March 16 2017

Board Game Geek

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  • Designer Diary: Kauchuk

    by Yaniv Kahana

    Kauchuk is both the first game that I developed together with my friend Oren Shainin and my first published game. The gist of the game is simple: Use rubber bands to enclose areas on a game board to collect energy and treasure. ("Каучук" is Russian for "rubber".)

    The process of developing Kauchuk taught me many things about designing games. First, developing games with partners has many advantages. Each designer has a different blend of strengths, preferences, and experiences, and they balance each other out. The mutual brainstorming allowed me to take part in a creation that is completely different to what it would have been had I worked alone.

    Second, I realized the great importance of having patient playtesters who are willing to play the same game over and over again and continuously give us meaningful and honest feedback.

    At a very early stage of the development process, Oren and I knew that the hook of the game would be the rubber bands. Our muse was Ticket to Ride, a family game that gamers also enjoy playing as a medium filler.

    Being the beginner designers that we were, it took us a few months to find the right theme and mechanism. We tried many different themes, like mining gold and colonizing galaxy planets, but the one we decided to use was fighting city crime, which was changed during our collaboration with eventual publisher Lifestyle Boardgames.




    The first playtest I organized was a real learning experience. Our mechanisms, which worked nicely for two players, did not work for four. I had to change the rules on the spot so that we could continue playing.



    First prototype vs. final design

    After many more designing and playtesting sessions, we were ready to go public. We collaborated with the best board game shop in our area — The Kingdom — and organized a playtesting event there.




    It was the first time we had tested the game with kids (as young as five years old!) and other non-gamers, and we got positive results. The kids loved the rubber band element, and the adults enjoyed the possibilities of area movement and enclosure that the rubber bands allowed on the board.


    Celebrating with Kauchuk's old board design on a cake

    We planned to present Kauchuk at our first visit to the Spielwarenmesse toy fair in Nürnberg, Germany in 2017. In preparation, we consulted with the designer Jeremie Kletzkine and made some quick additional changes before the fair. (That, of course, led me to playtest Kauchuk dozens more times to validate all the changes we had made.)

    The fair was exciting as we met many publishers who were interested in checking out our game. Pretty soon after the fair, we signed a contract with Lifestyle and started working on the development of new levels for Kauchuk. One of the major issues we dealt with was finding a solution for the board; our original prototype, made of a wooden board and nails, was not such a user-friendly family game...

    It took two years, and at Spielwarenmesse 2019 we met our new Kauchuk prototype for the first time. It was overwhelming! Alexander Peshkov and Maria Kravchenko from Lifestyle had done an amazing job in creating a board on which it's easy to both position rubber bands and replace the board levels (as the game now includes multiple double-sided boards to put players in different environments facing different challenges).


    Kauchuk boards

    During the fair, publishers talked with us about our prototype which they had seen, and during one of our meetings at the fair, the person we met even drew our game from his bag. He told us that he had taken it for evaluation. That was a very cool surprise!

    Kauchuk was the game that paved the way for me as a game designer, and its creation wouldn't have been possible without my partner Oren Shainin, all of our amazing designers and playtesters at GravitiX Games, my editor Sally Halon, and the amazing work of Alexander Peshkov, Maria Kravchenko, and the entire team of Lifestyle.

    After Kauchuk, I continued to work with partners (Oren, Izi Eshkenazi and others), then after five additional games, I decided it was time to do something alone. That was when I developed Super Farmer: The Card Game, which will also be released SPIEL '19!

    May the Kauchukium be with you!

    Yaniv Kahana Read more »
  • VideoLinks: On Deciphering the Rules of Ancient Games and Not Terraforming Mars

    by W. Eric Martin

    • Not to burst anyone's bubble, but in this PBS Space Time video, host Matt O'Dowd explains why Terraforming Mars should be moved from the "science fiction" category on BGG to "fantasy".

    Okay, he doesn't say so in those exact words, but that's one conclusion you can draw from the material presented:

    Youtube Video

    • Game designer Cameron Browne was featured in an August 2019 Vice article by Matthew Gault that highlights Browne's work as "principal investigator of the Digital Ludeme Project, a research project based at Maastricht University in the Netherlands that's using computational techniques to recreate the rules of ancient board games". An excerpt:
    Browne and his colleagues are working on a general-purpose system for modelling ancient games, as well as generating plausible rulesets and evaluating them. The system is called Ludii, and it implements computational techniques from the world of genetics research and artificial intelligence...

    The first part of the process, Browne said, is to break games down into their constituent parts and codify them in terms of units called "ludemes" in a database. Ludemes can be any existing game pieces or rules that archaeologists know of. Once a game is described in terms of its ludemes, it becomes a bit more like a computer program that machines can understand and analyze for patterns. Cultural information, such as where the game was played, is also recorded to help evaluate the plausibility of new rulesets.

    Using techniques from the world of algorithmic procedural generation, the team then uses the information in the database to infer and reconstruct rulesets of varying plausibility and playability for these ancient games.

    In some ways, this work seems like a continuation of Browne's previous projects, which included creating a computer program that would create and evaluate new games by combining and altering rule sets of existing games. Browne wrote about this program, Ludi, and one of the games it created, Yavalath, on BGG News in June 2011.

    • On his company blog, AEG owner John Zinser examines the results of their decision to publish fewer games than they have in year past, a decision apparently taken one year ago, albeit made public only in April 2019. An excerpt:
    We are just a bit behind where we expected to be at this point in the process. We have not yet replaced the income from cutting back on the number of games we publish and [from] selling Love Letter, but almost all of our releases this year have out-performed our projections and are individually more profitable than past games.

    The plan to give each game more attention at launch is working. From last year, Space Base and War Chest have continued to be strong sellers. From this year, Tiny Towns has been a mega hit, Point Salad is a treat that sold out in one day, and early buzz and pre-orders on Ecos: First Continent tells us that it will also be a winner.

    One lesson learned:
    Hitting your schedule is even more important when doing fewer games, especially with Kickstarter. We continue to learn the hard lesson that weeks matter. Our schedule slides have cost us more in cash flow than any other mistake this year...

    • The retail store Cape Fear Games in Wilmington, North Carolina (by chance, about two hours from my home) has acquired a game, toy, and LEGO collection valued at more than $1 million, and it's selling tours of the collection to show off what's available to buyers. As [url=noted in Wilmington's PortCityDaily, "The collection comes from the estate of Darryl Rubin, who in the 1970s was a member of a Stanford Research Institute (SRI) team that developed the technology underlying the TCP/IP protocol". An excerpt from the article:
    Perhaps the collection's most prized item is a chess set carved by renown ivory sculptor Oleg Raikis from 20,000-year-old mammoth ivory found in Siberia and heartwood ebony, valued at $27,000. When employee Connor Locklin first saw the set was made of ivory, he thought it'd be an issue — the commercial trade of elephant ivory has been banned in the United States since 2016.

    "I looked it up and found its saving grace — it's mammoth ivory, not elephant ivory, which you can sell," Locklin said, pointing out that the mammoth elephant has long been extinct.

    Photo by Mark Darrough from the Port City Daily Read more »
  • Designer Diary: Nemo Rising: Robur the Conqueror, or Journey to the Center of a Game

    by Andrew Parks

    Introduction

    In January 2016, I received an introductory email from C. Courtney Joyner, a novelist and screenwriter who was interested in hiring our game design studio, Quixotic Games, to create a board game version of his latest project, Nemo Rising. Nemo Rising was an original screenplay that Courtney was now converting into a steampunk novel for Tor Books, and the book was scheduled for release sometime in 2017. Nothing about the game adaptation was concrete yet, and we didn't talk about the project much for the rest of the year. Towards the end of 2016, after plans for the novel's published release were more concrete, Courtney contacted me again and wanted to discuss the project at greater length.

    My immediate response to myself was "Self, you can't do any new projects right now, or they will put you in the mental hospital." At the time, we were working night and day preparing for the imminent launch of our latest Kickstarter project, Dungeon Alliance. We were overseeing the creation of hundreds of pieces of art for the game, working on the graphic design, prepping the project video, and tracking lots of other details. In addition, we were in different stages of development for three different projects at WizKids: Assault of the Giants was on the verge of release; we were in the final development stages for the Return of Khan expansion for Star Trek: Frontiers; and we had just received approval to begin work on Marvel Strike Teams.

    I was also teaching game design courses at Rutgers, so I knew there was no way I could add anything else to my life — but then I made the mistake of talking to Courtney about his project in detail. When Courtney described the world that he was building, incorporating different characters, locations, and stories from the works of Jules Verne into a unified series, I knew I couldn't pass up being a part of it.

    But I was definitely going to need help.

    I recruited one of my developers, Matthew Cattron, a former student of mine who had joined the Quixotic team to help out with the dozens of expansion packs that we had designed for WizKids' D&D Attack Wing back in 2015. Matt and I would now work together as co-designers on Nemo Rising: Robur the Conqueror. Although this would be Matt's first official game design, he had shown lots of talent, drive, and insight when working on D&D Attack Wing, so I knew this was the perfect opportunity for him. Matt would end up doing a tremendous amount of heavy lifting on the Nemo project and developed some of the game's most unique and attractive mechanisms.

    Scope of the Game

    Throughout 2017, Matt constructed the initial prototype based on our design meetings. The proposal approved by Courtney called for a game that would be accessible to casual gamers who were fans of the novel, yet would still provide strategic depth for experienced gamers. We envisioned a co-operative game for 2-4 players that would involve solving missions in the steampunk world of Captain Nemo and his companions from Nemo Rising. Based on the direction of the industry, we decided that including a solo version would be essential, so we started incorporating that into the design right away to ensure that few rule changes would be required when playing solo. It was equally important to us that the solo venture be a unique experience to be played with just one hero and not simply a way for one player to portray multiple heroes in order to simulate solo play.

    One of my personal career challenges is that I tend to make games that are sprawling in table space and game time. We knew that would not work for Nemo Rising. One of the most simple but clever co-operative games on the market is Brian Yu's award-winning family game, Ghost Fightin' Treasure Hunters, a game whose deceptive surface design hides an intricate game system. For the past several years, I've played this game in class with my students to teach them the lessons of minimizing rules while maximizing decision points. Ghost Fightin' Treasure Hunters does a great job at this.

    Even though we needed to make a game of higher complexity than Ghost Fightin' Treasure Hunters, I was inspired by Yu's game board and its use of rooms and spaces to make the game appear approachable to casual gamers right from the beginning. We therefore decided that we would make a game board with simple movement spaces that connected "rooms", but these rooms would hold large face-down adventure tiles that needed to be revealed during the game. The adventure tiles would also allow us to create different scenarios that would transform the board into variable settings from Verne's universe, whether the caverns of the deep sea, Robur's city in the sky, or the center of the earth.


    Game in Progress

    We didn't want to use a die for movement, so our initial concept was to have a row of action cards that provided action points used for movement and other activities. Players would attempt to complete a procedurally generated mission that could be solved in 30-60 minutes, allowing players to play a short game or multiple sessions in a row if they desired.

    Streamlining the Arithmetic

    One of Matt's earliest concerns was that the game was overly numerical. Action cards granted a specific number of attribute points that players could spend on tasks or combat, and a second pool of points for generic actions like moving and scouting. Threat cards caused each enemy token to move a large number of single spaces, and each player tracked the health pool for their own hero. Many of the game's mechanisms began to feel like tedious bookkeeping. It was important to Matt that people not feel overwhelmed by record keeping, so he agonized over ways to make the game more approachable while maintaining interesting, co-operative-driven gameplay.

    We streamlined many mechanisms over time, like having players receive a set amount of action points each turn instead of deriving them from their chosen action card. One particular breakthrough involved the creation of a mission track that removed the need for individual hero health tracking. Whenever a hero fails to defend against an enemy's attack, the entire team loses points on the mission track. You also lose mission points for failing at important tasks or when choosing powerful action cards. The removal of individual health points not only streamlined the system, but ensured that all players felt the same sense of risk throughout the game. In the end, the constraint of creating a more streamlined design made the game more fun to play for everyone, regardless of their skill level.


    The mission track

    Another numerical system that we streamlined involved the difficulty of completing a task or defeating an enemy. Originally, each task and enemy had a "target number" that had to be overcome on a six-sided die, and the strategy of the game involved finding ways to increase your die roll to make these tasks easier — but trying to accumulate sets of bonuses to add to specific die rolls seemed a bit too thinky and old school. We moved instead to a symbol-based system involving the game's three attributes: Brains, Brawn, and Skill.


    Attribute icons

    The target number was changed into an attribute requirement. You can achieve the needed attribute(s) in several ways, either by drafting certain action cards, earning special gear cards, or, if all else fails, by rolling the attribute dice (custom dice that feature all three icons). Your strategic goal is to avoid rolling the dice whenever possible, but if you cannot find the correct attributes elsewhere, you can try to push your luck by rolling the dice. In this way, we were able to appeal to players who enjoy using dice to push their luck, but also maintained ways to avoid rolling altogether for those who don't like to rely on chance for success.


    Each action card can be drafted in one of two ways;after drafting, you "twist" it to declare which ability you want to use

    Formulating an Effective (and Dangerous) A.I. System

    One of Matt's real breakthroughs involved the A.I. system for placing and moving enemy tokens on the game board. Originally the threat cards simply moved each enemy a large number of spaces in a row, which was tedious and also ineffective because players could predict enemy movement too easily and avoid encounters for most of the game. We needed to simultaneously reduce the level of predictability, increase the degree of peril, and minimize the amount of space-to-space movement for each individual enemy token.

    We therefore developed a colored path system that moved certain enemies along either a blue or a red path, meaning that the players could not be sure which direction the enemies would turn at each particular intersection until the current turn's threat card was revealed. The players could prepare for certain possibilities, but they could never be certain exactly what was going to happen next.


    Example of a threat card:—The first threat action commands all humanoid, bestial, and mechanical enemies to move two spaces along the blue paths.—The second threat action commands you to deploy a mechanical wasp at enemy entrance #1 on the game board.

    Matt took this concept to a new level by having the enemies move only from doorway to doorway, skipping over the intervening spaces unless any heroes were in the way, in which case the enemies would stop and attack them. This meant the enemies were always moving to the same places that the heroes wanted to go. It also meant a lot less physical movement of enemy tokens on the game board since the tokens were moving from strategic point to strategic point rather than just one space at a time.


    Robur's Foot Soldier moves four spaces along the blue paths

    This had the effect of ensuring that enemies would always be in the way of players, continuously opening and blocking off paths around the map and forcing players to choose between confrontation and rerouting. Not only did this make enemies feel more meaningful and contribute heavily to the strategic aspect of the game, it also simplified the process of moving the enemies for players and reduced the visual clutter on the game board.

    The result was even more than we had hoped for. Enemies now patrol the board in ways that make you hold your breath in anticipation. Over time, if lots of enemy tokens are on the game board, the tokens start skipping over each other for free, creating the appearance that the enemies are consciously starting to close in on the heroes. This system is the one that we are the most proud of developing for Nemo Rising.

    Strategic Decision Making

    It was important to us that the players' success or failure be based on their strategic choices. Players are constantly having to manage an ever-changing board. Should the active hero take out a few patrolling enemies to reduce clutter, or should they focus directly on the mission and risk the team being overwhelmed later in the game? Newly acquired gear cards open up ways to circumvent the rules of the game, so using them at the perfect moment is often the key to victory. In addition, each location that is revealed on the game board has to be secured in order for the players to gain its full benefits. Once a hero secures a face-up adventure tile, they are presented with a new way to use that location to solve problems elsewhere on the board.


    Fulmer secures the hangar and can now perform a skill task to move to any space in the game

    Reigning in the Type-A Player

    As we neared the end of the development process in November 2017 (one month before the novel's release), we started showing the game to different publishers on Courtney's behalf. Since we had such a close relationship with WizKids, we took the opportunity to demo the game to Zev Shlasinger, the Director of Boardgames at WizKids, while we were at BGG.CON 2017. Zev gave me my start in the industry back in 2003 when his company Z-Man Games released Ideology: The War of Ideas, so after years of working together I knew he liked games with rich themes and story elements.

    Zev enjoyed the game a lot and expressed an immediate interest in publishing it, but he had one major concern that bothered him about all co-operative games: We needed to reign in the Type-A player who tends to control the entire game by telling everyone else what to do. This is a common issue in co-op games, so Matt and I discussed ways to address it. We eventually came up with an optional variant for experienced players called "Stealth Mode" that severely restricts communication among the players during each individual player's turn. Players can still discuss strategies between turns, but once a hero starts moving around, revealing new tiles, and flipping over new cards, the current player has to decide what to do on their own.

    To add even more flavor to this rule, we said that players whose heroes were adjacent to each other on the game board or who shared the same adventure tile could communicate freely as long as they were together and it was one of their turns. This created the situation in which a hero might actually spend a couple of action points to move next to another hero to get their take on a particular development during the course of the current turn.


    Sara and Nemo team up against a mechanical sea spider; the heroes are close to each other, but not quite close enough to communicate during stealth mode

    Zev was pleased with the variant, and pre-production for Nemo Rising: Robur the Conqueror began in early 2018, with the game hitting the U.S. market on September 18, 2019.

    The Future

    Part of our design process was to ensure the game would fit a variety of Vernesque settings. The base game comes with two settings: the Undersea Grotto and the City in the Sky, each with its own set of adventure tiles, mission cards, and threat cards. Courtney is excited by the possibility that as he adds new stories to the book series, we can add expansions to the game with new cards and tiles that transform the board into settings such as the Center of the Earth, or even the Moon!

    Andrew Parks

    Adventure tiles: generic sides and location side Read more »
  • VideoNew Game Round-up: Beware False Parents in Coraline, and Book Animals in Stampede

    by W. Eric Martin

    • If someone had Coraline in the "which media property will next be licensed for a board game" pool, you can now collect as WizKids has announced a December 2019 release date for Coraline: Beware the Other Mother, a co-operative game for 1-4 players from Andrew Parks that bears this description:

    Coraline tells the haunting tale of a young girl's journey to an alternate version of her life, and her heroic return to reality. Now, you can bring this iconic story to your tabletop!

    In Coraline: Beware the Other Mother, players assume the roles of the Ghost Children who were captured by the Beldam (the Other Mother). Now they are trying to free Coraline and her parents from the Beldam's evil clutches. They will confront Mr. Bobinsky and his jumping mouse circus, fend off the Other Father on his mantis tractor, wrestle the pearl ring from Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, and steal the Skeleton Key and Snow Globe to ultimately set Coraline free. The players all win or lose the game together as a team! But be careful! The Beldam will thwart your plans at every turn. And be quick! When the button shadow eclipses the moon, the Beldam has won the game and Coraline is trapped in the Other World forever!




    • A bit farther out from WizKids is Stampede, a 2-6 player card game from Jeroen Geenen that will be released in March 2020. An overview:

    Stamp collectors: The most dangerous game. They're polite on the surface, but truly cunning strategists underneath.

    Featuring colorful art and simple symbology, Stampede plays quickly and elegantly as players plan efficient moves to complete their stamp collection. You must fill your album with new stamps, search for the best trades at the exchange, and swap stamps with your opponents at just the right moment to complete your collection. Your goal is to collect five of the same animal or nine distinct animals to stamp out the competition!




    • Continuing in the vein of lighter games, in 2020 Fisher Heaton Games plans to add two new titles to its line of "Analog Apps", quick-playing, single-mechanism games designed to feel like you're playing a phone app, with its 2017 title Intelle being retconned as the first title in the series.

    Christopher Yoder's TANGL is a 1-6 player game in which players are given a mismatched set of heptamino and hexamino pieces, then race to build a rectangle-like shape with as few corners as possible. In David Abelson's WAYK, 1-2 players move robots through the stasis rooms on a spaceship to awaken as many passengers as possible and get them into escape pods before the ship is destroyed.

    • In addition to releasing Underwater Cities: New Discoveries and Monster Baby Rescue! in English, as noted recently, Rio Grande Games has picked up two other SPIEL '19 titles for release in English: Uwe Rosenberg's Robin of Locksley, which is coming from new German publisher Wyrmgold GmbH, and Queenz from Bruno Cathala, Johannes Goupy, and Mandoo Games. (I recorded an overview video of Queenz in August 2019 should you want to know more about the game.)

    Youtube Video Read more »
  • Designer Diary: Expanding Underwater Cities and Launching Monster Baby Rescue

    by Vladimir Suchy

    After the publication of Underwater Cities, I was gratified by the players' positive reaction to the game, which was the first product of our new little game company, Delicious Games.

    Seeing the positive reception and reading players' various opinions soon inspired me to create an expansion that would respond to fans' thoughts on the game and bring new possibilities. Because Underwater Cities is already a complex game with a long playing time, I avoided a sprawling expansion that would make the game more complex and longer. Instead, the expansion — Underwater Cities: New Discoveries — is made of several independent modules that add a variety of aspects to the game, such as greater variability, asymmetric starting conditions, and more interaction.

    Some aspects of the expansion tie into ideas I had during the playtesting of the original game. I had left these out because they would make the game more complex and longer, such as the race to connect to particular metropolises or the asymmetric assistant powers, two ideas that we had tried in some of our earlier playtests.

    The Modules

    New Cards
    Fifty new cards have been added to spice up the game for players who have already played it a lot. I designed them to be usable in all variants of the expansion and in the base game. None of the cards are dependent on a particular module as I didn't want players to have to add or remove cards when they added or subtracted the different modules. Some cards are designed to make certain actions more attractive. For example, there are cards that interact with the always-available action slot and cards that make laboratories stronger.

    New cards can be found in every deck, including the special cards and the three-credit special cards deck. Some of these special cards were inspired by thoughts from Underwater Cities fan Henrik Larsson.




    Assistants and Asymmetric Start
    As I have already mentioned, the expansion gives players the chance to have different assistants. First, we tested various assistants with different actions. This led to the idea that every assistant would also have a second ability.

    I combined the idea of strengthening the assistants with the idea of more-individualized starting conditions in which players start with some resources and structures. Players can now choose their starting conditions from a hand of set-up cards. This variant — getting more during set-up — makes it possible to shorten the game by one round without diminishing the interesting decisions. And it does not really prolong the time you spend choosing assistants and starting cards at the beginning of the game.




    Metropolises
    I added ten green metropolises as an interactive element, replacing the randomness of drawing blue metropolises in the base game. In this variant, blue metropolises are not placed on the player board. Instead, blue and green metropolises are placed by the game board, and players choose their metropolis when they connect to it.

    The positive reception this received during playtesting gave me the idea of using green metropolises on new player boards. These were designed with the idea that every board would be dramatically different and would require a different style of play. The new boards have a partially altered network structure and especially different starting metropolises, as shown below. On top of that, every player gets to choose metropolises to place on their boards.

    Some players were asking for new brown metropolises. These turned out to be troublesome to develop because nearly every game element is already scored by a special card. Adding similar scoring mechanisms to brown metropolises would give a random advantage to players who received a metropolis matching one of the available special cards, so in the end the tested brown metropolis was not added.


    Prototype, with the final version being a three-layer game board

    The Museum
    The idea here was to add more interactive elements to the game. By building on certain areas of their player boards, players make discoveries, which they can add to the museum. Essentially, it's a race to build on certain spaces of your board. It's similar to the original "government contracts" idea — build something faster than the other players — although that was much more open-ended than a race to build on specific sites on your board. The module adds more strategy to your choices of where to build.

    The original idea was based on an area-control mechanism in the museum, but that didn't work as well, so I replaced it with a race mechanism, giving higher bonuses to players who make a certain discovery earlier.


    Test and final version of the Museum

    •••

    In 2018 in this space, I shared my thoughts on Eurogames and game design, saying that I develop the mechanisms first, and the theme grows as I explore the mechanisms during development — but Monster Baby Rescue! was quite different.

    First came the theme. Inspired by playing with my daughters, I decided to make a family game that also had the potential to work as a filler for players who like more challenging games. The original idea was a game about caring for household pets, and that was what I worked with during development. In the prototype, it was rescue dogs and rescue cats, with players finding stray pets they must care for. They clean them up and buy them toys and beds. That version of the game is where I started using the time track mechanism and created the majority of the cards that allow one to care for pets, bathe them, and make them happy.

    Gameplay is quick and simple. (The decisions aren't simple, but the gameplay is.) The player chooses a tile from a row of tiles that cost various amounts of time. Tiles slide in to fill the empty slot, thus becoming cheaper, and a new tile is dealt to the most expensive slot. The player pays for the chosen tile by advancing a certain number of spaces on the time track. The player farthest behind has used up the least time so far, and thus is the next one to play.

    The chosen tiles are scored at the end of the game according to multiple criteria, while during the game, players can compete to fulfill various tasks — and because the tasks differ in each game, the relative values of the tiles will also differ in each game.


    Time track: final prototype and earlier prototype

    There weren't any major changes after the first prototype. After the initial testing, I adjusted the costs, which were initially 1-2-3, when players told me that the cheapest cards were too advantageous. I replaced this with 2-3-4 so that the ratio between cheap cards and medium-cost cards was 2:3 instead of 1:2. There weren't any other substantial changes. I adjusted the scoring system and made it variable from game to game.

    Because every player could have a different pet, it seemed logical that they would have different abilities or different goals — but when we tried it out, completing individual goals did not lead to interesting situations or interesting strategies. Instead, it just added more components and rules without improving gameplay.

    Before deciding to publish this as a Delicious Games title, we decided to re-theme the game. Recently, there have been several cat-themed games, so we decided to use a fantasy theme, with the idea that various fantastical creatures have suddenly appeared in our world and the players need to take care of the babies.


    Prototype and final prototype

    During the course of changing the theme and making the graphics, something occurred that I don't recall happening in any of my other games: I adjusted some mechanisms based on the game's new look.

    The pet toys — represented by ball icons — were changed to diamonds (based on the assumption that dragons and other fantasy beasts like diamonds). This led to the idea of enlivening the appearance of the diamonds by representing them as a component instead of a tile. This allowed us to use a new scoring mechanism, adding diamonds to a tile to unlock its points (because the baby monsters like to decorate their playgrounds and sleeping places).

    The game board was designed to hold the tiles in rows, which led to the idea that it made sense to award points for completed rows.


    Final prototype of the game board

    Underwater Cities: New Discoveries and Monster Baby Rescue! will debut at SPIEL '19, and Rio Grande Games has licensed both titles for release.

    Vladimír Suchý Read more »
  • Winners Announced for Deutscher SpielePreis and The American Tabletop Awards

    by W. Eric Martin

    • On Monday, Sept. 16, SPIEL organizer Friedhelm Merz Verlag announced the results of the 2019 Deutscher SpielePreis, an annual award in which gamers vote on the titles they've most liked over the preceding twelve months. Voting takes place in the middle of the year, with titles released between July of the previous year and June of the current year being eligible.

    Based on the votes tallied, the winner of the 2019 DSP is Elizabeth Hargrave's Wingspan from Stonemaier Games and (in Germany) Feuerland Spiele. (Yes, Wingspan appears in a second BGG News post today.) Here are the other vote-getters in the top ten, with their originating publisher listed instead of their German-specific one:

    2. The Taverns of Tiefenthal, by Wolfgang Warsch (Schmidt Spiele)
    3. Teotihuacan: City of Gods, by Daniele Tascini and Dávid Turczi (Board&Dice)
    4. Spirit Island, by R. Eric Reuss (Greater Than Games)
    5. Architects of the West Kingdom, by Shem Phillips and S.J. Macdonald (Garphill Games)
    6. Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game, by Ignacy Trzewiczek, Przemysław Rymer, and Jakub Łapot (Portal Games)
    7. Underwater Cities, by Vladimír Suchý (Delicious Games)
    8. Newton, by Nestore Mangone and Simone Luciani (Cranio Creations)
    9. Just One, by Ludovic Roudy and Bruno Sautter (Repos Production)
    10. Gloomhaven, by Isaac Childres (Cephalophair Games)

    Concept Kids from Gaëtan Beaujannot, Alain Rivollet, and Repos Production won the 2019 Deutscher KinderspielePreis.

    • That same day saw the debut of The American Tabletop Awards (ATTA), a new annual award founded by a committee of ten — Brittanie Boe, Nicole Brady, Amber Cook, Ruel Gaviola, Jonathan Liu, Becca Scott, Suzanne Sheldon, Theo Strempel, Annette Villa, and Eric Yurko — with all the committee members being based in the United States and being involved in the gaming industry in various ways.

    The ATTAs will name winners in four categories — early gamers, casual games, strategy games, and complex games — with winners being announced in June in future years, but in September for 2019 to kick things off now rather than waiting another nine months. Each category will have a winning title, two recommended titles, and two nominated titles. (The format seems to be that the top five titles in a category are nominated, with committee members then voting on those to determine the winning and recommended titles.)

    For 2019, the ATTA winners are:

    • Early gamers: Catch the Moon, by Fabien Riffaud and Juan Rodriguez (Studio Bombyx)
    • Casual games: The Quacks of Quedlinburg, by Wolfgang Warsch (Schmidt Spiele)
    • Strategy games: Chronicles of Crime, by David Cicurel (Lucky Duck Games)
    • Complex games: Root, by Cole Wehrle (Leder Games)

    Read more »
  • New Game Round-up: Sail to New Islands in Concordia, Then Attempt to Return Tiles in No Return

    by W. Eric Martin

    • I'm sure that you've been eager to hear more about what I'm looking forward to at SPIEL '19, and if that is indeed the case, here's an overview of the second title on my "must have" list: Marco Teubner's No Return: Es gibt kein Zurück! from German publisher moses. Verlag

    No Return: Es gibt kein Zurück! ("There's No Turning Back!") is played in two phases, with players collecting tiles in phase one, then scoring their tiles in phase two. People move into phase two at their own pace, and once you go in, you're there for the rest of the game — which might not be long!

    The game includes 132 tiles, specifically two sets of tiles in six colors, with the tiles being numbered 1-11 in each color. Each player starts with eight tiles in hand, and you can discard and redraw once before the game begins. On a turn, you either (1) discard up to four tiles in the your hand from the game, then draw that many tiles from the bag or (2) play one or more tiles from your hand to a color on your board, then draw that many tiles. You can play tiles of only one color, and all the tiles played must be equal to or less than any tiles of that color you already have in play. You place these tiles in descending order, and you can build at most six rows during the game, one of each color.

    Whenever you want, you can switch to phase two. Once you do this, on a turn you either (1) discard up to four tiles in the your hand from the game, then draw that many tiles from the bag or (2) clear tiles from your play area to score them. To do this, choose one or more tiles in your play area of only a single color, starting with the lowest valued tile (or tiles), then sum the tiles you want to score. You must then "pay" to score these tiles by discarding tiles of one color from your hand that sum to this same amount or higher. The tiles you discard from your hand don't have to be the same color as the color of the tiles you're scoring. Remove the tiles you paid from the game, and place the tiles you've cleared face down in a score pile. Refill your hand to eight tiles at the end of your turn.

    As soon as someone draws the final tile from the bag, you complete the round so that everyone has had the same number of turns, then the game ends. A player's score equals the sum of the tiles that they've cleared minus the sum of the tiles they still have in play. (Tiles in a player's hand are discarded.) Whoever has the highest score wins!

    Chunky tiles + simple rules + somewhat controllable randomness + press-your-luck elements + a shared pool of resources that will likely lead to drastically different styles of play with different player counts = a "must have" title for me. We'll see whether my expectations hold up once it's actually on the table!




    • In 2018, German publisher PD-Verlag released Concordia: Venus as both a standalone game and an expansion, with one of the maps differing depending on what you purchased. PD-Verlag had promised that in 2019 buyers would be able to acquire the map they didn't get, and now it's making good on that promise with the release of Concordia: Balearica / Cyprus (for those who purchased the Venus expansion) and Concordia: Balearica / Italia (for those who purchased the Venus base game).

    This expansion features the Balearic Islands off the coast of eastern Spain, with players starting the game with no capital city and two ships at sea. It also includes a fish market that can be used as a variant with any other Concordia map. An explanation:

    As a new commodity, fish replaces the ordinary bonus units you usually collect when playing your Prefect. The bonus is doubled up to two fish in provinces that have failed to produce in the last round. Sell your fish on a separate fish market where you can get either goods, cash, or special actions in return. The fish market offers an extra layer of planning ahead, and new challenges for the experienced Concordia player.


    Designer Mac Gerdts shows off Balearica at the Modena game fair

    • French publisher Matagot has informed me that it will have the French (and English) versions of Stonemaier Games' Tapestry for sale at SPIEL '19, whereas German publisher Feuerland Spiele — which has been Stonemaier's partner on German versions of Wingspan, Scythe, and other titles — won't have the German edition of Tapestry available until July 2020.

    Why the difference? Blame Wingspan, which won Kennerspiel des Jahres in July 2019. In a Sept. 12, 2019 Facebook post, Feuerland notes that (in my translation) "Due to the success of Wingspan, we currently have high investments in production, which will be paid off only in the Christmas season." As a result, Feuerland Spiele has launched a preorder campaign for Tapestry since production for that game needs to take place prior to Christmas. Those who preorder will receive a discount on the price and are promised the game six weeks ahead of its arrival at retail.

    In other Feuerland Spiele news, Frank Heeren was interviewed by Würfelmagier.de in September 2019, and he revealed that Feuerland will release a German version of Barrage in 2020. Heeren also mentions that details on what's in the Wingspan expansion will be revealed on October 2, 2019, and if production and shipping goes as planned, he hopes to have a small Wingspan promo item at SPIEL '19. Oh, and another mini-expansion for A Feast for Odin featuring a new island. Details on the SPIEL '19 news starts about 21:00 minutes into the video. (H/T: Christoph Post of Brettspielbox) Read more »
  • VideoGame Preview: Wayfinders, or Connect the Island Dots

    by W. Eric Martin

    My SPIEL '19 previews continue, this time with a look at Wayfinders, a 2-4 player from Thomas Dagenais-Lespérance and Pandasaurus Games.

    Wayfinders will likely remind you of pick-up-and-deliver games with which you are familiar or possibly collect-resources-then-build-stuff games that you know as it blends those two game genres into one tiki-fuelled, island-hopping environment.

    On most turns of the game, you'll place one of your five workers in the one of the resource hangars, possibly segregated from your fellow players as in the image below and possibly in the same ones. Resources come in five colors, with those colors matching the five colors of islands. How convenient that all is! It's almost like you're playing a game instead of actually managing an inventory of resources ahead of a Polynesian excursion...


    On the right, two turntables and a microphone pair of headphones

    On your non-worker placement turns, you collect goods from the hangars equal to the number of your workers in that hangar, specifically the good (or goods) closest to the exit, no matter your place in line. You slide those goods out into your collection of stuff on the table, then you move your plane around the islands — orthogonally only, mind you, due to airspace restrictions — with you needing to pay a resource matching the color of the island if no one has established an airstrip there. (If anyone has established an airstrip on an island, which is indicated by a player's hangar being present, then all players can move onto this island at no cost.)

    If you want to place one of your hangars on an island, you must pay the 1-4 resources depicted at the bottom of the tile, after which you place a hangar in the lowest empty slot. If you establish a hangar after someone else did earlier, you pay these resources to them because you're a follower who must pay tribute to trendsetters; if you're the first to establish a hangar, then you pay the bank and hope that someone else will follow in your path.


    The dark green player color is somewhat absorbed by the surroundings

    Some islands give an immediate bonus of 1-3 random resources from the bag, some provide a permanent bonus, e.g., using green resources as whichever color you wish, and some grant you a special way to score points at game's end — and these are the ones you need to focus on should you want to win the game instead of simply moving a tiny airplane across cardboard squares for 20-30 minutes.

    Those first two types of islands earn points, but they're worth 1-5 points with a fixed value; the latter type of island scores based on how well you meet the condition on it, such as placing your hangars in a horizontal line or on blue islands or on islands surrounding this island. They're limited in value only based on the random layout of the tiles and how well you can abuse them over the course of the game. If this game has only two blue islands, you might want to skip that blue-multiplier to focus on something else; if six blue islands are present, well, how close are they and what does it cost to establish hangars on them and are those goods available.


    Place tiles adjacent to one another only if you want to make gameplay difficult

    You can always use two matching goods as a joker for a missing color, but anyone who does that consistently is simply moving a tiny airplane across cardboard squares for 20-30 minutes instead of trying to win.

    I've played Wayfinders three times on an advance production copy from Pandasaurus Games, one with two players and twice with three, and I quickly learned that my typical approach to game-playing is less than optimal for this design. You can't simply wing it and see what happens, but instead need to figure out from the get-go which islands might provide the most points and what path you might follow to place hangars on them and which permanent bonuses might help you along the way and where you might place hangars instead should you not want to hand over four resources to an opponent who will then use them to fuel their own growth in the future.

    The resource market isn't huge, so you can't plan long-term there, but instead need to have an overall island-hopping plan that you then adjust on the fly based on what other players take and what gets dropped into the troughs as replacement resources. The final round of the game begins as soon as someone places their eighth hangar on the board, so you don't have a long time in which to make things happen, so get moving!


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  • Designer Diary: Three-Dragon Ante: Legendary Edition

    by Rob Heinsoo

    Games from Other Worlds

    The first time I encountered a playable game from another world, it was the game of Jetan, the Barsoomian version of chess at the center of The Chessmen of Mars, the fifth book in Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars series. In Burroughs' novel, originally published in 1922, Jetan was mostly a vehicle for showing just how broken combat-chess becomes when you throw a hero like John Carter into the role of a supposedly easily-captured pawn! The story was great, but even better, in my mind, was that the appendix of my paperback copy had rules for the game of Jetan and advice for creating its 10x10 orange and black board.

    In fifth grade, a couple months after I had started playing D&D, I made a Jetan board out of craft paper, with disks cut from milk cartons and labeled with magic marker as the pieces. For a couple of years, my friends and I alternated between four games: Monopoly, Jetan, Napoleonic miniatures games using a book my dad had bought me called The War Game, and graph-paper crawls using our home-brew interpretation of the original brown box of Dungeons & Dragons.

    I've been thinking about games played in fictional worlds almost as long as I've been thinking about D&D. It probably wasn't a question of whether I was going to make up a game played by D&D characters; it was a question of which game and when.

    Born in Water

    The answer turned out to be Three-Dragon Ante (3DA) in 2004.

    I came up with Three-Dragon Ante while snorkeling around a green rock in Hawaii. At the time, 2004, I worked at Wizards of the Coast as the lead designer of the D&D Miniatures game. On vacation, completely relaxed and happy, I found myself thinking about what I was going to be doing in the days immediately after returning home.

    The first thing that occurred to me was that I was going to run a Wednesday-night session of D&D. These were the days of D&D 3.5, and I was running a wild campaign influenced by Dave Hargrave's Arduin Grimoire. Before I left on vacation, the player characters had learned that the information they needed on the threatened resurrection of a many-armed Chaos god might be available through the semi-estranged family of the adventuring party's very own half-orc fighter. The fighter had been an interstellar marine ("I fought orcs...in space"), but his family appeared to be simple tavern-keepers. The player characters (PCs) were headed to the first tavern adventure of the campaign, and I realized I wanted to keep them entertained with a tavern subplot. Neither brawling or carousing seemed right for this group of PCs as they were more about taking control than losing control. What about a card game, something to put their shiny gold to use? What card game would they play?

    Poker was my first thought, but the idea of pushing our world's gambling card game into a D&D world struck me as both wrong and depressing. In fact, I'd seen it done! There had been a card game sold as part of the Arduin game line that turned out to be poker with a few dragon cards. (The fact that I haven't been able to remember the game's name while working on this article, well, that's a sign of how much it irritated me.)

    The 52-card deck that eventually gave birth to poker, in our world, has its own peculiar history, born in tarot and fortune-telling. Even if a fantasy world had the same tarot-and-divination origins for its card sets, the results would be different. Surely a magical world of dragons and wizards would have created its own card games!

    Kicking around the green rock, I realized that poker is a great game, but it was the wrong type of game for me to build my D&D campaign's tavern adventure around. When you're running a role-playing game, you want to keep as many players engaged as possible. If the PCs in an RPG session are playing a card game in character, you don't want players folding out of hands; you want them engaged even in losing hands.

    Okay, I needed to do something other than poker. Maybe the Arduin game had started with a good idea, and I needed to do something involving dragons? D&D had great dragons that could easily be the suits, and to keep players involved, I'd make high cards the cards you play when you're competing for the main stakes, but low cards would help you by triggering powers as long as you played lower (or at least not higher) than your opponent had just played. After the ten most fruitful minutes of game design in my life, I swam away from the rock, back to shore, having figured out 3DA's core mechanism and already thinking up powers for D&D's five metallic and five chromatic dragons.

    Iconic Dragons

    Being handed ten iconic dragons as the suits for a card game was almost too good to be true!

    In D&D, the five chromatic dragons are evil. Red, Blue, Green, Black, and White — these are the dragons you have to watch out for because they'll eat you, take your treasure, and maybe track down and eat the last few people you talked with in case they have treasure, too.

    In Three-Dragon Ante, the evil dragons have to feel evil. When their powers trigger, they steal gold either from the stakes or from opponents, and sometimes they even steal cards. They don't share, and they never help an opponent. They also don't draw lots of cards. If you play only evil dragons, you're not going to be able to maintain your hand size. On the plus side, if Tiamat the evil Dragon God is in the game, she counts as every color of evil dragon, making it more likely that you'll be able to create a color flight of three evil dragons of the same color.




    D&D's five traditional metallic dragons are good. Gold, Silver, Bronze, Brass, and Copper — these are the dragons you have to think twice about fighting because a) they're probably more or less on your side, and b) they're often even tougher than evil dragons!

    In 3DA, we had to reflect that the good dragons are more likely to help you rather than actively hurting your opponents. Several of the good dragons let you draw cards. Playing many good dragons, and occasionally triggering their powers, makes it more likely you won't have to buy more cards in the middle of a gambit. The drawback, if you choose to see it that way, is that some of the good dragons, like the Silver Dragon and the Gold Monarch, can also help your opponents. The good Dragon God, Bahamut, is the exception. Unlike Tiamat, Bahamut won't help you create a color flight; instead he punishes opponents who have mixed good and evil.




    It's Not Dragon Poker

    Some people call 3DA "dragon poker". I understand the comparison, but as mentioned above 3DA is in many ways the deliberate opposite of poker.

    Poker is a game about knowing when to fold. When you'd rather not fold, it's about knowing how to bet in ways that confuse opponents into folding when they should stay in the hand. If you play poker well, you fold out of most hands.

    My goal with 3DA was to keep everyone involved. Ergo, no folding. The trick is to offer potential rewards to players who don't appear capable of winning the full stakes. The game's core mechanism offers both macro-rewards and micro-rewards: playing high cards helps you compete directly against the other players to win the stakes; playing low cards helps you trigger card powers that can set you up for later success.

    Play a Gold Dragon that's equal strength or lower strength than the card that the opponent to your right just played, and you can draw a card for each good dragon you've played in this flight. Play a Red Dragon that's equal or lower strength than the card played by the opponent to your right, and you can steal 1 gold and a random card from the hand of the opponent who has played the highest strength cards this gambit. Unlike poker, you hold onto your cards, so you're not just playing the current gambit; you can use your cards in the next gambit or even the one after that.




    What It Was, and What It Is Now

    The original Three-Dragon Ante, published in 2005, contains seventy cards. Sixty of the cards are from ten suits based on the iconic dragons of D&D. Each suit has a single triggered power that appears on cards of different strengths. Unlike identically ranked clubs and diamonds in our world's 52-card decks, the strengths of the 3DA suits differ to match the toughness of D&D's dragons. In the original set, the other ten cards — seven mortals, two dragon gods, and a Dracolich — are each unique.

    The one hundred cards in the new Three Dragon Ante: Legendary Edition, which debuts from WizKids in the U.S. on Sept. 18, 2019, include all seventy cards from the original set, with some of these cards having slightly improved mechanisms. The thirty new cards come from three new categories:

    1. Ten new standard dragons, one for each color. Each game now starts with seventy standard dragons, with seven per color instead of six.


    2. Ten new legendary dragons, one per suit. These color-specific legendary dragons aren't the strongest dragons in their suit, but they have powers that are greatly improved versions of their color's standard power.


    3. The Chromatic Wyrmling and Metallic Wyrmling as new legendary dragons that enable you to play and trigger the power of a stronger evil or good dragon whose power you would have otherwise have missed out on. These bring the total number of legendary dragons to 15.


    4. Six new mortals, including the Dragonrider, Prophet, and Illusionist, along with three mortals reprinted (with one slight change) from the Emperor's Gambit expansion set. The Queen, The Sorcerer, and Wyrmpriest bring the total number of mortals to 15. As you could probably tell by the card art above, all the new images are by the original 3DA artist, Craig Phillips!

    Customizing Each Game

    Instead of playing with all one hundred cards, the new edition is meant to be played with eighty cards. Use the seventy standard dragons each game, then choose ten cards from the mix of mortals and legendary dragons. You can choose cards at random or build your favorite mix. The rules include a page of advice and slang about how people set up games in D&D worlds.

    One small advantage of the new card mix is that adding ten extra standard dragons helps reduce the number of times you have to shuffle, especially when playing games with five or six players.

    Of course, the bigger advantage of the new card mix is that playing with different combinations of mortals and legendary dragons should help keep the game fresh. I'm curious whether there will be decks that people enjoy playing most or whether people will set games up at random.

    Many of the new mortals and legendary dragons have powers I'm excited about having added to the game, but I'm waiting to write more about the mortals' new powers when people have had a chance to play with them! Spoilers from the rulebook are one thing, but I don't feel right telling you what I think the new mortals accomplish. Better for people to enjoy finding out in their own games.

    Strengthening the Evil

    On the other hand, I feel fine talking about weak pieces of the game that have improved in the new edition!

    The main issue is that evil was weak. Since the good dragons tended to be slightly stronger than evil dragons and helped you draw more cards, the evil dragon cards were more likely to be chosen as cards to be thrown into the ante. I even played off this in the Three-Dragon Ante: Emperor's Gambit set with several dragon powers that relied on having evil dragons in the ante.

    This time around I confronted the problem directly. Of the original five colors of evil dragons, Green Dragons and Red Dragons had reliable powers that didn't need changing, while the other three colors have improved!

    White Dragon
    The White Dragon originally allowed you to steal two gold from the stakes only if a mortal was in play. Perhaps I was attempting to design a somewhat weak ability? Unfortunately, teaming up with a mortal turned out to have very little effect on strategy. Since White Dragons are the weakest dragon, their power frequently triggered, but more often than not it had no effect. It was rarely optimal play to lead with a mortal in order to enable your White Dragons, so White Dragon powers triggered so randomly that players sometimes forgot about them.

    The new White Dragon power skips the requirement to team up with a mortal; now the White Dragon forces your weakest opponent to pay you two gold. This works better in D&D terms since there isn't anything about White Dragons that makes them more likely to team up with humanoids. If White Dragons are going to be capable of bullying anyone, it's going to be someone weak!

    In terms of game dynamics, a card that picks on the weakest opponent is a good counterpoint to the Red Dragon that targets the strongest opponent. The Red Dragon's power is still definitely better, but players now think twice before throwing the White Dragon into the ante.

    The new Legendary Dragon: The White Hunter bullies all the weaklings in the gambit. It's a 7-strength white dragon that reads "Each weaker opponent pays you 3 gold." If your opponents aren't taking the gambit seriously, the White Hunter can wake them up, particularly if you play it as the clincher in a white color flight.

    Black Dragon
    It used to steal two gold from the stakes; now it steals three. The improvement seems to be enough to make players seriously consider playing the Black Dragon instead of automatically tossing it towards the ante.

    The new Legendary Dragon: The Black Raider is an 8-strength black dragon that reads "Steal 1 gold from the stakes, then take 2 gold from the opponent to your left, 3 gold from the opponent to their left, and so on until you have taken gold from everyone." The idea with the Black Raider is to push gold theft as far as it can go with a mechanism that stings different opponents to different degrees. The raid gets richer for every player in the game. A Black Raider in a three-player game ends up stealing six gold; in a six-player game it steals 28!

    I see this as a feature. Unlike some card games, 3DA glories in playing differently with different numbers of players. For example, the value of scoring a color flight changes dramatically based on the number of players. Similarly, in a 3-player game, triggering your Black Raider's power is no big deal, while in a 5 or 6-player game it could be your main priority.

    Blue Dragon
    That's the new version of the power at left. The card in original 3DA counted only evil dragons in your flight, making it less advantageous to choose the version of the power that forced each opponent to add to the stakes. People usually chose the safe "give me a gold piece" option since it was hard to arrange to play all-evil. If you're going to choose the dramatically interesting option and push the stakes higher, it's correct to reward your daring, so the Blue Dragon now works on how many cards you've played this flight, not the number of evil dragons you've played.

    The new Legendary Dragon: The Blue Overlord isn't subtle. It's a 10-strength blue dragon built on the premise that if the Blue Dragon's power is interesting, doubling the power is more interesting. Yes, the Blue Overlord reads like the Blue Dragon and replaces "1 gold" with "2 gold". Play it as the third card in your flight and trigger its power to force each opponent to add six gold to the stakes, which will be either awesome when you win the gambit...or hilarious when someone else snatches the stakes away from you!

    Playing in Character

    This is the third time I've made rules for playing Three-Dragon Ante as your D&D character. The third time is the charm! I believe these new rules for using a couple of your character's abilities while playing 3DA are an improvement over how I handled D&D abilities in 3e and 4e.

    The problem with the earlier versions was that they supplied many abilities that were "always on". The earlier versions supplied advantages you had to think about the entire game, which feels intrusive to me now. Three-Dragon Ante doesn't need to be tweaked with power-ups that can affect multiple actions every gambit. Therefore, the Legendary Edition pivots around character abilities that don't get used often but which may have a big impact when they do come up.

    Three-Dragon Ante: Legendary Edition comes with cardboard coins for six players as well as 3DA ability disks. Before the game, you can choose one or more abilities that your D&D character meets the pre-requisites for. Some 3DA abilities have a lot of impact, while others are just a bit of flavor; it depends on how good a card player your character is.

    During play, you'll keep your ability disk on its "Ready" side and wait for events to trigger one of your abilities. When you notice a trigger and use one of your 3DA abilities, you flip your ability disk to its grey side. You can't use any of your abilities again until you earn the right to flip your ability disk to its "Ready" side by scoring a special flight, whether a color flight or a strength flight.

    Once you've used an ability, you can just play the game and role-play normally, without having to think about your 3DA abilities again until after you score a special flight. Maybe you'll try extra hard to score a special flight, maybe you won't, but either way it's a natural enough decision. I like the way that opponents react when you score a special flight and can ready your 3DA ability. There's a feeling of "Oh no, here they come again", and I think that captures how the game might feel when being played against dangerous characters in wild places!

    Rob Heinsoo Read more »
  • New Game Round-up: Rebuild Rome, Revisit Boomtown, and Ready Yourself for The 7th Citadel

    by W. Eric Martin

    • At Gen Con 2019, designer Dávid Turczi spent hours at the event tables teaching people how to play Rome & Roll, a co-design with Nick Shaw that UK publisher PSC Games plans to Kickstart in October 2019 ahead of a 2020 release. Here's a summary of the game:

    Rome & Roll is a heavy roll-and-write board game in which 1-4 players compete to craft an empire. Draft from a pool of custom dice to collect resources, construct the town, and organize armies. Political alliances, the colonies, and even the Gods all have a part to play. Imperii Gloria!

    —Draft the dice to match your needs: roll, draw, and win!
    —Play one of seven unique character classes, ranging from merchants to military leaders, with a wealth of different strategies to deploy.
    —Take advantage of four possible scoring avenues: construct buildings, trade resources, conquer unruly colonies, and renovate the Roman road network.
    —Make political alliances and call on the Gods.
    —Raise armies and invade settlements as far afield as Egypt and Spain.
    —Build roads and manage unruly provinces.

    I spoke with Turczi about the game at Gen Con 2019, and he said that the "roll-and-write" description might be deceptive because although players do indeed roll dice and write on their personal player board (as well as on the shared Rome board), the game is more of a combo-driven, engine-building game, with players starting slow, then ramping up quickly as they gain bonuses and use other players' dice.



    Co-designer Dávid Turczi (on left) listens to a question at Gen Con 2019

    Looney Labs notes that Doctor Who Fluxx: 13th Doctor Expansion, originally announced for mid-2019, is on hold for now: "Many of you have been asking when our 13th Doctor Expansion Pack will be coming out. We wish we could tell you, but we still don't have approvals from the BBC. But we CAN tell you that there was a chance it wasn't going to happen at all because we were going to lose the Doctor Who license altogether. And we CAN tell you that, thankfully, that is not happening! Doctor Who Fluxx will live on until at least summer 2021, which means we will definitely be making the expansion pack at some point. We just don't know when."

    • On Facebook, designer Bruno Cathala teased a new edition of Boomtown, a.k.a. La Fièvre de l'Or, a co-design with Bruno Faidutti that first appeared in 2004 before being re-released in a pirate-themed Polish edition in 2012.

    Cathala notes that they're reworking the game for a new edition in 2020 from French publisher Lumberjack Studio.

    Non-final imagery from Jonathan Aucomte

    • In February 2020, Alderac Entertainment Group will release Tiny Towns: Fortune, an expansion for Peter McPherson's Tiny Towns co-designed with Josh Wood that brings something new to this world:

    The smaller creatures of the forest have created a civilization free of predators, and they look to you as mayor to guide their growing and thriving town. However, the area is small, and resources are scarce. The clever use of limited resources will determine the most successful tiny town.

    In the expansion Tiny Towns: Fortune, the creatures of the forest have found a way to trick each other into thinking shiny bits of metal have arbitrary value. It's very useful — so much so that you can use this thing called "money" to get other creatures to give you almost anything in return for the right number of shiny bits. If only earning money weren't so difficult!




    • This post has focused on titles due out in 2020, but here's one that probably won't see release until 2021: The 7th Citadel, this being a sequel of sorts to The 7th Continent from designers Ludovic Roudy and Bruno Sautter and publisher Serious Poulp. Here's an overview of what we know about this game at the moment:

    The 7th Citadel will take place in a new unique "Dark Fantasy" world whose gameplay will be significantly enhanced compared to that of The 7th Continent.

    In The 7th Citadel, a solo or co-operative "choose-your-own-adventure" exploration board game, you choose a character and begin your adventure on your own or with a team of other explorers. Inspired by the ''Fighting Fantasy'' book series, you will discover the extent of this wild new land through a variety of terrain and event cards. In a land fraught with danger and wonders, you have to use every ounce of wit and cunning to survive, crafting tools, weapons, and shelter to ensure your survival.

    As with its predecessor, ''The 7th Citadel'' features an easy saving system so that you can stop playing at any time and resume your adventure later on, just like in a video game!


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