March 16 2017
Board Game Geek
- ● Designer Diary: Mental Blocks, or Can't We All Just Get Along?
by Micah Sawyer
For a long time, I've been fascinated by how people could be faced with the same thing and have vastly different opinions and views on it, both small things, like which TV show is the best of all time (Arrested Development, Seasons 1-3 — we don't speak of the others), but also big things like politics, God, or which humans we should treat like humans.
There have been so many ways to help understand this, from giant philosophy arguments to the comic of two people arguing over whether the number is a 9 or a 6, so when faced with the issue of depth of human communication and diversity of thought, the only logical choice to me was to make a 15-minute co-op game using foam blocks.
Because I'm a game designer, so I work with what I know.
In Mental Blocks, you're working as a team to build a single 3D structure in the center of the table under a time limit. Each player has only one perspective on the final solution, and each has restrictions about what they can do — and all the while one player MIGHT actually be working in bad faith against the team, trying to get them to lose.
It was fun and got people talking about their perspectives and how to better understand one another. I loved the idea that while everyone's view could be correct, no one's view was complete; I loved how there was a right answer, but that it was impossible to figure it out without listening to others, learning about what they thought, then working together. I considered "The Giant Block Game" a success — then life got busy and I put it in my pile of "neat things I should work on more someday".
Sometime later, I got a call from a friend at work needing me to come in the next morning and brainstorm a game for a client of ours. During the meeting, it was clear that something like "The Giant Block Game" could actually help them figure out some things, so with permission from work, I decided to pitch it to the client as an option for the project. They LOVED it! Well, parts of it. To make it work for them, I pulled out the restrictions on actions, simplified the perspectives, and made it a little less "gamey".
Meanwhile, I was also weekly-ish attending a local game designer meet-up called the Northwest Ohio Game Designers who have been kind enough to play many of my work games. We played "The Giant Block Game" (Work Edition), and they all really got into it and were excited about what it could be for a hobby game. After the game, one of the designers — and I'm pretty sure it was Jonathan Gilmour of Dead of Winter and Dinosaur Island fame — mentioned, "Whoa, what if you added a betrayer to this?" and suddenly things started clicking in my head. And since he is awesome, we decided to start working on the design together.
Adding "The Betrayer" took a very fun co-op game and added an entire new element to it. It became this crazy real-time social deduction game in which you watched everyone and tried to figure out who might be sabotaging the team. At that point, internally, we started calling it "Foam of Winter", but that name didn't stick for obvious reasons.
I started bringing it more often, making more puzzles, testing player counts, and trying different team and betrayer ideas.
The game first really felt like a success when I took it to a local con to get early feedback. I talked to the con organizers and got permission to set up on an open table, but after an hour or so, no one had stopped by yet...which was less than encouraging. I figured I'd hang out for another hour or two, then take off for the weekend. Bored, I decided to pile the blocks as high as I could and post a sign on the top: "1 minute to learn, 10 minutes to play". About five minutes later, I had my first group ask to try it. About fifty minutes and five games after that, I had to ask them to stop playing...because there was a line.
Apparently, there is something very attractive about a group of nine people frantically trying to build with blocks while yelling at each other and accusing one and all of being the betrayer. It was freaking hilarious to watch.
I called my wife and pulled her in to help manage it all, get puzzles ready for the next group, run games, etc. It was amazing and validating.
Around the time of BashCon, Jonathan showed the design to Pandasaurus Games, which decided that "The Giant Block Game" was maybe not the most marketable name. They pitched the name "Mental Blocks", which I must agree is a significantly better name in every conceivable way.
Moving into official build mode, our first goal was around forty puzzles, which was a decent amount. All our playtests had shown that groups can play the same puzzles multiple times without even realizing it due to how the information is split up. Unfortunately, we heard from manufactures that if we went over thirty puzzles (which would be 270 cards!), then our costs for the game were not viable.
Ultimately, we realized that most of our print-and-play testers were printing only single-sided cards and that approach worked great for them, so we decided to get rid of the back art and create double-sided puzzle cards, placing the easy level on one side and the challenge level on the other, which let us jump the number of puzzles up to a solid sixty.
Once we had the puzzles down, we moved into mass playtesting. Jonathan and Pandasaurus have a great network of vetted playtesters that allowed us to send tons of copies and get real-time feedback through forms and a private Reddit. We had the game in mass playtesting for four months, intentionally at the end of the year so that players would take the game to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's to try it with their non-gaming friends and family, in addition to their regular gaming groups. We asked for fifteen plays per group and had multiple groups that went way over that. One group reported 104 plays!
To help with the groups that were getting pretty skilled at the game, we introduced difficulty levels and the optional "Glitch" cards, which change how the game plays and add crazy table restrictions, e.g., "No one can talk; use only hand gestures," or "Two people must be touching each block to move it."
Some of the most rewarding feedback came through these forms, quotes like, "My family all had a good time. They didn't complain about me trying to get them to play one of those 'board games' I have. They all loved it, which was great for people that almost never play games." Or "This was my best gaming experience of the year." Or "It's so great to have a co-op game where we can work as a team, but it's impossible to have one person quarterback it all, so we can all play." Or "I tried this with several groups from heavy gamers and RPGers to family and friends who don't play games. Everyone enjoyed it and it is [a] super simple teach." All these quotes were really great to hear.
The feedback also told us where we messed up, where the rules were not clear, which puzzles could be broken, and where we had bad ideas. At one point, we had a "Win / Lose" tracker that added a legacy-style feel, the idea being that as you won, the game would get harder, and as you lost, the game would self-correct and get easier. In practice, it made "The Betrayer" feel like an outcast and worked against the quick pick-up-and-play nature of the game, so we ditched it.
To make rules as fast and clear as possible, I made a quick start sheet. Basically, you set out a puzzle on a sheet and that one image teaches the whole game.
The best thing we saw was that with the two modes — fully co-operative and potential betrayer — the game could fit with all types of players. Since the game took only a minute or two to teach, that meant pretty much any group was willing to try it, and then once they tried it, they wanted more. The groups that wanted a more causal party-style game could play fully co-op, while the groups that wanted to be more intense could up the challenge level or add the potential traitor. It was becoming the rare game that could introduce new people to modern board games, but still be fun for more experienced gamers.
Mental Blocks came a long way from a personal "art game" to something that hundreds of playtesters have played and loved — but when I think about my original goal, this feedback quote is my favorite of all: "[She] loved seeing her family work together and listen ([Which is] good for things outside of gaming). It also gives perspective that we all see things differently, and we could all be correct (she sorta got teary-eyed at this point) — Thanksgiving, gotta love emotional holiday time!"
Which means hey, it can be fun AND still make a point!
I'm excited to see Mental Blocks come out at Gen Con 2019 in August, so stop by the Pandasaurus Games booth (#1441) to try it. After all, it takes only a minute to learn and ten to play!
Micah Sawyer Read more »
- Funko Games Debuts with Harry Potter, Batman, Morty, Blanche, and More in the Funkoverse Strategy Gameacquired Seattle-based game design studio Forrest-Pruzan Creative, which releases most of its designs these days under the pseudonym Prospero Hall. (You might recognize the name from recent coverage of JAWS, Villainous: Evil Comes Prepared, Horrified, and several other titles.)
In my write-up of that purchase, I wrote: "In recent years, FPC has been responsible for pop-culture-driven games such as Villainous, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, and Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger, which makes it seem like an ideal fit within the Funko brand." And in a comment on that post, I wrote: "I can imagine Funko releasing a deluxe version of Villainous for $100-ish that contains large figures of all six characters, perhaps custom versions of those characters specific to that game. It's a gift, it's a game — it's two things in one!"
At San Diego Comic-Con 2019, Funko has officially announced the formation of Funko Games as well as its debut line of games: the Funkoverse Strategy Game. From the press release:
The first wave of Funkoverse includes six collectible strategy board games based on some of the world's most beloved pop culture icons: Harry Potter, Rick & Morty, DC Comics, and The Golden Girls. The games incorporate Pop! into the flagship game with brand new three-inch figurines. The strategic game offers innovative gameplay and a fresh experience for both new and seasoned gamers. Funkoverse will be available at most major retailers this coming October.
"There's no better place to introduce Funko fanatics to Funko Games than at this year's San Diego Comic Con," said Jay Wheatley, General Manager of Funko Games. "Adults and children over 10 can now create a powerful team of characters from their favorite fandoms and face off in exciting table-top gameplay."
I appreciate the incorporation of the suggested age range in that quote, although it carries the feeling that nine-year-olds should go sit in a closet. In any case, here's a longer description of gameplay:
Face off in the ultimate Pop! battle
In the Funkoverse Strategy Game, you combine your favorite characters and go head-to-head in four exciting game scenarios. Use your characters' unique abilities to gain points and achieve victory!
Each turn, you select one of your characters and perform two actions. Each character has access to basic actions like moving and challenges as well as several unique abilities that may be performed only by spending ability tokens. Funkoverse uses an innovative "cooldown" system — the more powerful the ability, the longer it will take for the ability token to become available again — so players have to spend their ability tokens wisely. Each character in Funkoverse is unique, so players are encouraged to try out different combinations of characters and items in order to discover their favorite synergies and powerful strategies for all four game scenarios.
As of launch, the Funkoverse Strategy Game consists of four-character sets and two-character sets. Every four-character and two-character set is playable as a standalone game and comes with exclusive Funko Pop! Figures that aren't available anywhere else, a double-sided board, tokens, cards, an item, and dice. Sets may be combined with one another, allowing players the freedom to play how they like!
Funko Games will have a presence at Gen Con 2019, so I would imagine that the games will be available for demo there ahead of their release in October 2019. (I need to double-check on this, but the Funko folks are a tad busy in San Diego.) We'll have individual listings for each title in the BGG database later, but for now I can share pics of the components in each of the six individual releases of the Funkoverse Strategy Game.
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- VideoGame Preview: Villainous: Evil Comes Prepared, or Ravensburger Pulls the LeverVillainous — or to use its proper title Disney Villainous — debuted in the middle of 2018, people immediately asked, "Who else have you got?"
In the game, you represent a villain from one of the Disney animated films. You have a personalized deck containing allies, items, effects, and more from that film, and you must use these cards to complete your master plan, which is unique for each villain and which embodies that character's plan from their film. The original Villainous game includes six characters, but cries went up for more and in March 2019 designer Prospero Hall and publisher Ravensburger delivered more in the form of Villainous: Wicked to the Core, a standalone game with three new villains that could also be played against the characters in the original game.
With San Diego Comic-Con 2019 opening today, July 18, and announcements of new licensed items coming out left and right, Ravensburger has contributed to the buzz by announcing Villainous: Evil Comes Prepared, a new standalone expansion for 2-3 players that mirrors Wicked to the Core in format. The character line-up in this box is Yzma from The Emperor's New Groove, and Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective, and Scar from The Lion King — the new live-action version of which coincidentally opens this weekend. Absolutely a coincidence, I'm sure.
The basics of gameplay remain the same as in the earlier games:
On a turn, the active player moves their character to a different location on their player board, takes one or more of the actions visible on that space (often by playing cards from their hand), then refills their hand to four cards. Cards are allies, items, effects, and conditions. You need to use your cards to fulfill your unique win condition.
One of the actions allows you to choose another player, draw two cards from that player's fate deck, then play one of them on that player's board, covering two of the four action spaces on one of that player's locations. The fate deck contains heroes, items, and effects from that villain's movie, and these cards allow other players to mess with that particular villain.
Scar's winning condition is the most straightforward: Collect 15 points of strength in a succession pile, "collect" being a polite word for eliminate. You want to be king, after all, so your first challenge is to find and eliminate Mufasa, who is part of your fate deck. Opponents aren't likely to put Mufasa in play for you to kill, so you have effects cards in your deck — "Be Prepared" — to help place him in a position of vulnerability, after which you can use your hyena packs to bring him down. Once Mufasa falls, he counts as the start of the succession pile, giving you 6 of the 15 points you need for victory. Each hero that falls after that adds to your total, although opponents can sometimes pull them back from the pile or strengthen those heroes that remain on the plain to make life more difficult for you.
Ratigan needs to get the Robot Queen into play in his secret lair, then deliver it to Buckingham Palace — but the Robot Queen costs 15 power compared to the 0-3 power cost of everything else in your deck. Thankfully, you can place gears into play that lower the cost of items on a one-shot basis, and other cards will help you dig for the Queen, which you need to get into play before Basil shows up from your fate deck. If Basil comes into play while the Queen is out or can move onto its location, the Queen is discarded, which so enrages Ratigan that his goal transforms to the elimination of Basil. Thankfully you have Felicia in your deck to provide big hits...
The rules note that Yzma is the most difficult to play, and I can testify to that from my one playing of the game to date on a review copy from Ravensburger. Unlike all other Villainous characters, Yzma has her fate deck divided into four equal piles of four cards, with Kuzco hiding in one of those piles. Yzma needs to use her cards to find Kuzco's location, then place Kronk in that same location so that Kronk can take out Kuzco. Kronk doesn't really want to do this, of course, so each time you move Kronk to a new location, he collects power, and once he has three power, he switches sides, now acting as a hero against Yzma. She must then defeat him to return him to her deck so that she can employ him once again against Kuzco. Amongst the cards in her fate pile are two "Wrong Lever" cards, and if she reveals one, she loses half of her power. Why do they even have that lever?!
Villainous: Evil Comes Prepared is scheduled to debut as an exclusive with the Target retail chain in the U.S. on July 19, 2019, with a release on the broader retail market scheduled for September 2019.
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- Reiner Knizia's Quest for The Quest for El DoradoReiner Knizia caused a stir in the game industry when he tweeted the following:
Wait a minute? A new edition of The Quest for El Dorado, for which Knizia and Ravensburger received a Spiel des Jahres nomination in 2017? It's being released with new artwork by Vincent Dutrait while the original version with Franz Vohwinkel's iconic artwork is still on print? Large format cards wouldn't match the original, which means that the existing Heroes & Hexes expansion wouldn't be compatible — and what about The Golden Temples standalone expansion that Ravensburger teased at Spielwarenmesse 2019 ahead of a late 2019 release? Is Knizia talking about those expansions — or something else?
People started speculating what this announcement might entail for the future compatibility of base games and expansions, not to mention their availability. After seeing this new version listed on the Lautapelit.fi website — a listing removed almost immediately — I contacted Toni Niittymäki from Lautapelit.fi, who suggested that I contact lead publisher 999 Games, the representative of which gave me additional information while also suggesting that I contact Reiner Knizia himself, which is perhaps what I should have done in the first place since he's the one who kicked off this hullabaloo, so I did.
In this article, I might not answer all of your questions about this new edition, but I will address them as best as I can. As you'll see, though, answers might not come for a year or more — and in many cases, the answers will depend on you.
an hour-long retrospective in 2015 of his thirty-year career as a game designer that remains my favorite interview to date. I've spoken of my love for Knizia designs many times, most recently in my video overview of LAMA, and aside from being a fan of his designs, I'm also a fan of his business practices. More than anyone else I've encountered, Knizia merges the art of design with the business of ensuring that those designs get into print and stay there, and that's where this story begins.
"The first challenge is to find a publisher interested in the game," says Knizia. "Ideally that would be a publisher who is willing and able to take the game and market it to its largest potential worldwide. No publisher can do that by themselves, but many publishers have built up networks that extend their reach. I would like to work with a publisher who can do that because I'd give the game to one publisher, deal only with them, then everyone would work from the same template, which leads to bigger co-publications, which is more cost effective."
Learning about a publisher's plans for a design before you sign a contract with them is crucial. After all, if a publisher doesn't have a network of licensees or doesn't plan to market your game to others, then you don't want to give away rights that you could sell to others — and even if a publisher does have such a network, Knizia says that his contracts for worldwide rights typically contain a clause that allows unused languages or territories to come back under his control. "Publishers might want to try to make something happen, and in two or three years, if it doesn't work, then we might want to give it a try ourselves."
Knizia and Ravensburger have worked together on dozens of releases over the past two decades, with their first such collaboration being in 1995 (as best as I can determine) on the classic auction game High Society. Regarding The Quest for El Dorado, Knizia says, "Ravensburger has contributed an enormous amount to the success of the game. They've put their heart into it, and the game wouldn't be where it is today without them. That is clear. There is no rift with Ravensburger."
Since the game's debut in 2017, Ravensburger has released versions of The Quest for El Dorado in German, English, French, Spanish, and Italian — and that was it as far as the company was concerned. Says Knizia, "Ravensburger did not want to cover the other territories, which meant that I had all the other territories to cover myself. This game is too close to my heart, and if they didn't want to cover it, then I wanted to do it myself."
There was one complication to this plan, however: Ravensburger didn't want to allow its graphics for the game to be used by other publishers. Publishing partnerships exist in many different formats, and while you might have a straight co-publication — with publisher B paying publisher A a licensing fee to be part of the same print run with only the text translated into a different language — you might instead have publisher B paying solely for the use of the artwork owned by publisher A and handling the manufacturing on its own.
Lato z Komarami, Egmont Polska's edition of LAMA, as an example of this, Knizia said that actually the Egmont version of that game matches his prototype as he had called the game "Mosquito" to highlight the annoying nature of them being left in your hand at the end of a round. "For AMIGO, the mosquito wasn't the most sympathetic character", says Knizia, so that publisher swapped the mosquito for a llama. Given the Spiel des Jahres nomination for that game, AMIGO might have made the right call...)
Knizia emphasizes that Ravensburger is perfectly within its rights not to license its art for whatever resasons it wants, but this decision made things difficult for his licensing efforts given that Ravensburger was already covering the largest markets — North America and much of Europe — on its own. "For smaller publishers with smaller markets, they might have a harder time paying for new art and graphics given how much is needed for this game," he says.
As a result, says Knizia, "For the first time in my career, I've financed and commissioned artwork for a game. I decided to step in and make sure that we would have unifying graphics. It cost me a lot of time, but that's what I had to invest to ensure that the game would exist in many countries." That said, Knizia knows that despite all of his years in the industry, his expertise is not in publishing and game production, so he went looking for someone who could handle all of the artwork, graphic design, and pre-production work.
He found Vincent Dutrait.
At this point, Knizia says they have the graphics, a working template of the game in the English language, and the ability to license the game in territories or language/territory combinations not covered by Ravensburger. When publishers want to join the project, they need only to replace the English in the master template with a translation of the text into the language(s) specified in their license with Knizia.
In a tweet on July 9, Knizia had stated that the game would appear in eleven languages not covered by Ravensburger, but following the publicity of his original announcement, a twelfth language edition has been signed. Those languages are Dutch (from 999 Games); Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish (from Lautapelit.fi); and (from publishers still to be announced) Chinese, Greek, Hungarian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, and Russian. (The Lautapelit.fi edition will include components and rules in English, but it cannot be sold by the publisher outside of Finland and Scandinavia.)
Knizia declined to name the other publishers so that they could make announcements on their own schedule, although he chose to announce the existence of this edition himself in order to bring awareness of it to game markets worldwide because at this point he's still looking for a Baltic publisher, a publisher for a Portuguese edition, and a publisher able to cover New Zealand and Australia. During our call, he referenced a map with pins in countries around the world. Not every country has a pin, of course, so he's open to hearing from publishers in other areas as well...
In terms of the actual manufacturing of the game, that's another area outside of Knizia's expertise. Dutch publisher 999 Games is overseeing production of the base game — getting costs to licensees, ensuring that they submit translations for their part of the production line, etc. — for those publishers that want to sign up, which so far consists of 999 Games and Lautapelit.fi, as well as the publishers of the Hungarian, Japanese, and Korean versions. Eduard van Buggenum from 999 Games told me that "the coordinated production" of these games will allow for their release in early 2020.
Knizia notes that some of the licensees have their own production facilities, so they have decided to produce the game themselves with the new Dutrait graphics under the license with Knizia, and some of these versions will be on the market before the end of 2019.
As for the aforementioned expansions, Knizia says, "Being able to control doing the graphics, it gives me freedom to do expansions myself for different territories. There are lots of expansion opportunities in El Dorado, and the advantage now is that I don't have to convince an individual publisher. I discuss it with Vincent, and we do it."
That said, this doesn't mean that expansions for The Quest for El Dorado will appear for this version of the base game right away. "It's a bit too early for us to talk about those", says van Buggenum. "Speaking for 999 Games, usually a board game first has to 'prove itself' in our market before we print an expansion. For now, the currently planned production of the Vincent Dutrait version is for the base game only."
Knizia says that Dutrait has completed artwork for the cards in the promo pack for The Quest for El Dorado that was released in Spielbox and at Gen Con 2018. (The "Binoculars" card in the Twitter image at top is from the promo pack.) "Some publishers will include this in the box, and some will give it away as a promotional item."
"We have many ideas", continues Knizia. "They are in development, and it depends on individual publishers what we will do with them. For some publishers, it's important to have ideas of expansions, and others focus solely on the base game. The publishers will decide what they want to do. I will build the world, then the publishers can take one thing or another from it."
Admittedly, says Knizia, the situation is unusual compared to what existed before. "Now we have two arms, two different worlds: the Vohwinkel world and the Dutrait world. What is important to me is that Ravensburger has their market, their channels, and I'm now covering different channels, different markets. For many people in those markets, the game is brand new, which will create a drive for new expansions." Speaking of which, Knizia confirms that The Quest for El Dorado: The Golden Temples is on track for release from Ravensburger at SPIEL '19 in October.
As for what follows after that, it largely depends on the market — by which I mean "markets", specifically the seventeen language-based markets that currently exist or will exist within the next twelve months for The Quest for El Dorado. People might be frustrated that the new Dutrait version of the game won't be sold in their country or their language, but keep in mind that the Heroes & Hexes expansion from Ravensburger currently exists solely in a dual English/German edition. Perhaps French, Spanish, and Italian versions will exist in the future, and perhaps not.
Publishers produce games because they think they can sell them, so you can't be assured that a Dutrait version of Heroes & Hexes or The Golden Temples will ever exist until you see them announced — and if everyone holds off from buying the Dutrait base game because they want to know first whether they can get the "whole" line, then poor sales will doom any chances of that. That situation can be frustrating, yes, but the alternative would be for not even the base game to exist in these languages. Knizia thought he could do more with his creation, so he created his own opportunities to do more. As for what treasure we'll find next in this line of games, we'll all find out together in the years to come.
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- VideoGame Overview: Las Vegas Boulevard, or Upgrades on the StripLas Vegas Royale revamps 2012's Spiel des Jahres-nominated Las Vegas from Rüdiger Dorn by drawing in elements from the Las Vegas Boulevard expansion, but also by making small tweaks to the design as a whole.
For those who don't know, Las Vegas is a dice-based, area-majority game that no one outside of BGG would described as an area-majority game. You play multiple rounds, and at the start of each round, you lay out money next to six casinos. On a turn, you roll all the dice you have, then place all the dice of one number in the casino that matches that number, taking back the remaining dice to roll on your next turn. Once everyone has placed all of their dice, you payout the money in each casino, with the player who has the most dice in a casino getting the largest denomination bill in that casino, then the player with the next most dice getting the next-largest bill, etc.
The twist is that before divvying out the money, if you have the same number of dice in a casino as someone else, then you must remove your dice from that casino. Open that collar because ties are worthless in Vegas!
Las Vegas is brilliantly simple, with rules that get people playing within a minute. I've had great success over the years teaching it to casual players because all of them got into the gambling aspect of the game immediately, especially since you feel like you have staked a claim on a bill as soon as you place dice in a casino. You're invested in the game. Hands off my bucks!
Las Vegas Royale changes the base game in small but meaningful ways, such as giving players two chips each round that they can spend to place no dice in a casino after rolling; this lets you pass after terrible rolls or delay placing dice so that you can see which casinos have the most competition, but at the end of the game each chips is worth $10,000, so you have to weigh whether the cost is worth the potential of a better payout down the road. Each player also now has a giant die and seven small dice instead of only eight small dice — a change that originated in Las Vegas Boulevard — and that giant die counts as two dice when determining who takes home money from a casino. It feels good to have that giant die amongst all the others, the threat of it in each roll, with you being able to swing a casino into your column quickly.
The third main change is how money is placed at the casino at the start of each round. In Las Vegas, you dealt bills — which were valued from $10-90,000 — one by one until a casino had at least $50,000, which meant that many casinos had only a single bill or lots of little bills; in Las Vegas Royale, the bills are valued from $30,000 to $100,000, and at the start of each round you deal out six pairs of bills, then you arrange those bills at the casinos from high to low in the 6 to 1 casinos. Now two bills are in play at each casino, which changes how desirable those casinos are: two big bills will make you happy for second, and the two players with the most dice try to play nice; one big and one small creates a king of the hill feeling; and two small bills has the feel of a wasteland, yet one you're okay competing for only a die or two. Small bills are still better than no bills, after all.
The "Royale" part of Las Vegas Royale comes from the expansion tiles, with the game featuring eight double-sided tiles. The rules suggest playing with tiles on the 1-3 casinos, juicing up those casinos with a poor payout by giving players something else to fight over. Each of the sixteen tile sides has different rules, with some of them adding mini-games to the main game (which means more ways for you to win chips or money), some of them adding tools to thwart others at casinos, and some of them just being a way to grab more bills.
The base game of Las Vegas continues to dazzle as one of the best quick-playing dice games on the market, and the expansions — should you choose to use them — beef up the gameplay with twists that allow you to reclaim dice or gamble on the side apart from the main action at the casinos.
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- Designer Diary: Silver
by Ted AlspachCabo (first edition) at Greg Schloesser's weekly East Tennessee Gamers game night a few years ago. A recent transplant to Tennessee from California, I was discovering all sorts of great games that were super common in the southeast, while introducing west coast staples to the good folks here.
Cabo had been a surprise hit for the group. Lots of players who normally stick to heavier games enjoyed it, as well as casual gamers. I liked it right away, and when I tried to purchase a copy afterward, I discovered that it had been out of print for several years. After a little research, I found all sorts of similar card games that had the mechanism I call "point shedding", which is the process of reducing the sum of points in your hand by trading out your cards for other ones, and even reducing the number of cards in your hand overall. These games included Rat-a-Tat Cat, Skyjo, and the public domain Golf, played with a traditional card deck.
Cabo stood out because it provided abilities along with the base mechanisms, adding spice without too much randomness. It had a good chunk of interaction between players, a light memory element, and a dramatic reveal at the end of each round.
However, as a gamer, I wanted more. During many turns, I found myself going through the motions because there was an obvious play (take a lower card or one that matches an existing card) or no real option (just discard the card you drew).
With that in mind, I started working on a Cabo variant in which more cards had abilities. These abilities were offshoots of what Cabo did at a base level, but as I added them, the variant turned into something quite different.
The first thing I did was to reduce the memory element by keeping cards drawn from the discard pile face up. These were known cards already, and by placing them face down in Cabo, you have to remember their value along with the other cards you've viewed. Keeping track of seen cards was tiring and sometimes frustrating, and players with highly developed short-term memory skills would do better than those of us without that particular talent. Keeping cards face up that everyone has seen created a more level playing field.
Abilitizing Face-up Cards
The next thing was to add abilities to the low-number cards that work only when face up in your village. One of the first cards was the Bodyguard (#3), which could protect another card in your village from abilities that allow players to move or swap your cards. I quickly discovered that the only way to get a card face up in your village to protect your other cards was to draw it from the discard pile. This caused players to hang onto unseen cards, making the "peek" ability (which allows you to look at one of your cards) much more valuable. Further, no one wanted to give up a face-up 3 because it handed a huge advantage to the player on your left.
Thus, two new abilities were added: the Exposer (#5), which allows you to turn one of your own cards face up, and the Revealer (#6), which allows you to turn any card face up. These cards were valuable in the early game as they allowed players to find out what unknown cards were, and maybe add an ability to the mix if those were low cards.
Other low card abilities came soon after: The Empath (#2) allows you to view a face-down card each turn, and for each Rascal (#4) face up in front of you, you can draw an extra card from the deck (returning unchosen cards back on top of the deck). Just having these three abilities made drawing a 5 or 6 an interesting choice. If you've seen those three cards in front of you, which one do you turn face up? Being able to view unseen cards is huge, but protecting your low value cards is also valuable, and then there's the extra options you have by drawing two cards each turn (which also tells you what the player to your left might draw). That sort of decision is the kind of thing I look for in games, where the right answer is both subjective and situational.
Later in development, I added the Squire (#1) ability. Having a 1 is valuable by itself (and an easy target for other players), so I gave him an ability that benefits everyone. For each face-up Squire, a card from the top of the deck is also displayed face up. Players can then choose from the face-up deck card, the unseen top card of the deck, or the discard pile. As a bonus, taking a face-up deck card keeps it face up in front of you, so you don't have to memorize what the card is and can use its ability if it is a low card. Face-up Squires help keep games different and fresh.
It's great to have all those choices, but not so great that the other players have those choices, too. When multiple deck cards are face up, your opponents can learn a lot about your hidden cards by watching which card you choose.
The last card to get a face-up ability was the Villager (#0). For a long time the Villager was just a zero, already an amazing card to have in front of you. During the thousands of playtest rounds, I realized that I wanted more tension; if no one called, the deck would slowly run out, and the round would end with more of a whimper than a bang. The Villager's ability changes that. The game includes only two Villagers, and if, and only if, both of them are face up in front of players, the round ends instantly. No one else gets a turn, and you have to turn your cards face up.
The interesting thing about this is that the game runs along as usual until one of the Villagers is turned face up. At that point, it's a time bomb, especially if you don't know where the other Villager is (or even if anyone has him). Anyone can turn over a card and it could be the other Villager, ending the game suddenly, so with one Villager face up, your strategy has to adjust for this sudden end because you don't want to be stuck with any high value cards. On the other hand, if you've got a pretty good hand and you know where the other Villager is, flipping him face up could be huge for you — a low score for you and a potential high score for your opponents.
Adios Cabo, Hi-Yo Silver!
It wasn't long before the game became more than a Cabo variant. It needed its own identity. I also realized some things that weren't working were holdovers from Cabo (first edition) and could now be easily changed. On the chopping block were the following:
• The Cabo theme (or lack thereof)
• The funky artwork of the original edition
• The lack of variety in special abilities with a single deck
• The name of the game
• Playing up to five players
• Having only four cards in front of you
• Pretending your cards match just to see what they are
• Different length rounds based on how many players were playing
• Playing until a player reaches more than 100 points total (the game was too long)
• The lowest total always scores 0 points, whether that player called or not
• You can play a round forever if no one calls
• The 50-point kamikaze (if your four cards = 50 points, you get 0, everyone else gets 50)
• Jumping back down to 50 points if you hit 100 exactly
• The dreaded 13 card (only useful for the kamikaze)
First up was deciding whether this new game should have a theme, and what it might be. As I developed the game, I had been using familiar names for the cards from our other werewolf games and tried to match up some of the mechanisms loosely. The numbers though...what could they be?
Well, in most of our games, werewolves are the bad guys, and usually you want to eliminate them, so the numbers became the number of werewolves in your village, which showed how many werewolves followed the different characters. Thus, the high-powered Robber (#12) would have twelve werewolves hanging around him, while the lowly Villager wouldn't have any. Treating each player's line of cards as a village worked well (an idea borrowed from Legend Dan Hoffman's excellent Ultimate Werewolf Inquisition). Other themes could have also worked, but it was nice to fold this into the werewolf mythos, with similarly named characters and abilities to other games.
No, Really, It's Not from 3D Software
While developing the game, I used artwork from our other games, usually One Night where roles matched up. Once the theme was locked down, I went in search of an artist to fulfill the vision I had, and finally found one: Andrey Gordeev.
Andrey's art is absolutely amazing, and I was thrilled when he agreed to join the project. He's still working on artwork for future games in the Silver line even now, and my favorite emails are the ones I get from him that contain new sketches and color versions of new roles. Andrey's art looks like something you'd see in a Pixar or Dreamworks feature, but he actually creates it all the old-fashioned way (well, digitally old-fashioned, by painting in Photoshop, not with a dedicated 3D program). Each and every character he's created has a ton of personality and all sorts of great little tweaks. Since you're slogging through this really long diary, here's a fun secret for you: Each card has werewolves on it equal to the number on the card. Some are obvious, while some are hidden. When you, erm, spot the Cow in Silver Bullet, you'll know what I mean.
As there were more cards with special abilities in development than would fit in the game, I had been considering releasing this game on Kickstarter and using the other special ability cards as Kickstarter bonuses, then selling the bonus cards later as a bonus pack. It worked for the One Night games, after all.
But soon the number of cards in development was in the dozens, and I realized that the number would continue to grow. (We're currently testing about one hundred unique cards in addition to the ones that will be published this year.) That this might be a series of compatible games was forming as an idea, and I tentatively called the base game the A deck, with the next one being the B deck, etc.
The Game Names Themselves
As a game designer and publisher, trying to find a unique name for your game that somehow communicates what the game is about, while still being interesting and memorable is always a challenge — but in this case, the name came pretty naturally.
Once the Amulet of Protection (which had debuted in Ultimate Werewolf: Ultimate Edition) was added to the game, I didn't realize it, but the name was already decided once I started naming the decks/games with items alphabetically. The A deck had an amulet. The B deck should have (it seems so obvious now) a bullet! And what's more awesome for fighting werewolves than a silver bullet? Silver is something that's traditionally been used to defeat werewolves, so why not have a different object in each game? And they could all be silver!
The toughest part was deciding the name of the first game. I went back and forth between Silver and "Silver Amulet" for a while, before deciding on Silver, knowing that each follow-up game would start with the word "Silver" and have the item after it. The word "Amulet" is on some of the box sides, so if you do collect them all, you'll have a nice Amulet/Bullet/Cxxxx/Dxxxx/etc. display.
Goodbye, Player #5
Cabo supports up to eight players if you mix two decks together. Like "Trichu" (the horrendous three-player variant of Tichu), you should avoid this at all costs. With a single deck, up to five players could play. Unfortunately, this results in waiting wayyyyy too long for your turn, trying to track all of those face-down cards (since in Cabo every discard pile draw goes face down in front of you), and having opponents get five chances to destroy your call.
Four players makes the game more snappy, and with the new abilities, two and three players results in an entirely different feel. I've played hundreds of games at all player counts with Silver, and while everyone has their preference for the "best number of players", I truly couldn't tell you if one is better than another as I like all three different player counts for different reasons.
Hello, Card #5
Having four cards in front of you was less satisfying in terms of the rush you get when you exchange matching cards, so Silver starts with you having five cards. You still look at two at the beginning of the game, then have to figure out what the other three are. This fifth card provided more interesting options when you had face-up card abilities, too.
Fake Matchers, Beware!
The "fake matching card trade" trick that gamers did with Cabo always bugged me. In Cabo, you can always exchange any number of matching cards. If they don't match, you put the card you drew on the discard pile and flip your cards back down. The only penalty was a loss of your turn, but in the process, you learned what all your unknown cards were, without waiting for a "Peek" card. Gamers, hmmmph!
So a new rule said if two cards you tried to exchange didn't match, you had to keep the card you drew as well as the cards you tried to exchange. And if three or more cards don't match, you get the card you drew plus another card off the top of the deck. The goal was not to penalize folks who can't remember their cards, but to stop rampant fake-matching card trading, and it worked.
Consistency Between Player Counts
Because a Cabo deck ends up being smaller when you have more players, it changes the rhythm of the game, making abilities harder to balance.
In Silver, you deal out four sets of five cards regardless of how many people are playing. With fewer than four players, you place the unused sets of cards off to the side. This results in a deck that is always 31 cards (plus a face-up discard). It might seem like a little thing, but five extra cards in a three-player game, or ten extra in a two-player game changes the feel of the rounds as well as strategies — and not in a good way. Every round of Silver still has a varying number of turns (since players can draw from the discard pile as well as the draw deck), but there's less variance than if the deck was a different size for each player count.
Four Rounds Is Just Right!
Lots and lots of rounds of Silver later, we realized that a specific point total as game end wasn't right. Not only did it feel too long, there wasn't a good flow to the game. After a ton of experimenting with different ending conditions (Time limit! Lowest score to reach X! X successful calls! X rounds!), I settled on four rounds. It made the first game, as players learn the mechanisms and base strategies, take about 45 minutes, with subsequent games clocking in around 30 minutes.
Calling Is a Dramatic Event
Calling for a vote in Silver is higher stakes than in Cabo. In Cabo, you call "Cabo" if you think you have the lowest total. If you do, great, you get 0 points. If not, you get your sum +5, and the player with the actual lowest total gets 0. Calling isn't particularly a great strategy since if you have the lowest total you'll get 0 anyway, and you're mostly risking 5 points to end the round quickly.
In Silver, the reward and penalties are more dramatic. When you call for a vote in Silver, and you have the lowest (or match the lowest) number of werewolves in your village, you get 0 points. You also get the Silver Amulet of Protection, which gives you a special, one-time ability to permanently protect a card the next round. If you're wrong, you score the sum of your cards, plus ten points.
Rounds Should End, Right?
In Cabo, each round continues until someone calls. The deck is out? Shuffle the discard pile and keep playing until someone calls. In Silver, the round ends in one of three ways: someone calls for a vote, the deck runs out, or both Villagers are face up in players' villages. The round will end, often sooner than you originally expected.
Shooting the Moon
You have a way to catch the leader in Cabo — but only if things go according to plan. You must get both 13s and two of the four 12s, then someone else has to call, and no one can mess with your cards. Then you get 0 points and everyone else gets 50. I've played a lot of Cabo, and this is incredibly rare. We removed this from Silver because final game scores are much lower than in Cabo. Also, getting both 13s is easier because of the Master (#10) ability, which lets you grab a card of your choice from the discard pile.
If You Reach 100, Something Went Very Very Wrong
One cool thing in Cabo is that if you're losing, you can redeem yourself if your score equals 100 points exactly. It sounds hard, but it's fairly common among Cabo players. Since Silver scores should never get to 100 (at least, not with the base set of cards), we threw that rule out.
The 13 Is One of the Best Cards in Silver
As opposed to Cabo, where the 13 is only good for a kamikaze, the Doppelgänger (#13) in Silver automatically matches any other card(s) you are discarding, so having it in your village is a good thing (and it's usually a top choice when someone plays a Master, and a Doppelgänger is in the discard pile). Of course, if the game ends suddenly via double Villager exposure, you're hosed. But that edginess adds a lot of excitement to the game.
Cabo: Second Edition
Through all of the playtesting and developing of Silver, I had been trying to secure the license for Cabo itself. The good news, as you probably already know, is that we got it and made a whole bunch of little tweaks to Cabo, including:
• Cards from the discard pile stay face up
• A unicorn theme (some would say pasted on, but...whatever)
• Redid the artwork (inspired by the original very funky art)
• Removed the fifth player
• Added an anti-"fake matching card trade" rule
• Removed the "lowest total always gets 0" rule
• Changed the round-ending conditions to include running out of cards in the deck
• Lots of other little tweaks
All of which make Cabo even better!
Silver Now and Silver Bullet Soon
Silver launches with a limited number of copies at Gen Con 2019, and it should be available in stores in September 2019. Just one month later, we'll launch Silver Bullet at SPIEL '19. Silver Bullet has the same gameplay, but with fourteen new ability cards and a Silver Bullet in place of the Amulet.
As Silver was in development, there were a ton of ideas and thoughts about abilities. Only one ability from Cabo made it into Silver directly: the Apprentice Seer (#8), who can view a card in another player's village. "Peek" from Cabo was thrown out and replaced by the Beholder (#7), who can view two cards in your own village; knowing your cards is incredibly useful, and viewing two instead of one made a lot of sense with three initially unknown cards. "Swap" was also thrown out, replaced by the Robber (#12), who lets you steal a card from another player, then view your new card.
The new abilities in Silver Bullet change the game in some interesting ways, with a heavier focus on flipping cards face up and face down, the ability to use powers of cards you didn't draw that turn, and even the ability to slow down and speed up the round.
Once you play both games, you'll see some underlying rules we have for what abilities do with certain numbers. The 10 card in all decks is some sort of Vampire who interacts with the discard pile. The 7, 8, and 9 cards give you more information about face-down cards. The 5 and 6 are about flipping cards, and the 11 and 12 are interactive cards that affect other players directly. There are other guidelines, and they'll start to become apparent as we reveal additions to the Silver line. That's right, we are currently developing a whole bunch of additional Silver games (after all, we have a whole bunch of cards to work with), with two or three scheduled for 2020, and even more in 2021 — and some of the abilities are crazy fun.
These guidelines were really important when developing both the base game and the sequels because these aren't just standalone games. You can mix and match cards from the games together by replacing all the numbers from one set with the same numbers from another set. We spent a lot of time with Silver and Silver Bullet playtesting combos, such as evens and odds, lows and highs, and even primes and non-primes. Those are all seven sets of numbers from each, but you can mix any number of numbers and the game will still be balanced and fun.
We did some testing of other ways to combine the game, and while they work, the end result wasn't as solid as simply removing all of one number from one game and replacing it with all of that number from another game (for any number of numbers). We tested having two of each number from two different games, having one of each number from four different games, randomly picking 52 cards from a giant pile of cards from all the sets available (that wasn't fun), and even playing with multiple sets of the same number (like twelve 3s, sixteen 9s, and no 1s, 2s, 5s, 13s, 0s, or 12s). But the most consistently good games were those that swapped out complete sets of numbers.
The Silver App
While Silver has been in development, we've been hard at work developing an app for it. This free app has all the cards in the base game and provides a compelling two-player (you versus the AI) game that allows you to try out the game to see whether it's for you. Look for the app on iOS and Android soon!
Special Silver Components
Once we decided on including a silver amulet, we were determined to make it metal. (Real silver would have been nice, but it would've jacked up the MSRP a little too much.) Both the silver amulet and the silver bullet are solid metal, with a great feel and great table presence.
Silver includes a scorepad that is fifty double-sided pages, good for one hundred games or even more if some are two player. It even has dedicated rows for subtotals (after rounds two and three), and a total row at the bottom.
The four reference cards are great for your first few games, telling you things you can do each turn, and what the icons on the bottom of the cards mean.
Because we knew that there would be more games in the Silver series, and players would want to combine cards from each game, we worked with Noah at Game Trayz to create an insert that allows players to sort each numbered card set in the game (as well as the set of reference cards), whether those cards are sleeved or not. Because Noah is awesome, he created a pocket for the scorepad, and then he went totally nuts and designed another pocket for the silver token that will be in each game, and gave it a snap-tight lid so your amulet/bullet/whatever won't fly around the box — all out of a single piece of plastic. Game Trayz rock, if you didn't realize that before.
The Silver Debut with Game Mats
If you stop by the Bézier Games booth at Gen Con (or SPIEL), you'll notice that our tables are covered with giant 36" x 36" player mats specially designed for Silver and Silver Bullet. These are so awesome that we had extra ones printed for Gen Con attendees. (They aren't included with the game, but should be reasonably priced.)
We'd love to have you stop by at Gen Con, take a look at Silver (and Silver Bullet), and maybe pick up a copy. We're tight on timing, so we've air-shipped only five hundred copies to the show, so stop by early if you think it's something you'll enjoy.
Now, I'm back to working on the next batch of Silver games due in 2020! Thanks for reading the Silver design diary!
Ted Alspach Read more »
- VideoGame Overview: Undo: Curse from the Past, or Rewrite History for a Future Perfect
Following the success of the escape room game genre that launched in 2016, designers Michael Palm and Lukas Zach have created a twist on the genre with Undo, a concept that currently exists in three titles launched in early 2019 by German publisher Pegasus Spiele: Undo: Cherry Blossom Festival, Undo: Blood in the Gutter, and Undo: Curse from the Past, the title I focus on in the overview video below, mostly due to the strong typeface on the clue cards that make them easier to read on video.
The gist of each episode of Undo is that someone has died. People die all the time, of course, but for some reason you and fellow players, Weavers of Fate that you are, have taken particular interest in this person, so much so that you will revisit past events and meddle in those happenings to try to prevent this death.
You're not all-knowing, however. The past is laid out in eleven story cards (as well as one story card that takes place after the person's death), and over the nine rounds of the game, you encounter nine of these twelve story cards, piecing together what's happening so that when you're confronted with the A, B, and C choices of what should happen at the end of each story card, you make the best decision possible.
Based on my experience with each of these titles on review copies from Pegasus Spiele, each mini-scenario on a story card and its related choices spur lots of discussion among players, then you look at the fate card associated with your choice, e.g. 6C, to discover whether you've been assigned a 0 (meaning that you changed nothing about the person's fate), a positive number (which suggests a positive change), or a negative number (which suggests that you shouldn't meddle with such things because you're just making the situation worse).
After visiting nine locations in time, you sum the points on the fate cards, then look at the concluding elements to determine whether you saved the person. You also get to read a summary of events that brought the person to that critical moment as well as the most important elements in their past, the ones that ideally you will have switched onto a new track to undo the past.
Youtube Video Read more »
- Fight in Worlds Above in Yggdrasil Chronicles, Then Revisit Underwater CitiesLudonaute released a final printing of Yggdrasil from designers Cédric Lefebvre and Fabrice Rabellino, noting at the time that a "revamped version of the design" was in the works for 2019.
That revamped version is Yggdrasil Chronicles, a game solely by Lefebvre for 1-5 players that keeps the co-operative nature of the earlier game, while adding a campaign mode with a fifty-page saga book. Here's an overview of the setting and gameplay:
In Yggdrasil Chronicles, each player takes the role of a Norse god and attempts to keep evil forces from devastating the nine worlds, destroying the world tree Yggdrasil, and surviving the onset of Ragnarök.
To set up, each player takes one of the seven Norse gods, 5-9 life points (depending on the player count), and a set of cards showing the six enemies who are attacking the nine worlds; you shuffle these enemy cards and place them next to you. These nine worlds are represented on a three-level, 3D game board, with the board having locations for artifact cards, creature cards, hero pawns, elf pawns, anonymous pawns, and more. Each level of the board depicts three worlds on it, and the middle board rotates.
At the start of a round, each player places the top card of their enemy deck on the "Wheel of Enemies". Players can take turns in any order. On a player's turn, they first reveal their enemy card. If this is the first appearance of this enemy this round, the player continues their turn; if not, then the enemy is activated, typically moving to a different world, then taking some action. If the enemy can't move, e.g., Surt is supposed to move up a level, but is already on the top level, you lose the game. If the enemy can't take its action, e.g., Loki needs to place an Iotunn pawn, but none remain in Iotunheim, you lose the game.
While normally you hope to avoid duplicating an enemy, you want to double up on Nidhögg as that enemy starts on the leftmost space in your saga book, and if Nidhögg moves all the way to the tree icon, you win the game. (Nidhögg might also trigger effects when moving to a new location.)
If an enemy moves to where another enemy is located, that world is devastated and no action is possible there except for healing the world tree.
Whether or not an enemy is activated, you can then move — either to a different world on the same level or a different level above or below your current location — then act, either performing the action of the world in which you're now located or fighting. Powerful god that you are, you always win a fight, but you suffer "risks" equal to the strength of the enemy. You can sacrifice heroes in Valhalla to remove risks or make saving throws on dice, possibly with an elf assist, but each risk you don't prevent costs you 1 life point — and if any god runs out of life points, you lose the game.
As for performing world actions, you can collect elves, heroes, artifact cards; remove Hel's anonymous minions or Surt's fire giants; or receive help from worldly creatures. If another god stands in this world, your action is improved; if an enemy stands in that world, then your action is penalized.
In addition to that base game, you can play Yggdrasil Chronicles on the hard mode, which increases the challenge of gameplay while giving each god unique powers. The game also includes a six-saga "Ragnarök campaign" that begins with Baldr's murder, then carries on from there.
Rio Grande Games has a second printing of Vladimír Suchý's Underwater Cities heading to market, with this version now including the Biodome promo that was originally released separately (and that's still available via the BGG Store). This edition also features an extra sheet of single resource chips, cardboard player boards instead of a paper ones, and a reinforced box bottom to keep all this stuff in place.
Ken Hill, production manager at Rio Grande, notes that while an upgrade pack is available via some European retailers to make the original English-language release from Delicious Games match the production of the first printing of the game from RGG, no upgrade pack is available for earlier editions to match the new edition coming from Rio Grande. "There was no real practical way to make this happen", says Hill. That said, "Current plans from Delicious Games include even better player boards to be made available in the expansion which will be out at SPIEL '19." Rio Grande Games will distribute that expansion in English for those not making the trip to Essen. Read more »
- Designer Diary: Shadows: Amsterdam
I work at Libellud with the best job in the world, awesome colleagues, nice projects, and a workplace located one hundred meters from my flat in the center of a welcoming city. My game has now been published by Libellud, a great French game publisher, as far as I know, even if I had never stepped around to the other side where designers and illustrators are interacting with us.
Episode I: Frustration
The Incident happened on the 24th of May in 2017. Wikipedia notes that May 24 is the birthday of Daniel Fahrenheit, Charlie Taylor, Bob Dylan, and Kristin Scott Thomas and that... Funny how the time can be wasted on Wikipedia!
This 24th of May was quite an event for me because it was the first time a publisher played one of my games — and this playing was involuntary.
I have made a lot of game prototypes, starting when I was ten with my bro Clément and my friend Camille, but the only purpose was to entertain our friends. Each time, it began with "Man, it would be awesome if we could do this", then we proposed some ideas. These ideas became games that existed in no more than a single sample, which gave us some bad/good times for an afternoon or evening. As we were far from the gaming world, we never thought one of our creations could be published. We also never used the word "prototype".
It is weird, but I did not have more expectations with this "Spies" prototype.
At that time, Libellud — especially the game designer team — was thinking about new image interpretation games that would function differently. This story begins with a Dixit-like prototype from Alexandre, who has done a great job of various experimentations with this game mechanism. I LOVE his One Key, and I like Illusions. Regarding the third prototype, I'm frustrated. It's May 15th, nine days before the Incident.
A light bulb turns on in my head: "Man, it would be awesome if we could plan several Dixit/Mysterium enigmas", that is puzzles that the guesser must solve. I talk about this idea to Alexandre and Valentin since both work as game designers for Libellud. One of them gives me the right answer: "That's a good idea. Guys from the game design team will think about it." The other one asks me why I don't do it myself. Funny question. Why not? The idea goes through my mind for several hours, and I decide to try that very evening.
In my view, the game plays out like a line. I know I have several consecutive enigmas to solve with my deck of cards; I must think about the best way to manage them all in a row, as a road — which will mean accepting that I cannot play the best card if it matches with an upcoming enigma. Hmm, a line could quickly become boring. I want to choose. I need to choose. Other roads? Some intersections? A map! As if we would move on a Mysterium/Codenames board card by card.
Then comes another flash. I have already had a similar "pictures-map" idea: The game takes place in 1944 in a Paris made from square cards viewed from above. Players are members of the French Resistance or German invaders. Moves are done from card to card, based on image interpretation. The Resistance leader gives several cards to their team, and some of these cards can be intercepted by the invaders' team. There's no real-time gameplay in this idea. Only a draft of this idea exists among everything else in my online sandbox on Google Docs. It has never been materialized.
Playing something similar, but in a competitive way fits the new idea. However, going from a square card to an adjacent one gives only four possible replies to an enigma. This is not enough for a Dixit player. By allowing for diagonal movement, each enigma would have eight possible replies, but this would be too complex while playing in real time. In the middle, there is the number six, as in Dixit.
Six, and therefore the hexagon.
Before building the first map, I decide that I want the first moves to be easy, then for gameplay to crescendo. By removing a few hexes around the central starting space, I can give players first the possibility of moving to one of three spaces (which helps them start in the desired direction), then one out of four, then one of five or six, which is where the adventure begins!
Players now have missions. They must find two spots of the same color (one of them is probably on a purple hexagon) without stopping on the forbidden tiles marked "Ø". The game is team-based and real time. In each team, a leader provides information by giving one or two cards to make their teammates move, then refills their hand to six cards. When receiving one card, teammates move their pawn from one space to an adjacent space. Receiving two cards enables teammates to move their pawn two spaces, which helps them move more quickly during the game, but which increases the number of spaces that they must consider, thereby increasing the risk that they go where the leader doesn't want them to. Receiving two cards enables them to move through forbidden tiles without penalty.
It's still May 15th. The night was fruitful, but nothing exists outside Google.
Episode II: Spies
I don't like cutting and gluing to make prototypes. This is an exhausting task that will be repeated 2, 3, 8, 42 times, possibly for nothing. Lots of ideas are here, crouching in a link in the toolbar of my browser, thirty pages of ideas, with 95% of them never having been used.
How to produce in an easy way around sixty cards? That's not difficult, but you have to commit an irredeemable act by selling your soul to the devil. Faint-hearted, please avoid reading the remainder of this paragraph and shield yourself from the image below while going directly to the next one. I gathered cards from Dixit that are related to mystery, doors, keys, races, vehicles, city, streets, documents, men in suits, money...and I used a pattern to cut them up. Four snips of scissors to shape the mythic Dixit cards into hexagons. Two evenings later, the result is quite satisfying.
Technically, I have all that I need. On Tuesday, May 23rd, I informed Valentin. His answer: "Cool. You'll bring it tomorrow, won't you? - Oh… well... OK." The goal was to playtest it with colleagues before they would go to Libellud's games night.
Battle stations! I needed to come up with an ending for the game. Once brooding in bed, I came up with one, with poker chips standing for the markers that need to be collected because I love the Splendor effect.
I then tested it with my former partner in order to confirm that the movement mechanism does work. I set up the game. It looks like Codenames, a bit. I haven't figured that out before. At this moment, it freaks me out. (Today, I think that the game screen in Mysterium is also a kind of giant Codenames key-card. The matrix is just transcripted in a different way.) We start playing the game, me proud and anxious.
And it's a flop. Sure, there is only one team, but the game itself does not work. There is no tension, and we keep moving around the board several times without winning or losing. I am peeved. It's 10 p.m. I have a spatial Mysterium/Codenames that does not work. We are the day before the Incident.
I can't go to bed after this. I know I will not be able to sleep. I reopen InDesign, needing to correct two things: tension and experience time. Yes, the game will have more tension when two teams are competing in real time, but the game still needs more. However, there must be an accomplishment, too, and for the moment, that is too weak. I increase the number of markers in the game to nine, with them becoming briefcases containing intelligence. Some spaces now contain several briefcases in order to bring interaction and decrease frustration. By adding markers to the game, I create room for players to make mistakes; even if you start moving the wrong way, you have more of a chance of arriving next to another briefcase.
I create nine stickers ready to be glued on poker chips the next day. I also add two "Exit" spaces where you have to go after having collected three briefcases. The theme is slowly being shaped, largely thanks to the images: In a cold-war atmosphere, two CIA teams have infiltrated Moscow. Each team must pick up three briefcases, then be the first to exfiltrate.
To increase the stress, I add a new element: Each team's pawn is a 30-second sand timer. If a team arrives on a KGB agent space (the spaces that previously showed a Ø), the team has 30 seconds to move two spaces away from the agent without running into another agent. At 3 a.m., I go to bed. It seems to be clearer, but I didn't playtest it.
The day after, at lunchtime, all is printed and glued, ready to play.
Episode III: The Incident
I set up the game at 6:15 p.m. seven players are here to play. I start explaining in a desultory way. In addition to my fatigue, all the information seems to come out randomly. The aim of the game is hard to comprehend, even by my colleagues which are used to Dixit and Mysterium. I decide to observe rather than play.
The first game starts, some additional explanations are required, then it ends after a two-minute hesitation following a KGB agent's encounter.
The second game is longer and, for the first time, intense. The race is real, stress is present as well as some insults and bullying. I can't remember how it ends, but it is quite positive — except for comments about the 30-second sand timer mechanism.
A third game starts with Alexandre and Léa as chiefs of their respective teams. You can feel the stress everywhere.
Then the incident occurs: Everybody likes or enjoys the game. I hear some sentences such as "heart-stopper", "ready to be published", and "Régis must play to it!" — Régis being Régis Bonnessée, the founder of Libellud and the designer of Himalaya, Seasons, and Dice Forge.
To my mind, it was an incident, meaning something abnormal was happening. I was expecting a bit of employer benevolence with a sentence such as "Quite cool game, but you should maybe rework some mechanisms...". Instead, I was destabilized by this positive feedback. That was completely confusing!
Back home, I created a file to follow up the versions: V0 for the version of the previous evening, and V1 for the first playtest version:
• V0 - Moderately smooth. goals are too linear. We go round in circles. Multiple exit spaces are needed.
• V1 - Hard rules explanations. The aim is not easy to get. It works. Poor interaction.
The next day, I bring the game to the Game Design department to present it to Régis. They have already got some development ideas. One week after, they do the presentation to Régis, and I do not join them since I have work to do. A few days later, Régis calls me into his office to tell me that Libellud will take my game into development in order to publish it. That's a surprise, a very amazing surprise.
Read more »
- Buy Pappy Winchester's Land, Then Go Boat Hopping in a Dragon Market
With that in mind, here are detailed descriptions of two titles from Blue Orange Games that will debut at Gen Con 2019, with one of them being the 2-5 player game Pappy Winchester from Jérémy Pinget. Turns out that Pappy Winchester is an auction game through and through, with 19 nineteen plots of land being auctioned over the course of the game and with the winning bids being distributed among the other players a là Traumfabrik. Here's a detail description of the game:
Pappy Winchester has kicked the bucket! Poor thing, he was the king of swindlers and everyone knows he was filthy rich! His final wish was that his descendants would share his fortune and the plots of his ranch, with the richest becoming the new head of the family. After all, for him the most important thing was that his money stayed in the family! Pappy thought of everything and left an outline of his belongings. In Pappy Winchester, you and the other heirs are now assembled around this map to divvy up Pappy's possessions...
The game board features 19 plots of land, divided into seven desert plots, six prairie plots, and six forest plots, with train tracks and a river running crossways through the land, and a saloon set apart from everything else. To set up play, give each player $8,000 and two secret objective cards, then place a bonus token face down on each plot of land.
On a turn, the active player draws a plot token at random, then players hold an auction for that plot, with the winner marking it with one of their tokens, then revealing the bonus token and carrying out its effects. This token might let you look at the face-down mine or ranch cards to determine the value of those plots; move the train or boat along the tracks or river, with players owning properties adjacent to this vehicle's location earning money; or collect funds from the saloon. The winner of the auction then divides their bid as equally as possible among all other players, with any remainder being placed on the saloon.
Each player starts the game with a duel token, and when a player is involved in an auction that's down to them and someone else, they can decide to sped that token. If they do, a third player shuffles two duel cards — one showing a gun being fired, and the other not — then each bidder takes one of them, with the player holding the firing gun winning the auction.
Five piles of banknotes are laid out at the start of play, with a different shared objective card placed on each pile. If the completion of an auction allows a player to meet one or more of the objectives, such as owning one of each type of land or having three plots that don't touch the river, then that player claims the banknotes under that card. After the 19th auction, players reveal their secret objectives, earning money for how well they've met those goals, and whoever owns the most plots of land receives $5,000. Whoever now holds the most money wins!
Marco Teubner's Dragon Market, which is for 2-4 players. We recorded an overview of the game at Spielwarenmesse 2019, but now we actually have a full game description in place:
In Dragon Market, players attempt to manipulate boats on a river in order to pick up the items they need to complete objective cards.
In more detail, each player starts the game with their figure on a pontoon in the corner of the board, and they take turns placing boats on the board, with each boat taking up three spaces; some boats have a sailor in the center space, while others have a sailor in the end seat. Each of the two empty spaces of each boat are then filled with two identical merchandise tokens, with the game including twenty types of merchandise. Each player starts the game with an objective card showing four different types of merchandise.
On a turn, the active player rolls the dice to determine how many actions they can take; they can spend 1-2 coins to add to this number of actions. Actions are:
—Slide a boat: You can move a boat any number of unoccupied spaces either forward or backward; a boat cannot move sideways.
—Rotate a boat: You can rotate a boat 90º around its sailor through unoccupied spaces.
—Move your figure: You can move your figure one space from a pontoon to a space on the boat that's empty or occupied by merchandise tokens or from one boat space to another or from a boat to a pontoon; you cannot move your figure over a sailor. When you move your figure onto a merchandise token showing on your objective card, you can pick it up.
If you don't spend all of your actions, take coins equal to the number of unspent actions to bank them for later. As soon as you have all of the merchandise needed for your objective card, return to your pontoon. Once you do, you draw a second objective card, and whoever completes two objective cards first wins.
Dragon Market also contains advanced objective cards that show 3-4 types of merchandise as well as a bonus. At the start of the game, each player draws two cards and keeps one of them. As soon as the player returns to their pontoon with the depicted goods, they reveal this objective card, then have access to this bonus, which provides either a one-time effect or an effect that can be used once each turn. They also draw two new objective cards and keep one of them. Whoever first completes three objective cards wins!
The game also includes team rules for both the regular and the advanced objective cards.
Okay, that's two more games detailed for our Gen Con 2019 Preview, which recently topped five hundred listings. Far too many to go... Read more »
- VideoTake a Trip to Wonderland for Hats, War, Gears, and the Ever-Present Alice
One of the most common go-to settings for game design is Wonderland, as in "Alice's Adventures in". Lewis Carroll's novel is a fixture in cultures the world over, and the book provides a multitude of fanciful environments, conflicts, and characters that designers and artists can draw on when deciding on a setting for their own creative works.
One such upcoming release that draws on that setting for source material is Gabriele Bubola's Hats, which ThunderGryph Games will debut at Gen Con 2019. In this 2-4 player game, each player starts with a hand of nine hat cards. On a turn, either you place a card face down in front of you as a "black hat" for 1 point, or you swap a card from your hand for a card of the same type (color) from the tea table board or a card of any type but of a lower value, adding this newly acquired card to your collection. At the end of eight rounds, the final card in your hand earns you points for all collected hat cards of the same type, while losing you points for the value of that particular card, and the placement of cards on the tea table board determine the value of matching cards.
Hats doesn't need to feature the Mad Hatter, of course, but the character and world of Wonderland provide material upon which to draw for imagery. I've played the game twice so far on a review copy and will post an overview video ahead of Gen Con 2019. ThunderGryph plans to release the second title in its "Made in Wonderland" game series — Tuned — at SPIEL '19 in October.
Druid City Games and Skybound Games have announced a 2019 Kickstarter campaign for Wonderland's War, a design by Tim Eisner, Ben Eisner, Jonathan Gilmour, and Ian Moss for 2-4 players that features art by Manny Trembley. Here's a short take on the game:
War is on the horizon for the future of Wonderland. Gather the resources you need to build legendary items, gain strange tactical advantages, and recruit the infamous denizens of Wonderland to fight for your side. Each Wonderlandian you encounter offers a unique ability to help you further your goals, but will you be tempted to turn on them to push yourself ahead of your enemies? Gather your army and take them through the looking glass and onto the field of battle. Unleash your soldiers with all the fiendish tricks, powerful items, and recruited Wonderlandians to gain control of the realm and seize your destiny in Wonderland's War!
Alice Assemble, a.k.a. アリスアセンブル, is a puzzle-y card game from designer Hakushi and publisher Kuuri Keikaku that was released in 2018. Players build automatons by drafting cards that depict gears, trying to connect their gears to make patterns and score points.
• Alice is also a playable character in Unmatched: Battle of Legends, Volume One, a design from Rob Daviau, JR Honeycutt, and Justin D. Jacobson that Restoration Games will debut at Gen Con 2019, and some characters from Wonderland show up on the cards in her deck, in addition to other story actions being referenced:
Rodney Smith just posted a "how to play" video on this game if you're curious to see the game in action:
Youtube Video Read more »
- VideoGame Preview: Amul, or Balancing Arabs and Mongols on the Silk RoadAmul from Remo Conzadori, Stefano Negro, and Lautapelit.fi, with Stronghold Games serving as the title's North American publishing partner.
Amul is for 3-8 players, and the deck scales based on the player count so that you use every single card no matter how many people you have at the table. What's more, the nature of the cards in the deck change as you add more players to the game, so while in some cases you're adding more spice and silver cards so that players can create sets of them or pair them with traders to complete orders (sort of), at other times you're adding a new type of card that wouldn't make sense with fewer players or a card that plays off of all the cards already in the deck, thereby varying their values with this particular player count.
Gameplay is straightforward. Start with traders in the bazaar equal to the number of players (with these cards being specified by player count), with cards equal to twice the number of players in the palace (ditto), and with each player having a hand of five cards.
On a turn, you receive a new card from the deck, choose one card to add to the market, add 1-3 more cards to the market from the deck based on the player count, draft cards in player order (which sort of rotates), then add a card to your personal collection at the same time as everyone else. Some cards score based on you collecting a set of them, some score based on what your left- and right-hand neighbors collect, some score based on you and your neighbors, while still others score based on how many are in play overall.
You need to watch what everyone else is drafting so that you can play off of their actions for your own benefit. If lamps have been discarded a few times (as all leftover cards in the market are removed from play at turn's end), then oil becomes less attractive since you can't pair with a lamp for additional points. If the spices are being hoarded by others, then avoid collecting a trader since the contract will likely go unfilled. If you see camels being drafted but not played, expect them to trample out at game's end, lowering the value of all camels played.
In addition to their point values and other symbols, each card shows a table, a hand, or both, which tells you where the card must be to score you points. Over the nine rounds of the game, you'll play nine cards to the table (all of which better have a table icon), possibly claiming other cards from the palace, bazaar or market, then at game's end you'll still have five cards in your hand to score (all of which better have a hand icon). Thus, over the course of the game you're trying to piece together points in sets and combos, while also balancing your public and private scoring (since any table cards in hand are worthless at game's end) while also watching what your neighbors do so that you can profit from them, too.
I've played Amul five times to date on a pre-production copy from Lautapelit.fi, with three, four, and six players, and it's been fascinating to see how the gameplay changes with different player counts. One additional wrinkle: After each player has been the first drafter once, the drafting pattern changes, with whoever has the most military symbols drafting first, then the player with the secondmost military symbols, and so on. In a three-player game, the player with early military can (potentially) draft first for the final six rounds of the game — yet that's not necessarily going to be a winning strategy since you still need to pair and combo cards to get the most out of everything you grab.
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- Designer Diary: Unlock! Heroic Adventures: Sherlock Holmes, or A Study in Story
by Dave Neale
I just couldn't think of a way to do it. The key issue I had to tackle if I wanted this Unlock! scenario to work — namely, the translation of a detailed mystery solution into abstract mechanisms — seemed impossible. Can I do this? I asked myself, and the answer seemed to be negative. But there was some part of me convinced that I could eliminate the impossible, and then a way to do it, however improbable, must come soon.
A few days earlier, I had sat down at the table and picked up a deck of blank cards. I was meeting with Space Cowboys in just over two weeks to discuss my box set for Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (due out before the end of 2019), and had suddenly been gripped with the idea that a Sherlock Holmes scenario for Unlock! could be an awesome thing. What's more, the skeleton of a murder plot had presented itself to me almost immediately, and I knew I had to see whether this vague notion might actually have legs.
At heart, I'm a storyteller, so I asked myself: How can I bring out the storytelling potential of Unlock! to its fullest? How can I make players feel immersed in Holmes' world with just a deck of cards and an app? And then there was that third question, which I soon realized represented the biggest challenge I faced in making this scenario. In Unlock!, the main things players do are combine cards and enter four-digit codes, but I wanted a murder mystery. How could I translate the intricate solution to a murder mystery — in essence, a story — into a combination of two cards or a four-digit code? And how could I do it in such a way that if players worked out what to do, it meant they had definitely solved the mystery?
I decided to put that question aside for the time being and consider more broadly how to represent a murder investigation using Unlock!'s established mechanisms. I realized that although the idea of combining red and blue cards was originally about combining items, it was incredibly flexible. Combining one card with another could represent (minor spoiler)
[o]asking someone about something, for example.[/o]
This gave me the way into the story that I needed to get the design off the ground: I could have a crime scene, then players would do things in a fairly realistic way to discover clues and track down suspects.
As I worked, I discovered interesting new directions for my original plot and more ways to insert realistic deductive elements into the scenario. It took me a weekend to create the first set of prototype cards, and I play-tested it two days later. The puzzles worked well. The way I used the blue-red combinations worked well. People really liked the theme and the story — but there was one big problem, and I could have guessed what it would be.
When they got to the end, the way players had to give their solution to the mystery was based on letters in certain key words that could be turned into numbers. At the end of the day on Sunday, as I was finishing the prototype, it was the best answer I'd come up with to my key question of how to translate a murder mystery solution into an Unlock! mechanism, but it just didn't work. No one saw how they were supposed to use the letters, and when I told them what they were supposed to do, they said it was too vague.
Worse than that, I quickly realized that the way I had constructed the ending didn't do what I wanted it to do. A group could do the correct thing and complete the scenario, but it wouldn't necessarily mean they had actually solved the case. They might have a vague hunch about the sequence of events or have guessed the culprit correctly, but have no real idea of what had happened, no real idea of the story. And this is when I began to question whether what I wanted was actually possible.
As Holmes might say, it was a three-pipe problem, and viewing it that way, I realized what I had to do. There was nothing else for it. I donned my deerstalker, told my landlady I would take no callers*, sat at the window, and began to think.
It was probably a good hour or so of thinking before an idea began to form in my mind. Yes...what if players had to do that? They wouldn't be able to do that without knowing exactly what had happened, right? And then that could lead to...
Suddenly, there it was. The answer to the main design question I faced for this game. Very simple, really. If you want to know it (and it's a big spoiler), click on the box below.
[o]I realized that if cards represented specific events leading to the murder, they would tell a clear story of that murder, including the motive, if placed in the correct chronological order, which meant that I could conceal a four-digit code in those cards that was discoverable only if they were placed in that order. As players would have to know exactly what had happened to place the events in that sequence, they could get the final code only if they worked out the full story, the killer, and the motive.
The icing on the cake was that this solution gave me the title of the scenario (coming directly from a famous quote by Holmes) because to find the final code players had to trace "the scarlet thread of murder".[/o]
I took my scenario to Space Cowboys two weeks later and sat there as they played it with a series of questions going through my head: Will they like it? Does it make sense? And, most importantly of all: Have I succeeded in bringing out Unlock!'s full storytelling potential in the way I wanted to? I sat watching, on the edge of my seat, waiting to find out the answer.
When they finished the scenario, there was a moment of silence, then Cyril Demaegd, the original designer of Unlock!, sat back in his chair and smiled. He nodded, looked at me, and said, "It's like taking part in a real investigation."
Okay, I thought. I guess that's a yes.
*I'm not sure I actually have a landlady, so I might have just shouted down the stairs to an empty house and a confused cat. Still, I had no callers while I was busy thinking, so if I do have a landlady, she did a great job. Read more »
- VideoLinks: Tariff Talk, First Loves, and The World's Best Vending MachineMike Selinker and publisher Scott Gaeta of Renegade Game Studios have written about the potential tariffs that the U.S. government might impose on goods coming from China, a change in economic policy that could have a huge impact on the game industry. An excerpt from Selinker's article in Polygon:
When a company has to consider the cost of making its games, it adds all of that printing and shipping together. Then they typically multiply that price by roughly five, and that ends up being the price the consumer pays. That's because in distribution and retail, the publisher only gets about 40 percent of the retail cost. If printing and shipping their game takes 20 percent of retail, the creator of the game has to live on that 20 percent that's left from the 40 percent they receive from a distributor. It's a brutal business with the thinnest of margins.
Tariffs get imposed on the "first sale" price — that is, at the point of import, before the publisher gets the goods. So if printing and shipping what was once an $80 game takes $16, then an additional 25 percent adds $4 to the cost. Multiply that new number of $20 times five and now to the publisher it's a $100 game.
And an excerpt from the article on Gaeta's personal blog explaining why as a preventative measure Renegade is cutting titles from its publication schedule:
Making hard decisions like cutting games we love isn't fun but making a business decision that assures we are a healthy company is what separates the publishing hobbyist from the professionals in this industry. It's easy to let your passion for a game cloud your judgement but even without tariffs you should not be producing games that don't make good business sense. It sounds harsh but your long-term viability depends on it. We all love what we do and want to make things we love but you can't have it both ways for long if you continue to make products that don't make sense from a business point of view. Check your P&L's (you do create P&L's for every product, right?) and be honest with yourself.
However, as of Tuesday, July 2, 2019, those tariffs are on hold according to The Wall Street Journal, with the non-paywalled Gizmodo relaying this info as follows: "The Trump administration has halted its plans to impose additional tariffs on $300 billion 'List 4' goods, which would have included a 25 percent tariff on select tabletop games and accessories, toys, and video game consoles. The tariffs were designed to escalate Trump's ongoing trade war with China (of his own making), but following his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping over the weekend, he decided to postpone."
Even so, I think these two articles give an interesting window into game production, so here they are just the same.
profiled eight game designers who have an engineering background or who current work as an engineer: Bruno Cathala, Phil Eklund, Geoff Engelstein, Scott Almes, Haim Shafir, Joan Wendland, Adam Wyse, and Tunca Zeki Berkkurt.
• In February 2019, Make magazine ran an article by Elan Lee about the making of the Exploding Kittens vending machine that has become a fixture at conventions such as Gen Con, PAX Unplugged, and the upcoming San Diego Comic-Con. I've mentioned this in passing previously, but to repeat myself: The Exploding Kittens vending machine is a work of genius and something that game publishers should look to for inspiration regarding their own convention booths. An excerpt:
The first year we went to Comic-Con in 2016, we did what we were supposed to. Our booth looked just like everyone else's, and we got buried beneath a torrent of other peoples' plastic toys, cookie cutter games, and utterly forgettable booths. We accomplished nothing. By the time we started prepping for year two, we knew we had to come up with something better.
We started deconstructing the notion of a "booth".
Q: What does a transaction look like?
A: Give money, get product.
Q: How long is each interaction?
A: 20 seconds.
Q: What are the physical attributes?
A: Audience-facing attractors, sample products displayed, prices listed, hidden inventory.
Basically, every booth is a vending machine but designed by someone who doesn't realize they're building a vending machine. To succeed at conventions, we realized, we had to build the world's best vending machine. So we did.
We had to learn a lot in a very short amount of time. We learned that balloon animals were a huge crowd favorite, and so we had to frantically watch YouTube videos backstage to learn how to make them. We learned that in many states you have to be a registered grocer to have produce delivered to a convention hall, so Exploding Kittens is now a registered grocer in 14 states. We learned that we could interact with the audience on a personal level, like when we spotted someone dressed as Daenerys Targaryen (the Mother of Dragons from Game of Thrones) in line, we bedazzled an entire watermelon so that when she got to the front of the line, we could instantly deliver a dragon egg and blow up her brain.
We worked so hard to play with the crowd, and they played right back.
They wrote love notes to the machine, and one person actually proposed marriage (for which she received a massive bouquet of 50 red roses). People shared their stories all over the convention floor, in the hallways, and on social media. It was one of the biggest hits at every convention we brought it to.
• Designer James Hudson has launched a new video series on the GammaRay YouTube channel called "Starting Roll", with his first guests being Rodney Smith, Suzanne Sheldon, and Ivan Van Norman:
Youtube Video Read more »
- Getting Games from SPIEL '19, Whether in Essen or ElsewhereGen Con 2019 Preview, although we've hit a lull recently in terms of publishers submitting information. Summer doldrums, perhaps, or a few days of recreation before diving into final plans for the upcoming shows. I'm working on video previews for Amul, Las Vegas Royale, [redacted], the Undo game series, and many other titles. We'll see how much I can finish in the next, eep, 3.5 weeks...
On top of that, on July 5 I sent out an RFI letter to hundreds of publishers asking about their plans for SPIEL '19, and those info forms have started to trickle in, with Gavin Birnbaum from Cubiko Games winning the No Prize for first submission. You can make plans to check out Paras in Essen, an all-wood game with a dice-based dexterity element in which you try to claim as many territories on the board as possible, but Birnbaum's creations are all handmade with no more than a couple of dozen copies on hand, so visit early on Thursday!
BoardGameGeek's SPIEL '19 Preview will go live on Monday, August 5, the day after Gen Con 2019 ends. As on the Origins 2019 Preview and the Gen Con 2019 Preview, publishers will be able to create preorders for their titles on the SPIEL '19 Preview, giving you the chance to lock in a game and not risk it selling out and giving them the chance to complete sales in advance and not have so much cash on hand during the fair.
For SPIEL '19, Cardboard Caravan (CBC) will function the same as The Essen Mule Service of old — Funagain will buy games directly from publishers, then deliver those games to buyers — but sales of these games will take place through BGG's SPIEL '19 Preview and gamers will be able to pick up orders at PAX Unplugged in Philadelphia, PA, in addition to having games shipped to them (for a fee) or getting them at BGG.CON (with no shipping charge).
As with our convention preview preorder program, signing up for Cardboard Caravan is optional, but Funagain says that 150-200 publishers have participated annually in The Essen Mule Service, so ideally just as many publishers will sign up for CBC, giving you the chance to get games you want from SPIEL '19 without making the trip to Essen yourself. We'll see who's on board on August 5 when the SPIEL '19 Preview goes live, and publisher will have two months to sign on after that time should they decide to get involved later.
We have lots of other plans in the works as well. The challenge is finding enough time and ready hands to do everything... Read more »
- Return to the Past to Survive the Thirty Years' War, Then Battle Video-Obsessed Mutants in the FutureMondo Games, with the most recent announcement from the company being Video Vortex, a 2-4 player game that will be demoed at Gen Con 2019 ahead of a planned release in September 2019. Here's an overview of the game, which only hints at the world in which this takes place:
Video Vortex is a competitive deck-building game for 2-4 players set in a radioactive future Earth inhabited by video-obsessed mutants. Each genre-worshiping character must strategically employ their individual mutant powers while battling opponents and navigating game effects in an attempt to seize control of the wasteland.
On their respective turns, players will spend Energy to play special cards, power their deck with Rentals from the local video store, and Eject chosen cards from play to weaken foes. Runtime, the measure of mutant health, is limited and unique to each character. By advancing an opponent's runtime beyond their limit through Lo-Fi and Hi-Fi attacks, mutants collect Be Kind tokens as trophies representative of their conquest. Once three distinctive trophies have been collected, victory is declared by the reigning champion.
Spielworxx is now available for preorder, with this game having a print run of only 500 copies instead of the normal one thousand. Jimmy Maas's Auf der Walz draws on an interesting and unusual inspiration for source material in the game's setting:
Auf der Walz is a game that has the "journeyman years" as the topic. This is a tradition that dates back to medieval times and is still alive in German-speaking countries. A craftsman has to be "Auf der Walz" (roughly translated as "on the road") for three years and one day without ever getting closer than fifty kilometers to home. The young journeyman wears a traditional dress: flared pants, waistcoat, jacket, black hat (as a symbol for freedom), the "Stenz" (traditional curled hiking pole), and the "Charlottenburger" (coarse cloth to wrap up the belongings). They work (for a little bit of money but also for board and lodge) for people on their journey.
Auf der Walz is a "travel game" with resource management that takes place in the second half of the 19th century. Like life on the Walz, it includes uncertainty and random elements. Each player earns points at the end of each year on the journey and in an end-scoring after that additional one day.
The engine of the game is a deck of cards. Each player has six cards per year (and an additional card for the last day) and conducts actions with them: traveling, working, finding travel mates, etc. as well as leisure activities: music, writing, painting.
For its first release, which will hit Kickstarter on July 8, 2019, The Dietz Foundation plans to release Jason Little's 3 Years of War, a 4-5 player game set during the Thirty Years' War that Little describes as "The Grizzled meets Knizia's Beowulf meets... Russian Roulette?" Here's a short description:
War is upon you. The major houses have all but forgotten you, yet your neighboring rivals have not. Be wary lest your enemies — and the crushing despair of war — destroy you once and for all!
3 Years of War is a card-based hand- and resource-management game. Through cunning card play, players vie for precious resources while making the most out of desperate situations and increasingly bleak options. The player who best navigates this barren and bitter landscape, minimizing their setbacks along the way, may have what it takes to survive...three years of war.
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- Dive Through the Deep Blue for Wealth with Granerud, Pedersen, and Days of WonderDays of Wonder has announced its big box release for 2019, a game that has been in development for six years with designers Asger Harding Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen. The game in question is Deep Blue, and here's a summary of the setting and gameplay from the publisher:
Buying this fabled map was a stroke of genius. The most ancient, legendary, and extravagant underwater wrecks are waiting for divers. Diving suits and oxygen tanks are aboard, and the ship is ready to weigh anchor. There's no time to lose! The increased hustle and bustle of the harbor, with ship captains attempting to hire the best divers and historians, can mean only one thing: Other captains have the same map, and the biggest treasure hunt of all time is about to begin!
Deep Blue is a press-your-luck and engine-building, family game in which players dive for wealth and may join and benefit from other player's diving fortunes. In this game, players have to collect the right crew of divers, sailors, and archeologists, race to wreck sites to claim the best spots to dive from, and scout the seas to discover new wrecks. Players have to take risks if they want to be the most wealthy diver!
I've played Deep Blue twice in prototype form, with the earliest such game being in 2017. To add more to this description, the game has a bit of a group press-your-luck element to it along the lines of Diamant, but in a grander design with lots more going on compared to the pure "should I stay or should I go" nature of that other game.
Details might have changed since those earlier games, but here's the gist of things: Players start on the game board in the same location, the dock from which each player's single ship will sail. You will travel to different locations on the map, acquiring assistants along the way, some of which can supply needed equipment at the right time and some of which can help you make a grand score out of what might otherwise be a so-so treasure haul.
Someone will dive at a location, and others can possibly join in on the dive, trying to score at the same time as that other player, but the active player is the one in charge of the dive, which is represented by the player pulling colored stones from a common bag. You can see the initial breakdown of the bag components on the player aide shown at the left below:
You have treasure in three values (1, 2, 4) as well as threats, with one of them (blue) requiring more oxygen to continue your exploration and the other one (black) requiring defenses of some type. The active player pulls stones from the bag one by one, trying for a big haul, but also trying to pull, say, blue stones if they have lots of oxygen in reserve. Other players who are mooching off this player's dive need to assess whether they want to continue the dive or bail with what they've already acquired for if they suddenly need more oxygen but don't have it in hand, they'll need to drop everything to return to the surface.
The contents of the bag change over the course of the game. You can see that it starts with no green or purple stones, for example, yet some of the assistants that you can acquire will score points for you when those colors are drawn. As you acquire these assistants, you customize your abilities in the game, which will affect where you want to dive and with whom.
Deep Blue is for 2-5 players, ages 8+, with a playing time of 45 minutes and a MSRP of US$50/€45. The game is due out in October 2019 in both Europe and North America, but the publisher says at this point they're not sure whether the game will be out at the beginning of the month or will debut at SPIEL '19 at month's end.
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- Century: Golem Edition Heads to the Eastern Mountains for Gen Con 2019Plan B Games announced that it would release a special edition of Emerson Matsuuchi's Century: Spice Road as Century: Golem Edition.
To recap, in 2016 Z-Man Games, then owned by Sophie Gravel, announced it would release Matsuuchi's game Caravan in two editions, with the gameplay being identical in both versions of the game, but the settings of the game being different, with one set in the Middle East of Earth and the other being set in a fantasy world with crystal golems. Gravel sold Z-Man Games to Asmodee, started Plan B Games, then the company announced that Caravan would now be a trilogy of interconnected, yet standalone games all bearing the main title Century and all set in the real world .
Fans objected, and in the end Plan B Games decided to release Century: Golem Edition anyway. That being the case, Plan B's Mike Young made it clear that this was a one-off publication — "100% fan service for those eager for the golem edition's manga art" — with no plans to publish an entire Golem trilogy. The art was already in hand for this one game, after all, and none of Plan B's publishing partners wanted to release the fantasy edition of the game; they all wanted the version based on real-world history, which means Plan B was on its own for this release.
Still, people kept asking for golemized versions of Century: Eastern Wonders and the just released Century: A New World, and now Plan B Games has decided to continue the fan service with the Gen Con 2019 release of Century: Golem Edition – Eastern Mountains. Here's a summary of this item:
In Century: Golem Edition – Eastern Mountains, players resume their roles as crystal traders and are now out exploring the Carvania mountain ranges and associated valleys seeking to establish a trade network.
Century Golem: Eastern Mountains reimplements Century: Eastern Wonders but with vivid manga-inspired art. Explore the new gameplay elements and combine this game with Century: Golem Edition to play the unique game "The Call for Adventure".
As with its other Century titles, Plan B is taking preorders for this title, along with a fancy-shmancy playmat, on its website. Plan B notes that this title will be sold exclusively by them until August 2020, and the third title in the Golem trilogy will be released in 2020.
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- Designer Diary: TonariAn earlier version of this diary was first published on my website on March 18, 2019.)
I became really interested in board game design in the early 1980s. At that time, we had a handful of games and didn't know much, if anything, about their designers. There were only a handful of names: David Parlett, the designer of Hare and Tortoise, was British; the other ones — Sid Sackson, Peter Olotka, and the Future Pastimes team — were Americans. We vaguely knew something was beginning in Germany, but no names were famous yet.
The polyglot and cosmopolitan Alex Randolph was the most fascinating character. We know that after a golden childhood in very expensive Swiss boarding schools, this scion of a rich American family, whose parents were ambassadors, had studied philosophy; had worked as a secret agent; had brought a cute card game, Raj, from India; had lived in Japan and become a first rate Shogi player; then had settled in Venice where, with friends Leo Colovini and Dario de Toffoli, he had designed Inkognito, a secret agent game during the carnival of Venice. Alex Randolph was a character just out of a European novel, and I deeply regret having never met him.
Most of Alex Randolph's designs are abstract, if not mathy. Twixt and Ricochet Robots are often said to be his masterworks, but I've never been much fond of them — too cold for me. I have played many more games of Inkognito (Intrigues à Venise in French), a deduction game in which one must first find out one's partner before discreetly communicating with them about our common mission. Gorgeously edited, it revisits Clue with humor and subtleness. This game showed me that there was something more to do with Clue and probably motivated me to design Mystery of the Abbey.
There are many other Alex Randolph designs I played a lot and still occasionally play. Raj / Hol's der Geier is inspired by a traditional Indian game about which I'd like to know more. Ghosts is a deceptively simple tactical and bluffing game. Camel Go is one of the most original racing games. Big Shot, which just got republished by Korean company OPEN'N PLAY, is a gem of an auction game.
In the late 1980s, I incidentally played a lesser know Randolph design, Veleno, an abstract with very simple mechanisms. Each player in turn moves a common pawn on a board, capturing a token on a neighboring space. Those who follow my creations know that, while I am wary of co-operation games, I have always been interested in games with a single pawn moved by all players, an idea I have already used in Silk Road and Isla Dorada.
The other fascinating aspect of Veleno is its perverted three- and four-player scoring system in which each player adds their left neighbor's score to their own. This clever rule gave its name to the German edition of the game: Gute Nachbarn, the nice neighbor. In Veleno, you have a good neighbor on your left and a bad one on your right, and you're the good neighbor of your bad neighbor.
For years, I had this game in my thoughts. The simple and elegant system was fascinating, the actual game play a bit lacking. The small playing board and the unbalanced values of the colored tokens often made for scripted games in which movements were obvious and the winner determined in two or three turns.
Then two years ago, on a whim, I dig up my old copy of Veleno and started to think of this game as I would like it, with a bigger board, more variety in the tokens and the scoring, and more interaction between players. I soon named my game Tonari, which means "neighbor" in Japanese, because it sounded nice for an abstract, because Alex Randolph had had a Japanese life, because it was reminiscent of the German name Gute Nachbarn and the central idea of the game, and because at that time I was trying, with little success, to learn some Japanese.
Like a novel or a piece of music, a board game never comes out of nowhere, is never entirely new and original, and it's for the best. All my designs have been more or less influenced by other games, games I had liked or disliked, and an attempt to generate similar or dissimilar experiences. The truth is nevertheless that some games are more original than other ones, and Tonari belongs to the least innovative ones. It is not always easy, even for a seasoned game designer like me, to trace the line between minor development of an existing system and a really new game. The line is often blurred (an idea I discussed at more length here).
While I was working on what would become Tonari, I was also designing a light card game inspired by another Alex Randolph design, Raj. This game, featuring an old lady giving breadcrumbs to pigeons, was finally published as Miaui. It is after both games were nearly finalized, when playing them with friends, that I decided the pigeon game was original enough to be considered a new creation, while Tonari was only a variation on Veleno/Gute Nachbarn because while it added new pieces, it kept all the original elements in the game. Through his agent Smart Cookie Games, I contacted Michael Katz, Alex Randolph's nephew and heir, who kindly accepted that I could look for a publisher for Tonari, and that if I found one, royalties would be shared half and half.
Publishers are a bit wary nowadays of publishing abstract games. I proposed Tonari unsuccessfully to several of them, and in the end it's finally IDW Games which, probably encouraged by the success of Matt Loomis and Isaac Shalev's Seikatsu, decided to publish it. They didn't want to go full abstract, but finding the right setting wasn't easy. There were too many recent games about witch cauldrons, including Wolfgang Warsch's outstanding The Quacks of Quedlinburg.
They finally settled on fishing, with the common pawn being a trawler and the tokens of different colors different varieties of fish. Placing the action in Japan even allows us to keep the name I had chosen for my prototype, Tonari. Even though it was an afterthought, the fishing theme works surprisingly well and is well-rendered by the art of Kwanchai Moriya, an artist with a very specific style with whom I had not worked before. I am particularly fond of the cover art.
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- VideoGame Preview: Whozit?, or Naming Names in GamesRomaric Galonnier's Whozit? — published first in 2017 by Cocktail Games under the name Profiler before landing with Gamewright in the U.S. — fits the classic model of a party game in that you can explain it in a sentence: Based on these two clues and their position on the clue-meter, can you eliminate five of these characters one by one and leave behind only the one character being described by the clues?
Everything else is details: how many rounds you're doing this and how you're rewarded for doing the thing well and penalized for not.
The interesting thing about these two games is how those details differ, with players in Profiler playing five rounds in a row and scoring 1 point for each character correctly removed, giving players a score from 0 to 25 at game's end, while in Whozit? no score is tracked other than your progress towards the final space on the track, with you even getting a push along the track at the end of four rounds if you haven't landed within striking distance of that goal.
I detail the difference between these approaches — and cover my own gameplay variant — in the video overview below, but one thing I didn't detail was the "beast mode" in Profiler that is absent from Whozit?, although playable with the included components. In this championship version of the game, you first complete a round with six characters, and if you ace that round, removing all five of the incorrect answers, then you play another round with seven characters, and if you ace that, then you play rounds with eight, then nine, then ten characters — and you need to win them all in order to call yourself champs. That goal seems akin to getting the perfect score in Hanabi while playing with the jokers: something to shoot for, but without getting your hopes too high...
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