add more information later:
In カラーギャングルズ, players attempt to meet certain conditions while playing through their hand of cards.
To set up the game, shuffle the sixteen tiles, then lay out nine of them at random in a 3x3 grid. Each tile has a different condition on it that a player must meet in order to claim the tile. Players each receive a hand of nine cards from a fifty-card deck, with the deck having five suits of cards, each numbered 1-10. These cards show the color of the suit on their back, revealing that information to all players.
The game includes six color trump cards (one for each color and one for no color) and eleven number trump cards (ditto).
As players complete tricks, if they meet the condition on a tile, they mark it with one of their markers. If a player places three of their markers in a line, they win the game.
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- VideoGame Preview: Die Hard: The Nakatomi Heist Board Game, or Welcome to the Party, Pal!Die Hard: The Nakatomi Heist Board Game, a design by Sean Fletcher and Patrick Marino that's due out in Q2 2019 from The OP (née USAopoly).
Die Hard is for 2-4 players and bears a playing time of 60-90 minutes, with one player taking the role of John McClane and everyone else acting as a terrorist. The game plays out over three acts, mirroring the events of the Die Hard movie, with the actions taken in acts one and two carrying over into the final standoff. I had posted a written overview of the game in mid-March 2019, but now The OP's embargo on our video preview has ended, so take a look:
As a bonus, here are a trio of promotional images from The OP showing miniatures for John McClane and Hans Gruber, along with one of cards from the game:
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- The Origins 2019 Preview Is Live — Now With Publisher PreordersOrigins 2019 Preview is now live on BoardGameGeek, kicking off with 120 titles, which is nearly half of what was listed in 2018 (263 titles), so it seems likely that we'll hit three hundred listings by the time that the 2019 Origins Game Fair opens on Wednesday, June 12.
As in years past, BGG will be at Origins to livestream interviews with designers and publishers for five days — June 12-16 — about their new and upcoming games. Given that we have five days of coverage without a huge number of Origins-debut titles, you'll likely see a lot of prototypes for games due out in the second half of 2019 or in 2020. We'll start putting together that demo schedule in mid-May 2019 with publication of it scheduled for Monday, June 10.
One big addition to this convention preview — and the reason for its delayed arrival — is that we have added a preorder system to this list and now publishers can take preorders from you for titles that they will have on hand at Origins 2019. Here's an example of what those preorders look like within the Origins 2019 Preview:
Yes, you can place a preorder and pay for a new release from Renegade Game Studios now, then pick it up at Origins 2019. Why would you want to do this? Multiple reasons:
• You know you want to get something, and you don't want to have to rush the doors to get it before it sells out. (Not sure whether that's really a thing at Origins, but at Gen Con and SPIEL...)
• You hate waiting in lines to buy games and just want to be able to show a receipt and get the game.
• You want to have a better idea of how much you're spending or you want to budget your spending.
I imagine that other publishers will set up preorders on the Origins 2019 Preview in the future, and I've sent instructions on how to do so to the 130+ publishers that I wrote to for information about their new and upcoming games. (If you're a publisher who will have new titles and prototypes at Origins 2019, and I haven't contacted you, please Geekmail me or write to me at the email address in the BGG News header.) Setting up preorders in the Origins 2019 Preview is voluntary for a publisher, but we know that it's a pain to manage such things, so we implemented this system to (ideally) streamline the process.
One of the biggest reasons that a publisher might decide to take preorders this way — aside from having a better idea of how much inventory to bring to the con — is that they'll have to handle less cash at conventions. This isn't a big deal at Origins and Gen Con given how much those in the U.S. use credit cards, but it could be a huge deal for publishers at SPIEL. Multiple publishers had thousands of Euros stolen at SPIEL '18, and if they can instead complete a decent percentage of their sales via preorder ahead of time, they will be a less attractive target in Essen. (Scott Alden has told me that the thefts at SPIEL '18 were the primary motivator to get this preorder system in place after years of me having on my wish list.)
BGG earns a 5% commission on these preorder sales, so I won't pretend that we're doing this entirely for altruistic reasons, but I think this preview preorder system offers positives for both publishers and players, especially when we look ahead to Gen Con and SPIEL where the lines are much longer, publishers worry about whether they're bringing too much or too little stock, and players want to know they can get something without having to buy a VIP badge. The Origins 2019 Preview is our test case, and if all goes well, this preorder system will be in place in the Gen Con 2019 Preview, the SPIEL '19 Preview, and many other such previews in the years to come. Read more »
- VideoGame Overview: Nagaraja, or It Didn't Have to Be Snakes, But It Is, So Get Over It
We first recorded an overview of the two-player game Nagaraja at Spielwarenmesse 2018 in the Hurrican booth, but the presentation was not ideal, so we never published that video. At Gen Con 2018, co-designer Théo Rivière showed off the game in the BGG booth (video), then at the FIJ fair in Cannes in February 2019, co-designer Bruno Cathala and illustrator Vincent Dutrait got their turn in front of the mic (video).
What's more, Nagaraja was actually released at FIJ 2019! Yes, the game was available, and I went home with a review copy courtesy of Hurrican. Now the game is available on the U.S. market as well, and in case you need one more video about the game, I've posted one below from my perspective.
The gist of the game is that you want to find 25 points worth of relics in your individual temple before a competing archaeologist finds that amount of points in their temple. I'm not sure whether we're competing in mirror universes or side-by-side temples or in mock temples set up by our university sponsors to determine who they should put on staff. It feels odd us competing in this way, somehow having nearly identical temples, but at a certain point, you wave it off as game logic and get on with things.
Each player starts with a hand of five cards, and cards can be used for their bidding power — that is, access to fate dice that come in three types — or their special ability, which can be used on yourself, your opponent, or either player depending on how the card is labeled. Each round starts with players revealing one temple tile, then simultaneously bidding for that tile with one or more cards from their hand; cards come in four families, and all the cards you bid must come from the same family.
Once you reveal the cards, you roll the dice shown on your cards, with brown dice giving 3-5 fate points, white dice giving 2-3 fate points or a naga (snake), and green dice giving either 1 fate point or a naga. After rolling dice, players can spend nagas to play cards from their hand for their special abilities. Whoever ends up with the most fate points claims the tile, adds it to their temple, then reveals any relics they've reached with the paths that they've constructed. Relics are worth 3-6 points, but the three 6-point relics are cursed, and you lose the game if you reveal all three of them at once.
The player who didn't win the tile draws three cards, keeps two of them, and passes the third card to the opponent. Rounds continue until someone loses, someone reaches 25 points and wins, or someone fills their temple with tiles, at which time the player with the most points wins.
Nagaraja is simple at heart, but features delicious tension in its choices. You want to win temple tiles since those allow you to reach relics and score points — but if you just place lots of tiles, you might lose due to curses. You can use special abilities on cards to peek at your relics or swap them or rotate tiles or swap tiles in order to stay away from curses or hide relics previously found, but each card you use this way is one you can't use for bidding. You want to bid high for tiles (mostly by bidding brown dice), but if you overbid, then you've effectively wasted bidding power or cards, and cards are precious since you receive only one of the opponent's choice when you do win a tile. You might then bid more conservatively and hope to use nagas to play special powers if needed to beat the opponent, but you then roll no snakes despite having four green dice.
I've played three games to date, and each has been tense from beginning to end. Every choice seems important, but you also have to deal with fate in terms of the dice you roll. You have some say over how fate will treat you given that a brown die at worst ties a white die, and a white die always beats a green die, yet you don't know what your opponent will bid as you'll rarely know all of the cards in that player's hand. All you can do is make choices, then see how things play out, you and your opponent in a tug-of-war turn after turn for tiles and cards as you race one another for points in twin temples...
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- Designer Diary: Bugs on RugsBugs on Rugs.
After each convention, I have a steak dinner. It's a treat, a way to wind down, an excuse to put meat in my mouth-hole. At the end of Field Marshall Gaming Con 2016, as I was eating my New York strip, I decided to go through the "game ideas" folder on my phone.
I'm sure every designer has something similar: a list of themes, names, mechanisms. Most of them will never leave the folder, but sometimes you'll find a 3:00 a.m. idea you had that has some potential.
In this case, it was a drafting mechanism that caught my eye, specifically a Rochester draft — a draft from the table, a là The Networks — in which the undrafted card affects everyone.
When I originally thought of the mechanism, I was imagining it as a small part of a larger game — players choosing a Greek god to worship, with the remaining deity getting mad and smiting the town — but I'd just started to find success with Jellybean Games, so my focus was on small, family-friendly games.
Instead of this mechanism being part of a whole, what if it were the entire game?
I landed on the bug-catching theme pretty quickly: The cards had to be something collectible, and the unchosen card having an effect suggested it had to be something active, alive.
I could have gone with hunting safari animals or even my original "picking a god to worship" idea, but once the idea of bug-collecting struck me, I knew it was the perfect fit. My love of ants (no idea why, but I truly love ants) certainly helped.
By the time my meal was done I had two pages of notes, and within the week I had a prototype:
My worst habit is overdesigning. The first draft had 21 unique bugs, in four types: standard, pest, butterfly, and dragonfly (which existed as an elaborate mechanism to determine each round's starting player). For comparison, the final game has nine bugs, and the first player role passes to the left at the end of each round.
This is where the village began to weigh in. Two designer friends of mine — Allysha Tulk and Kevin Carmichael — had a design night at their house. The first time we played, the (then-untitled) game wasn't fun. A lot of the effects involved cards moving in and out of your hand, so you'd pick a card, then immediately lose it. Kevin made the first big suggestion of the development process: Have everyone take two cards before the effect kicked in. The game immediately got a lot more interesting.
Before I left, Allysha made the second big contribution: "Net It", a working title for the game.
Over the next few months, "Net It" became my most playtested game. It was the easiest to teach, it required very little set-up or table space, and people understood it almost immediately. I remember playing it in a Korean restaurant at 1:00 a.m. with Eric Lang, who suggested I start everyone with a card to discourage everyone memorizing each other's picks.
Cardboard Edison (Chris Zinsli and Suzanne Karbt) helped me tweak the numbers higher and lower, seeing how the incentives for different bug combinations changed.
But the next huge change to the game came after BGG.CON 2016 when I showed the game to Jonathan Gilmour — but before we get to that, let me lay out a few details about gameplay at that time:
The game is simple. To set up, shuffle the deck and have everyone draw a card. Each round, lay bugs on the table: twice as many bugs as players, plus one, so in a three-player game, seven bugs and in a five-player game, eleven. Choose a starting player. They take a bug. Go around to the left until everyone has taken two bugs, then trigger the final bug and move it to the side. (At the time, this was called "the garden").
Keep playing until the first butterfly card is exposed — these are placed at the bottom of the deck at the start of play — then finish that round and calculate points from your hand. Whoever has the most points wins!
Each bug had a different scoring method: Fireflies gained a point for each bug of a different color in your hand; ants were worth more the more you have; bees were worth 2 points each, plus a point for each bee held by another player; flies were worth 2 points each; and spiders were worth 2 points for each fly you held.
The garden effects were pretty simple as well: Everyone draws a card; everyone discards a card; discard all other garden cards; activate some more garden cards.
Dracula's Feast (which had just wrapped up on Kickstarter). Dead of Winter was one of my gateway games, so I was more than a little starstruck.
At BGG.CON, I didn't really know anyone. That was the con where I met my future best friend/business partner Nicole Perry, but I'd literally just met her and didn't really love the idea of saying, "Hey, can we hang out all day every day at this convention please?" Jon saw me wandering around, found me on Facebook, and sent me a message asking whether I wanted to come play with him and his crew.
If you're looking for a physical representation of the spirit of kindness, warmth, and inclusivity in this community, you need go no further than Jonathan Gilmour.
I spent most of BGG.CON playing games with Jon and his group — the "Jontourage" — all of whom I'm now good friends with. We played published games, prototypes, the whole gamut. By the end of the convention, I'd shown him every game I was working on, and he'd offered valuable feedback on all of them.
The trouble with someone as nice as Jon Gilmour is that he's nice, so after we played "Net It", he told me that there was no real feedback he could give. By that point, I'd spent months cleaning everything up and sanding off the rough edges. It was a difficult game to give feedback on because there was nothing obviously wrong with it.
But I pushed.
"I know it's fun", I asked, "but as a product, why would anyone buy this if they already have Sushi Go?"
I assured him that I really did want an honest response, and after a few moments of thought, he told me the truth: He couldn't really see a reason.
When you're designing a small drafting game, the comparisons to Sushi Go are inevitable — and I'm sure the fact that Phil Walker-Harding and I are both extremely handsome Australians doesn't help.
Sushi Go is incredible, a flawless execution of a very simple idea. It's a small game that casts a long shadow, so I asked JG what he thought I could do to differentiate my bug-drafting game. He looked through the deck, pulled out the ant and the beetle, and pushed them towards me. "These cards," he said. "These cards have you interacting with other players in a way that Sushi Go doesn't."
As I said above, most of the cards had simple, global effects — effects which, looking back, weren't particularly interesting. The two that Jon pulled out? The ant's effect was "Pass a card to the left", and the beetle's was "In turn order, each player swaps a card from their hand with a card from the garden."
I thanked him for his candor, then put the game away for a year.
Jon's advice was absolutely correct. I knew it was the right direction to go. The trouble was that I had no idea how to do it. The game was so simple that I didn't have eight different ways for players to interact.
"Net It" ideas continued to brew in my head, and almost exactly twelve months later I sat down and assembled a new prototype. The changes were simple: "Draw a card" was still there, as was "Pass a card to the left". Joining them was "Pass a card to the right", "Return a card to the top of the deck" (so it would be an option in the next draft), and "Everyone places a card in the middle; shuffle them and redeal."
I was surprised by how effective these changes were. The game was still 90% the same, but it was suddenly so much more dynamic. Interactive. Fun!
It turns out — and this may shock you — when it comes to game design, Jonathan Gilmour knows what he's talking about.
Over the next month or two, I continued to clean up the game, all little things at this point. For a long while, "Net It" had cards that you removed for two- or three-player games. This was unnecessary, and including all cards at all player counts was a flat improvement to the game.
Buffalo-based game designer Joel Colombo spotted and immediately solved a problem I hadn't seen. Going last in a five-player game was a miserable experience because you got last pick twice, then second-last pick twice, then third-last pick twice, so by the time you got an early pick, the game was almost over and you had a hand with zero synergy. He suggested a snake draft (with players drafting one card in clockwise order, then the second card in counterclockwise order starting with the last player), and this change eliminated the issue entirely, while also making the role of first player more interesting. Now you got first pick (giving you the most options) and last pick (which meant you were choosing the global effect to activate).
After another few months of playtesting, I'd taken the game as far as I could.
I was still getting notes (too many cards in-hand for a two-player game, too much math in scoring), but I didn't think any of them were solvable — at least not without making the game significantly worse in other ways.
Kids Table Board Games was also based in Toronto, and I was a huge fan of their aesthetic — the look of a game is so important to me as you'll know if you've played any Jellybean title — so I sent them a prototype and waited to hear back.
To my delight, they loved the game and immediately signed it.
I consider myself a good designer, but a better developer. I'm also handsome, witty, and extraordinarily modest — just spectacular on all fronts, basically. As a result, I (arrogantly, I now realize) wasn't expecting to see many changes from the prototype I sent them. I'd spent two years developing it, after all. What else was there to fix?
Helaina Cappel (the woman behind KTBG) and I live in the same city, but we mostly see each other at conventions. At Origins, we made the time to sit down and play "Shutterbugs" (as she'd renamed it), and I was absolutely blown away by the changes.
One of my design weaknesses is this obsession with things being fair. Fairness can obviously be a good thing, but I almost always take it too far, adding unhelpful rules and restrictions in pursuit of Ultimate Fairness.
Each of the bugs in the game had its own unique scoring mechanism, and many of them relied on collecting the same bug repeatedly. Seeing every card in the deck, I reasoned, was vital. What if you started collecting one type of bug, and it came up less than the others? So I had added butterflies. Eighteen of them were placed at the bottom of the deck, and they served as the endgame trigger. You'd reach them only once you got through every other bug, and I used eighteen of them because I'd sat down and done the math; it was the exact number that meant even in the worst-case scenario, you'd never run out the deck.
Did I mention I tend to over-design?
Helaina (and her husband Josh Cappel, who did the graphic design) had very wisely taken that mess of a mechanism out and simply added a card that triggered the end of the game. This may sound like a simple change, but it more than tripled the speed of set-up ("Shuffle the deck, then add the 'Game End' card" — no more sorting out butterflies) and fixed the problem that I'd falsely seen as unsolvable, that is, each player having too many cards at the end of a two-player game.
They'd also swapped out the words for icons — which makes the first play a little confusing, but by the second play you'll know them all by heart — and cleaned up basically every card in the game, reducing the amount of math at the end of the game and removing a bunch of rare, unfun interactions.
Here's an example: In the draft I submitted, flies were worth 2 points and spiders 3 points for each fly in your hand. This was a lot of fun, but it made two-player games really cutthroat. If one player got all the spiders and flies, they won. Every time.
When I'd been developing, I'd thought this was interesting, but Helaina decided that "mandatory hate-drafting" wasn't well-suited to a light, family-friendly game. In retrospect: Duh. They kept flies at 2 points apiece, but bumped spiders up to 7...but only if you discard a fly. No more multipliers, no more out-of-control point engines. Simple, clean, and much more fun.
I could spend pages listing the changes they made, but by the end of the process, Helaina and Josh had solved every problem I'd seen as unsolvable. It was a genuinely humbling experience; the amount of time and love Helaina and Josh poured into this simple card-drafting game has put KTBG (and their Burnt Island Games studio) at the very top of my list of publishers to work with.
They love their games, and they know what they're doing.
The final step was to come up with a name. "Net It" was a fine working title, but it hadn't tested well with her retail partners. For a while the game was "Shutterbugs", but another publisher had a game of that title in the pipeline. We spent some time brainstorming:
Finally, they landed on Bugs on Rugs and brought Shawna J.C. Tenney on board to bring the gorgeous bugs to life, while Josh provided the titular rugs.
I took the game as far as I could, and Kids Table Board Game took it much, much further.
I'm the credited designer for Bugs on Rugs, but without Kevin Carmichael, Allysha Tulk, Eric Lang, Cardboard Edison, Jonathan Gilmour, Joel Colombo, dozens and dozens of playtesters, and — most of all — Helaina and Josh Cappel, the game would be one-tenth of what it is now.
Fortunately for me, there's not enough room on the front of the box to list everyone, so I get all the credit!
The reviews for this game have been overwhelmingly positive, and I was thrilled to notice that so far, each of them has specifically mentioned that the game stands alone from Sushi Go. It started as a simple concept in an idea cocoon and, thanks to the tabletop design community, has become a beautiful butterfly of a game.
Thank you, village. I'm extraordinarily proud of this game and literally couldn't have done it without you.
Peter C. Hayward
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- Designer Diary: Foggy Island, or New Life for an Old MechanismKingdomino by Bruno Cathala.
Let me begin by saying that Foggy Island is my first game as a designer. A few dozen times I have tested prototypes, sold games, recorded game reviews, and organized conventions, but the emotions behind those activities are way different from the ones you experience when creating something new.
The basic idea was simple: While working with children and youth, I often make up games for them to play, and the easiest way to do this is to offer them something with which they are already experienced. Foggy Island is a game that uses your previous experience of playing Tic-Tac-Toe.
But the algorithm of this game is so well known, why drag it up?
I couldn't help it; I went on. The first idea was to expand the gaming field. Playing on a 6x6 grid was far more unpredictable. The algorithm grew like a snowball, and it became impossible to put it out as a single scheme. Moreover, adding more spaces opened lots of new possibilities for players. I am sure, however, that many people have played this version, or even on a larger grid, on their own. But what if the goal is different? What if your aim were not to put three in a row, but to fill in the whole field? What if long lines were more valuable than short ones? Well, this requires an absolutely new approach. All your previous gaming experience is irrelevant for you have to change your strategy completely.
The mechanisms worked perfectly, and players found it easy to get into the new game as it took almost no time to explain the rules: "Have you ever played Tic-Tac-Toe? Do you know how to build three in a row? It's something like that, but...."
At this point, I became adamant about developing this game — and to develop it so that it may be of use not only to me but for other people as well. But the roll-and-write mechanism is not my cup of tea, and back then it was not that popular. I decided that we will use tokens, some of which would be more valuable, thus increasing the interest. By "more valuable", I mean they would have unique kinds of features. Tokens that double the score were obvious, but spies turned out to be a real treasure. These tokens count for your opponent's score, and you must play them, although depending on the position they may become even useful for current play.
At this point, our idea started transforming into the game and product. I started posting hints, designs, and ideas on the Kozak Games Facebook page to show the process of making the game step by step.
By then, testing had already spread outside our workshop. At least a dozen activists, clubs, and bloggers were interested, and it was an incredibly strange feeling to understand that now total strangers will try out your creation. What if they dislike it? What if they fail to experience all the profundity of your game? What if they don't get the rules? Or don't like the setting?
In the end, due to this testing, we met and got acquainted with our painter Nazar Ponik and Ukrainian publisher Taka Maka Games.
While presenting a prototype at a convention, I met a very interesting group of people. We talked a lot about the mechanisms, about what these people would have added or changed, and everyone had completely different ideas of how this game may evolve. We tried experimenting with the board, adding players, changing characters abilities, and going blind.
Then I came up with the idea of making the game as a kind of "game constructor", something in which you can easily change the rules, add something, or omit something. The game-constructor idea allows other players to construct a new game. That's how weather cards, which set the rules for the current round, were added. They determine whether we play on the whole field right away or open it quarter by quarter, whether we play with open tokens or play blind.
I turned on the heat with my idea of a game that can be constantly improved, a game in which the rules can be modified or added to, a game in which you can add new tokens. But how to proceed? If you were joining this project, what would you add as an expansion or as promo cards or tokens?
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