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  • The Past Returns in Omega Virus: Prologue

    by W. Eric Martin

    U.S. publisher Restoration Games announced several upcoming releases during a press event in July 2021, but it had held back news of one additional forthcoming game, a game that will be preceded by a related but different, new design from Steve Aramini. Here's a quick take on Omega Virus: Prologue, a tiny two-player game due out in Q3 2021:
    Omega Virus: Prologue is a real-time, tableau-building card. Each player gets an identical deck featuring areas of the Battlesat as it is being ripped apart.

    Simultaneously, in real time, players reveal the top card of their deck and play it in front of them, creating a floor plan. Creating specific "rooms" allows a player to collect "keys", and these keys let a player play the "locked" cards from their deck into their floor plan. Each of these locked cards contains a piece of critical equipment. Locate all three pieces to win the round, earning points for being first and finishing round objectives. After three rounds, the player with the most points wins.

    In case the title of this game wasn't a giveaway, yes, Restoration Games will release a new version of Michael Gray's The Omega Virus from 1992, something that at least one BGGer had speculated on starting in mid-2018 following the publisher's trademark application for the name.

    Restoration Games will announce more details of this project at a future date, but ahead of that game's release, it's offering this design set in the same world of that earlier game.

    The original... Read more »
  • Control the Spice More Often, Trade Mysterious Artifacts, Rebuild Your Ancestral Village, and Survive on Plum Island

    by Candice Harris

    • In the past few months, Eric has mentioned a couple of exciting releases for Dune fans, including the upcoming co-operative, story-driven Portal Games release Dune: House of Secrets, as well as Rise of Ix, the first expansion for Dune: Imperium from Dire Wolf.

    And if you're not completely Duned out yet, there's more! Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy is a fast-paced, streamlined version of the classic Dune board game targeted for a September 2021 release from Gale Force Nine and the original Dune design team of Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge, and Peter Olotka, along with Greg Olotka, and Jack Reda.

    Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy is all about controlling the spice as you'd imagine, but this new version allows 2-4 players to get the flavor of the original Dune board game with some new surprises and a dramatically reduced playtime of 20-60 minutes. Here's a brief overview from the publisher of what you can expect gameplaywise:
    Take part in one of the most famous science-fiction stories of all time. Dune: A Game of Conquest and Diplomacy builds on forty years of development, refinement, and evolution from the original classic game. It has the same beloved DNA, flavor, tension, and themes, but with new game-board design, more spice, new streamlined rules, and a new market deck from which you can purchase game advantages. Also, the brand new two-player mode really opens up new gaming opportunities, all making the game more accessible for even the most casual gamer.

    In Dune, you will take control of one of the four great factions — House Atreides, House Harkonnen, the Fremen, and the Imperium — all vying to control the most valuable resource in the universe: melange, the mysterious spice found only at great cost on the planet Dune. Ship your forces to Dune, harvest spice, seize control of strongholds, and destroy your enemies. Who will control Dune? You decide!

    The game is played multiple phases, some of which don't have player-specific actions, such as the Spice phase, during which a Spice Blow card is drawn and spice is added to the board in two territories, or else a Sandworm attacks that last two territories where spice was placed. During the card phase, each player draws up to a hand of four Battle cards, then may purchase Market cards up to a hand of three for 2 spice each. On the Shipping and Movement Phase, players take turns adding forces to the board, then moving forces on the board.

    The game plays 3-5 rounds. Starting on round 3, the game can end if a player occupies three strongholds at the end of the round. If no one occupies three strongholds at the end of round 5, then the player with the most spice wins (and each stronghold they occupy counts as 5 spice).

    Mighty Boards will be launching a Kickstarter campaign on August 3, 2021 for Excavation Earth: It Belongs in a Museum, a new expansion from Dávid Turczi for the 2021 release Excavation Earth, which was designed by Turczi and Wai Yee, with Gordon Calleja.

    If you're not familiar with the game, Excavation Earth is a science fiction-themed, market manipulation, pick-up-and-deliver, hand-management game with some area control and set collection in which 1-4 players take on the roles of different alien races competing to earn the most space bucks from digging up artifacts, then trading and selling them. Excavation Earth plays in 30-120 minutes and features vibrant, unique artwork from Philipp Kruse.

    From the very brief description below from the publisher, it sounds like Excavation Earth: It Belongs in a Museum adds more variety and some new twists to the base game:
    It Belongs in a Museum, the second expansion for Excavation Earth, introduces two new alien races, mysterious artifacts, a deck of technology cards and a whole, new museum board. It Belongs in a Museum adds new ways of scoring that create new paths to playing and winning the game.

    Now or Never is a Q4 2021 release in the world of Arzium (Above and Below and Near and Far) from designer and artist Ryan Laukat and Red Raven Games, who brought us the ever-popular 2021 release, Sleeping Gods.

    In Now or Never, 1-4 players compete to rebuild their villages and guide the rest of the villagers on their journey home, while fending off strange monsters. In more detail from the publisher:
    Far to the south of The Last Ruin lies a cliffside village called The Monument. For generations, it protected an ancient shrine until the day a crystal meteorite descended. The meteor's denizens slowly crept out into the world — bizarre monstrosities from nightmare, attacking all in their path. As they spread across the land, there was no intelligent malice nor grand invasion strategy; the creatures acted like a fungus — spreading into new territory sporadically.

    After many fruitless attempts to expel the monsters, the people of The Monument fled as their village crumbled, exiled to distant lands, resigned to a nomadic existence.

    Twenty years later, there are rumors that the bizarre monsters are growing weak. They're slower, less impervious to attack, some undergoing a gradual petrification until they crumble to dust. Is it the atmosphere? Are they dying of old age? Do they suffer from a strange disease? No one is certain, but as the news spreads, various factions set their eyes on the vacant, ruined village of The Monument. The original villagers, now refugees, are desperate to return and rebuild. But they must do it quickly, before someone else claims their home. This is their chance. It's now or never.

    In this game, you and up to three friends compete to best rebuild your ancestral village and guide the rest of the villagers on their journey home. Although the creatures of the meteorite have lost much of their strength, many of them remain, and you must fight them off to protect traveling villagers. Now or Never is the third game in the Arzium storybook series that includes Above and Below and Near and Far.

    Now or Never is a competitive strategy game that allows you to:

    —Choose one of four asymmetrical characters to play.
    —Rebuild the village so that returning villagers have a place to live. You must carefully choose what and where to build to maintain an advantage, earning the biggest rewards for long-term planning.
    — Interact with other players by hiring their specialists to perform special actions.
    —Combat dangerous creatures to rescue villagers.
    —Explore a fantasy landscape filled with bizarre places, technology, and peoples.

    Now or Never includes two modes of play: standard and story. When playing in story mode, you read from a storybook when you explore, making choices and learning more about the characters and the world. Each character has their own set of stories, unique to the locations they explore and diverse in plot, perspective, and motive, allowing you to choose what direction your own story will take.

    Journey to The Monument and help rebuild your ancient home!

    The Plum Island Horror is a co-operative, survival game for 1-4 players from Dawn of the Zeds designer Hermann Luttmann and GMT Games. Currently available for P500 pre-order on GMT's web site, The Plum Island Horror plays in 120-150 minutes, and sounds like it'll be a fun, unique, and challenging experience based on the high-level game overview (way) below. That is, of course, if you're not too spooked and actually make it through the background story first:
    On October 24th of an unspecified year — which we are legally allowed to disclose as only "from the recent past" — "Super Storm Nancy” plowed into the East Coast of the United States. Thousands of miles of coastline were devastated, but for Plum Island, a large albeit vulnerable atoll smack dab in the middle of the storm’s path of destruction, it was a horrifying gray-green, apocalyptic nightmare.

    Plum Island is a sprawling isle off the Carolina coast and is home to the vibrant seaside town of Greenport. While the heart of the island's daily hustle and bustle lies in its commerce and tourism, the predominant employer and revenue generator for the island was housed in a huge complex of nondescript buildings located on the north end of the island. This mega-corporation was known locally as "The Pearl", or more precisely, the Plum Island Research Laboratory (P.I.R.L.). It was an enormous facility run by scientists who conducted government-sponsored biological research and experimentation. All legal and ethical practices of course — or so we were told.

    After the hurricane's catastrophic cascade of water and wind abated, the island was crippled. All power was lost, there was much structural damage throughout, and the path to the mainland via the Great South Bay suspension bridge was rendered impassable. Due to a perfect confluence of unpredictable factors, the lab's super-secret and highly experimental cylinders ruptured. The entire facility was inundated with a horrific lethal mixture of chemicals resulting in the deaths and disfigurement of hundreds of personnel who were taking shelter from the storm within the main containment facilities.

    But the true horror was yet to come — these "deaths" were only temporary incapacitations. The poor souls who succumbed to the toxins were somehow revived by the bizarre mixture of chemicals, returning to "life" as monstrously altered mutations. In retrospect, we refer to these reanimated creatures as "Horrors" because — well, honestly, what else could we possibly call them? The Horrors almost instantaneously evolved into vicious killing abominations that overwhelmed the survivors located in and near the main P.I.R.L. complex. After "The Pearl" was subsumed, there was only one place left to go to sate the voracious appetites of these re-born killers — a "human buffet" known as Greenport.

    P500 Cover Sample
    The Plum Island Horror is a 1-4 player game featuring co-operative play that combines tactical-level unit management with a tower-defense style survival mechanism. Each player controls one of six unique factions that represent the various groups that populate Plum Island. Each of these factions has its own strengths and weaknesses, and the system encourages you to optimize for the group's strengths and marginalize its weaknesses. Players must co-ordinate with one another, and the resulting synergy will hopefully be enough to successfully evacuate a city under siege and contain the horrific outbreak that threatens to spread beyond the island itself. If the players can succeed, they will win together, and the world will most likely be none the wiser to the averted crisis. If not, they will lose together and share the blame equally for failing humankind.
    Read more »
  • VideoUnboxing Catan: 3D Edition

    by W. Eric Martin

    In May 2021, publishers KOSMOS and Catan Studio announced a special 3D edition of Klaus Teuber's CATAN, and the world collectively rejoiced and said, "Finally, a game that we can play outside the confines of Flatland! I never thought I'd see a game with depth, but at last that day has come."

    Of course that day hasn't come yet as CATAN: 3D Edition isn't due out until August 2021, but that day is impending — unless you are reading this post after the game has been released, in which case yes, that day has come.

    Anyway, Catan Studio sent me an unsolicited copy of CATAN: 3D Edition, so I thought I'd throw it in front of the camera and share the look of the game with you, gentle reader, in case you were curious about it. I had intended to play it as well and take more than a single picture of the game, but family matters intervened, and that's just how life works sometimes.

    Should you be attending BGG.CON 2021 in November, you will have a better chance to check out this item as I plan to bring this game to Dallas and add it to the BGG Library for use during the convention. For now, this game is being used as a literal doorstop to keep my three cats from pushing open a door with a faulty latch and intruding upon a fourth cat that is housing with me temporarily. If nothing else, the game does make a fine doorstop because the box weighs nearly nine pounds!

    As for how it might look on your gaming table, well, there's this:

    Youtube Video Read more »
  • Hunt or Be Hunted in Cryptid: Urban Legends

    by W. Eric Martin

    Hal Duncan and Ruth Veevers' Cryptid from 2018 is a delightful deduction game in which each of the 3-5 players holds a piece of information as to where a legendary creature is located, and the challenge is to discover enough of the other players' info — without revealing too much of yours — to track down that creature first. (For more details on the game, you can read Veevers' designer diary or check out my written and video overview.)

    Now Duncan and Veevers have created Cryptid: Urban Legends, a two-player, asymmetric competitive game of deductive reasoning that publisher Osprey Games will release in April 2022. Here's an overview of the game:
    There's something hiding among us, a creature hitherto undiscovered prowling our very streets. If you track it down, well, that'd be the discovery of the century!

    Play as a determined scientist manipulating heat, movement, and sonic sensors to scan the city, identify your quarry's true location, and capture them — or take the role of a cryptid, snaking your way through shadows and back alleys of the metropolis that surrounds you, eliminating all evidence of your existence as you go, desperately avoiding capture. Emerging victorious in this high stakes cat-and-mouse chase, played out across a sprawling urban landscape, will require all your ingenuity and foresight.

    In the publisher's game announcement, the designers are quoted as follows:
    We've often described the game as a hidden movement game, but where the movement isn't actually hidden! While that might sound a like a joke, we actually arrived at the design by attempting to physically represent the possibility space of where the secret player could be in a hidden movement game. As the players engage in the game's core puzzle, they get to experience the highs and lows of seeing the cryptid's possible hiding locations grow and shrink. With both players manipulating a shared set of sensors, which can each move only once each round, they will have to balance choosing the right ones to move against managing their limited hand of cards. We hope that each round will give players an interesting new puzzle.

    The concept of shared sensors makes me think of Mr. Jack, a two-player cat-and-mouse design from Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc in which the killer and the investigator manipulate characters and street lamps to try to respectively keep as many suspects on the game board as possible or eliminate suspects before time runs out. That 2006 design is a classic, so I'm curious to learn more about Cryptid: Urban Legends... Read more »
  • VideoBask in Summertime, Become a Hero of Undermountain, and Solve Crimes in Detective Rummy

    by W. Eric Martin

    • Designers Omari Akil and Hamu Dennis run their own publishing studio, Board Game Brothas, but in addition to releasing their own titles, they also pitch designs to others, and in July 2021 U.S. publisher WizKids will release one of those designs — Summertime, a quick-playing card game based on the DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince song from 1991.

    Yes, thirty years old, but still popping! We'll get to the game in a sec, but first:

    Youtube Video
    As for the game, which is for 2-4 players and due out in July 2021, here's how it works:
    It's summertime, and DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince have invited you to hang with them at the hottest spots in Philly. You will cruise, groove, and unwind across town, trying to vibe with them to prove you're the coolest in the crew. Do you have the energy to keep up with everyone else who has their eyes on the crown?

    In the game, players have to outwit each other with a series of tricky decisions. First, reveal a "spot" card — something like a block party, car show, or family reunion — each with one of five different vibes. Players then pick an action card, an energy card, and potentially a boost card to play all at once. Actions can give you boosts and cancel your opponents'. Energy cards have a variety of values and give you boosts if they match the spot's vibe, but you can use each energy card only once!

    Once players have taken their actions, and energy has been counted, whoever has the most wins the spot! Spots are worth points on their own, but are worth extra points if they are collected as a set, or match a player's personal vibe.

    • Another July 2021 release from WizKids is Turbo Sleuth from newcomer Daniel Lee Yingjie, a 2-8 player game that from this description resembles a combination of Spot it! and a logic puzzle, with players trying to decipher who committed the murder with which weapon:
    A murder most foul has been committed! Old Miser McGreedy’s body hasn’t even been laid to rest, and the murder suspects are already seeking to divide up his fortune. Was it his wastrel of a son? The nervous maid? The shady business partner? Or the oddly nonchalent butler? Can you nab the culprit before time runs out?

    Turbo Sleuth is a puzzly speed-solving game in which players compete simultaneously to find the solution to the round's challenge. Choose one of five cases to solve, with dozens of possible solutions depending on which cards are drawn. Search quickly for the right clues, some of which might look right at first glance, but will lead you astray...

    Sample cards
    Only the first few players may attempt to solve the case, but rush to a hasty wrong judgment, and the murderer will up the ante for the next round!

    • In October 2021, WizKids will release a title from another pair of designers — Dungeons & Dragons: Dungeon Scrawlers – Heroes of Undermountain from Vangelis Bagiartakis and Konstantinos Karagiannis.

    This 2-4 player game is a real-time racing game in which you want to kill and collect as much as possible. In more detail:
    In Dungeon Scrawlers: Heroes of Undermountain, you and other adventurers are drawn together to delve into Undermountain, an immense underground of dungeons created by the Mad Mage, Halaster Blackcloak. Use your markers to trace your path, defeating monsters, casting spells, connecting artifact fragments, and collecting shiny treasure on the way! The round ends when one player defeats that dungeon's mighty boss, so you have only a few minutes to collect as much loot as possible. The player with the most points after exploring three dungeons wins!

    At the beginning of each game, players pick one of five characters, each with a thematic ability that helps them collect one type of points more easily as they draw their line through the maze. Normally monsters or treasure need to be entirely covered with marker to be collected, but rogues need only to touch treasure, while barbarians need only to fill in the monsters' heads to defeat them! While anyone can cast a spell by tracing an intricate pattern, a wizard needs only to draw a small circle!

    Dungeon Scrawlers contains ten unique mazes of increasing complexity, introducing new challenges as you go. These include portals, locked doors, multiple bosses, time limits, and more! With multiple paths through each maze, and over one hundred different three-maze combinations, you'll never have to stop scrawling!

    • We'll wrap this WizKids round-up with an introduction to a project that designer Mike Fitzgerald has been working on for years — years, I tell ya!

    Fitzgerald is the designer of the Mystery Rummy series of card games based on infamous characters and mysterious stories, games that feature rummy-style gameplay with twists related to the story. He's been working on a campaign game in this line for a long time, and WizKids has now announced a November 2021 release date for Detective Rummy, which is co-designed with Ralph H. Anderson. Here's an overview
    Detective Rummy is a rummy-style card game with a storytelling element revealed in a series of seven different cases. Players take the roles of detectives vying to solve the cases and gain fame.

    Non-final box graphics
    The story begins at the legendary Rummy Detective Agency, and each case takes you to various locations to solve a crime, including the diner with the best doughnuts in town, the cozy "Quarter to 3 Bar", a ritzy fashion emporium, the circus, the most elite jazz nightclub in town, and more.

    The cases in Detective Rummy can be played in two different ways: Campaign Mode and Case Mode. In Campaign Mode, you play all seven cases in order. In Case Mode, you can play cases 2 to 6 as standalone Detective Rummy games one at a time. Since new "Game Changer" cards are discovered in each case in different orders (if at all) each time you play, cases will never resolve the same way twice. You can play both the campaign mode or the individual cases as many times as you like.

    Non-final components Read more »
  • VideoGame Overview: Rocketmen, or Mars Ain't the Kind of Place to Raise Your Kids

    by W. Eric Martin

    Designer Martin Wallace has created several games that use a deck-bulding mechanism — that is, a system in which you start with a deck of cards and add more cards to the deck during the game to customize what you can do relative to other players — and those games have typically been embedded in an elaborate setting, whether real or fictional, with the deck-building being only part of the design. He's covered historical conflict in A Few Acres of Snow, Lovecraftian nightmares in A Study in Emerald, medieval fantasy in Mythotopia, and space opera in A Handful of Stars.

    Now in Rocketmen, a 1-4 player game from Polish publisher PHALANX, Wallace challenges you to participate in the space race that started in the mid-20th century and that continues today, albeit mostly in private ventures.

    You start with a deck of twelve mission cards, with the destinations for those missions being Earth orbit, the Moon, and Mars. Each mission details what you'll establish at the destination — a base, a hotel, an orbital station, etc. — along with the minimum number of engines you need to reach that destination and the reward you'll receive for doing this: rockets, money, research tools, and a larger hand size for cards. In addition, each card shows in the upper-left corner what the card provides to you when you play it: money, an engine, a computer chip, a flask, a DNA helix, and...nothing. Yes, one of the cards (the Base shown in the image below) is useless for resources, but it provides the most points for a Moon or Mars trip, so there's that.

    On a turn, you can buy cards from the six on display, placing them in your discard pile for use the next time you cycle through your deck, but that's standard to most deck-building games. The unique hook in Rocketmen is the concept of establishing your mission, building the resources for that mission, then launching the rocket to see whether you succeed.

    I removed extra cards with one of the deck trimmers
    In the image above, the Base is my mission. The cards to the left of my player board on my launch pad support that mission, with the Ion Drive providing four engines, and the other stuff providing tools for the specific destination or the launch itself. I have the flexibility to launch to the Moon or Mars — the two destinations shown on the card — and I need 10 engines before I can launch to the former and 15 before I can launch to the latter. If I lack those engines, I fail automatically. I also have one additional engine — as shown on the chit on my player board — thanks to an earlier completed mission.

    The cost to start a mission is $10, which can be paid for by the mission itself (should it bear the $10 resource) or a separate card. Each additional card placed in your launch pad costs $10, and you can't add cards until the mission is established. You can't just pile up resources without some idea of what you're trying to do!

    At the end of your turn, if you meet the engine threshold, you can attempt to launch. To do this, you count the number of icons in your launch pad that match your destination — computer chips for Earth orbit, flasks for the Moon, and helices for Mars — then advance the rocket token on the launch track this many spaces.

    You then shuffle the "mission success" deck, which consists of cards numbered 0-4, and you reveal — one by one — 3-5 cards depending on whether you're aiming for Earth orbit, the Moon, or Mars; after each revealed card, advance the rocket token on the launch track as many spaces as the number revealed. Cards in your launch area can modify or replace the cards revealed.

    If the rocket token reaches space #8 (for Earth), #10 (Moon), or #13 (Mars) by the time you reveal the final card, your mission succeeds! You remove the mission card from the game (thereby thinning your deck), discard all cards in the launch pad, then claim the reward for that mission. If you fail to reach the target space by the final card, then your mission failed and you must still discard all cards in the launch pad. After all, you launched the rocket and those resources are now gone, despite the mission still being in place.

    Sample engine card and asset cards from the top half of the deck
    That said, after each card you reveal, you can choose to abort the launch. Effectively, you can imagine the mission success cards as being evidence that you've planned correctly enough for the mission to succeed. If you reveal 2-3 cards, and they're low numbers (and you can't modify them) and you don't want to rely on the longshot of flipping the lone 4 in the deck, you can abort the launch, discarding cards from the launch pad equal to the number of cards revealed minus one — which means that if you have enough engines, you can always try to launch and flip the first card without penalty.

    Given all that, Rocketmen is an amalgam of deck-building, engine-building (via the bonuses you receive from successful missions), and press-your-luck mechanisms, and you're often driven in your choices — at least initially — by your two starting goal cards. These cards show one mission each in Earth orbit, on the Moon, and on Mars. At the end of the game, you choose one of these cards and score 1 point for goal completed, with bonus points if you completed enough of these goals before anyone else did.

    Sample goal cards and crisis card
    The first player to complete a mission scores 1 point more than anyone who comes afterward, and while a point here or there might not seem like much, the margin of victory in the four games that I've played on a review copy from PHALANX — two each with two and three players — have all been relatively tight. The first player to the Moon and to Mars pick up a 1 point bonus, and you can also "buy" crises cards in the market to solve them and earn 2 points for each at the cost of having them gum up your deck with their pointy uselessness.

    Although in theory you could try to go anywhere on your first mission, you would need to acquire a ton of cards before succeeding with any Mars mission, so you effectively need to complete a mission or two in Earth orbit before heading to more distant locations, a nice replication of what has happened in reality with the probably not accidental result of players often competing to be first on identical Earth orbit missions, which means taking more risks.

    Sample cards from the second half of the deck
    We worried that the $20 bonus for completing a space hotel mission — money that you can spend each turn to purchase cards or pay for mission supplies — was too powerful, akin to a money strategy in most deck-building games, but that hasn't proved to be the case in practice. Again, part of the game is figuring out when to take risks, and if you build engines on the launch pad, you can take more launch attempts, and the more often you do that, the more chances you have of things clicking into place — as long as you have some number of icons to start with, mind you.

    Or maybe not. In four games, no one tried to rely solely on the mission success deck to launch, and maybe we were overlooking that possibility to our detriment since it is possible to hit any of the targets solely with mission success cards. Hmm. I hadn't even considered that until writing this post, but that's possibly because I'm not one to swing wildly at long odds. That said, I won none of the four games I played, so perhaps I should get a clue and change my approach!

    To find out more about how to play, see more of the cards you can add to your deck, and experience a few turns of play, check out this overview video:

    Youtube Video Read more »
  • VideoReturn to Mankind's Past to Place Dominos, Place Polyominoes, and Flip Tokens on Six Continents

    by W. Eric Martin

    • Designer Klaus-Jürgen Wrede has visited prehistoric times previously in Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers, and now he's looking at the same period of time on a global scale in Fire & Stone, due out in October 2021 from Pegasus Spiele.

    Here's an overview of how to play this 2-4 player game:
    In Fire & Stone, players lead their tribe through the Stone Age. They scout new lands, harvest nuts and mushrooms, and finally build villages. The aim of the game is to have the most successful tribe by exploring new lands, building huts, and gathering resources. With the invention of new tools and techniques like ship building or pottery, the expansion of your tribe can even be accelerated.

    Each space the scouts can enter contains upside-down discover tokens. When a scout moves on one of those tokens for the first time, the token is revealed and triggers an effect. From now on these tokens can be used as a player action with a different effect. By the end of the game, the player who made the most victory points with villages and accomplishing tasks wins.

    • For another take on life in the Stone Age, we can turn to Prehistories, a polyomino-based game design with bidding and hand-management elements from Benoit Turpin (Welcome To...) and Alexandre Emerit that French publisher The Flying Games released in December 2020.

    Here's an overview of this 2-5 player design that plays in 30 minutes:
    You are the leader of a prehistoric tribe, deciding which members of your tribe go hunting and what prey they want to catch. To guide you, the Elders have created challenges that you can complete by painting on the wall of your cave.

    Each round in Prehistories, you and your fellow tribe leaders bid simultaneously (and secretly) to decide who hunts where. The more hunters you have, the bigger the game you can catch, but the slower you are. The fastest player — that is, the one with the smallest sum of hunters — goes first, but they have few hunters with which to hunt.

    To hunt, you assign your hunters to one or more locations to catch the prey waiting there. Prey is represented by polyomino tiles, and the larger the tile, the higher the sum required. If you have just enough hunters to catch your prey, they might be wounded in the process, which means you'll draw fewer hunter cards at the end of the round to refill your hand. (They distrust your leadership when you get them injured!)

    In the second phase of a round, you paint your cave with the animal tiles collected during the hunting phase. Your cave is represented by a 7x7 grid that starts with a few tiles already in place. The first tile you place goes in the left-hand column, and all subsequent tiles must touch tiles already placed, with all tiles being oriented so that the animals are viewed with their legs (or fins) down. (Cavemen have simple tastes and want everything to be representational.)

    Near game's end with three players
    When you fulfill the wishes of the Elders by painting your cave in certain ways — such as completing a horizontal line or connecting opposing corners or surrounding a legendary animal on all sides — you place one or more totem tokens on that challenge. Whoever first discards their eight totem tokens wins.

    • And we'll stay in the past a bit longer to take a peek at Kingdomino: Origins, a standalone game for 2-4 players from Bruno Cathala and Blue Orange Games that plays similarly to 2016's Spiel des Jahres-winning Kingdomino, but with twists:
    Go back in time to the prehistoric era with Kingdomino Origins, which introduces new components for additional actions and new ways to score points. Regions in your territory will earn you points if they contain fire. Fire is either part of your terrains or earned by adding dominoes with volcanoes. There are three game modes to play:

    —The first one introduces fire and volcanoes;
    —The second mode uses wooden resources;
    —And the third one features cavemen tokens.

    You earn points by collecting resources, with additional points when you have the majority of a type of resources. These resources allow you to bring cavemen to your territory, and each type of caveman has its own way to give you points based on their position.

    Cathala presented an overview of this title (on a still in-progress version of the game) in French in February 2021:

    Youtube Video Read more »
  • VideoLinks: Less Crowded Conventions, Popping Publicity, and Games in the Environment

    by W. Eric Martin

    • On July 5, 2021, Asmodee Deutschland noted that due to the "still uncertain health situation in 2021" and despite the increasing speed with which vaccinations are being delivered in Germany, Asmodee and its studios will not have a stand at SPIEL '21. Asmodee had earlier stated that it would not attend Gen Con 2021, and Paizo Publishing will not be at that show either.

    I've been compiling preview lists for Gen Con, Origins, and SPIEL — all visible here — and several publishers have responded to my outreach efforts to say that they don't plan to attend one show or another. Some have said they will exhibit in 2022 at the earliest.

    When people have given reasons for not appearing at the shows, they primarily focus on health concerns (understandably), stating that they don't want to ask others to endanger themselves by representing them at conventions. Several publishers have said that due to social distancing requirements, they will likely focus solely on sales and not have demo space — or they will have only stand-up café-style tables that allow for a demo in a tight area, but not a full playthrough.

    I can understand the stated health concerns, but I imagine that some publishers are taking advantage of the unique opportunity available in 2021 — a year in which you can roll over your booth fee to 2022 at Gen Con and SPIEL, despite the shows taking place — to determine how much value convention presence actually has. For many publishers, game sales in 2020 were mind-blowing, and for many titles, sales in 2021 have continued to surge faster than publishers can restock their warehouse. Given this condition, why not skip an event that costs thousands or tens of thousands of dollars/Euros to see whether sales roll along just fine anyway?

    Normally you couldn't bail on a Gen Con booth without losing your place on the floor in the subsequent year, but in 2021 you can, so now's the time to experiment. Meanwhile, those publishers that do plan to exhibit can push all of their 2020 titles that lacked convention time to see whether the extra exposure makes a difference compared to sales in the previous year.

    Players get to experiment as well to some degree, seeing whether they feel like they're missing out should they stay home — or perhaps realizing that they still have titles from the 2019 shows on their shelves that they've yet to play. We'll probably all have to wait until the 2022 conventions to see what, if anything, has "permanently" changed as a result...

    • Speaking of Asmodee Deutschland, in March 2021 the company started handling distribution of titles from French publisher Cocktail Games.

    • Canadian publisher FoxMind gets a callout in an April 2021 article in The Toy Book about the massive popularity of "fidget toys", with the company's Last Mouse Lost, a.k.a. Last One Lost, a.k.a. Go Pop! being hugely popular on TikTok.

    At NY Toy Fair 2020, FoxMind's JC Dorais had told me that sales of game/toy were blowing away everything else in its catalog — and that was before the Covid-19 pandemic had led to a further surge in sales.

    • In July 2021, The NY Times published an article by Ivan Nechepurenko and Misha Friedman titled "The Dark Side of Chess: Payoffs, Points and 12-Year-Old Grandmasters" that details the less-than-ideal situations in which two young players gained the title of "grandmaster".

    • While cleaning out my inbox, I ran across a few sales stats for 2020 that seemed worth sharing: German publisher Schmidt Spiele generated sales of €42.2 million in family and children's games in 2020, an increase of 37 percent over 2019. Puzzle sales for 2020 were €12.9 million, an increase of 66% over 2019.

    Austrian publisher Piatnik totaled €40 million in sales, a 41% increase over 2019, with Speedy Roll — the 2020 Kinderspiel des Jahres winner — selling nearly 200,000 copies and Smart10 — the 2020 Spiel der Spiele winner — selling 50,000+ copies. I'm always curious about how the BGG audience compares to game players in general, so let me note that BGG's Speedy Roll page lists only 380 owners, which is less than .2% of what sold in Germany and Austria alone.

    • In early July 2021, One Pip Wonder led a discussion on the environmental impacts of the board game industry to address comments on a June 2021 video on the same topic.

    Youtube Video
    She followed up this video with one explaining how to recycle a board game. Read more »
  • Relive the French and Indian War, Manage Armies in 11th-Century Spain, and Revisit NATO/Warsaw Pact Conflicts

    by Candice Harris

    Considering that voting is open through July 31, 2021 for the 2020 Charles S. Roberts Awards and that I'm buzzing from an awesome weekend during which I finally got the opportunity to play Triumph & Tragedy, Time of Crisis, and Europe Divided, wargames have been on my mind non-stop lately, so I feel compelled to share some exciting and interesting 2021 releases to check out ahead of next year's CSR Awards:

    Bayonets & Tomahawks is a new, unique, two-player card-driven wargame (without the usual hand-management element) from designer and artist Marc Rodrigue and publisher GMT Games. While it's primarily a two-player game, it can also be played solo or with teams with up to four players.

    Here's an overview from the publisher as to what you can expect for gameplay:
    Bayonets & Tomahawks is a two-player strategic game focusing on the French and Indian War that took place from 1755-1760. Its fluid yet rich system ensures fun for players of all levels. One player controls the British, and the other controls the French and most Indians. Indian diplomacy, raids, constructions, naval operations, sieges: nothing is left out in order to immerse players in the fascinating military asymmetries of the 18th-Century colonial frontier.

    A game of B&T can last one or more game years depending on the scenario chosen — up to the full conflict. Over eight action rounds in each game year, players move their pieces on land and sea, perform raids, build forts and roads, etc. Battles/sieges usually occur at the end of each action round. A game year also includes three logistics rounds: "Fleets arrive", "Colonials enlist", and "Winter quarters".

    B&T is card driven, but unlike in most card-assisted wargames player don't manage a hand of cards. Each player starts the year with one undisclosed reserve action card picked randomly. At the beginning of each action round, both players draw a new card. They must then choose one of their two cards to play for the current round. The other card becomes their reserve for the next round. At each action round, the French player also gets a random Indians action card.

    The action points (AP) on the cards in play determine how many stacks of pieces a player can activate during the current round. In addition the cards trigger events and determine initiative for the next action round. Movement is point to point. Pieces can also move via sea zones.

    Each side has particular assets they must make the most of in order to achieve victory: the British have overwhelming numbers, the French are more adept at wilderness fighting with the help of their numerous Indian allies. To win, a player must control enough enemy key spaces to reach the scenario's "invasion victory points" requirement by game end. In one-year scenarios, pieces removed permanently from play yield invasion VP as well. The French player can also win if they succeed in enough raids during the current year to reach the scenario's "raid victory points" requirement.

    By its nature, the game lends itself to solitaire play. Additionally, the rules allow the actions of each camp to be split, which means that up to two British players (British, Colonial) and three French players (French, Canadian, Indian) can relive the historic pains of shared command.

    • Even though Nevsky: Teutons and Rus in Collision 1240-1242, the first volume in Volko Ruhnke and GMT Games' Levy & Campaign Series, sits unplayed on my "shelf of opportunity", I can't help but be excited and curious about the upcoming second volume in the series, Almoravid: Reconquista and Riposte in Spain, 1085-1086, designed by COIN Series creator Volko Ruhnke.

    Following similar rules to Nevksy, in Almoravid Ruhnke challenges 1-2 players to manage logistics for their armies in 11th-century Spain as described below by the publisher:
    Almoravid] is a board wargame about a pair of tumultuous campaigns in the Spanish Reconquista: Leonese King Alfonso VI's advances against the 11th century's fractious Muslim Taifa states, and the resulting intervention by a fundamentalist African Muslim army seeking to roll the Christians back. It is the second volume in GMT Games' Levy & Campaign Series portraying medieval military operations.

    Players will raise and equip their armies and send them out to ravage or conquer disputed territory and defeat enemy forces. Service obligations and alliances will provide a panoply of lords and vassals to serve on campaign but only for limited periods. Players must keep an eye on the calendar and reward lords to keep them in the field.

    Every forty days, the sides will levy various lords and vassals and their forces, transport, and capabilities, backed by higher political authorities. Each lord is rated for fealty, lordship, service, and lays out his forces and assets on a mat. Wooden pieces represent units of knights, mounted sergeants, horse and foot units from North Africa, men-at-arms, light horse, militia, and serfs. Assets include counters for transport such as carts and mule trains; provender to feed the army; and coin to pay for longer service or loot captured by ravaging or conquering enemy regions.

    The players then plan and command a campaign for that forty days with the lords who have mustered. To represent the limits of communications on medieval operations, stacks of command cards commit players to activating lords in a sequence that may or may not meet the needs of the developing situation. Cylinder pieces on the map show the lords' maneuvers, while markers on a feudal calendar show how much longer the lords will serve, influenced by success or failure in their campaigns. When lords clash in field battle or storming a castle, players array their lords' mats left, right, center, and reserve and attempt to rout the enemy. Various event and capability cards reveal cultural and technological particulars that influence levy, campaign, and combat.

    Almoravid is solitaire friendly, or players can use optional screens to hide what the two players' lords levy.

    Compass Games recently released NATO, The Cold War Goes Hot, Designer Signature Edition, a souped-up reimplementation of Bruce S. Maxwell's 1983 hit NATO: The Next War in Europe from Victory Games.

    NATO, The Cold War Goes Hot plays with 1-4 players in 180-480 minutes and equally excites me and intimidates me based on what I've seen and read about it. It's great that it has different scenarios, especially the introductory scenario, so newbies like me can ease into trying it.

    Here's an overview that details what this new edition has to offer:
    NATO, The Cold War Goes Hot marks the return of a true wargaming classic by Bruce Maxwell. NATO simulates a potential NATO/Warsaw Pact conflict in Central Europe during the Cold War years of the 1980s. First published in 1983, this game was Victory Games' best-selling title, purchased by over 75,000 gamers worldwide.

    This new edition is based on an exhaustive two-year study by the designer of the records that have come to light since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The game combines highly accurate information on the forces the Warsaw Pact actually had with now de-classified reports from the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency regarding what satellite surveillance and HUMINT revealed about their actual plans. The map has also been extensively updated with new satellite geography. Finally, the game system has been reworked to better reflect the fluid, fast-paced, and deadly nature of modern warfare, while retaining the original intention of simple and intuitive play. Here is the ultimate Cold War game, remastered, and playable in a single sitting.

    NATO is a division/brigade level simulation of a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe. The game map depicts the area from Denmark to the Swiss Alps, and from France to Poland. The time frame covers the first fourteen days of war, after which one side or the other has usually run out of an army. The game offers four different scenarios, covering 1) a surprise attack from a standing start, 2) an attempt by the WP to quietly prepare without tipping NATO off beforehand, 3) an extended build-up of forces by both sides before war breaks out, and 4) an introductory scenario covering the invasion of Denmark.

    Each scenario can be played with an Order of Battle from 1983 when NATO was still relatively weak, or with an Order of Battle from 1988 when NATO had rearmed and reorganized and was at the peak of its strength. The difference is impressive.

    The game features infantry, armor, airborne and airmobile troops, and marines, with easy mechanisms to leverage combined arms operations. It also has extensive options for employing air power, chemical weapons and, for the truly desperate player, a last resort to nuclear weapons. The combat system is built around the concept that the best defense is a good offense, and features artillery, tactical and operational air strikes, reserves, counterattacks and deep exploitation, allowing for a rich set of tactical nuances in play. This is not a game in which the WP attacks and NATO defends. Both players have to attack relentlessly if they want to defeat their opponent.

    This Designer Signature edition of the classic Bruce Maxwell game has been upgraded with new units, new scenarios, new terrain, new tables and new player aid cards. Additional enhancements introduced in this edition include:

    • Super-sized components feature 9/16" counters and two game maps with larger hexes
    • Game map information has been updated and includes all-new map artwork
    • New units have been added, unit information has been updated and all units produced with new artwork
    • Existing scenarios have been updated and two new scenarios added
    • Orders of Battle are provided for all scenarios both 1983 and 1988, allowing players to see the impact of the Reagan Era rearmament programs
    • The game system has been redesigned and the new rules include extensive illustrations, examples of play and designer's notes to aid clarity
    • Each rules section now begins with a summary, allowing experienced players to skip many rules sections that embody classic game mechanisms they already know
    • Rules details and restriction have been summarized graphically in player aids for faster reference and easier play
    • Enhanced ergonomics are provided for scenario set up and reinforcement charts
    • A new set of designer's notes contain a wealth of historical information on what the West discovered after the Warsaw Pact collapsed and most of its members joined NATO.

    Hidden Strike: American Revolution is a new, card-driven, area-control game based on the American War of Independence from designers Maurice Suckling and Dorian Richard and publisher Worthington Publishing.

    The game plays in a variety of different modes with 1-5 players in 60-120 minutes as described below by the publisher:
    Hidden Strike: American Revolution recreates the struggle between the American colonists and the British forces during the War of Independence. Each side tries to win the war by controlling a majority of regions.

    Confronted by overwhelming forces, the colonists will need strategy to defeat the larger British army and navy to gain their independence. This is a card-driven game in which players manage their hand of cards, usually playing just one card a turn to allow them to move tokens representing military forces across the board into key spaces at key times.

    The game can be played in five different modes:
    --• Solitaire: For those brave enough to take on the British forces on their own this mode offers a regular and a hardcore option. This mode is a good starting point if you're trying to learn the game by yourself.
    --• Versus: A fierce head-to-head in which one player pitches the British forces against the other player's American troops.
    --• Co-op mode: In this co-operative mode all players share the same objective — take on the role of the American colonists to win Independence from the British.
    --• Traitor Mode: The inclusion of a secret traitor who will try to thwart the Americans' efforts adds a devious twist to the co-op mode.
    --• Mastermind: As one player assumes the role of George III, the Sons of Liberty will have to band together to overcome the British King's formidable forces.
    Read more »
  • Investigate Scandals, Create Works of Art, and Weave Victorious Patterns

    by W. Eric Martin

    Ettana: The Looms of Kanchi is the first design from Madhu Sundar and the first release from new publisher Mad4Fun Games in Switzerland and India. The game is available for purchase online (store link), but is not available in distribution yet as far as I know.

    Here's an overview of the game's setting and how to play:
    Indian handlooms date back several centuries. The tradition of weaving by hand formed a part of the country's cultural ethos. A piece of fabric with a design could indicate the meaning, its purpose, the culture of the era, and even the way the people lived. Handlooms thus became a precious part of the generational legacy and exemplify the richness and diversity of a country and the artistry of the weavers.

    Innovative weavers with their skillful blending of myths, faiths, symbols, and imagery provide the fabric an appealing dynamism. The appeal of the handloom lies in introducing innovative designs that cannot be easily replicated. This rich tradition of hand weaving still thrives at Kanchi, a prominent temple town in South India. Fabrics were part and parcel of trade done by the Indian weavers for which they got back "Annas" or goods in return.

    In Ettana: The Looms of Kanchi, players take the role of weavers to complete designs and be the first to make eight "Annas" (victory points). In detail, set up the 5x5 game board by placing one of 25 yarn discs (five of each in five colors) on each space, then place 16 of the 18 number tiles (three each of the numbers 1-6) at the intersections of the spaces on the game board; place the remaining two number tiles on the side in the reserve, along with one yarn disc of each color. Each player receives a random action card, a random design card, and two tokens with a value of 1. Each player places their pawn on one number tile.

    Claiming a design pattern
    On a turn, you roll the two dice: a color die and a number die. If a player's pawn is touching a space that shows the color rolled, they receive a 1 token; if the die shows black, which is not a yarn color, you take an action card and no one else gets anything. You can then move your pawn as many spaces as the number rolled, after which you can swap two yarn adjacent to your location. Additionally, you can play as many action cards as you wish, and you can pay tokens to take design cards, take action cards, and swap any two yarns. Action cards allow you to move, swap, gain tokens, replace a yarn or number with one from the reserve, etc.

    If the pattern of yarn on the board matches a design card in hand, you can reveal that card to score its points. As demonstrated in the image above, you don't have to match the precise colors — only the pattern; in this case, you need a line of three in one color, with two diagonal legs each in a separate color.

    • Spanish publisher Megacorpin Games debuted in 2016 with Awkward Guests, and in September 2021 it plans to Kickstart (preview link) another deduction game from designer Ron Gonzalo García that uses his "Brilliant Deck System".

    Here's an overview of the 1-6 player game ScandalOh!:
    ScandalOh! is a deduction game about investigative journalism in which each playing presents a different scenario, and players have to bring a scandal to light.

    —WHAT is the scandal plot?
    —WHICH celebrity is behind it?
    —WHICH newspaper will make it public?

    The game challenges you to use genuine investigative abilities to solve each case. To get the scoop, you have to keep an eye on the celebrities and their contacts, question the newspaper editors, search for clues anywhere in the city, and consult your sources. You do all of this while exchanging information with your opponents or hiding it from them, so get ready to use all your deductive skills!

    The heart of ScandalOh! is simple: Players have a hand of seven cards, and each card has a value (1 or 2 points, according to the amount of information that it provides) and several references (i.e., the subjects of the card information). During a turn, you ask for information about three different references in which you are interested. The rest of the players can offer you cards that contain the requested references, and you can trade for those cards by giving the offering players the same number of points they have offered via cards in your hand.

    After each round ends, players can try to uncover the scandal. If the actual scandal is not revealed, players discard part of their hands and receive three new cards. The player or players who uncover the scandal first win.

    • Taiwanese publisher Moaideas Game Design has a new design coming from DuGuWei, who designed the fetching, yet little seen game Yin Yang in 2019.

    Here's an overview of Jiangnan: Life of Gentry, which will be Kickstarted in October 2021:
    Jiangnan: Life of Gentry is a 1-4 player worker-placement and action tile bag-building board game about life in Ancient China where players are literati artisans searching for inspiration to compose and present great literary works at the capital city of Nankin; however, aristocracy is fickle. Will you follow the latest trends or start them?

    In the game, players are part of the elite gentry class living in "Jiangnan", the prosperous region to the south of the Qinhuai River. As part of your education for attending the Imperial Scholar-Official exams, you are highly skilled in literature, calligraphy, brush painting, and the musical and performing arts — but becoming a bureaucrat is not your cup of tea; you'd rather follow your passion and thrive to compose great works of arts, publishing everlasting classics to be sung and studied for a hundred thousand years.

    More images and game details are on the Moaideas website. Read more »

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