March 16 2017

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  • VideoTime for the SPIEL '18 Re-Broadcast with Game Demo Videos Galore!

    by W. Eric Martin

    For five days at SPIEL '18 in late October, the BGG crew interviewed designers and publishers for more than eight hours a day, with a new game or expansion featured roughly every ten minutes. In case you missed our livestream on the BGG Twitch channel — or don't feel the need to watch every item covered — we've now started to post the individual game demo videos on the BGG YouTube channel, with each of those videos also appearing on the appropriate game or publisher page in the BGG database.

    More specifically, you can head to the SPIEL '18 playlist to see the fifteen videos posted so far — most recently an overview of Dice Settlers — and I plan to post a new video each hour from 8:00 to 20:00 EST (GMT-5) each weekday until the video spigot runs dry. (That schedule depends on others doing the actual editing, and BGG.CON 2018 might interrupt that timing, but right now even with only the videos from day 1, I'm set through Friday, Nov. 16 at 9:00. Fifty-four videos just from day 1 coverage! And if the timing works out, we'll be done with SPIEL '18 coverage in five weeks. We'll see...

    Aside from the videos shot in the BGG booth, this playlist will include those I recorded elsewhere during SPIEL '18, such as this overview of the forthcoming Vampire: The Masquerade – Heritage from Babis Giannios and Nice Game Publishing.

    I didn't record too many videos on my own as I was also taking pics in the press room, recording notes about upcoming games in 2019 (such as those from Portal Games [link], Lookout Games [link], and IELLO [link] that I've posted about already), and running around like a maniac for a wide variety of reasons. I vow to do whatever it takes to get through all of this material before the pressure of the 2019 Spielwarenmesse and FIJ conventions starts building — although I have started assembling that preview, along with ones for Gen Con 2019 and SPIEL '19. No time to waste!


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  • Designer Diary: The Great City of Rome, or How Long Did You Say Rome Was Gonna Take Again?

    by Brett J. Gilbert

    by Matthew Dunstan (with italicized interruptions by Brett J. Gilbert)

    As the saying goes, Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was the game that went on to become The Great City of Rome.

    I had been tinkering with city-building games at many different points over the past seven years, always trying to emulate that familiarity and fun associated with games like SimCity.

    There were many prototypes hastily built, then abandoned after one play (not a recommended strategy for actually finishing a game), and while on holiday in Snowdonia in 2015 I even went so far as to hand-make 150 cards for an entire city-building game that was never actually played — an act of lunacy that stands out in my memory even today.

    •••Matt's ability to "just do it" and make something is miraculous. I am reminded of a period during which he would regularly arrive each week at our Tuesday playtest meet-up with a brand-new, completely realized Eurogame, brimming with multiple, interconnected mechanisms and replete with boards, tokens, cards — and perfectly playable!
 —Brett
    •••

    I guess you could say that I hadn't found the right starting point — or more accurately that I didn't have enough patience. It was lucky then that in the days after SPIEL in November 2015 that I would come up with an idea that worked on the first time!

    Trawling back over the files in my computer and emails with Brett like a forensic accountant reveals a now-familiar process about how we go about co-designing.

    Step 1

    I have an idea and hastily put together a hand-drawn prototype. The reason I know this happened for The Great City of Rome is that the versions of the prototype I have on my computer actually start with B, the A version being only a half-finished Excel file which I'm sure I gave up on in favor of actually getting the game to the table in time!

    In this case, my idea centered around a classic trade-off between better choice and better actions during a player's turn (a trope we explored previously in Pyramids), with players playing their pieces on an action strip in order.

    •••While we're here, let board game historians record that The Great City of Rome and Pyramids are both part of a single thread of tableau-building games we've developed, each based on a different geometry, with Pyramids being a triangle and City of Rome a square. Keep your eyes peeled for a new game with two lines of parallel cards ("walls"), and — maybe! and even then not till 2020 at the earliest! — one that stacks cards vertically ("towers").
    •••

    The position of each player's piece on the action strip would determine not only the order that they get to pick new buildings, but also the actions they would have available to them as they would receive the actions printed on their space and everything ahead of them. Do you place early, ensuring a good pick but few actions, or do you place near the end, being able to do a bunch of actions but having the worst choice of new cards?

    These cards would all be built in a 4-by-4 grid and would score for various things being adjacent to them, such as having different amenities close to different apartment blocks. I was able to finally meld that city-building vibe with a simple enough shell that could be played!

    Step 2

    Playtest with Brett at the Cambridge meet-up. I even know the exact date — Tuesday, November 3, 2015 — and player count (five). Having a weekly meet-up always provides a good motivation to actually get a playable version ready and onto the table (which is probably why I abandoned a more time-consuming option for Step 1).

    •••I don't recall that first playtest — it was three years ago! — but I do recall one I ran in January 2016, which I mention here not for the details of the game itself, but for the calibre of the players. I was joined around a cramped pub table on that particular chilly Tuesday evening in Cambridge by two other designers: Alan Paull (entrepreneur, wargamer, raconteur) and Wolfgang Warsch. (Such a nice guy! I wonder what happened to him?)
    •••

    Some of Matt's early prototype cardsStep 3

    Wait for Brett to email me, usually the day immediately following the playtest. He will most likely have a number of extremely useful insights into the playtest, with precise suggestions for improvement. In this case, it is spooky to see how many of these suggestions (made after the first play of the first prototype) were right on the money and feature in the final game:

    * Game perhaps shouldn't play up to five — too much downtime. (In the end, we settled on a 2–4 player game.)
    Change the starting factory (now production buildings) to give money, not more cards, as this ensures players can more readily buy more symbols that they need.

    * Players need some starting money so that they also have more freedom early to be able to buy symbols they need.

    * The final tourism card (now influence cards) should work like the others and be awarded only to the player with the most influence rather than an alternate majority scoring. Also, the cards don't all have to be worth the same number of points as the game progresses, so there can be more to play for later in the game.

    * Players should receive 1 point for each $1 remaining at the end of the game.

    * Transport cards (now aqueducts) should be simpler; perhaps they can be placed only in a row or column that doesn't already have one.

    Right here is the core of why Brett and I can get games finished so often. I am quite adept at pinning down a new idea into a playable prototype quickly so that we can see what it plays like (and often I'm the one quite down after the first test that doesn't work out quite how I'd hoped). Then Brett turns his developer brain on and quickly points out the key places for improvement, all the while assuring me that the game is, in fact, not terrible!

    •••Matt's being uncharacteristically complimentary, but this combination of skills really is at the heart of why we've made so many games. This basic efficacy is certainly necessary, but hardly sufficient to ensure we make *good* games, but that's not the point. Do, or do not...as a man operating a diminutive plastic puppet once observed in the 1970s. And I personally think The Great City of Rome is an exemplar of how effective and immediate that collaboration can be at its best.
    •••

    Step 4

    Iterate! With a good core and suggestions for specific improvements, I make new versions, we test, we analyze, and so on. The last version on my computer is dated Dec. 10, 2015, beyond which Brett took over designing a much prettier looking prototype. (Another one of his valuable skills!)


    A work-in-progress overview of all of the cards; we designed the game to be only cards (and only 110 cards at that)so this scheme includes cards that were later rendered as other components during development

    •••Getting stuck in making a "pretty" prototype often reveals structure in a design that was otherwise hidden — but simply making something look nicer is vastly less important than making it mean more: color, layout, iconography, typography can all be put to work. And when I really get into this, I very often begin to see the game in different terms, which can often bring details to light that feed directly back into the game design process.
    •••

    Step 5

    Pitch. We were lucky that "City Cards" — we're not that inventive with naming our prototypes — came together quickly, so quickly that we were ready to pitch it to potential publishers at the Spielwarenmesse Toy Fair in Nürnberg, Germany in February 2016.

    Amongst these meetings was one with Matthias Wagner at ABACUSSPIELE. We'd been meeting with Matthias regularly at SPIEL since 2012 but hadn't yet presented the right project to pique his interest. He took a copy of "City Cards" away with him, and in April 2016, he offered us a contract to publish the game. Success!

    •••Reflecting on this timeline now, it's remarkable. I don't do German board game publishers any disservice by observing that they are deliberate in their decisions. Generally speaking, that means those careful choices take time — and quite right, too! We did a good job as designers and made something good and made it well. We were thrilled to finally hit the target for Matthias, and his and his colleagues' enthusiasm and passion for the design shines out of the final product.
    •••

    Step 6

    Wait. Matthias was quietly developing the game in the background and also revealed the new theme for the game: building Rome!

    The only downside of this thematic shift was that our powerful building "Statue of Taylor Swift"* would have to change its name. Darn.

    •••* Surely a monument that any self-respecting city would be proud to erect?
    •••




    Step 7

    A bit more waiting.

    •••But we busied ourselves designing more games! And patience, in any case, is a virtue. Some things should simply not be hurried.
    •••

    Step 8

    Profit! "City Cards" had become The Great City of Rome, co-published by ABACUSSPIELE and Z-Man Games, and was released at SPIEL '18, amazingly finishing at the top of the Fairplay rankings.

    •••The appearance of the game in the Fairplay rankings was a complete surprise to us, but a fantastic endorsement of the work done by ABACUSSPIELE. They were very pleased indeed with the game's reception, and I was very pleased for them. Bravo!
    •••

    I've been happy (and surprised as always) with the positive reception the game has received, and kudos must go to Matthias (and Steve Kimball from Z-Man Games) for making such a wonderful product.

    Turns out you can build (The Great) City of Rome in around three years, and we can't wait to share it with the world!


    Read more »
  • Game Industry Happenings: Goliath Buys, Buffalo Sells, Dietz Founds, and Kovaleski Founds Monster Fight Club

    by W. Eric Martin

    Monster Fight Club is a new game publisher launched in October 2018 by game designer John Kovaleski following his departure from Gale Force Nine, the company that he founded and ran for twenty years. Kovaleski is joined by fellow veteran GF9 game designer Aaron Dill (co-credited with the game design of most of the GF9 gaming range) and former GF9 operations expert Peter Przekop, who has been in the hobby game industry for over twenty years. Asked why they've split from GF9, Przekop (who serves as spokesperson for MFC) said, "Our departure from Battlefront/Gale Force Nine was completely amicable. There were some factors regarding our office space in Virginia that required some action, and we felt it would be a good time to split off from the company and focus on our own projects and ideas."

    In addition to developing its own hobby game products, Monster Fight Club is forming an in-house digital design studio and a master-class resin casting facility and is partnering with other hobby game and entertainment companies to provide creative and manufacturing services.

    As for previously announced titles from GF9, Przekop said, "I can no longer officially speak for Gale Force Nine, but I know that they have a robust schedule of games and game expansions to release and future plans for other games. Our Virginia-based design team has long completed work on crew expansions for Firefly Adventures and the new board game, D&D Vault of Dragons. Before we left the company, we completed designs for two-player expansions for Star Trek: Ascendancy as well as work on a small expansion for another GF9 board game. (I don't know what they have announced, so I don't want say what it is.) Work on the Doctor Who expansions and the Aliens game [Aliens: Another Glorious Day in the Corps!] was being handled by another team within the company, so our departure should have no effect on those projects. We're excited to see all of those projects on the tabletop upon their eventual release."

    • Jim Dietz founded Jolly Roger Games in 1996, sold the company to Ultra PRO in 2015, then subsequently left that company when, in his words, "my ideas for how to run a business didn't jive with the person hired to 'supervise' me". Rather than start a new game publishing company, in July 2018 Dietz founded the non-profit The Dietz Foundation. Here's what he has in mind for this new venture:

    The intention of the Foundation is to promote education through scholarship endowments, funds to schools for purchasing alternative materials for education, and hopefully in the near-future, funds for teachers/school administrators to go to conferences to learn how to use games, group projects, etc. in new ways — because the world is constantly changing.

    I want to do that through producing games and books — just like a normal publisher. The difference is that the profits aren't going into my pocket — they are going back out there to do good.

    • On September 19, 2018, investment firm Mason Wells completed its purchase of jigsaw puzzle and board game manufacturer Buffalo Games for an undisclosed amount. From the press release:

    Mason Wells, along with Nagendra Raina, Chief Executive Officer of Buffalo Games, and other members of the management team, acquired the business from the founders, Paul and Eden Dedrick...

    Founded in 1986, Buffalo Games is the largest manufacturer of jigsaw puzzles in the U.S. and a leading provider of party and board games for adults, children, and families. The Company designs and manufactures millions of puzzles each year at its Buffalo, New York headquarters...

    "The last few years we have seen Buffalo Games achieve rapid success in both the board game and jigsaw puzzle categories across the retail landscape and, in particular, with mass market and online retailers. Buffalo Games' biggest asset is our team and innovative culture that nurtures creativity and consumer engagement in a fast-paced and fun environment," said Raina. "This partnership with Mason Wells will continue to accelerate growth and open up new opportunities for us. Importantly, it will allow us to extend our strong innovation and growth platform, and further strengthen our deep relationships with our retailers, licensors & inventors. This is an exciting time to be a Buffalo Gamer."

    Goliath Games has acquired MacDue Toys & Games, which was founded in 1980 (the same year as Goliath) and which the press release describes as "one of the top ten companies in the Italian toy market". An excerpt from the press release:

    Goliath and MacDue are pleased to announce their cooperation for the Italian market. Goliath, global leader in the toy and game industry, has decided to invest strategically on the Italian market, relying on the distribution expertise of MacDue Spa, a company with a history of toy & game distribution for over 40 years.

    "We are delighted to welcome MacDue's team to the Goliath family. Having done business together already for many years, they are an excellent fit for us, similar family business principles and with already many products that we also sell in the rest of the world. With our recent acquisitions and European success, it made perfect sense to take this step", said Adi Golad, founder of Goliath. MacDue, currently the exclusive distributor for Italy of the Maisto, Bburago, Polistil and Rubik's brands, will support the launching of Goliath Italy in the distribution of the vast Goliath portfolio — including Otto il Maialotto, Mr Ficcanaso, Acchiappa il Coniglio, Triominos, Sequence, Rubik's Cube and "Essere o non Essere".

    • Panda Game Manufacturing has job openings for an account manager, a project manager, and a pre-press specialist. For details on what qualifications you'd need to apply for these positions, head to the PandaGM website.

    • In mid-September 2018, UK publisher Games Workshop announced that it had signed a lease for its five hundredth "Warhammer and Games Workshop" store. From the announcement:

    It's been a busy few years for our stores, with dozens of new shops popping up across the globe, in Europe, Asia and America, including the much-anticipated opening of the Warhammer Citadel in Texas.

    This new 500th Warhammer store will be located in Hong Kong, China, situated in the Amoy Plaza shopping centre.
    Read more »
  • Lucca Comics & Games 2018 I: Cleopatra Returns, The Dutch Prevail, and Costumes Abound

    by W. Eric Martin

    As in 2017, the annual SPIEL convention in Essen, Germany took place on the final weekend of October and the Lucca Comics & Games fair in Lucca, Italy started only three days after SPIEL ended, so I made the short hop from Düsseldorf to northern Italy to take in this fair once again.

    The experience differed greatly from what I encountered in 2017 — covered in three reports here, here, and here — partly because I had already encountered the show once and knew what to expect (reminiscent of why I think it's so important to play games more than once prior to reviewing them!) and mostly because rain on the first three days of the fair kept me and my family saying, "We'll go the next day" repeatedly until we finally did attend on Saturday, and hoo boy, was the show ever crowded!


    I believe this chart shows ticket sales each day of the show

    The train from Florence was jam-packed before we even left the station, with me harassing people to move their bags from the seat so that my mother- and father-in-law could sit. Did you pay for a ticket for your bag? I don't think so, signore, so move it and make way for Nana!

    My son Traver and I found seats after the third stop when some folks departed, but from that point on the train got only more crowded, filled with jedi, anime heroes, alien creatures, and Hogwarts students from every house. If J.K. Rowling gets a cut of every wand, scarf, and robe sold, then the HP books could disappear from store shelves and she'd still be set for life. When I attended Lucca in 2017, I went on my own, so I didn't recognize many of the anime characters around me, but now my son could point out everyone from Naruto, One Piece, Fairy Tale, and many other manga and anime series. As he said later, he didn't care about missing Halloween in the U.S. because it was way more fun watching adults dress up in far better costumes at Lucca.



    The view ahead and behind while climbing over the railroad tracks into Lucca

    Once off the train, you shuffled through the streets following the cosplay crowd, several people wearing costume-style onesies, and many more people wearing "normal" clothes to the fair's main entrance. You didn't have to buy a ticket to enter the Lucca Comics & Games fair because the event takes place across the entire city center of Lucca, which is surrounded by the remnants of walls from Renaissance times. If you wish, you can walk the city for free people-watching, but to enter the fenced-off locations of the fair that contain Japantown, the games hall, and the other specialized exhibits, you needed to buy a ticket (€19-21 for those ten and over, free for younger attendees).


    Bare bones map that doesn't highlight all the fenced-off areas

    Inside the game hall, I found a layout reminiscent of what I saw in 2017: game publishers occupying roughly three-fifths of the hall, with role-playing publishers, fantasy artists, retailers, video game publishers, and tchotchke sellers splitting the rest of the space.

    Two new booths stood out from everything else: Z-Man Games was hosting the 2018 Pandemic Survival World Championship during the Lucca fair, and game designer Matt Leacock was on hand to observe. (Leacock noted that the challenges during these events are designed in-house by Z-Man and not by him as they used to be, mostly because Z-Man wants to give him the opportunity to focus on designing new games instead of one-off scenarios.)

    I was on hand for the start of the third round of play, with eight teams of two being introduced to applause from the crowd (with cheers on behalf of the Italian home team). One interesting holdover from the previous ownership of Z-Man Games by Canadian Sophie Gravel is that Canada holds separate events for English speakers and French speakers — and the winners of each of those events were still in competition for the grand prize at this stage of the tournament. Perhaps someday the tournament will end with an all-Canada finalé, leading players from other countries to protest for an equal shot at winning, but in 2018 the Dutch team prevailed, following near disaster in the second round as Leacock watched them on the verge of elimination for turn after turn after turn until they turned things around.


    Roles now revealed, teams prepare to squash a few diseases while facing six epidemics

    The other new booth that proved to be a huge draw was an area reserved for artists to create new works in front of an audience, with those works then scheduled to be auctioned for charity. I walked by the booth several times, and at least a half-dozen artists seemed to be at work each time, a crowd around them admiring the work. Plenty of artists had separate booths where they sold prints and books of their work, but this booth stood out as a way to watch someone exhibit their skill in real time — which is not something that game designers could do in a similar way.






    As for the new games being sold and demoed at Lucca, many of them had just debuted at SPIEL '18 the week beforehand, but now they were being sold in Italian by Italian publishers who had far larger stands at Lucca than they had at SPIEL. In Essen, for example, Giochi Uniti had two new games — Gnomeland and Monstrite — that were a focal point of their booth, but in Lucca they had those two titles, along with Italian versions of many other new games, not to mention an extensive back catalog of games as well as a separate shed filled with games at clearance prices.

    In Essen, dV Giochi is always located within the ABACUSSPIELE booth and practically invisible if you aren't looking for it, whereas in Lucca dV Giochi had an enormous stand with many more titles than the Catalyst and new Deckscape game seen in Essen. You want new SPIEL '18 releases Forum Trajanum, Cuzco, U.S. Telegraph, and more in Italian? Then you'll find them waiting in the dV Giochi booth.




    In terms of announcements of forthcoming games, I didn't see much that was new to me. CMON Limited, for example, was promoting several titles hitting the Italian market in late 2018 and throughout 2019, but I had already seen these games — Narcos, Wacky Races, Trudvang Legends, Sugar Blast — at the press event during Gen Con 2018 and some titles, such as Kick-Ass: The Board Game, were being touted as future releases despite being out in the U.S. While some parts of the international game market have moved toward simultaneous release, as with the dV Giochi titles mentioned above, other companies still roll out games in bits and pieces based on the specific demands of each potential marketplace.

    One interesting aspect of the CMON booth is that it wasn't a CMON booth at all, but rather an Asmodee booth that featured titles from CMON Limited. In the U.S., CMON delivers its own games to a variety of distributors, whereas everywhere else (to the best of my knowledge) CMON partners with Asmodee for distribution, possibly due to Asmodee having purchased the main distributors in locations such as the UK, Germany, Italy, and the Scandinavian countries. Gamers in the U.S. might think of Asmodee and CMON as adversaries for market share and mindshare among gamers, but elsewhere the two work hand-in-hand as increasing sales of CMON titles outside the U.S. benefits Asmodee through the distribution side of its business.


    CMON game on an Asmodee table cover
    An upcoming board game based on the Trudvang Chronicles RPG

    One announcement that was new for me, and possibly for you as well, is that Italian publisher uplay.it edizioni is founding a new brand — Mojito Studios — for the publication of a new version of Cleopatra and the Society of Architects, a Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc design that first appeared from Days of Wonder in 2006.

    This new version will feature artwork by Miguel Coimbra, and instead of using the box top for the base of the palace, players will build a 3D palace over the course of the game, adding elements to it to make it more complete. Creative director of uplay.it Giovanni Messina says that Cathala and Maublanc have been redesigning parts of the game based upon more than a decade's worth of feedback and additional design experience, and the company will start talking about the game in more detail at the Spielwarenmesse and FIJ conventions in early 2019 ahead of a mid-2019 Kickstarter campaign.




    Two games that uplay.it edizioni was featuring at Lucca might also be of interest to those located outside Italy, one of those being The Long Road, a new design by Stefania Niccolini and Marco Canetta, who are well-known for the far more involved Railroad Revolution and ZhanGuo. Here's an overview of this game:

    In the old west of The Long Road, players have the difficult task of leading large herds of beef through prairies and highlands to the livestock markets. In the course of the journey, players try to guide the long caravan according to the most favorable route. Once they finally get to the destination, they split the proceeds from the sale. This division, however, doesn't happen fairly, but according to the rules of the far west: The best armed (or the smartest) takes most of the booty.

    A player's turn takes place as follows:

    • You MAY change your caravan cards.
    • You MUST play one caravan card on a destination.
    • You MAY play a character card if you didn't before on this destination.
    • You MAY apply the effect of the caravan card.
    • You MAY buy one weapon.
    • You MAY assign weapons to one character.
    • You MUST draw cards to refill your hand of three caravan cards.

    When a destination is full, the sale takes place and the players get proceeds from the caravan cards based on the effects and values of the characters they've played, a value that could be increased by weapons. Then character cards are split as well.

    The game continues until the fourth sale triggers the end. At that point, the richest player wins.

    Messina told me that uplay.it has been in contact with multiple possible publishing partners for an English-language edition of The Long Road, but for now the game is available only in Italian. I'm taking a copy home with me from the show and hope to get a translation from the publisher in order to play at BGG.CON or elsewhere...

    The other item from uplay.it edizioni is a new edition of Kramer and Ulrich's The Princes of Florence that appeared only in Italian at the end of 2017 with new art from Mirco Paganessi, metal coins, and a new look with the graphic design.





    I have more to post about the games and publishers at Lucca 2018, but let's save that for the next post and wrap this report with a tiny sampling of the cosplay on display during the fair. The most audacious costume by perhaps only one was this:




    Why do I label this the most audacious cosplay? Because this woman had an entire bed as part of her costume, and she was rolling it with her down the street!




    There's a weird dissonance with many of these cosplayers, though, and that's the reaction of those who admire the work and want to post with the person. Here's the uncropped image of what's shown above:




    Dude, you look awful happy to be posing with a demon-possessed little girl. What gives? This experience is repeated over and over again during Lucca as with these women who also posed with the faux-Regan. Note also the anime character behind the priest, the other anime character with green hair across the canal, the costumed man tending to his companion's sort feet behind the first anime character, and the woman with a dog in the stroller. That's the spirit of Lucca in one shot!




    These two had a nice set-up, but I'm baffled by the heads floating above the hands instead of laying in them or in the crook of the arm. Am I missing a pop culture reference here?




    I saw fewer Game of Thrones characters than I would have expected, but perhaps that's my fault since I've actually watched GoT and seen barely any anime relative to what's been released. Saw a few other Daenerys Targaryens around, including in line at the Il Trono di Spade booth, but no pics of them, alas.




    My son seems indifferent to being turned by the Night King. Oh well.




    The best way to attend such a fair in cosplay seems to be as part of a group. These folks memorialized their experience in Japantown prior to walking the streets.




    More to come! Read more »
  • Previews of IELLO's 2019 Line-Up: Little Town Builders, Legendary Forests, Bunny Kingdom: Cloud Kingdom, and Much More

    by W. Eric Martin

    • While at SPIEL '18, Robin Houpier from IELLO ran me through some of the titles they plan to release in 2019. Note that many of the games shown in this post do not have final graphics, and in many cases I'm giving only a sampling of the gameplay. BGG plans to be at the Festival International des Jeux in Cannes in February 2019, and by that time IELLO will be releasing some of these titles and have final or nearly-final versions of others that we can preview in more detail.

    For now, though, we have overviews, as with this new version of Shun's Little Town Builders, first released in Japan in 2017 by Studio GG. The Little Town Builder, as this version is tentatively titled, features the same gameplay as the original release:

    In Little Town Builders, you lead a team of architects and must dispatch workers to the town, collect resources and money, build buildings, and develop this little town.

    In the game, which lasts four rounds, you can acquire resources such as wood, stones, fish, and wheat from the surrounding squares by putting workers on the board, with three workers being placed each round. When you place a worker, you acquire the resources available in all eight surrounding spaces. You can build buildings by using these resources, and you — or any other player — can gain the effect of the building when place a worker next to it; if you place next to a building owned by another, however, you must pay them a coin before you can collect those resources.

    Players collect victory points by using the powers of buildings, by constructing buildings, and by achieving goals dealt to them at the beginning of the game. After four rounds, whoever has the most victory points wins.




    Legendary Forests is another JP design being reworked by IELLO for a new edition, with the original release having been Toshiki Sato's 8bit MockUp from his own Sato Familie brand in 2017. This design won a "Best Game" award from voters at Tokyo Game Market in December 2017. My description below is for the original game, but it's applicable to Legendary Forests as well if you replace "monument" with "tree" and make other word replacements

    8bit MockUp is a multiplayer solitaire game akin to Take it Easy! or Karuba as each player has an identical set of tiles and plays the same tile at the same time to their own tableau — but where each player places each tile may differ...

    In more detail, each player creates their own world by connecting the landscapes on their tiles. Each player starts the game with the same starting tile in play. One player, the "Leader", shuffles their tiles face down, then removes five tiles from play without looking at them. On a turn, the Leader reveals the next tile, calls out the number on it, then everyone places that same tile somewhere in their landscape, with the adjacent edges of each pair of tiles needing to match.

    When the Leader draws a tile with a red number, everyone places their piece, then starting with the player who holds the God piece (initially the Leader), everyone draws a monument tile from the center of the playing area and places it on an area in their landscape. Monuments come in three colors (while the landscapes have areas in four colors), and you use only two monuments of a color for each player in the game. After placing monuments, pass the God piece clockwise to the next player.

    The game ends after everyone has placed their twenty tiles, then players score points based on the areas where they have monuments. Each non-purple edge of a tile has a half-circle on it; when two such edges are placed together, the owner of those tiles has created a "cookie" in that area. To score, you look at each area where you have a monument. If you have no half-circles in this area — that is, the area is completely enclosed — then you score 2 points for each cookie in that area. If you have any unconnected half-circles in this area, you instead score 1 point per cookie. Whoever has the most points wins!




    Richard Garfield's Bunny Kingdom will expand to new realms in February 2019 with the release of the Cloud Kingdom expansion, which includes new cards, new types of resources, a set of playing pieces that allow five bunnies to play in the same game, a larger type of building that increases your influence in that area by a factor of five, and a new game board to the world of Bunny Kingdom that allows you to link fiefs in the sky with those on land.




    • Another expansion in the works is Kanagawa: Air for Bruno Cathala and Charles Chevallier's Kanagawa from 2016. This expansion includes cards and scoring elements for three new elements — kites, parasols, and paper lanterns — and to use them, you replace any two elements in the Kanagawa base game with two new elements.

    Some of the cards in this expansion include a yokaï symbol that is visible whether you place the card in your painting or in your studio. When you place such a card, you take a yokaï marker from the reserve or from another player, and if you collect all three such markers, you receive a reward. You hope that someone else will claim them later, though, because players with yokaï markers at the end of the game lose points.




    • Polyominoes were in vogue at SPIEL '18, with polyomino roll-and-writes being at peak trendiness, so IELLO was on point with its Topa Topa prototype, which puts its own twist on the genre by having players draft cards that they draw on their individual player board. The game lasts three rounds, and in each round you score for completing levels, using different shapes in your area, and doing other things as well. Coins allow you to break the rules for drafting and drawing.




    • At SPIEL '18, IELLO debuted its video game simulation system 8Bit Box, and in its press area it showed off 8Bit Box: Double Rumble, an expansion in development meant to simulate the fighting arcade games of old. In the game, players need to confront the bad guys facing them, either in a solitaire game or playing co-operatively with one other player, in order to defeat the boss at the final stage of the game.




    High Risk, a 2-4 player game from Trevor Benjamin and Brett J. Gilbert, wasn't on display in the IELLO press room, but the game was included in its catalog and press file, so here's the little that I know about it:

    In the press-your-luck game High Risk, you want to move your climbers up the mountain at the right pace without getting greedy and risking a fall...


    • The final title on the IELLO docket is actually a title from its kids' game line LOKI, with Monsieur Carrousel being a Sara Zaria design (or perhaps a Sara Faria design depending on how you read the typeface) that will debut at the FIJ 2019 in Cannes in February. Here's what happens when you take the game for a spin:

    Each turn in Monsieur Carrousel, the active player rolls the colored die. If a space of this color is open, you place a child disc in this space, with everyone trying to remember which object is under which child.

    You then spin the carousel. If the child ends up on the yellow half of the game board, you pick up a yellow stick — representing a ray of sunshine — and place it in a trough on the board; most troughs need two sticks to fill, and if the stick doesn't fit the space exactly, then you place it back in the reserve, so pick carefully! If the child ends up in the gray half of the game board, then you instead add a raindrop to the board.

    If you roll a color that has children in both spaces on the wheel, then you spin the carousel. If the clown on the game board is now pointing at a child, then you must successfully state what's under this disc. If you do, place a sun stick; otherwise place a raindrop. The game ends when either the sun comes out fully or rain covers the sky!

    Monsieur Carrousel includes multiple image wheels for variety in gameplay.


    Read more »
  • Steph's Photo Guide to Spiel 2018!

    by Steph Hodge

    Steph's Awesome Spiel Photo Guide 2018!







    IGA Awards!



    Neom


    Tribes: Aufbruch Der Menschheit


    Scrabble


    Crazy Eggz


    Tokyo Highway (four-player edition)


    Orbis


    Pandemic: Fall of Rome


    Nyctophobia


    Rising Sun: Kami Unbound


    Gingerbread House


    Forbidden City


    Caverna: Cave vs Cave – Era II: The Iron Age & Patchwork Express


    BATTALIA: The Stormgates


    Shikoku


    Macbeth


    Smartphone Inc.


    First Contact


    Strange Vending Machine


    Discovery: The Era of Voyage


    Realm of Sand


    A Pleasant Journey to Neko


    Paleolithic


    Sailblazer


    UBOOT: The Board Game



    Atlantis: Island of Gods


    Wangdo


    Cerebria: The Inside World


    Gùgōng


    Cupcake Empire


    Bears&Bees


    Treasure Island


    Raiatea


    Tudor


    Magnificent Flying Machines


    Claim Kingdoms


    Gorus Maximus


    Founders of Gloomhaven


    Walls of York


    Newton


    Pandoria


    Trapwords


    Adrenaline: Team Play DLC


    Staka & Team UP!


    Do Eat!


    Scientia


    Roll & Wall


    Atlandice


    The Great City of Rome


    Lighthouse Run


    X-Code


    7 Wonders: Armada


    Planet


    Rolling Bandits & Once Upon a Castle


    Slide Quest (Blue Orange Games 2019)



    Key Flow


    Solenia


    Globe Twister


    Jurassic Snack


    My First Adventure Book- Finding the Dragon (Blackrock)


    Fertility


    CuBirds


    Huns


    Cerberus


    Nemeton


    Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra


    Japon Brand


    Here Comes the Dog


    Monster Lands


    Key Flow


    Señor Pepper


    Claim Kingdoms


    The Boldest


    Eclipse: Second Dawn for the Galaxy


    Hokkaido


    Gobi


    7 Wonders: Armada


    Kero


    Mr. Jack


    The River


    Tokyo Highway (four-player edition)


    Skylands


    ICECOOL2


    Trool Park


    Krosmaster: Blast


    Tales of Glory


    Ocean Crisis


    A Feast for Odin Aldie: The Norwegians


    A Thief's Fortune


    Kemet


    First Contact


    7 Wonders: Armada with Antoine Bauza


    Crossroads of Heroes


    The Tales of Ki-pataw


    Rebel Nox


    Taiwan


    The Frog Kiss


    Glisse Glace


    On Mars


    Orbital


    Chocobo Party Up!


    Monster Empire


    Magic Fold


    Layers


    Tang Garden


    Robin Hood and the Merry Men


    Reykholt


    Gunkimono


    Architects of the West Kingdom


    Passing Through Petra


    KLASK


    Gnomeland


    Outback


    Costa Ruana


    Codenames: Pictures


    Trapwords


    Patchwork Express


    Manitoba


    KeyForge: Call of the Archons


    Solenia


    VOLT


    Monumental


    Lift Off


    Catch the Moon


    Tag City


    Architectura


    Festo!


    Gùgōng


    Age of Civilization


    Big Dig


    Trellis


    DIG IT UP


    Takla


    Random Assortment of Con photos!







    Always a line @ Feuerland Spiele












    Thanks for joining me!
    -Steph Read more »
  • Designer Diary: Marvel Strike Teams, or A Marvel Zombie's Love Story

    by Andrew Parks

    Prologue

    Marvel Strike Teams is not a game about zombies, but it was designed by a zombie, specifically a Marvel Zombie, which I've been since the age of 5. For those who don't know, "Marvel Zombie" is a derogatory term for people who love Marvel Comics so much that they don't read other comic books.

    That's not entirely true in my case as I've read plenty of DC and Dark Horse Comics over the years, but my comic book heart has always resided primarily within the Marvel Universe and its rich collection of characters. And so as a game developer who had been designing licensed games for over twelve years, I was determined to make a game that summed up everything I loved about Marvel.

    Here's the story of my love affair with a board game.

    Entering the Marvel Universe

    The normal process for a game designer to work on a licensed property is to be contacted by a publisher who has worked with the designer in the past and who now has the opportunity to publish a game based upon a particular license. Often, the publisher already knows the kind of game they want and has already laid out the design parameters, leaving the designer to fill in the blanks and make a complete game. This was the case when WizKids and I worked on the Justice League Strategy Game, for example. Other times, the publisher has the rights to reimplement an existing game based upon a new license. This was how things got started for us with Star Trek: Frontiers, which reimplemented Vlaada Chvatil's Mage Knight Board Game.

    But it's less common for a designer to propose a brand new game based on an existing license from scratch. Yet with the rising popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and my own continuing love for Marvel characters, I was determined to propose a new Marvel game to WizKids, with whom I have worked on many games. It's a long process to go from concept to published game, but I was ultimately given the task of creating a "one vs. all" miniatures game that pitted one Mastermind player against 1-4 Hero players, with variable map layouts, a wide variety of characters, and story-based missions. In other words, it was a zombie's dream come true!

    Quixotic Development Meeting

    For the past fifteen years, I have worked with a team of incredible developers who have made all of my designs possible. Fortunately for me, the Quixotic Games designers are also big Marvel fans, so before getting started on my own, I hosted a meeting with about a dozen game developers who were interested in working with me on the project. Since I teach game design at Rutgers University, I also invited one of my former students, Banan El Sherif, who is an avid Marvel geek; she may even border on zombie status. I've found that bringing in the next generation of game developers always improves our games, and Banan would end up being a priceless member of the team going forward.

    Stories and Character Relationships

    At this meeting, we settled on broad design parameters that we determined would be integral to the overall design. Foremost on everyone's mind was the game's story. The word "story" was probably mentioned a hundred times during this first meeting. After all, the unique stories of the Marvel Universe are what sets it apart from other comic universes. Unlike other "one vs. all" games, we wanted the players themselves to contribute important details to the story. So instead of setting up each mission from a booklet, we wanted to have each mission procedurally generated from a set of scenario cards, with individual plot details being supplied by the players themselves.

    It was also important that the stories focus not only on thwarting (or promoting) villainous schemes, but also on personal relationships among the characters. To simulate the Marvel Universe, it wasn't enough to just be trying to destroy a superweapon; you had to be trying to destroy a superweapon while carrying on a strained romantic relationship and/or working out internal conflicts with another teammate, sometimes with your fists!


    "Romantic Attachments" scenario card

    It was Banan who made the boldest statement during the meeting: "It has to be possible, in the middle of the game, to discover that Captain America is secretly a traitor." Now Banan loves Cap more than any other Marvel character, so this was quite the suggestion on her part. These sorts of things happened all the time in the comics — Skrulls, alternate reality versions, sacrificing one mission for the greater good, etc. — but I initially balked at the idea that a character controlled by a player could suddenly be revealed as a traitor. Yet the game designer in me said, "Can we make that work?" (Hint: The final version of the game includes a "Stop the Traitor" scenario card.)

    How to Handle Luck

    One of the parameters that we discussed was limiting the amount of luck that occurred during the game and to make the experience less about dice chucking and more about the players' tactical decisions. There would be plenty of variable elements during mission set-up, but once the mission started, we wanted players to be able to attack and defend tactically, to outmaneuver one another like in the comics rather than by rolling better dice.

    But we knew that there had to be an element of randomness to the combat to avoid chess-like paralysis, so we settled on a "press your luck" element whereby a player could roll a die to achieve bonus action points (the main economy of the game), but if the player rolled poorly, they would instead cede the extra points to the opposing team. This meant that a player could avoid rolling dice entirely if they wanted, or roll for extra points each and every turn if they were adventurous enough.

    A World That Breaks

    One element that became central to the design was the concept that everything in the world could be used for cover, smashed to pieces, or even picked up and thrown at an enemy. Therefore, we developed a material strength system in which every door, wall, and object in the game would receive a label that would determine how durable it was, as well as rubble tokens that would simulate things getting destroyed or tossed around. We never wanted a mission to end without the place getting completely trashed!


    Radioactive Man hurls a crate at Agent May

    Missions Aren't Just About Fighting

    Combat is central to the gameplay of Marvel Strike Teams, but based on our desire for rich stories to develop during the game, it was important that the mission elements also involved non-combat elements. Otherwise, some characters would have little value since they don't possess the same degree of raw power as others.

    In the comics, some characters had special skills that were absolutely necessary to complete a mission, even if they weren't as physically powerful as the other characters. It was important to us that each heroic character be given equal usefulness in the missions. Some were certainly better at fighting, while others could better inspire and coordinate the team, or use their skills to make the mission succeed in other ways. We never wanted anyone to feel that their character was an inferior member of the team, so individual character utility became an essential part of the design.

    Heroes and Villains

    Marvel Strike Teams is set in the mainstream Marvel Universe from the comics, but we knew that many players, especially younger ones, would know the game's characters primarily through the movies and television series of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). We therefore determined to choose characters who were in both the comics and the MCU. Based on our desire to see missions focus on all sorts of activities, we wanted a mix of characters with superpowers and those who had other skills, such as the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. who often work with the Marvel superheroes on delicate missions.

    Now I will confess that I happen to be a huge fan of the Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series, but I was concerned that many of the characters from the popular show, such as Agent Phil Coulson and Agent Melinda May, might not exist in the comic universe. Fortunately for us, Marvel had inserted many of these characters into the mainstream Marvel Universe after their big screen (and small screen) premieres, so that allowed us to draw upon a whole wealth of varied skills and talents.

    We initially proposed that sixteen characters be in the base game, but WizKids suggested that we split the initial release into two games (the base game and the Marvel Strike Teams: Avengers Initiative expansion that's releasing at the same time) so that it would be less expensive for players to try out the base game. With this in mind, we settled on four starting heroes, as well as a starting array of villains. Captain America and Iron Man are two of the most popular Marvel characters, so they easily made the cut. We also added two of the most popular Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: the super-powered Quake (Daisy Johnson / Skye) and Agent Melinda May. Since these four characters have never gotten the chance to work together in the MCU, we thought it would be exciting for fans to see them co-operating for the first time.

    For villains, we wanted to start with powerful masterminds who would each have the equivalent game value of two normal characters. Loki and Ultron were easy choices due to their popularity, and they ended up being included in the Avengers Initiative expansion. Since we were going to use Hydra Soldiers in the base game as henchmen on the map, we wanted to tie the villains together thematically using Baron Strucker as the mastermind and the Winter Soldier as a main villain. We had room for one more villain in the base game, so we chose Radioactive Man, whose powers were a great complement to those of the other villains during our playtesting sessions. (He's actually the only character we created so far who is not yet in the MCU.)


    Base game characters

    Many of the other heroes we developed would be included in the Avengers Initiative expansion mentioned above, including Vision, Black Widow, the Falcon, and Agent Phil Coulson. We were choosing groups of characters who had a variety of talents and fighting styles, so that a "strike team" of heroes would be those who had abilities that worked well synergistically to complete each mission.

    For expansion villains, in addition to Loki and Ultron as masterminds, we added the Absorbing Man as a villain to take full advantage of our material strength system, as well as the traitorous Agent Ward.


    Expansion characters

    The First Playtest: A Disaster Worthy of Doctor Doom

    Sometimes your first playtest allows you to see a glimpse of your design vision in action — and other times, well, it doesn't. After several weeks of prototyping, I sat down with testers for our first dry run of the game, and we were all excited to try out the new system. Too bad the game didn't work at all. In fact, it couldn't even start!

    The engine we had created centered on an action point economy that would be used for everything: moving, attacking, activating special powers, and interacting with the map. Each character would generate a certain number of action points each round, and any points they did not spend could be used for defense during the opponent's turn, or saved up for the next round. We didn't have a mission for the first playtest as we were just going to test the combat system, and guess what? Everyone decided almost immediately that the best strategy would be to just sit at the opposing entrances doing nothing but accumulating action points. Whoops!

    Part of this would be solved when we added missions since they would have limited durations, but the limitless accumulation of action points was a flaw that would always be waiting to be exploited beneath the design surface if we didn't correct it right away, so rather than play the first game, we sat and talked...for three hours. Some suggested that we simply cap the points for each character at the amount they generated each turn, with no possibility for accumulation. This would have certainly fixed the immediate problem, but removed a lot of strategy once the heroes and villains met face-to-face to battle and accomplish tasks. After all, if I saved points for Captain America's defense, my opponents would simply attack someone else, and those saved up points would be lost. It was essential to the system that Cap be able to bank those points until the next turn if no one attacked him.

    We finally settled on the concept of two different sets of map zones that would exist in the game: Starter Zones and Battle Zones. Characters would be capped at their starting amount of action points while in the Starter Zones, and capped at a much higher number (12) while in Battle Zones. After many tests, we realized that the Starter Zones could be relatively small, as long as they weren't far from each other. This allowed us to keep our tactical system in place without players hanging back for a few turns at the start of each mission, which would have been a design disaster worthy of the King of Latveria.

    To Roll or Not to Roll: The Action Die

    Once the game actually started working, our early playtests focused on the game's core action system. Storylines and other fun stuff would have to wait until the core mechanisms were firmly in place. I spent a lot of time during these early months watching (and re-watching) all of the MCU movies and shows to get a feel for how superhero combat should work.

    One of the things that impressed me was how some characters could defend themselves so adeptly, even when facing a more powerful foe. Or how some characters would slowly build up to a moment when they would launch a sudden barrage of attacks, hoping to land at least one solid blow. To simulate this, we allowed players to move and attack as many times as they could afford each turn, with no maximum (except for henchmen, whose actions were more limited). This would allow characters to focus on defense for a turn and save up points to launch a big attack later.

    Occasionally, the characters' best-laid plans plans would fail because they were short by one or two action points, so we dealt with this in two ways.

    First, we added command dials that allowed each team to accumulate command points at the start of each round. These command points created a slowly growing pool that could be transformed into action points for one character on the team. This allowed the team to work together to build up to an epic moment in which a single character would be able to move just a bit further, or launch one more attack, or defend themselves when all seemed lost.


    Command dials

    Second, we had the action die provide an option for more points. In our early tests, we kept forgetting to use this, even if someone yelled, "Oh, what I wouldn't give for one more point!" It was Banan who would always remember first, and without saying a word, she would pick up the die and slap it meaningfully on the table in front of the complaining player — and there it would sit silently for a moment, a source of terrible temptation but also of heroic possibilities.

    Getting the odds correct for the action die was not easy and took a great deal of testing. During early tests, there was a 50% chance of either something good or something bad happening if you chose to roll the die, and we soon realized that no one wanted to take that chance because the consequences for failure seemed too grave. We upped the odds to 2 in 3 of something good happening and 1 in 3 of something bad happening. At first, players thought the system would be broken and announced that they would simply roll the die every turn since, over time, the odds would be in their favor, but fortunately that strategy never seemed to succeed as hoped, and we weren't sure why.

    We finally realized that the bad result — giving points to the opponent — had an extra sting since, unlike the rolling player, the opponent wasn't taking any risks to receive their free point. Also, to keep things easy to track, we had ruled that if you rolled a negative result on the die, the extra point would go directly to the opponent's command dial, which provided the opponent with versatility since they could use the point for any of their characters. In this way, there was a hidden opportunity cost to rolling the die since you were taking a risk and your opponent was not. Also, if you failed, you would give your opponent something greater than what you were attempting, even though the odds of achieving your goal were higher.

    Another function of the action die was that you could achieve up to three bonus action points, but you had to declare how many points you were attempting to achieve before you rolled the die. You would declare a number from 1-3, then roll the die. If you declared "1" and rolled a black 1-3 (a positive result), you would receive only a single action point, no matter how high you rolled. If you declared "3" and rolled a black 3, then you would gain three action points; if you rolled a black 1 or 2 after such a declaration, neither you nor your opponent would gain anything. And of course, a red 1 (a negative result) denied you the extra points and awarded your opponent one command point instead.

    The die's final odds are shown below:


    Action die results

    There was a time when one of the red numbers was a "2" and awarded two command points to the opponent. This ended up being so devastating that we realized it was simply too much of a penalty, so we returned both red numbers to "1".

    After scores of playtests, the decision to roll or not to roll the action die remained a tough choice based upon the circumstances of the game state, so we were confident that we had struck the proper balance.

    Mission Control

    Once the core mechanisms were working smoothly, we started playing with the scenario card system. There are three stages to every mission, and each stage is represented by a different, randomly drawn scenario card. In addition, there are parameters on the scenario cards, such as placing objectives and designating the characters who share special relationships, that are chosen by the players themselves. This allows unique stories to develop during each mission.

    One of my favorite scenario cards is the Stage 3 "Master Plan", which requires the mastermind to save up and spend twelve action points to explain his scheme to heroes who are nearby. The heroes must do everything in their power to avoid being subjected to his wearisome monologue!

    One issue we encountered with the scenario card system over time is that certain combinations of missions created bizarre stories that didn't make much sense. For example, if too many relationship-based stories came out at once, there wasn't room for mission-based objectives. We experimented and came to the conclusion that certain types of missions had to be divided into categories that belonged to each individual stage. In this way, two scenario cards with similar goals wouldn't be drawn for the same mission.

    Stage 1 scenarios ended up being long-term scenarios that had consequences for all three stages; Stage 2 scenarios were plot twists that added new intricacies to the story; and Stage 3 scenarios were climactic moments that provided opportunities for an exciting finish. The players themselves would suggest thematic reasons why the three scenarios belonged together. The players' involvement in crafting the story together was exactly the outcome that we had hoped for right from the first meeting.


    Scenario cards

    Map Generation

    We experimented with allowing the players to take turns placing map tiles during set-up to determine exactly how the battleground for each mission would take shape. In theory, this sounded like a good idea, but in practice, it was very time-consuming and invariably created maps that were slanted too much to the advantage of one side or the other.

    We simplified this system by printing six different maps on map cards that would serve as blueprints for creating the various maps out of the map tiles. One map card would be drawn at the start of each mission. The placement of individual elements on the maps, such as spawn points and objective tokens, would be chosen by the players according to particular criteria determined by the scenario cards.

    Our initial playtests took place in a warehouse filled with crates, barrels, forklifts, and furniture that could be used for cover or destroyed by weapons, but after several playtests, we were hungry for more varied elements. We therefore decided to create a second map type (the enemy base) which would be printed on the reverse sides of the map tiles. Each map card would therefore feature either a warehouse map or an enemy base map, the latter of which allowed us to add ammunition dumps that exploded when attacked or thrown at enemies, as well as gun turrets that could be controlled by carefully positioned characters, and this added a whole new layer of tactical decision-making to the game.


    Inside the Hydra Base

    The Campaign: Leveling Up and Gaining Power

    Part of our hope from the beginning of the design process was to make Marvel Strike Teams a campaign game, which would allow players to level up their characters between missions and watch them grow in power. To make this work, we needed to create eight unique action cards that were devoted to each individual character, then allow players to "build" their characters with these action cards by spending build points that were based upon their character level.

    Since we had access to WizKids' HeroClix technology, we used the character bases to keep track of each character's level and build points. As characters would level up between missions, their bases would click forward to the next level so that players could keep track of how many build points they would have to build their character for the next mission.

    During early testing of the campaign system, we required the characters to earn new action cards rather than allowing them to have access to the full suite of powers available to their character. As we playtested entire campaigns, we learned that it was much more fun to give players full access to each character's unique action cards right from the start of the campaign and to allow them to build their characters however they wanted based on the number of build points they had to spend and the parameters defined by the current mission. The same character could enter a new mission with a completely new combination of their own action cards, for example. This provided much more variety at the start of every mission and allowed each character to shine for the particular mission on which they were about to embark.

    Two-Player Campaigns

    It was an imperative part of the design that Marvel Strike Teams be a fun experience with the full range of players (2-5), and therefore two players needed to be able to play a full campaign and have the same amount of fun as five players. In order for this to work, we needed the game to flow naturally even if both players played multiple characters. Although new players can choose to play one hero per player, the system needed to work just as well with players controlling up to four characters each.

    To make sure this would work through an entire campaign, I sat down for a long playtest weekend with Kyle Volker, a Quixotic developer who I've been friends with since the age of 10. In fact, he was the first person to ever call me a "Marvel Zombie". (As kids, he read from a much greater variety of publishers than I did!) In the 1980s, Kyle and I had also played tons of missions together from TSR's Marvel Super Heroes RPG, so we both had a sense of what we wanted to experience from a full Marvel campaign.

    For six consecutive missions, leveling up existing characters and intermittently introducing new characters throughout the campaign, we played through every scenario card and map in the game. While we did so, we were particularly excited not only about the stories that developed during each mission, but the longer storylines and character relationships that evolved over the course of the entire campaign. This weekend represented some of the final playtest sessions of the development process, and we were very excited to share our stories with the other players after the full saga had been completed.




    The Future: Solo Rules, Mutants and More!

    We developed and fully playtested many characters who didn't make it into the base game or the expansion, including Nick Fury Jr., Mockingbird, and the Chitauri henchmen, and they are ready to go if we are asked to create future expansions.

    We also have countless expansion ideas, including bringing the X-Men, Deadpool, and countless other characters into the mix, as well as standalone expansions with new scenario cards and settings with new sets of map tiles.

    We're also developing solo rules that allow one player to face an AI-driven collection of enemies during a solo mission. This involves the use of a dynamic deck of cards that changes based upon which villains are in the game, as well as which scenario cards are in play.

    We hope you get a chance to try Marvel Strike Teams when it releases in November 2018! If the game is well received, there is no limit to what we can create. We hope you join us for the cosmic journey ahead.

    'Nuff Said!


    Read more »
  • New Game Round-up: Jonathan Strange, Men in Black and Ghostbusters Come to the Table for a Piece o' Cake

    by W. Eric Martin

    • In June 2019, Osprey Games plans to release Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: A Board Game of English Magic, an adaptation of the 2004 novel by Susanna Clarke by designers Marco Maggi and Francesco Nepitello, with art by Ian O'Toole. Here's an overview of the game's setting and what players need to do:

    After centuries of absence, magic has returned to England, but not all are using it for good...

    Take on the role of an aspiring magician and start your journey down the path to greatness. Collect rare books, flit between social engagements, and impress your peers with feats of magic. Be careful to strike a balance between your studies and your status, for the gentleman with the thistle-down hair has plans of his own, and it will take all of your strength to stop him.

    In Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: A Board Game of English Magic, players take on the role of four principle characters from the novel — Jonathan Strange, Mr. Norrell, Miss Redruth, or John Segundus — and travel around England and Europe, attending social engagements and performing feats of magic in the hope of becoming the most celebrated magician of the age.

    On their travels they encounter a host of familiar characters, from the jovial Mr. Honeyfoot and beautiful Lady Pole to the extraordinary Stephan Black and the enthusiastic Lord Portishead. All the while, they must build up their magical abilities as the gentleman with the thistle-down hair is weaving his magic in the background and must be stopped for any player to have a chance of claiming victory.

    • To switch gears in our media-to-games coverage, for a few years, Cryptozoic Entertainment was the home of Ghostbusters board games, but Renegade Game Studio has Ghostbusters: The Card Game due out in Q4 2018 and now late 2019 will see Men In Black/Ghostbusters: Ecto-terrestrial Invasion from the unexpected sources of IDW Games, Panda Cult Games, and Ninja Division.

    More specifically, IDW Games is the publisher of record, with that company having signed a licensing deal with Sony Pictures Consumer Products for "a series of tabletop games for both Men in Black and Ghostbusters franchises", with the crossover game mentioned above being the only title revealed for now. Here's the short pitch for it:

    Men In Black/Ghostbuster: Ecto-terrestrial Invasion is a miniatures games that pairs the world's foremost protection teams to take down a threat like they've never faced. The Ghostbusters team includes Peter Venkman, Egon Spangler, Ray Stanz, and Winston Zeddmore, and the MIB team includes Agent J, Agent K, Agent L, and Zed. The game features fast dice-rolling and take-that card play as well as detailed miniatures from Ninja Division.

    Panda Cult Games is credited with the game design. The press release notes that "Additional stand-alone games for each franchise are also currently in development and slated for release next year", i.e. in 2019.




    • U.S. publisher Rio Grande Games has picked up Vladimír Suchý's Underwater Cities, which debuted at SPIEL '18 from Delicious Games, for release in the U.S. and elsewhere in the first half of 2019.

    North Star Games has announced a September 2019 release date — and a Gen Con 2019 prerelease date — for Oceans: An Evolution Game, which has been in the works for several years. For more details on this standalone title in NSG's Evolution line, along with watercolor artwork from Catherine Hamilton and an opportunity to sign up as a playtester of the nearly finished design, head to the NSG blog.

    Jeffrey D. Allers' 2006 game Piece o' Cake was transformed from after-dinner filler to a main course meal (sort of) with the release of New York Slice from Bézier Games in 2017, but now Japanese publisher New Games Order will debut a new version of Piece o' Cake at the Tokyo Game Market in November 2018, with new cake imagery to match the tastes of the Japanese public.

    For those not familiar with this title, in each round one player lays out the pie tiles at random to form a complete pie, then splits the pie in a number of pieces equal to the number of players. Starting with the player to the splitter's left, each player takes one piece, with the splitter taking whatever's left. When you take a piece, you can keep the individual tiles or eat them to score the whipped cream points on them. At the end of the game, you score for a type of pie only if you have a majority in it, so eat now or forever hold your piece?

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  • Links: Variability, Rulebook Quality, and Game Classification

    by W. Eric Martin

    I'm clearing house in the wake of SPIEL '18 as many things were pushed into a bucket labeled "later" while I tried to keep up with everything related to that show. Thus, the items below might not be recent, but I still think they're of interest:

    • On his blog Go Play Listen, designer Chris Marling advises us that "variability doesn't equal replayability", pointing out that "[d]esigners and developers are flogging themselves to death creating variants which can be set up 'X' different ways for games which will likely sell a maximum of 5,000 copies and be played once or twice by each purchaser". An excerpt:

    If you look at the games that have stood the test of time, they haven't needed this kind of variety to make their reputation. Poker, Chess and Go – or modern classics Pandemic, Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne – couldn't be simpler on setup and components. They rely on simplicity, randomness and interaction rather than powers, variable setups or asymmetry. Even Catan, with variable setup, uses everything in the box. Classic modern war and board games that have been in print for decades are usually similarly unburdened. Most games don't need it to be successful.

    • In an article on Opinionated Gamers, Chris Wray introduced the concept of the Rule Quality Index (RQI). Says Wray, "RQI is simply the number of ratings a board game has [on BGG] divided by the number of rules threads a game has inspired. It's a crude way to evaluate the problem, but it's the best method I could think of." The problem to which Wray refers is one of rulebooks that make it difficult for one to play the game, something that seems antithetical to what a rulebook should do. An excerpt:

    I was recently chatting with some fellow game reviewers about Charterstone, a game I gave a negative review after struggling to figure out how to even play parts of it. They seemed skeptical of my criticism, so I pointed out that, despite it having only about 5,600 ratings on BGG, it already had more than 740 rules threads. That's shockingly bad: there's a rules thread for about every 7.5 ratings.

    Wray included all types of caveats for his measuring system since not every player rates their games on BGG. He also noted that legacy games seem particularly prone to rule questions, possibly because each playing of such a game has more relevance and consequence than something that's a one-off experience.




    • The graph above comes from Reddit user Shepperstein, who downloaded BGG data for board games released between 1990 and 2018 that have at least twenty ratings in order to visualize how board game categories on BGG relate to one another. The graph below indicates how games within categories relate to one another in complexity (with larger nodes indicating a higher average complexity) and in ratings (with redder nodes indicating a higher average rating).




    Designer Oliver Kiley riffed on Shepperstein's work to create a relationship chart of his own that merges information related to both categories and mechanisms to see how these overlap and get a better understanding of how such things could be reorganized. An excerpt:

    In the dead center are a few big communities, including card games and the obviously associated hand management, along with Dice and press your luck type systems. Some of these, like cards and dice are so ubiquitous across domains of games that it's not at all surprising to see them in the middle of the graph with connections to just about everywhere. I tried excluding them from graph and it basically had no structural impact at all, more or less confirming this assessment. Of course you get things like "take that" games and "trick-taking" games [that] are very closely associated with card games, so I left it in for clarity and completeness.

    I also thought it was interesting to compare opposite sides of the graph. Wargames are directly opposite to Children's games. Highly thematic games in the Fantasy/Fighting, Science fiction, and Cooperative realms are all opposite to Economic (euro-style) games and abstract games. Likewise, games that focus on area control/majority elements and derive much of their deep strategic play from spatial positioning and the like are opposite to party and deduction style games, which emphasize an entirely different sort of player-to-player interactions.


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  • In 2019, Lookout Games Brings Grizzlies to Bärenpark, Roll-and-Write to Patchwork, and Card Play to Mandala

    by W. Eric Martin

    Near the end of SPIEL '18, I got a peek at three titles due out from Lookout Games in the first half of 2019, so naturally I thought I'd share what I know with you, dear reader.

    Let's start with the original title of the batch: Mandala from Brett J. Gilbert and Trevor Benjamin, which from the short presentation I received seems like pure card game goodness. Here's an overview of what will be the latest title in Lookout's two-player game line:

    In Mandala, you are trying to score more than your opponent by collecting valuable cards — but you won't know which cards are valuable until well into the game!

    The playing area has two circles on it with a horizontal area that passes through both circles. Each player has a hand of cards, and on a turn, you can play cards of one of the six colors to either the center horizontal area of a circle or to your side of a circle. Once a color has been placed in the circle, then more cards of the same color can be placed only in the same location, so if your opponent places red cards on their half of the circle, then you can't play red cards in that circle at all. If you play cards to the central area of a circle, then you draw more cards; if you play cards on your half of the circle, then you don't.

    Once a circle has all six colors of cards on it, you resolve the circle. Whoever has placed more cards on their half of the circle wins the cards in the middle of that circle. If they have not claimed cards of this color previously, they place one of these cards in their lowest scoring area and the rest of the cards face down in a pile to be scored at the end of the game. The scoring areas are worth 1-6 points, so cards of the first color you claim are worth 1 point each, cards of the second color you claim 2 points each, etc.

    Once a circle has been scored, players can start playing cards into it once again. Once the game ends, players tally the points for everything in their individual scoring pile, and whoever has the highest score wins!


    Mock-up components at SPIEL '18

    Phil Walker-Harding's tile-laying game Bärenpark has been well-received and even more people would probably be buzzing about it if the game supply hadn't vanished along with Mayfair Games in late 2017. In any case, the base game has been reprinted by main publisher Lookout Games and is on its way to the U.S.. Aside from that, Lookout is preparing an expansion that adds new elements to the game. Here's what to expect in Bärenpark: Die Grizzlies sind los! (a.k.a. "The Grizzlies Are Coming!"):

    Bärenpark: Die Grizzlies sind los! contains three separate modules that can be used individually or together with the Bärenpark base game.

    One module contains a set of new goals that can be shuffled together with those in the base game.

    A second module allows you to add grizzly bears to your bear park, with the grizzly bear tiles occupying six squares in a park section. That's quite a lot, isn't it? Well, to give your park room to grow, you now must add a fifth park section and fill it in order to complete the game. This expansion contains four new park sections, each with an exit gate so that visitors won't be stuck inside your park forever.

    A third module contains skinny monorail tiles that start with a value of ten points and decrease in value as you add them to your bear parks. How does one add a monorail? First you need to place tiles in your park that each contain space for a pillar, and you need to place them at the proper distance. Once you have two pillars in place, you take the topmost monorail tile, then balance it on the pillars. Now everyone can scoot around your park looking down at the bears!


    Again, components not final

    • The third title I saw should come as a surprise to no one who was paying attention to the trends of SPIEL '18. Uwe Rosenberg's Patchwork from 2014 wasn't the first title to use polyominoes, but that game's success has seemed like the origin point for many other such titles in recent years, including several such games at SPIEL '18. On top of that is a blitz of roll-and-write games, with every publisher seeming to have at least one in their catalog, some of which also feature polyominoes, as with the SPIEL '18 releases Bloxx! from Noris Spiele and Brikks from Schmidt Spiele.

    Now Lookout Games will have a roll-and-write of its own in the form of Patchwork Doodle, which specifies that it supports up to eight players, but I think that's because the box will have only eight starting cards and pencils. Gather more writing utensils and allow for duplicate cards, and the player count is limited only by visual access to the cards in play. As for what you're doing in the game, which is due out in Q1 2019, here's a summary of gameplay:

    In Patchwork Doodle, each player has their own 9x9 grid to fill in over the course of the game. Each player sets up by drawing a unique polyomino card from the starting deck, then drawing that on their sheet.

    In each round, players lay out a number of polyomino cards in a circle, then place the rabbit between two cards. On a turn, someone rolls the die, moves the rabbit forward, then removes the card indicated by the rabbit. Each player must draw the polyomino indicated on this card in their grid. Once a certain number of cards have been played, the round ends, players score points, then you lay out more cards for the next round.

    Each player has four special actions available to them during the game: You can choose to draw the card before or after the chosen card, you can cut a polyomino into two pieces before adding each piece to your grid, you can fill in a 1x1 space in your grid, and you can do one of the above actions a second time. When you take one of these actions, you mark it off as each can be used only once (except for the one you use a second time, if you know what I mean).

    You lose a point for each space that you don't cover, so try to pack everything in as tightly as possible!


    Components not final here either Read more »