Board Game Geek

    -

    BoardGameGeek News | BoardGameGeek

  • Tag the Streets, Power the Cities, and Settle the Moon

    by W. Eric Martin

    • In mid-November 2020 I showcased two titles from Brazilian publisher MeepleBRBrazil: Imperial and Paper Dungeons — and as is often the case, once I started digging for details on those two games, I discovered several more from the same publisher that I hadn't known about previously.

    Luna Maris, for example, is a 1-4 player game from first-time designer Ricardo Amaral that plays in 30 minutes per player. Luna Maris is due out in the first half of 2021, and the setting and gameplay works as follows:
    Space exploration is developing thanks to the cooperation between private corporations and governments around the world. Before the challenge to occupy another planet, however, we need to create a Moon base to extract resources from our natural satellite. Iron, titanium, water, and a powerful fuel, helium-3, are natural riches available in the Moon. To get these riches won't be easy; it'll require lots of work to install lunar probes, process extracted minerals, and ensure the working conditions of scientists and engineers in the crew.

    In Luna Maris, you take on the role of a coordinator in charge of the lunar operations of a big company, organizing the crew, fulfilling demands, supplying worker's necessities, improving rooms in the complex, and respecting the strict environmental parameters.

    Prototype components
    You start the game with six scientist cards, with which you can perform actions; to do so, place a scientist meeple in a room in the lunar complex, discard the appropriate scientist card, pay the activation cost (energy, water, oxygen, etc.), then receive the benefits of that room. The ten rooms each have their particularities and special rules:

    —Exploration Plant: Don space suits and install lunar probes to extract minerals.
    —Industrial Complex: Process extracted minerals. Also, control the air filters and decrease the CO2 emissions.
    —Greenhouse: Create food to sustain the crew members.
    —Expedition Area: Ship cargo to Earth and receive victory points.
    —Mining Room: Extract basalt and titanium to sustain a high level of production.
    —Communication Room: Hire better scientists and improve the human resources of the lunar base.
    —Power Plant: Juice the solar boards for an extra energy supply.
    —Recycling Plant: Recycle your waste to obtain resources in a green sustainable economy.
    —Laboratory: Use research to improve the Industrial Complex, Recycling Plant, and other facilities.
    —Dormitory: Take time off to recuperate.

    Food cards
    A game lasts five rounds, and during that time you can focus on installing lunar probes and producing raw resources; investing in the industrial complex to guarantee access to water and helium-3; hiring high-level scientists and optimizing your actions; or doing other things that will deliver victory points in the long run. After five rounds, players tally their scores to see who runs the base and who gets ejected into orbit. (Kidding!)

    Grafito is a 2-4 player game from Rennan Gonçalves, another first-time designer, and the game is currently being aimed for release in the second half of 2021. Here's an overview:
    The four elements of hip hop are deejaying, rapping, break dancing, and graffiti painting, and these elements inspired Grafito, a rondel-based game about street art in the modern cities. Each player takes on a role of a graffiti artist, and you need to pick paints, and combine and use them to create great panels with your signature. Are you ready to control the walls of the street?


    To set up, place eight paint cubes in each of the four rondels of the main game board; each rondel looks like an old-school LP record divided into eight colored sections. Use only primary paint cubes (blue, red, yellow and white) for now, then place the wall board next to the main board. Take an individual player board to organize your components, then shuffle the mural cards and reveal four face up.

    On a turn, collect paint cubes or use a mural card to occupy a place on the wall board. By scratching the LPs — that is, turning the rondels — you can collect paint. You can rotate a rondel one space for free or spend workers to move more spaces or a second rondel; by matching colors across LPs, you can collect paint. By discarding a worker, you can use Basquiat's Lessons to duplicate paint cubes in your bag, change their colors, or obtain secondary colors.

    Digital version
    Once you have the necessary components, you can complete a mural card by discarding the paint cubes required, possibly creating secondary colors along the way by discarding primary cubes. You receive points for these cards at the end of the game, and these cards depict different elements of hip hop, with you scoring bonuses from bonds of matching elements on the wall board.

    When the wall board is finished, the game ends, and whoever has the most points becomes King of the Wall!

    • The third title from MeepleBR is Eléctrica, a 2-4 player tile-laying game from Lucas Machado Rodrigues that might see release before the end of 2021.

    Here's a summary of gameplay:
    In Brazil, a great amount of energy is produced by hydroelectricity. Dams are responsible for providing energy to industries, markets, and houses across the country. This electricity is distributed by great networks of transmission. It's a big business that moves billions every year.


    Elétrica invites you and your friends to take on the role of energy entrepreneurs. During the game, you need to increase the size of the map and construct lines to supply energy to cities. With each new line, you can complete contracts and receive victory points.

    In more detail, following a set-up phase in which you each place a tile next to the starting spring river tile, on a turn you either (1) reveal and place a new tile or (2) build. The tile-laying works as you might expect, with tiles needing to be adjacent with the elements on each side matching. After placing a tile, you can place a marker on it to reserve it.

    The game includes five types of constructions — hydroelectric, electrical substation, transmission tower, utility pole, and city — and to build one of them, you use workers on a tile and choose an available construction, following certain limitations on building. A hydroelectric construction must be placed on a tile with water, for example, while a city can't be built next to a transmission tower and three constructions can't be neighbors to one another on a triangle of tiles.

    Prototype components
    When you build a functioning network, you can complete a contract and score points. Two constructions of the same type earns you 2 points, for example, while more complex combinations earn you more.

    Once the final tile is revealed and placed, the game ends and whoever has the most points becomes an energy magnate!
    Read more »
  • Assemble Orbital Modules, Ceremonies, and Lucrative Contracts

    by W. Eric Martin

    While I've been focusing on games released through traditional means the past few weeks, a number of crowdfunding campaigns have come and gone that might be of interest to you once the games hit the market. Here's a sampling of those campaigns:

    Star Scrappers: Orbital is a re-working of Jacob Fryxelius' Space Station, one of the first releases from publisher FryxGames in 2011.

    Over five rounds in Star Scrappers: Orbital, you add new modules to your starting core module, using your crew to take actions within those modules and repair them. At the end of each round, you score points for each of the six colors of modules for which you have the most. Publisher Hexy Studio ran a Kickstarter (link) for this new revised game in mid-November 2020, with delivery expected in mid-2021.

    Kokopelli seems like an atypical Stefan Feld design and a very typical Queen Games release, with the 2-4 players in this card game playing ceremony cards into the four spaces of their own village or onto certain spaces in neighboring villages.

    In each game, you use twelve of the sixteen types of cards — with nine more types being available in the Ceremonies expansion. Each time you start a ceremony in your village, you gain the special power for that card as long as the ceremony is active. Each player has three copies of each type of card in their deck, along with a few jokers, and you need four copies of a card to "close" a ceremony and claim one of the point tokens for it, so you and your neighbors will sort of collaborate on closing ceremonies, but you want to be the one who finishes the job since only then will you score for it. Queen Games plans to deliver this title and expansion to Kickstarter backers (link) in June 2021, with the game hitting retail some time later.

    • In October 2020, Indie Game Studios ran a Kickstarter (link) for Jason Dinger's Crescent City Cargo from Spielworxx, this being the second title in Dinger's "Cajun trilogy" following 2018's Captains of the Gulf, a reprint of which could be acquired during this KS.

    Here's an overview of the game, which will be available only from Spielworxx, Indie Game Studios, the BGG Store, and Amazon prior to a possible release through distribution in 2023:
    New Orleans, affectionately known as "the Crescent City", is an important hub of commerce on the Mississippi River. The Port of New Orleans is a key conduit of imports and exports that are critical to the interconnected international economy.


    In Crescent City Cargo, players take on the roll of competing logistics companies vying to fulfill lucrative contracts with domestic railways, foreign cargo ships, and future speculated trade opportunities through shipping containers waiting to be loaded at the dock. Players receive goods from warehouses and use them to improve the state of their company or earn valuable capital that will serve to establish their dominance in the local trade market.

    Logistics can be a cutthroat tactical environment as others vie to grab the best contracts before you can. Will you be able to manipulate the market, complete your goals, and in the end stand atop the competition as the most profitable company?

    • Designer T. Alex Davis, who co-authored 2020's Deep Vents from Red Raven Games is partnering with the publisher again for Rift Knights, an asymmetrical game for 2-6 players in which one side controls holy knights who must hold off demons until dawn while protecting elders, and the other side would be perfectly happy not to see those elders protected. Here's a bit more detail about gameplay:
    During the game, you choose a unique knight or demon, each with a variety of special powers, such as the Flame Knight's ability to surround his foes in fire, or the Bone Crusher's power to summon skeletal minions. You also play cards from your hand to perform actions each turn, and each card can be used in three different ways. Careful planning with these cards is rewarded with memorable, game-changing moments. A set of unique location tiles allows you to create the monastery with a different layout every game.

    Although the Kickstarter campaign (link) had met its goal, Red Raven Games decided to cancel the project for now based on feedback from supporters and rejigger it for another go in the future.

    Read more »
  • Protect Lakeview from Monsters and Take Control of a Flooded Europe

    by W. Eric Martin

    • U.S. publisher Renegade Game Studios debuted its RPG line in 2018 with Overlight and Kids on Bikes, the latter of which won a 2019 ENnie for "best family game for Renegade and designers Jonathan Gilmour and Doug Levandowski.

    The Kids on Bikes game line has since expanded with Kids on Brooms and Teens in Space, and in Q2 2021 it will be joined by The Snallygaster Situation, a board game from Gilmour and Michael Addison set in the world of Kids on Bikes. Here's an overview of this 2-5 player game that plays in 45-60 minutes:
    Something is very wrong in Lakeview. You know it, but nobody believes you, especially not the "adults" who dismiss you for being a kid. You've lived here your whole life, but it was only a little while ago that you started to notice the strange sounds at night, and now the new kid at school has vanished. You're sure that a hideous creature has been unleashed on your town — and it's up to you to defeat it!

    In the co-operative game The Snallygaster Situation, which is based on the Kids on Bikes RPG, you and your best friends must face off against one of four diabolical monsters set on destroying Lakeview — and possibly the entire world! Get on your bikes to search for clues about the monster's weakness, find the missing kid it has abducted, and end the threat to your hometown. Oh, and watch out for the Federal agents because they can put a real damper on your epic adventure.

    In more detail, one player takes the role of the Lost Kid, selecting a card to play each turn that provides clues about their location such as street names, buildings, or landmarks — but the card also dictates how the monsters and the Feds move and attack on the board. You might have the perfect clue to give, but then the monster will attack one of your friends, sending them back to the treehouse and advancing the "doom marker", i.e., the game's timer.

    The other players are trying to defeat the monster and save their friend. On their turns, they use their rides — skateboard, dirt bike, inline skates, etc. — to search the town, look for clues, use special item cards, and avoid the monster, which might be the Jersey Devil, a Dover Demon, Bloody Mary, or (of course) the Snallygaster. Each monster has a different level of difficulty with unique gameplay elements.

    Once the Lost Kid is found, they join their friends to try to defeat the monster.

    • During BGG@Home, U.S. publisher APE Games was testing several upcoming games on Tabletopia ahead of Kickstarter campaigns to fund them, with one of those games being Kevin G. Nunn's Dealers in Hope, a 3-5 player game that plays in 90-150 minutes.

    You can find preliminary rules for the game here (PDF), but this is overview of the setting and gameplay:
    Sea levels have risen, causing severe land and resource shortages. Europe has erupted in war, and it's up to you to salvage what is left for your people.

    Dealers in Hope, set in approximately 2170, is a deck-building game of conflict. As faction leaders, players vie for control of a future Europe that is a shell of its former glory. Build a deck that matches your faction's play style and take back the continent!

    Each player controls a different faction leader with unique abilities and a unique starting deck. The leader you choose determines how you score victory points to win the game. Regardless, all leaders score a bulk of their points through conquest. On your turn, select an action by placing one of your tokens on the action board. Actions fall into one of three categories: Train (add cards to your deck), Reorganize (manipulate your deck), and Assault (attack territories). Action slots are limited, so it is essential to plan ahead and guess your opponents' moves.

    Dealers in Hope uses several types of cards, with some types, i.e., professional cards, being selected randomly and others coming from the game's preset deck suggestions. Each set of professional cards has three levels — level 1, level 2, and master — and you must Train these increasingly powerful cards in order. Battles are fought via back-and-forth card play. Cards contain attack, defense, support, and (often) effects. The attacker plays as many cards as desired from their hand, then the defender gets a single chance to play cards in defense. Finally, the attacker gets one more chance to beat the defender. The winner gains/holds the territory, along with bonuses associated with that territory.

    Non-final game board art
    Unlike many games of this type, Dealers in Hope focuses not only on the military side of warfare, but also on the people behind the scenes: the civilians, masses, etc. who affect and are affected by the campaign.

    • Other titles being tested by APE Games include The Comic Book Bubble, a 2-6 player design from Scott Almes in which you try to buy and sell comics at the right time to profit from that market, and One Card Wonder, a design from Nat Levan that I first wrote about in 2016.

    For those who don't recall that write-up from four years ago, here it is again, on the assumption that the game has not fundamentally changed:
    In One Card Wonder, each player receives a card that shows a wonder of the ancient world and a set of support buildings. The multiple stages of the wonder must be built from the ground up, while the buildings may be built in any order. Players have four worker meeples and a personal supply of resources, and a general supply of resources also exists. The resource supply bag moves from player to player to indicate who is the active player.

    On a turn, you take one of four actions. You may draw three cubes from the cloth supply bag, then add one to your personal supply, placing the other two in the general supply. You may take all resources of one type from the general supply. (You may hold only eight resources at a time in your supply, so if after drawing or taking you have more than eight resources, you must return some to the general supply.) You may build a level of the wonder or a building by paying its resource cost from your supply; your workers mark individual buildings as you build them, unlocking abilities. Finally, you may sell pairs of matching goods to the supply in exchange for coins. Coins can be used as a wild resource, but they also appear in the cost of some wonders. Resources sold or used to build are returned to the supply bag.


    In games of four or more players, players may also trade. Trading occurs off-turn, that is, it can involve anyone except the active player. You may negotiate and trade freely with other players, but you must stop negotiating once you receive the supply bag and become the active player. The longer you spend on your turn, the more opportunity your opponents have to make deals.

    The first player to complete their wonder wins!
    Read more »
  • Designer Diary: Merv: The Heart of the Silk Road

    by Fabio Lopiano

    Merv: The Heart of the Silk Road is my next board game, due out on November 26, 2020 from Osprey Games.

    I began work on this game about three years ago, in the middle of 2017. Initially it was a generic city-building game in which players would collect resources every round, spend them in order to build houses and, at the same time, defend those houses from hordes of barbarians threatening to attack the city every few rounds; when I started doing research about where to actually set the game, I stumbled upon the story of Merv.

    Merv, the Largest City in the World

    I was reading a book about the Silk Road and was surprised to learn that, about one thousand years ago, Merv, now in modern day Turkmenistan, used to be the largest city in the world with well over one million inhabitants.

    Thanks to its access to fresh water in what otherwise was a vast desert in central Asia, Merv was an important stop for all caravans traveling between China, India, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. It soon became a large economic and cultural center, with several mosques, markets, libraries, and schools with famous philosophers and mathematicians teaching there.

    Sadly its fortune didn't last long, with Mongols raiding it in the 13th century, killing almost seven hundred thousand people, and destroying the dam that brought water to the city. The city never fully recovered and struggled as a small town for a few more centuries until it slowly disappeared — only to be rediscovered by archaeologists a few decades ago.

    Interestingly, Merv had a rectangular shape, with tall walls running all around it, which seemed to fit nicely for a board game.

    The First Prototype

    The first time I tried a prototype with this setting was at one of the Playtest UK meet-ups in September 2017. At the time (and for quite a while), the game was centered around a dice-drafting mechanism, and the first board looked like this:


    The general idea was that on your turn you would draft a die, place it on the leftmost available slot of the matching row, and collect money indicated on that slot. (Money could be used to change the number on a die.) Moreover, dice values from 2 to 5 would let you place a house on a matching slot on the city map, while 6s let you take a special action and 1s were wild.

    One concept present from the beginning is that players would not take some actions to gain resources, then other actions to spend those resources and convert them into victory points. Instead resources would be available relatively easily through a caravan walking around and dropping cubes on all the houses that were built along the way so that on each turn players could mostly focus on how to spend them effectively.

    When the Mongols Attack

    Another idea present for a long time was that of the Mongols slowly gathering outside the walls, then eventually attacking the city, so players had to spend resources to defend their houses but didn't know exactly when the Mongols would strike. (The timing of this was linked to which dice were not drafted.)

    I struggled a lot with the dice-drafting mechanism, which ended up being too restrictive on what players could do in their turn while at the same time having too many side effects on when and where the Mongols would attack, so I eventually dropped it and tried some other avenue.

    For a while, I switched to cards: Each player had a hand of cards that decided which way the caravan moved and which kind of resources it dropped. On their turn, the players would play one card and the caravan would drop cubes of the given type on all the houses along its path, then the current player would spend those cubes to build or activate houses.

    For every card played, a Mongol meeple was then placed along the wall where the caravan passed by, and when the whole row filled up, the Mongols would attack on that side. (Players could place their own soldiers along those walls to defend their houses behind it.)


    From this point in the design, most of the building types would survive until the published game: the library provided scrolls for special abilities, the market stall provided various kinds of goods for set collection purposes, and the palace provided endgame victory points.

    I was still not happy about how to trigger the Mongol attacks. One major problem was that players would forget to place the Mongol meeple at the end of their turn, then notice after a couple of turns that some Mongols were missing and had to trace back through their moves to see where they should have been placed.

    An interesting solution I tried was to drop the meeples and instead picture the Mongols on the back of each card so that after a card was played, the card itself was placed on a slot along one of the walls. When that side of wall was full, the Mongols would attack. For a while, I had the game over two boards: a square board with the city and the mongols along its walls, and a second board with all the various building types and building actions.

    This was the prototype I tried in the Playtest UK area of UK Games Expo in 2018:


    Back to the Drawing Board

    I was still unsatisfied with the game, which looked overly complicated, so I went back to the drawing board and started from scratch.

    I designed an almost completely different game, much lighter in weight and without all the complications from the previous iterations. This version of the game still features a 5x5 grid, but this time the city starts with all the building tiles in it, and players claim tiles by placing houses on them. A row of caravan cards brings various goods, and players draft them in order to score points.

    The core mechanism is this: Each round, players place their meeple along one side of the city, then from left to right along that wall they place a new house (or activate an existing one) on that row (or column) and move their meeple onto one of the caravan cards, reserving that card for drafting. Each card has a building type on it, and you can reserve a card only with the same building type as the tile you activated that turn.

    Finally, going from left to right along the row of cards, each player takes the card they reserved and one of the still unclaimed ones, then moves their meeple to the rearmost open spot of the queue for the next side of the city. Thus, if you reserve an early card, you will have better choices for your second card, but you will move last next turn.


    This was basically another game altogether, almost in antithesis to the previous iterations, but it created an interesting tension in the way the turn order was handled. As different as it was, though, some core ideas of the previous iterations were still present:

    Since pretty much the beginning of the design, on your turn you would place or activate a building (of various kinds), then have a certain amount of resources available to spend on that building. If the building were a library, for example, you could spend a number of different color cubes in order to get a matching number of scrolls. If the building were a market stall, you could spend cubes in order to gain trading goods, and so on. Moreover, the placement of your buildings would affect your resource income in the upcoming turns.

    In this streamlined version, the actual resource collection was abstracted away, but the core idea was still there: If I place or activate a library, I then claim a library card (with a scroll on it), and at the end of the game I will score victory points for sets of different scrolls. If instead I activate a market stall, I claim a card with trading goods and score points for various combinations of them.

    Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis

    A piece of feedback I received during a playtest at SPIEL '18 was that the core mechanism was really cool and provided interesting choices and crunchy decisions, but that it needed a meatier game around it — so I took the advice and tried to integrate the new mechanisms into the original game, coming up with this:


    At the beginning of the game, all the building tiles are placed randomly in the city. (Each tile has a different combination of type and color, and each color corresponds to a type of resource.) The game proceeds in three rounds, each round has four turns, and each turn is played along one side of the city.

    On a turn, each player moves their meeple (starting from the head of the queue) into one of five slots along that side, then picks a building tile on the matching column (or row). If the tile is empty, they place one of their houses on that tile; otherwise they use the house that is already there. Then they collect resources from all tiles in that column that have a house of that player color on them. (Each tile provides one type of resource, based on the tile color.)

    Finally, depending on the building that they activated, they perform the action for that building: If they activate a library, they can buy scrolls (with sets of different scrolls providing special abilities); if they activate a trading post, they can expand their trading post network, then acquire goods from the connected cities; if they activate a mosque, they can spend resources in order to advance on the mosque track, gaining various bonuses along the way, etc.

    All these actions cost resources. and as the game proceeds and the city fills up with houses, you collect more and more resources so these actions become more powerful.

    A twist was that you could choose to activate an existing house of a different player and collect resources from all houses of that player in that row. Since slots are exclusive, I tried various ways to compensate the original owner (who would not be able to reactivate the row on that turn) and finally settled on the owner getting a resource from the activated house (but not from the whole row), yet also getting possibly additional resources for houses that had been upgraded. (Upgraded houses provide more or better resources.)

    An interesting effect of this change is that now if you build a strong row with four or five of your houses, then it becomes a juicy target for other players to use, making jousting for turn order even more important, so I added another currency (camels) that you can spend at the end of the turn in order to advance in the queue for next turn. Camels are a closed economy, with camels you spend to advance in turn order going to the players you skipped.

    IdeaG 2019

    Things were coming together pretty nicely, and in January 2019 I brought the prototype to the national meeting of Italian game designers in Parma (IdeaG) where I got good feedback from a few seasoned designers.


    In particular, Flaminia Brasini provided very insightful ideas: The game I tested in Parma was pretty good, but it lacked tension. The "Mongol attack" wasn't really there, having been abstracted away as a majority scoring for soldiers at the end of each round. In a way, players could do what they wanted, without having to worry too much about what the game could throw at them; what was lacking was the tension between what players "wanted" to do and what they "had" to do.

    So the Mongols came back, with a vengeance. They would attack at the end of each round, and players who couldn't defend their houses would lose them. This was probably a bit too harsh, and I changed it so that they would attack at the end of the second and third rounds. (The game lasts only three rounds, where each round is played along the four sides of the city.) By the end of the second round, most houses would be defended and those that were raided could still be rebuilt during the final round.

    As an extra incentive for defending houses, I introduced an end round scoring so that houses still standing after the raid would be worth victory points.

    Defending houses soon became an important part of the game. You could defend houses by building walls around the city, and each piece of wall would defend the two houses immediately behind it (which might belong to different players). Moreover, a house is defended only if it has walls on both sides, e.g., an house in the top left quarter of the city needs a wall on its north side and a wall on its west side. While walls provide a permanent defense, you could still play a soldier on your house to defend it for a single attack, i.e., when the mongols attack, the soldier is killed but the house is saved.

    Finally, you could still pay a ransom in order to defend a house, so if an orange house is attacked, you could save it by paying an orange cube.

    Playtest, Playtest, Playtest

    In the first few months of 2019, I managed to average almost three playtests a week between the Playtest UK meet-ups and meetings with other designers. One idea that slowly developed during this time was that defending other players' houses should provide some kind of benefit, so I eventually introduced a "civic" track on which you advance as you build walls. (You advance one step for each of your houses behind that wall, and two steps for houses owned by other players).


    Advancing on that track gives access to scoring opportunities, such as the ability to fulfill high-value contracts or to acquire different types of spices. This means that if you are pursuing a strategy based on fulfilling contracts (which require combinations of scrolls and trading goods) or on collecting spices (which are acquired at the caravansary buildings), you also have to build walls and possibly defend other players' houses in order to advance more quickly on the track.

    On the other hand, if you are focusing on some other strategy, such as advancing on the mosques track or sending your people to the palace for end round scoring, you might get someone else to build a wall around your houses instead.

    I kept tuning and playtesting, with smaller and smaller changes every time, until the game almost converged into what it is today.

    The Road to Publication

    A dear friend of mine who was in my regular playtest group joined Osprey Games as a developer and took my prototype with him. The people at Osprey really liked it, and at the end of June 2019 — on my last day in the UK before moving back to Italy — I signed a publishing contract with them. We kept fine-tuning the game for a few more months and also came up with a challenging solo mode.

    I had a very good relationship with the developers at Osprey Games. They kept me involved on the small tweaks and adjustments that improved the game in various ways, and I kept bringing the game to various gatherings for further playtesting until I was really happy with the way it played.


    Finally, Ian O'Toole did an amazing job in illustrating the game with very vibrant and colorful art that brings the magnificent city of Merv to its original glory.

    I now look forward to its release in late November 2020, although, sadly, this time I won't be able to play it with the public in the halls of SPIEL...

    Fabio Lopiano Read more »
  • Fight Free Radicals Thanks to the Antioxidants in Coffee Traders

    by W. Eric Martin

    • Sometimes you look at a game and think, "The title has to be what inspired the entire design, right?"

    That thought came to mind when I ran across Free Radicals, the first game to be published from designer Nathan Moll, which WizKids plans to release in 2021. Here's an overview of this 2-5 player game that plays in 60-90 minutes:
    In Free Radicals, players take control of one of ten fully asymmetrical factions, each with its own path to earn resources, power, and the knowledge stored in the "Free Radicals", which are giant mysterious objects that appeared around the world, causing a huge evolutionary leap in technology. You might play as the merchants, using action points to travel to different markets, and grow in influence and efficiency; the Couriers, using your drones to pick up and deliver valuable goods; the Entertainers, using card placement and abilities to maximize powerful abilities; or one of seven other entirely unique factions!

    Players also interact through the main board, where they can visit each other's buildings and try to unlock the technology in one of the free radicals. You can even help your opponents' research in return for influence and other rewards!

    • U.S. publisher Capstone Games has a reputation for releasing heavy games that feature an economic element, such as Arkwright (the title with which it debuted in 2016), The Ruhr, Pipeline, and Wildcatters.

    The designers of that latter title — Rolf Sagel and André Spil — now have a new design coming from Capstone in June 2021: Coffee Traders, a game for 3-5 players that takes 120-150 minutes and that includes "over 650 components" as Capstone boasts in its announcement. Here's a summary of the game's setting, with the rulebook scheduled to be released on December 1, 2020:
    Thousands of coffee farmers all over the world support their families by using small stretches of hillside land for their coffee plantations. Farmers work day in and day out for very little, but the future of coffee farming is bright. Fair Trade organizations strive to improve living conditions for these farmers by helping them set up cooperatives. This enables them to establish better pricing agreements and take out loans for new plantations, all to help provide education and improve the quality of their lives, families, societies, and environment.


    In Coffee Traders, set in 1970s Central and South America, Africa, and Asia, the delicious Arabica coffee beans farmers harvest are sold in Antwerp — and all over the world — to coffee roasters large and small. Work with your competitors to develop the regions you see fit for the best coffee beans while keeping a watchful eye on the market. Construct buildings to help your Fair Trade coffee plantations thrive while enhancing your network for trading coffee. Will your plantations fall to ruin, or will you rise to the top and become the world's greatest coffee trader?

    Read more »
  • VideoTell Weird Stories, Race in Three Dimensions, and Create Peacock Plumes

    by W. Eric Martin

    • Let's run through a few game-based Kickstarter projects in this post, starting with Reality Shift by Mat Hanson and Academy Games, which leans heavily into a Tron vibe for a 3D racing game in which you can shift blocks to create new paths for your lightbike, obstruct existing paths, or crush opponents to force them to respawn elsewhere.

    The Kickstarter campaign (link) includes options for a regular game and a deluxe one so that you can take the nine cubes in each game and combine them to create more challenging racetracks — although I would think you could do this with two regular games as well. Reality Shift is due out in mid-2021.


    • U.S. publisher Calliope Games is Kickstarting (link) a trio of releases due out in Q4 2021, with Brendan Hansen's Enchanted Plumes being a 2-6 player game in which you collect cards in a peacock tail-shaped array, with the longest row of cards counting against you and everything else being positive. You can make the first row of a plume as wide or as narrow as you wish, and each subsequent row must have exactly one fewer card and the color of a card in this row must be among the cards in the row immediately above it; if you complete a plume by placing a row of one card, you receive a bonus equal to the number of cards in the plume.

    Zach Weisman's Allegory is another 2-6 player card game, but in this game you bid to collect cards in three themes, with you allocating your winning bid for a card on the remaining cards on display. Instead of placing a bid in a future round, you can pass to claim the card with the most money on it; that card might be worth negative points, but at least you now have money! When a player claims their tenth card, the game ends at the end of that round, then everyone scores only for their lowest-valued theme.


    Mass Transit from Chris Leder and Kevin Rodgers is a co-operative game for 1-6 players in which dual-use cards create train, bus, and ferry routes out of a city and allow you to move commuters along those routes. If you get everyone home to the suburbs before all the cards are played, you win.

    Tales of the Fabulist is the first release from Stacey Welchley, Jason C. Hughes, and Monkey Gun Games, and it falls into the category of "party game that you likely won't keep score on", similar to Concept and others. Here's an overview of this 2-10 player game that's due out (KS link) in the first half of 2021:
    Tales of the Fabulist is an interactive fiction device, a party game, an improvisation system, a drinking game, an ice-breaker at retreats, and an excellent gift for the young and old. You don't have to be William Shakespeare to have a great time making sh*t up regaling your loved ones with a fabricated fable. Here's how easy it is:

    After the decks are shuffled and cards are dealt, The Fabulist begins by introducing the characters in the context of a grand quest upon which the characters will embark. The Fabulist has sixty seconds to weave the beginning of the tale, then play rotates clockwise. The next player selects a plot twist (PT) out of their hand and places it on the included playmat in the next open PT space. That player continues the story for 30 seconds, working in the words or phrases on the newly played card into the story. When the time runs out, draw a new plot twist card. Play continues clockwise. The lucky person who places the final plot twist card has sixty seconds to wrap up the story as best they can.


    Now that the fable has ended, everyone gets to suggest a "Moral of the Story". The player with the funniest moral wins the quest card. If your group is competitive, the person with the most quest cards at the end of the session wins.

    SquareOne is a board game console from Wizama that's intended to merge board games and video games, with you having physical elements that you do stuff with while the console shows the results of actions, resolves die rolls, and does other things depending on whatever game you're playing.

    The device is pricey at €500 (KS link), and it's launching with licenses for titles such as the virtual trading card game Urban Rivals and the giant board Cthulhu Wars, in addition to original games such as Crystal Bay by Roberto Fraga, who visited the BGG booth at FIJ 2020 to demo this design.

    Youtube Video Read more »
  • Interview: Train Games and War Games with Tom Russell

    by Neil Bunker

    [Editor's note: This interview was first published on Diagonal Move on October 19, 2020. —WEM]

    Tom Russell, co-founder of independent publisher Hollandspiele, joins Neil Bunker from Diagonal Move to discuss her unique take on game design and publishing.

    DM: Hi, Tom, thank you for joining us. You are known for three things: unique takes on historical war games, train games, and co-founding publishing company Hollandspiele. Can you tell us the story of how you got to where you are today?

    TR: Well, what it ultimately comes down to is, I'm the luckiest girl in the world.

    It's not that I didn't work hard because I did, and not that I'm untalented because I do all right for myself, but there are plenty of folks who work a lot harder and are a heck of a lot more talented who don't get the same traction that I did.

    Mary (Holland-Russell, co-founder of Hollandspiele) and I get to publish board games for a living, as our full-time gig. More than that, we get to do it while making very weird, very niche games in a very weird, very niche way — and that really comes down to one lucky break or coincidence after another.

    For example, one of the earliest games I had published was Northern Pacific through Winsome Games. That game brought my work to Cole Wehrle's attention, and so years later as we were prepping to get Hollandspiele off the ground, I could write to Cole and ask him whether he could do a game for us, and he would have some idea who I was.

    That game was An Infamous Traffic, and it brought our company to the attention of a wider audience, which ultimately made our model sustainable as a full-time endeavor.


    Now, we stumbled upon that model because Mary and I worked for a publisher who had a somewhat similar model, which ultimately came about because of a magazine wargame I had done for another publisher.

    One thing lead to another, and I can trace similar interweaving chains of coincidence and cause-and-effect all leading up to the present moment. I will say that I tried to position myself to take advantage of those opportunities.

    By being interested in a lot of different things, I increased the probability that those opportunities might arise.

    Our work with the other publisher gave us the model, and Cole's game gave us a head start, but we needed to put in the work and have the skill-set to grow our business and its audience.

    DM: Your historical wargames cover a wide range of eras, game mechanisms, and player count. Can you describe your process for developing these three strands within a single game?

    TR: These historical designs start with the history and with research. Most of this research is "passive", in that I'm not reading up on a topic trying to make a game.

    If I go into it with my game designer hat on, I'm going to be looking for mechanisms or chrome and what-not, going to be focusing on the details, but what I'm looking for is the big picture, a general understanding of the topic so that I'm reasonably conversant in it.

    Maybe this turns into a game, and maybe it doesn't. It helps that I'm interested in a lot of different things, so I read up on a lot of different things.

    Once I decide to do a game on a topic, my research gets a bit deeper and more detailed — then I wait for the idea to fully form in my brain.

    I don't start making counters or writing rules or any of that, not until I have a complete, coherent, and cohesive picture of exactly what I want the game to be, what I want it to feel like, what I want to look like, what tensions I want to be present, what thesis I want to express.

    When all that is clear in my head, then I start working on the game, and I keep working on it until it looks like that picture. Sometimes that picture forms very quickly; sometimes it takes a while.


    For example, in 2019 we released both The Toledo War and Westphalia. The Toledo War took maybe two or three days to come together. Westphalia took ten years.

    Regarding the question of player count, it's actually pretty simple. I tend to think of player counts as falling into three buckets: solo games, two-player games, and games for three-plus.

    Each of these to me suggest a very different space to explore. A three-plus game is a game about alliances and shared incentives. A two-player game is very much about direct and bitter conflict, control of tempo, control of the balance of the game itself.

    I wouldn't be comfortable calling a solitaire game a "puzzle" or an efficiency game, but there are elements of that in my solo designs.

    You'll likely never see me do a game these days that scales from one to six or from two to five because each of these experiences are so distinct that for me there isn't really much overlap between these kinds of games.

    DM: Your games share many mechanisms with other games within the historical wargame genre, yet will often have something that sets them apart (a stack of steps, three draw cup system, a focus on logistics). Are these "twists" born from a desire to innovate, to better reflect a historical period, personal design challenges, something else?

    TR: Honestly, it just feels natural to me to do it the way that I do it. I like having clever mechanisms, of course, and am reasonably proud of some of the things I've come up with, but I'm not necessarily trying to be "twisty".

    I do feel like a good historical game needs to have a thesis or view its subject through a lens. It's not enough, I think, to have a game be "a game about the American Revolution", but "a game about the function of logistics during the American Revolution" is worth doing.

    In the end, it's a matter of what you're trying to say and how you're trying to say it.


    DM: Complex historical train games are another niche genre with a devoted fan base. How would you describe their appeal to an interested passerby?

    TR: Well, I don't know if I'd call train games "complex". Most train games are actually very simple. Even something like the 18xx, which has a daunting reputation, isn't usually very complicated in terms of rules overhead.

    I also wouldn't call them "historical". At least personally I don't approach the train games in the same way as I do the wargames. I'm not expressing a thesis, but creating a sort of a mechanical exercise to explore player dynamics.

    That's probably the key I would zero in on: the interaction between players. Sure, I'd talk about building the track and investing in stocks, but I also know there are people who couldn't care less about that.

    These are very competitive, very interactive games in which each player's portfolio gets hopelessly entangled with that of other players; everything you do to help yourself has the potential to help someone else, everything you do to hurt someone else might hurt you.

    Every action matters, and if you make a mistake, it can sink your position and make it irrecoverable. That kind of experience isn't for everyone, but I think the people who would be into that would recognize that if you described it to them.

    DM: When creating a series of historical train games, are there specific issues that you model with each game and how do you reflect these in a design?

    TR: I've done several train games, of course, and in a way many of them are iterative, expanding upon what I did the last time. But each game is generally its own thing, conceived for its own reason and with its own emphasis.

    Northern Pacific was intended to focus on shared incentives and chains of "if I do this, she'll do that".


    Irish Gauge was, I think, an attempt to create a simple, streamlined, introductory take on Winsome's action selection-style cube rail games. I say "think" because unusually the entire game sprung forth fully-formed like Athena over the course of an hour while I was stuck in traffic, so I didn't so much go into Irish Gauge with a goal in mind as I decided that was the goal after the fact!

    Trans-Siberian Railroad is a messy sort of game in which I was trying to do something heavier and a bit more capricious. This introduced the "track-leasing" mechanism that ran through my next three games. Those next three games are also interested in exploring more co-operative rather than destructive play patterns in the context of a competitive game.

    Iberian Gauge has numbered shares, and players who are invested in a company build one track per share according to the order in which those shares are bought.

    London & Northwestern is unique in that you can invest only in other player's companies and that their stock values only go up, never down.


    The Soo Line is the last of those track-leasing games, and it's the weirdest of the bunch. It very deliberately breaks some of the "rules" of "good train game design".

    For example, in games where majority shareholders make all decisions for a company, you want at least as many companies as you have players. Well, this is a game for up to five players with only three companies, which means that some players take a less active role, having to make their fortunes as pure investors.

    Asymmetry is common in train games, and sometimes some companies are kinda rubbish, but here the three companies are rubbish in wildly different ways.

    Some people like it. Some people hate it. That's to be expected as it's a deliberately abrasive game.

    The newest choo-choo game that I have pulling into the station is Dual Gauge, and this is a multi-map train game system. How this happened is that Mary told me I needed to do a new train game every year, and I thought to myself, "Wow, that sounds like a lot of work — but if I do a system, I can do the base game this year, then just do a couple of maps every year to fulfill Mary's requirement."

    Well, Mary was really happy to hear about me doing a system that could have expansions, but she told me that this didn't cut the mustard, and that I will also be on the hook for new standalone train games each year.


    Dual Gauge borrows some elements of the 18xx — track shared by all companies, blocking by way of placing stations, buying trains and running routes, some of those trains become obsolete, and a two-dimensional stock market — but it's very much a cube rails game at heart (despite not having any cubes). It is, I think, its own thing, and the system is robust enough that each map should have some unusual tweaks and fresh challenges.

    DM: Do the train and military game strands of your design career have more in common than meets the eye at first glance — simulation concepts, for example?

    TR: Not really. The historical games are built to explore or express a thesis through a model. Sometimes this is a very serious subject where what I want to express is very important to me; This Guilty Land is about the complicity of compromise in oppression. Sometimes the subject is less serious, or at least less immediate: With It Or On It is a coarse-grain model of the advantages and disadvantages of hoplite formations.

    The train games, on the other hand, are purely about mechanisms and player dynamics, and playing with genre conventions and expectations.


    DM: Hollandspiele is a small, independent company in a crowded field. How do you manage to stand out from, and compete with, other companies?

    TR: Well, the secret is that we don't really "compete" with anyone. We're off to the side of the market proper, catering to more adventurous tastes.

    We use a print-on-demand model: You order the game from us, pay us for it, we turn around and pay our printer, who manufactures and ships you the game. So these games are essentially made one at a time. We never "over-produce", never have any inventory to sell off.

    We don't deal with distributors, don't sell games at conventions. We're completely insulated from all the hubbub, and our model allows us to tackle more unusual and less commercial topics and approaches.

    There's an audience for that which has traditionally been underserved, and I think that's a large part of our success.

    DM: In addition to your own games, Hollandspiele also releases games by other designers. From a publisher’s point of view, what makes a game stand out from the masses? Are there any games that you are particularly glad to have been able to release?

    TR: We're mostly looking for a game with a point of view or a strong authorial voice.

    We're proud of all our releases, but the jewels in the crown, as it were, have been the aforementioned An Infamous Traffic, which went out of print last year, and Erin Escobedo's Meltwater, which we're still printing.

    Both games were strong sellers, which is always nice, both were well-received critically, and both expanded our audience, bringing eyes to our other titles.


    DM: What do you think the future holds for niche historical games? Do you feel they will remain in a niche genre, or will they become more (or return to the) mainstream as their mechanisms and design ideas become more frequently seen in popular games?

    TR: I mean, "niche" games are gonna be niche games. That's not to say that historical games don't have broader crossover appeal, and there have definitely been strides toward making historical games more approachable to that wider audience.

    I'm sure that this will continue to be the case. It's just not something I'm particularly interested in, and I have the luxury of just doing whatever the heck I want.

    DM: Do you have any advice for aspiring designers and publishers?

    TR: I make weird, brittle, abrasive games that alienate and frustrate people, so I'm not sure if anyone looking to be successful in this field should be listening to my advice. Read more »
  • The Spice Definitely Flows in Dune: Imperium

    by Candice Harris

    I'm a late bloomer to the Dune-iverse and to all things Arrakeen, but as I've gotten deeper and deeper into it the past few months, I was thrilled to hear about Dire Wolf's upcoming release of Dune: Imperium, designed by Paul Dennen, the creator of Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure.

    While on the lighter side of my gaming spectrum, I've always enjoyed playing all versions of Clank!, especially Clank! Legacy. You throw Dune, deck-building, worker placement, and Paul Dennen into a blender, and before I even experience what comes out, my ears are perked and my eyes are wide. Thus, I had to reach out to Dire Wolf expressing my interest in a review copy of Dune: Imperium, which they graciously hooked me up with so that I could navigate folded space, taste the spice firsthand, and share my initial impressions.

    Dune: Imperium is a hybrid deck-building and worker placement game for 1 to 4 players that plays in about 60-120 minutes. Each player represents a leader of one of the Great Houses of the Landsraad, competing to earn the most victory points by defeating rivals in combat, forming alliances with the four powerful factions on Dune (Emperor, Spacing Guild, Bene Gesserit and Fremen), and cleverly establishing your political influence.

    Each player starts the game with a leader board corresponding to their particular leader, which has two different abilities, unique from other players. You also have two agents (workers), a starting deck of cards (same for all players), some wooden cubes representing troops, and a few other components to form your supply. There's also a card market as expected in a deck-building game, and a general supply area of the main resources of the game: spice, solari, and water.

    Leader board examples
    Dune: Imperium is played over a series of rounds, with each round consisting of five phases: 1) Round Start, 2) Player Turns, 3) Combat, 4) Makers and 5) Recall. At the end of a round, if any player has reached 10 or more victory points or if the conflict deck is empty (after ten rounds), the game ends and whoever has the most victory points wins.

    Round Start

    You start each round by first revealing a new conflict card, then each player draws a hand of five cards. Conflict cards show the rewards you'll be competing for during the current round should you decide to deploy troops to the conflict.

    Player Turns

    Next you jump into the player turns phase, which is the meat and potatoes of Dune: Imperium, or shall I say, the cinnamon and nutmeg. In this phase, players take either an agent turn or a reveal turn in clockwise order until all players have completed their Rreveal turn. This is where the cards in your deck come into play, and you have to decide which cards (if any) you'll use to place agents on the board, versus which cards you'll save to reveal in order to gain resources and/or combat bonuses.

    During an agent turn, you play a card from your hand face-up in front of you and use it to send one of your available agents to an unoccupied space on the board where you gain access to that particular location's effects. The location icons on the left side of the cards indicate which locations you can send an agent to with that particular card. Then the agent box on the card may grant you some additional bonus effects as well when you use that card for an agent turn. When you use the "Worm Riders" card for an agent turn, you gain two spice.

    There's a decent variety of locations on the board with various effects that allow you to pursue a plethora of strategies as you play, especially when combo'd with different card effects. Like most worker placement games, there will be many moments where someone beats you to a spot you were hoping to use, but considering several cards have multiple location options, you're likely to find a clever back-up plan and work around it.


    Some card and location effects allow you to gain resources, draw extra cards, trash cards, and recruit troops. There's a spot where you can spend solari to gain a Mentat (extra temporary worker) for the round, and if you're able to pony up even more solari, you can grab your third agent.


    You can also gain devious intrigue cards from certain location effects in addition to other ways. The intrigue cards add a healthy dose of spice to otherwise familiar mechanisms and are one of my favorite elements of Dune: Imperium. There are plot, combat, and endgame intrigue cards that come into play at various points in the game, but the best part is that your opponents have no clue what type of card(s) you have and when and how it will impact them; it's so fun to keep everyone guessing. You might have a plot card that lets you spend a certain amount of spice to gain a victory point. If you reveal that at the right time, that one card could push you over the edge to win the game. On the other hand, you could have a beasty combat card that you reveal to push you ahead of your opponents during combat when someone else thought they were going to take it. The intrigue cards are mighty juicy...mighty juicy!

    Intrigue card examples
    When you place your agent on one of the four factions' board spaces, you gain the location and agent box card effects as usual, but you also gain an influence bump on the corresponding influence track. You gain a victory point when you hit the second space on each of the influence tracks, then if you're the first person to get to the fourth space on a given influence track, you gain the corresponding alliance token and get another victory point...but don't celebrate too fast.

    If one of your opponents ever moves past you on an influence track where you currently hold the alliance token, they steal it from you — which makes you lose a victory point while they gain one. Dun-Dun-Duuuun! In a game with such a tight victory point system, this can be a literal game changer and in some cases, could cost you the game, so watch out.

    You can manipulate faction influence quite a few different ways, and it adds an interesting layer to Dune: Imperium. Some players might focus on a single influence track and try to rush to the fourth space before everyone to snag an alliance token quickly, while others might try to just get to the second spot on all four tracks to lock in those 4 victory points. Some card effects are very powerful if you have an alliance token with a particular faction, and there's even a space on the board that you must have at least two influence with the Fremen in order to use. Gaining influence always seems pretty important, but how you approach it and how competitive it gets will vary from game to game and lend itself to exciting moments.

    While you're thinking about gaining influence, try not to slip too much on the combat front. This is another excellent way to gain resources, influence, and most importantly, victory points.

    Certain locations allow you to recruit troops from your supply to your garrison area, and also locations that will allow you to deploy troops from your garrison area into the conflict area. If a location has the combat icon in the bottom right corner, you can always deploy up to two troop cubes from your garrison to the conflict area. In addition, some locations with the combat icon allow you to recruit, and in those cases, you can move as many of the newly recruited troops from your supply directly to the conflict area, which is a great way to get more troops ready for combat. This can sometimes scare off your opponents, but if you deploy a ton of troops and your opponents decide not to deploy any, you're basically wasting troops that you could have saved in your garrison for future conflicts where they'd be better served. Figuring out when to deploy troops and how many troops to deploy is a tough decision.

    After you finish your agent turns, you'll take a reveal turn, revealing the remaining cards in your hand and gaining the effects shown in the reveal box (beneath the agent box). The revealed effects on cards vary, but many give you persuasion that you can immediately use to acquire new cards from the Imperium Row (card market). Persuasion will be familiar if you've played Clank! as it's just like spending skill to acquire new cards. When using the "Shifting Allegiances" card for a reveal turn, you gain 2 persuasion.

    During your reveal turn, you also set your combat strength for the round if you have at least one troop in the conflict area. Each troop cube has a strength of 2, and you'll add any additional strength for each sword on your revealed cards. Then you set your strength on the combat track and place all the cards you played and revealed into your discard pile. After all players have completed their reveal turns, let the battle begin!

    Combat

    At the start of the combat phase, you already know everyone's base combat strength as it's been marked on the combat track, but now players have a chance to play any number of combat intrigue cards to sneakily beef up their combat strength, so even though a player might be behind strength-wise at the start of combat, they could swoop ahead if they have combat cards that they choose to use. Once all players pass consecutively, you resolve combat. The player with the highest strength wins the first reward, second highest wins the second reward, etc.

    Conflict card exampleThe conflict card deck is tiered, so the rewards get juicier and juicier as the game progresses. I dig the variety of combat rewards, so you can decide for yourself each round how much (or little) a particular combat round is worth fighting for.

    Makers

    After combat is resolved, in the makers phase spice accumulates on certain board spaces if no one moved an agent there that round. This is similar to some other worker placement games like Agricola, where it entices players to move to those spaces in future rounds.

    I'm pretty sure there were multiple moments across my plays where The Great Flat piled up with bonus spice over several rounds, and you already get a base of three spice there, but it requires two water to even move there, so you're looking around at everyone's water situation, and no one has two water at the start of the round and you're feeling confident that you'll be able to swoop in to snag all that spice. You're considering turn order, looking at your hand, hoping no one else noticed the spice accumulation, and mapping out a plan to grab all that spice, but then out of nowhere, your opponent who goes before you plays a plot card which lets them gain water and they beat you to the spice mountain. Noooooooo! ...another reason I love that intrigue deck!

    Recall

    If the game end hasn't been triggered, you take all your agents back and rotate the first player market clockwise — but if a player has 10 or more victory points or the conflict deck is empty, you resolve any endgame intrigue cards, then whoever has the most victory points wins.

    I do wish there was a better system for determining turn order other than just rotating the first player marker clockwise, with player turns going in clockwise order. It's certainly simple and perhaps that was the intention since there's already a lot to think about in the game, but for worker placement games I tend to prefer more interesting decisions when it comes to determining turn order. Turn order is really important, as you read above in my Great Flat spice pile-up story, so I do wish the players had more control over it.

    I managed to play Dune: Imperium at all players counts and enjoyed them all, but if I had to pick, I preferred the two-player game the least. Solo and two-player games are played with AI opponents driven by a deck of cards with minimal rules that are easy to pick up, and therefore pretty smooth to play. There's also a handy app available that streamlines solo and two-player games, but regardless whether you use the deck or app, you'll be zipping along after a round or two with your subtly, intrusive AI rivals.

    My two-player game just lacked a bit of the tension I felt playing with three and four players — and even solo. In the solo game, you play against two AI opponents and they can score points in various ways, which made me feel the pressure I feel playing three- and four-player games. The two-player game, on the other hand, adds a single AI opponent that doesn't score victory points, so you're competing for victory points only against your human opponent, which was fine, but not as exciting to me. I liked it; I just didn't love it as much as the other player counts.


    Overall, I'm really digging Dune: Imperium. There aren't necessarily any ground-breaking, new mechanisms, but the way these familiar mechanisms are blended together is awesome and works well. I would say this is only a few clicks above the complexity level of Clank!, but it offers such a different and deeper strategic experience. No disrespect to Clank!, of course; I love me some Clank!, but Dune: Imperium feels more mature and sophisticated gameplaywise.

    Everything is tied in well thematically, so fans of Dune will feel right at home, yet don't need to know a single thing about Dune to dig into Dune: Imperium and feel fully immersed in the gameplay.

    I enjoyed the decision space of figuring out which cards to use for agent turns versus which cards to save for reveal turns, especially as you start incorporating fancier cards with juicier effects into your deck. Lots of cards synergize well together or with your level of influence with different factions, so it's fun to see what kind of card combos people pull off. I also like that you have a lot of different opportunities for drawing cards mid-round. That can open some exciting opportunities during agent turns or seriously boost your reveal turn.

    I've already touched on how much I love what the intrigue cards bring to the table, but I also really love the tight victory point system and having combat rewards to consider each round. Each and every victory point is important and meaningful, and everyone knows it, so it makes the game feel tense. It's great that there are several different ways to score victory points, too, so players can pursue different strategies for scoring and it feels equally competitive in a really fun way.

    There were multiple games in which I had a steady lead in the early game, then as newer players got the swing of it, their scoring discs crept closer and closer, gradually closing the gap, making me feel all sorts of anxious and stressed, but in the best way possible, all up until a climatic ending. There were many "Ohhhhhhh!" moments as we each tried to outwit each other with intrigue cards or by stealing alliance tokens. I love when a game sucks me in and makes me feel that way.

    Kudos to Paul Dennen and Dire Wolf for taking control of the spice, then packing it into Dune: Imperium! Read more »
  • VideoWiz-War, Dragonland, and Coconuts Return to the Table

    by W. Eric Martin

    • In October 2020, U.S. publisher Steve Jackson Games announced a new edition of Tom Jolly's classic beer-and-pretzels game Wiz-War, with this title — Wiz-War (9th Edition) for those keeping score — featuring art by Phil Foglio and additional development by Steve Jackson.

    SJG hasn't yet revealed how this edition will differ from others, instead noting that it plans to run a Kickstarter to fund this release and that it's doing all of the tooling with the manufacturer beforehand to ensure smoother fulfillment (barring all the usual complications for such things).

    An excerpt from SJG's announcement: "We'll tool everything as if all project stretch goals are unlocked, in the hope that there's enough interest in the game to allow us to produce the game as Steve envisions it. Part of our prep work with the factory has been planning out how the stretch goals impact the finished game; this will allow us to reverse steps if some of the stretch goals remain locked at the end of the campaign."

    • In September 2020, U.S. publisher Gamelyn Games joined the vast group of publishers with one Knizia title in their catalog thanks to a new edition of Dragonland, which initially appeared from Ravensburger in 2002. Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game for ages 9 and up:
    Adventure in Dragonland! The dragons store their treasure in the numerous volcanoes, but their treasure is in danger because the volcanoes will soon erupt! To save the treasure, the dragons have asked the dwarves, elves, humans, and magicians for help. Each group competes with the others to be the most successful at gathering treasure for the dragons.


    Using strategy and cunning in Dragonland, each player moves their group of companions from volcano to volcano to collect sets of dragon eggs and gemstones. Each player scores points for each gemstone and egg, but extra points for a complete set: egg, ruby, emerald, and sapphire. All their movements are under the control of the tower of destiny, which sometimes arranges for a companion to reach their destination a bit too late. When the last egg is collected, the game ends and the player with the most points wins.

    For this edition of Dragonland, some new features have been added, specifically a unicorn mechanism and token and a witch mechanism and token.

    • U.S. publisher Underdog Games has released a new edition of Walter Schneider's Coconuts with — get this — green coconuts. Yes, the brown coconuts of editions past have been replaced with something that won't have players snickering about monkeys flinging poo at one another.

    For those not familiar with the game, which originated from Korea Boardgames in 2013, in Coconuts you use a plastic monkey to launch coconuts into cups, which can be in the center of the table or on another player's tableau. When you land a coconut in a cup, you claim it, placing it on your tableau or on top of two cups you already have. If you build a six-cup pyramid, you win instantly; otherwise the game ends when all the coconuts have landed in cups, and whoever has the most coconuts in their cups wins.

    One change in this edition is that instead of having special ability cards that can be dealt out to players, once per game each player can choose one of four special actions. This change reduces the number of components, while also giving you control over exactly what you want to do when.

    If you want to see how this all works, you can watch this overview video that I recorded in 2014, with my then five-year-old son. I made some nice shots during this explanation! On the down side, I showed my wife this video while preparing this post so that she could go "Awwwwww" over our son, and she said, "Wow, you look so much younger here!" Divorce proceedings are now underway.

    Youtube Video Read more »
  • Getting The Crew Back Together, This Time for a Trip on Earth

    by W. Eric Martin

    German publisher KOSMOS has started to tease its early 2021 line-up, with the buzziest title likely to be Die Crew: Mission Tiefsee (Mission Deep Sea), a co-operative trick-taking game that's a standalone sequel to Thomas Sing's The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine, which won the 2020 Kennerspiel des Jahres and many other awards.

    Details are sketchy — these announcements being only teases for now — but here's what we know about this release, which like The Crew is for 3-5 players with special rules for two players:
    In Die Crew: Mission Tiefsee, you and the other players are on the trail of a great secret. Do your best to lead the entire team to the destination. With each card, you dive deeper and deeper into the darkness of the deep sea. Have you completed another mission? Let's go further!

    So, more of the same? If so, that would be fine by me as my time playing The Crew during BGG.CON 2019 was the highlight of the show. (Admittedly, I spent half my waking hours at BGG.CON 2019 playing The Crew, so I had little time for anything else.)

    Die Crew: Mission Tiefsee has a release date of March 1, 2021, based on listings on multiple retail sites.

    Other titles teased by KOSMOS, with approximate release dates listed, include:

    Raffi Raffzahn, a children's game from Gunter Baars about using a dragon to grab gems from a castle occupied by a wizard bear - 18 January 2021
    Adventure Games: Die Akte Gloom City ("The Gloom City Files") - 30 January 2021
    Jäger der Nacht, a new edition of Yasutaka Ikeda's Shadow Hunters, which KOSMOS first released in 2010; this new edition features new art and small changes to some cards, but otherwise identical gameplay - 8 March 2021


    Harry Potter: Verteidigung gegen die Dunklen Künste, which is a German edition of the two-player dueling and deck-building game Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle – Defence Against the Dark Arts - 8 March 2021
    Welcher Dino leuchtet da? ("Which Dino Shines Here?"), a children's game for which we have only a title - 8 March 2021
    Catan: Das Duell – Finstere & Goldene Zeiten ("Dark & Golden Times"), this being a collection of six theme sets to expand Rivals for Catan, allowing you to fend off barbarians, discover new islands, and more - 8 March 2021
    Die Geschichte vom kleinen Siebenschläfer, der nicht einschlafen konnte ("The Story of the Little Dormouse Who Couldn't Sleep"), a children's game by Heinz Meister - 8 March 2021
    Monster 12, which has no details other than being authored by Peter Wichmann, best known for NMBR 9 - 15 March 2021
    Ubongo! Brain Games, with this being a collection of solitaire placement puzzles by Grzegorz Rejchtman - 10 May 2021


    Das NEINhorn, a reveal-cards-and-say-the-right-things-quickly design based on the children's book by Marc-Uwe Kling - 10 May 2021
    EXIT: Das Spiel + Puzzle – Das dunkle Schloss, another jigsaw puzzle and game combination - 10 May 2021
    Harry Potter: Der Aufstieg der Todesser, a German edition of Harry Potter: Death Eaters Rising - 11 May 2021
    EXIT: Das Spiel – Die Entführung in Fortune City ("The Abduction in Fortune City") - 12 May 2021
    EXIT: Das Spiel – Das verfluchte Labyrinth ("The Cursed Labyrinth") - Q2 2021
    EXIT: Das Spiel - Adventskalender - 6 September 2021 Read more »

Begin typing your search above and press return to search. Press Esc to cancel.