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  • 300: Earth & Water — Tense, Fun, Card-Driven Wargame Goodness for All

    by Candice Harris

    In April 2021, I posted an overview and my initial impressions of The Shores of Tripoli, a 1-2 player entry-level, card-driven wargame on the First Barbary War from designer Kevin Bertram and publisher Fort Circle Games. I recently had the pleasure of checking out 300: Earth & Water, yet another fun, light-weight, quick-playing card-driven wargame for two players. This time, instead of pirate naval battles in the early 19th century, we jump further back in time to 449 BCE for a taste of the Greco-Persian Wars.


    In 2018, a Japanese edition of 300: Greco-Persian Wars was released from designer Yasushi Nakaguro under his self-published brand Bonsai Games. In 2021, Nuts! Publishing, who kindly provided me a review copy, is releasing French and English editions opf the design with the updated title 300: Earth & Water, which is currently available for retail pre-order, targeted for release in May 2021. In addition, German and Italian editions are coming from publishers Schwerkraft-Verlag and Ergo Ludo Editions, respectively.

    In 300: Earth & Water, two players duke it out in a strategic, area-control battle in the Greco-Persian Wars, which lasted fifty years from the Ionian Revolt in 499 BCE to the Peace of Callias around 449 BCE. One player represents the Greeks (red) gathered around the Athenians, and the other controls the Persians, fighting for the hegemony of the eastern Mediterranean. Regardless of which side you play, your goal is to control more cities than your opponents.

    Set-up for 300: Earth & Water is quick and simple. You place a few wooden cubes (armies) and discs (fleets) on the game board for both the Persian (blue) and Greek (red) armies, shuffle the deck of 16 event cards, and place black markers on the campaign and score tracks and then you're ready to go.

    Game set-up
    The game board is a map showing Greece and a portion of Asia Minor at the time of the Greco-Persian Wars. On the map, you'll find cities connected by roads, with some cities having ports represented by a circle with wavy lines. Each city has amphorae icons to represent the number of armies you can feed if you control the city. The Greeks and the Persians each have two major cities: Athenai and Sparta for the Greeks, and Ephesos and Abydos for the Persians.

    During the fifty years of the Greco-Persian Wars, Persia launched three campaigns against Greece, but in 300: Earth & Water, the Persians can launch up to five campaigns during a game. The game ends if a player achieves an automatic victory or when five campaigns have been completed.

    Each campaign is split into four phases:

    ---(1) Preparation: Acquire cards, and deploy armies and fleets.
    ---(2) Operation: Play cards to trigger events, move, and battle each other.
    ---(3) Supply: Supply armies and discard down to your card carryover limit.
    ---(4) Scoring: Count the number of cities you control to determine which player scores for the campaign.

    Once the scoring phase is complete, the campaign ends and the next one begins unless you've finished the fifth (final) campaign.

    "Sudden Death of the Great King" cardDuring the Preparation phase, each player gets the opportunity to spend talents, the game's currency, to acquire cards, and deploy armies and fleets from their reserve onto the game board. The Persian player can spend up to 12 talents each campaign, or 10 talents if they have a card from the previous campaign in hand, whereas the Greek player has only 6 talents to spend each campaign, but can hold on to up to four cards from the previous campaign.

    Starting with the Persian player, first you choose how many cards you want to purchase, then draw your cards from the deck, and read the effects to see whether the campaign is terminated by the sudden death of the Persian King via the Persian event card "Sudden Death of the Great King". When this happens, the Persian player shuffles all the cards in their hand with the discard pile to form a new draw pile, then launches a new campaign.

    Assuming the Persian King doesn't unexpectedly die, the Persian player will continue their Preparation phase by purchasing and placing armies and fleets out on the map in areas they control. Cards and armies cost 1 talent each, but fleets cost 2 talents for the Persians The Persian player can also alternatively spend 6 talents to build the pontoon bridge across the Hellespont to connect the road between Abydos and Pella for improving their land movement options.

    The "Sudden Death of the Great King" card can be triggered by the Persian player only two times per game, using a cube on the game board to track this. First, Darius dies suddenly of illness, then Xerxes is assassinated. This event triggering adds an interesting element to the game as it can push the game along by reducing the number of campaigns you play. Sometimes it'll be exactly what you want if you're in the lead, but when you're not, it can be undesirable. Regardless, I found it to be very interesting as it added a bit of welcome suspense to the Preparation phase.

    After the Persian player finishes preparing, the Greek player follows in a similar fashion, first deciding how many cards they want to purchase, drawing cards, then purchasing and placing armies and fleets. Not only does the Greek player have fewer talents to spend each Preparation phase, but they also start the game with only 6 armies and 3 fleets in their reserve compared to the Persians having 20 armies and 5 fleets in their reserve. This can appear a tad daunting for the Greek player, but the Greeks have a better starting position on the map and are better at combat to balance things out.

    There are no limits to the number of armies players can place each Preparation phase, but both players can acquire only a max of six cards and two fleets per campaign. After the Greek player prepares, it's time to jump into the Operation phase.

    The Operation phase is where most of the action unfolds in 300: Earth & Water. Players alternate taking turns to move their armies and fleets, attack opponent armies and fleets, and capture enemy cities. Starting with the Persian player, you can either play a card to trigger the event, discard a card for movement, or you can pass. If you're out of cards, you have to pass. The Operation phase ends once both players pass successively.

    Each card has an event for the Greek player on the top, and an event for the Persian player on the bottom. When you play a card for an event, you simply follow the instructions on the card for your particular faction. Then you discard the card face up on the discard pile. Here are a few examples of the event cards:




    While there are only 16 cards in the deck, it is a shared deck and each game can play out very differently depending on which combination of cards each player has on a given campaign/round. When you're budgeting in the Preparation phase, you have to decide how many cards to buy versus spending talents to build up your forces on the board. As great as it is to have a lot of cards from which to choose, is it worth the sacrifice of having fewer units on the board, leaving yourself vulnerable to attacks and poorly positioned for capturing cities? Alternatively, there are advantages and disadvantages to placing a ton of armies on the board, and buying fewer cards considering you can't take any actions when you run out of cards. This is all to say that there can be a surprisingly, impressive amount of variation of gameplay with this slim 16-card deck since the number of cards you draw and play each round will not always be the same.

    If you don't want to or can't play an event on one of your cards, you can discard a card for land or naval movement. For land movement, choose a city occupied by your armies and move one or more of those armies along a road to a different city. You can move as far as you'd like, but your armies must stop when they enter a city that does not contain any armies (from either side) or when they enter a city occupied by an enemy army. If the city is occupied by an enemy army, you immediately engage in a land battle.

    The Persian forces coming to fight in the port of Athenai...Land battles are played over multiple rounds until there is a winner. First players roll dice, one per army up to a max of three dice no matter the number of armies. The winner of the round is the player who rolled the highest single die. A roll of 4 or higher counts as a 4 for the Persian player since the Persians' combat skills are inferior to the heavily-armed Greeks. However if the battle is in one of the Persian major cities (Ephesus or Abydos), any die roll of 5 or more is a 5 since the Persians fought better in Asia than elsewhere.

    Once you determine the winner of the round, the loser removes one army, returning it to their reserve where it can be deployed again during the next campaign. If the players tie, meaning their highest dice are the same, both players remove an army. At this point, if there are remaining armies from both sides, players have the option to retreat, starting with the attacker. If not, you start another round of battle until only one side's armies are present in the city.

    You can also discard a card to move fleets from one port to another, which can initiate naval combat in a similar way to land movement initiating land combat. When moving fleets, if your armies are in a port city, each fleet there can carry one army up to a maximum of three armies. If enemy fleets are in the destination port, naval combat ensues. Once naval combat is resolved (the same way as land combat), if the attacker wins and is transporting armies, the armies are placed in the corresponding city. If any enemy armies occupy the city, you immediately resolve land combat.

    Players alternate turns, playing cards as events, discarding cards to move and attack with armies and fleets, and passing. Once both players have passed consecutively, the Supply phase begins starting with the Persians. who discard any remaining cards, optionally holding onto one card to start the next campaign. If they do, they'll be limited to 10 talents to spend in the next campaign Preparation phase instead of the usual 12.

    Next you check for military attrition for the Persian armies by comparing the amount of amphorae (food) in the cities under Persian control (not including the major cities) to the number of Persian armies on the map. If the amount of armies exceeds the amount of amphorae, excess armies are removed. Each city on the map has 1-3 amphorae (food) icons.

    As the final step in the Supply phase, you check your lines of communication. Your armies must have a line of communication with one of your major cities. If a city containing your armies doesn't have a line of communication, those armies are removed unless its port has at least one of your fleets since it's considered to have maritime supply. After the Persians supply, the Greeks do the same, except they can hold up to four cards in hand to start the next campaign. After the Greeks supply, players proceed to the Scoring phase.

    In the Scoring phase, both players count the points from cities they control to determine their score the current campaign. Each controlled city gives you 1 point, or 2 points if it's a major city. Take the difference of both players' scores and advance the scoring marker that many spaces in favor of the side that scored the most points. If either side has lost control of both their major cities — meaning your opponent controls them — the game immediately ends. Otherwise, advance the campaign marker to start the next campaign.

    In the example below, the Greek player controls three cities, plus two major cities for a total of 7 points. The Persian player controls four cities, plus two major cities for a total of 8 points. Since the difference is 1 point in favor of the Persians, the score marker advances 1 space toward the Persian side.


    The game ends at the end of the fifth campaign — and the player with the scoring advantage wins — or if either player achieves an automatic victory by having control of both of their opponent's major cities during a scoring phase.

    300: Earth & Water surprised me quite a bit. It sounded cool when I read the high-level description of it, and considering I love CDGs, I suspected it would be right up my alley — but I wasn't expecting to have so many fun and tense "Ohhhhhh!" moments, and outbursts of laughter from enjoying it so much.

    It's light enough that you can teach it to just about anyone, gamers and non-gamers alike. Plus, it's fast and easy to set up and quick to play, with games lasting only about 30-45 minutes. It's one that's really great to play back-to-back games switching sides to mix it up. Don't let the lightness fool you though, there's plenty of strategic options packed in this relatively small box.

    Pontoon bridge connecting Abydos to PellaOff the bat, you have interesting, tough decisions to make when it comes to the Preparation phase. You have to commit to the number of cards you want to buy before you actually get to draw them and see what they do. Then you have to decide which units to place on the board and where to place them, all while trying not to show your opponent exactly what your intentions are — and if you're the Persian player, you have to decide if and when it's best to blow half your talent budget to build the pontoon bridge, which will lead to better land movement options and lines of communication to your major cities...but think of all the armies, fleets, and cards you could get if you hold off on building the bridge.

    With roads and ports, armies and fleets, there are tons of different ways you can approach trying to outwit your opponent and control cities when the Operation phase kicks off. Then you have you think about the different ways you can move your units around the board, plus having the Supply phase before Scoring gives you some options for trying to cut off your opponent's lines of communication so they have to remove armies before the Scoring phase.

    When I first cracked open the rulebook, I thought, wow, that's a lot of words for a light game that plays in 30-40 minutes, but when I finished reading it, I found it to be thorough and clear overall. I appreciate that they included explanations of each event card in the game so you can learn the historical context behind the mechanisms, which gives it a more thematic feel when you play. Also, the back of the rulebook has additional info on the Greco-Persian wars, a book recommendation for learning more about these wars, plus cooking and music recommendations as well. I'm pretty sure that's the first time I've seen cooking and music recommendations in a board game rulebook, but I thought it was awesome since I love thematic music when playing games, and connecting thematic food is an added bonus.

    The variety of events on the cards is great, too, and works well for keeping things interesting with only 16 cards. The leader events are juicy, but you have to sacrifice army cubes to play them, so there are interesting trade-offs to consider. Not to mention the fact that you'll usually want to play all the cards for the events, but if you do, you won't get as far positioning your units on the board, so it's often hard to choose between which cards to discard for movement versus which to use for the events.

    I liked the effects of the Twilight Struggle scoring system, pushing the marker in the campaign winner's direction based on the difference in the area control/city scoring. It feels more tense each round having the scoring marker move only one way versus a scoring system in which both players gain points for their controlled cities every round.


    Lastly, I enjoyed how 300: Earth & Water can be suspenseful at times. In one of my games, my friend Richard was ahead by 1 point as the Persians. During the Preparation phase of the fourth campaign, he opted to purchase and draw his maximum six cards to increase the odds of having the sudden death of a Persian King event trigger. He ended up drawing that event, so his entire hand was shuffled with the discard and draw piles to form a new draw pile. He kicked off the fifth campaign pulling the same stunt, drawing 6 cards. He got lucky and drew the "Sudden Death of the Great King" card again which immediately ended the campaign, and in that case, immediately ended the game with him winning! I won't go so easy on him next time.

    If you're looking for a fun, entry-level, card-driven wargame or are interested in the Greco-Persian Wars, I recommend checking out 300: Earth & Water, especially now that it's more widely available. I'm certainly looking forward to playing it more! Read more »
  • VideoAssemble the Right Collection of Gold and Paintings in Art Decko

    by W. Eric Martin

    At SPIEL '18, BGG recorded a preview video with designer Ta-Te Wu of his forthcoming game Promenade.

    Wu attempted to Kickstart the game in May 2019 (KS link) through his Sunrise Tornado Game Studio brand, but didn't reach the target, so he then relaunched the game (KS link) as a limited edition item that would essentially be made solely for backers instead of the market at large. Promenade received good ratings for those who were able to play it, but the game was unavailable to most who were interested in it.

    Now in a story reminiscent of the early 2000s, a larger publisher has picked up this limited edition item for wider release, with Rio Grande Games planning to publish the retitled game Art Decko in Q4 2021. While the original game featured only impressionistic paintings from Wu himself, the re-release features artwork in five styles, each created by a different artist:

    Lauren Brown — Art Nouveau
    Alex Eckman-Lawn — Surrealism
    Kwanchai Moriya — Impressionism
    Alison Parks — Renaissance
    Heather Vaughan — Pop Art

    As for the gameplay, the rules remain the same as in the original release of Promenade. Here's how it works:
    Art Decko is a light strategy game for 2 to 4 painting collectors in which you try to create a valuable deck of gold and painting cards over the course of play. These cards — gold and paintings — both count as currencies in the game, and you can use them to purchase more paintings, acquire more gold, and pay for exhibition space in a museum. Your long-term goal is to manipulate the market value of certain styles of artwork, while also earning points by placing paintings in the museum.

    Cover of the Rio Grande edition
    The game includes paintings from five styles of art, and you start with five random painting cards in your deck. Each art style starts with a value of 1 gold for a painting. You also have five starting gold cards in your deck, with the cards being worth 1 or 2 gold, with some cards having a special ability on them.

    To start the game, shuffle your deck, then take five cards in hand. Fill the four galleries with 2-3 random paintings each, then place two random 3-gold cards (each with a special power) in the bank, along with the deck of 5-gold cards. Paintings in galleries cost 1-8 gold, while gold cards cost 5 or 8 gold. On a turn, take two actions from these three choices, repeating an action, if desired:

    Haggle: Discard a card from your hand to draw two cards from your deck.
    Acquire: Pay the acquisition cost of a painting or gold card by discarding cards from your hand, then place that card in your discard pile. Increase the "market rating" of the painting's art style or gold by the value listed in the gallery/bank. As the market rating of an art style increases, each painting in that style is worth more gold, effectively increasing its buying power; that art style is also worth more points at game's end.
    Exhibit: Pay the exhibition cost for a gallery, then place a painting into that gallery that matches one of that gallery's invitation markers. (A gallery might want, for example, 2 Impressionistic paintings, 1 Renaissance painting, and 1 painting of any type.) Mark that painting with one of your ownership tokens, then place the related invitation marker on the highest available victory point (VP) space, scoring those points for yourself immediately. That painting is now removed from your deck.

    If you use the special ability on a gold card instead of its listed numerical value, remove that card from the game.

    More art from the cover of the rulebook
    At the end of your turn, discard any number of cards from your hand, then refill your hand to five cards. If a gallery has no paintings in it, refill all of the galleries with 2-3 paintings, then replace each empty gallery's cost token with the next highest one available. When at least twelve paintings are in the museum, the painting deck is empty, or an art style or gold reaches a market rating of 70, finish the round, then proceed to final scoring.

    The value of gold depends on its market rating, with its value ratio ranging from 6:1 to 1:1. Each painting in your deck is worth 1-7 VPs depending on the market rating of its art style. Each exhibition space in the museum also has a random bonus that was revealed at the start of play, and you can earn additional points through these bonuses. In the end, the player with most VPs wins.

    And in case you're curious, here is Wu's original explanation of the game from SPIEL '18:

    Youtube Video Read more »
  • Buckle, Turczi, and Mindclash Invite You to Prevent Voidfall in 2022

    by W. Eric Martin

    Hungarian publisher Mindclash Games aims large with its releases, both in the worlds that it creates and the games themselves, and it will continue that tradition with the 2022 release Voidfall from designers Nigel Buckle and Dávid Turczi.

    Here's an overview of the setting and gameplay, with Voidfall taking 1-3 hours to play, with Ian O'Toole providing the art and graphic design, and with the game hitting Kickstarter in 2021:
    For centuries, the Novarchs, descendants of the royal House of Novarchon, have ruled with an iron fist over the feudalistic galactic empire of humankind, the Domineum. During this time, they brought stunning technological innovation and scientific advancements to their domain. This accelerated progression helped the Domineum reach — and eventually inhabit — even the farthest segments of the known galaxy, where new Houses emerged to govern the outer sectors of the empire. As the House of Novarchon grew in power, so grew the religious cult that surrounded them, proclaiming grim prophecies about an ancient cosmic being from another dimension: the Voidborn.

    Many thought it to be only a myth, but in truth, it was the Voidborn's dark influence that granted the Novarchs the sheer knowledge to achieve rapid expansion for the empire. While the cult of the Novarchs envisaged eternal life through the otherworldly entity, the Voidborn's only intention was satiating its eternal hunger. And so, when the Domineum had achieved a vastness fitting the Voidborn's craving, interdimensional rifts opened at the heart of the Domineum to unleash cosmic corruption. As the House of Novarchon and its followers welcomed the Voidborn and sought their false salvation, the entity infected and spread and seized control over the inner worlds. Now, it is time for the remaining Great Houses to purge the galactic corruption, prevent the Voidborn from fully manifesting in our dimension, and to ultimately overcome the chaos as the new rulers of the Domineum.


    Voidfall is a space 4X game that brings the genre to Euro enthusiasts' tables. It combines the tension, player interaction, and deep empire customization of the 4X genre with the resource management, tight decisions, and minimum-luck gameplay of an economic Euro. Win by pushing back the Voidborn in the ''solo/coop mode'', or by overcoming your rivals' influence in restoring the Domineum in the ''competitive mode'' — both using the same rule set and game system. Variability is ensured not only by multiple playable houses with their own strengths and weaknesses, but also by many different map set-ups for all game modes.

    As the leader of a defiant Great House, you play through three cycles (rounds), each with a game-altering galactic event, a new scoring condition, and a set number of focus cards that can be played. Focus card decisions and sequencing is the centerpiece of the gameplay. By selecting two of their three impactful actions as you play them, you develop and improve techs; advance on your three house-specific civilization tracks; manage your sectors' infrastructure, population, and production; and conquer new sectors with up to five different types of space fleets. Space battles are fought either against the Voidborn's infected forces (which are present as neutral opponents even in the competitive mode) or against other players. Instead of relying on the luck of a die roll, battles in Voidfall are fully deterministic and reward careful preparation and outsmarting your opponents.
    Read more »
  • Designer Diary: Mission ISS

    by Michael Luu

    At the beginning of 2017, Campagames in Hamburg, Germany — a publisher that specializes in the development of space-themed products — contacted me to ask whether I would like to work on a game for the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, or DLR).

    The German astronaut Alexander Gerst would be part of the International Space Station (ISS) expedition called "Horizons" that would run from June to December 2018. To coincide with this expedition, the DLR planned to release a game that would not only remind people of this special event, but also provide the public a better understanding of the work between the control station and the astronauts on the ISS. Campagames was assigned for the development and implementation of this project.

    Without hesitation, I immediately expressed my interest. The subject of space travel and the project background aroused my enthusiasm. In addition, I wanted to collect new experiences by developing a game under the terms of a contract work. After all, I would have certain requirements to fulfill with this design: The game should reflect the tasks of the control center, as well as the guidance and the support of the astronauts. Timelines and time management should also play a role in the game.


    Campagames allowed me a lot of freedom during the creation process. Sabine and Joachim of Campagames and I worked as team, meeting regularly in a bistro in Hamburg. In the beginning, we exchanged our first ideas, put them on paper, then discarded them all afterwards.

    It became clear that the game should refer to the history of the ISS, which would be the most suitable theme to capture in a game. Based on that, the construction and completion of the ISS — ideally done in a playful and entertaining way — turned out to be the focal objective of the game. Since the construction of the ISS was possible only through the close co-operation of many nations, it was obvious for us to design a co-operative game. The players should complete the construction of the ISS, maintain it, and deal with the hostile environment of space as one team rather than playing against each other.


    Based on these approaches, I tinkered with the first prototypes, playtested them, and evaluated the gaming experience. However, the game ideas did not meet our high expectations. This was mainly because of the still missing "engine" of the game. The game needed a mechanism that would define the sequence and moves, drive the game forward, and (at the same time) generate fun.

    After several discarded approaches, I decided to consult my "box of ideas" in my hobby basement, where I designed and collected many different game mechanisms. One of those was that the active player always has to combine their own card with that of other players during their turn. This idea of card combination has become the main mechanism of the game Mission ISS. The "engine" was found!


    Afterwards, the project proceeded much faster. Campagames provided graphics and scientific texts for all aspects of space travel and of the ISS, and I integrated them into the game. The prototype slowly shaped up to the final version.

    It was always important for us to develop a game that was based on reality, one in which the players could learn a lot about the ISS and experience the interaction between the control center and the astronauts. At a later stage of the project, we recognized the necessity of bringing the game to a more complex level to enable (as much as possible) a realistic gaming experience. Based on the complexity, the game is recommended for players age 12 and up.


    After a number of prototype versions, we started to test with outside players. Later, we were confronted with an apparently unsolvable task of how to realize a game component that we were very fond of: the production of the base elements each equipped with three dials on which the astronauts stand today. These dials represent the "ability" of the astronauts, so the higher the setting, the better the ability of the astronauts to complete the tasks on the ISS. Campagames consulted different manufacturers for the production. However, the challenge about the production costs was not yet solved.


    At a later time of the project, a fortunate coincidence happened. Campagames got in contact with Georg Wild, a well-known editor in the board game industry, and hired him as the rule writer.

    At that time, Georg Wild had just switched to publisher Schmidt Spiele as product manager. He was very convinced by the concept of the ISS game, so he presented it to the Berlin publisher himself. As a result, Campagames licensed the game idea to Schmidt Spiele, which then took care of the final production and at the same time solved the "base element problem" thanks to its many years of experience in the production of game components.



    Just as sixteen countries were involved in the construction of the ISS, the development of the game Mission ISS is also a product of good co-operation between many participants and, ultimately, two publishers. The engagement and expertise have resulted in a wonderful game that invites players to explore the world of space travel.

    Unfortunately the game didn't make it to the ISS with Alexander Gerst due to the time required for design and production, but a trip by Matthias Maurer, another German astronaut, is planned for the second half of 2021.

    I would like to thank Campagames, Schmidt Spiele, and all other participants for the great teamwork during the entire project and, above all, for the publishers' confidence in my abilities as a "rookie" game designer. This has been an exciting experience for me. I appreciate it very much and will always fondly remember it.

    Michael Luu

    Read more »
  • VideoGame Preview: Witchstone, or Experience the Magical Transformation of Two Designers into a Third

    by W. Eric Martin

    At the end of March 2021, I posted a round-up of new games from designer Reiner Knizia that included Witchstone, a title from German publisher HUCH! with co-design by Martino Chiacchiera, making this one of only two Knizia co-designs that I know.

    I've now played the game three times on a review copy from U.S. licensee R&R Games, and I've updated the basic description of the game, which I'll repeat here:
    Each player in the game has a personal cauldron that bears seven crystals and six pre-printed magic icons, and they share a larger game board that features a crystal ball that shows the entire landscape. Each player has a set of fifteen domino tiles, with each half of the domino being a hexagon; each domino depicts two different magic icons from the six used in the game.

    On a turn, you place one of the five face-up dominos in your reserve onto your cauldron, then you take the action associated with each icon depicted on that domino; if the icon is adjacent to other dominos showing the same icon (or the matching pre-printed icon), then you can take that action as many times as the number of icons in that cluster. You must complete the first type of action completely before taking the second action. With these actions, you can:

    • Use energy to connect your starting tower to other locations on the game board, scoring 1, 3 or 6 points depending on the length of the connection.
    • Place witches next to your starting tower on the game board or move them across your energy network to other locations. As you do this, you gain points and possibly additional actions to use the same turn.
    • Move your token around a pentagram to collect points and to acquire bonus hex tiles; you can use these tiles immediately for actions or place them in your cauldron to make future tile placement more valuable.

    Pack those tiles tight
    • Move the crystals in your cauldron, whether to make room for future tile placement or to gain bonus actions by ejecting the crystal completely.
    • Advance on a magic wand to gain points and take additional actions, with the actions being doubled should you currently be the most advanced player on the wand.
    • Claim scroll cards that boost future actions or earn you bonus points at game's end depending on how well you've completed the prophecy depicted.

    After each player has completed eleven turns — which could equal 40-60 actions depending on how well you've used your cauldron — the game ends and players tally their points from prophecies and other collected scoring markers to see who has the highest score.

    If you saw my earlier post, you might have noticed that I left off the start of the description that gives a thematic setting because in practice the thematic setting is pure window dressing. The game "world" is purely one of placing tiles on a personal game board so that you can then take actions on a larger shared board, with the images of witches, wands, pentagrams, and so forth being no more than decorative.

    I'm fine with such absences, though, because Witchstone delivers what I am looking for in games: challenging choices that bring you into conflict with other players. The conflict, in this case, involves competition for energy paths, for bonus actions, for point tiles, for other bonus actions, for prophecy scrolls, and for still more bonus actions.


    Witchstone feels very much like a Stefan Feld design, specifically 2020's Bonfire (which I covered in October 2020) because that game also has you placing tiles in a personal space — ideally generating multiple actions with each placement — so that you can then do stuff on a larger shared board and compete for tiles, cards, bonuses, and so on.

    Given the publication dates of these titles, clearly Witchstone and Bonfire were designed independently, but the similarities are surprising. What differs about the games is that in Bonfire you collect target tiles and you must go through a lot of steps to score those tiles — assembling a path, opening gates, moving the guardians, and actually doing what's required on the targets — typically in a game-ending push of actions whereas in Witchstone you pick up points here, there, and everywhere, with the scrolls scoring automatically at the end of play and with the game being more about trying to multiply actions like rabbits in a magic act.

    Setting up my final four tile placements — unless I draw something better
    My games of Witchstone have been with three and four players, and as is often the case with such designs, players generally did far better in their second and third games compared to their first. You have a sense for how the cauldron tiles might better fit together to generate more actions and which actions you want to take before which other actions and whether an opponent can do the thing that you want to do before you can so that you can build a back-up plan. In the first game, you do stuff to see what happens; from the second game on, you do stuff because you know what will happen.

    More thoughts on the game in this overview video:

    Youtube Video Read more »
  • Donate to India Covid Relief for a Chance to Win Games

    by W. Eric Martin

    Beneeta Kaur livestreams game demos and playthroughs on Twitch, and on Sunday, May 2, 2021, she's running a charity event to raise funds for COVID-19 relief for India. Here's a reposting of info from her initial posting on BGG:
    For the past month or so, my co-host, AnnaMaria [Jackson-Phelps], and I have been going through the BGG Top 100 and discussing them. It's been a lot of fun whilst often fostering serious discussions. This Sunday, we will also be raising money to benefit India's Covid situation. For those unaware, the situation in India is dire and there is a lack of oxygen and hospital beds.

    The board game community has come together and I am excited to announce that over 50 companies have pledged a free board game or accessory. Any donation over $3 will be entered into the giveaway. Any donation over $25 will be entered into the big ticket item giveaways (ie. Tidal Blades Deluxe, Too Many Bones, etc). If you donate $35, AnnaMaria will send you an original watercolor piece of art, and those over 100$ have the option of appearing in a future stream with us to play a game. Please join us for a lively discussion and to help raise funds and awareness for this important cause

    The stream will be on Sunday, May 2nd at 7pm ET, 4pm PT, and 11pm GMT. Join us here.



    And here's a more detailed list of companies and individuals who have donated items for this event:

    Read more »
  • Interview: Richard Garfield, Designer of Magic: The Gathering and King of Tokyo

    by Neil Bunker

    Editor's note: This interview was first published on Diagonal Move in March 2021. —WEM

    Richard Garfield, designer of Magic: The Gathering, King of Tokyo, KeyForge, and many more joins Neil Bunker of Diagonal Move to discuss his remarkable career in game design.

    DM: Thank you for joining us today, Richard. What inspired you to become a games designer?

    RG: I find games fascinating and full of possibilities — like an exciting and largely unexplored land. It helped me understand the world and other people in a way that nothing else did. When I first got into games, I was amazed how little there was known about them relative to, say, books or movies or music.

    The key moment for me was learning Dungeons & Dragons. That game broke all the rules for game design that I knew and thrust both the game master and players into the role of game designer to some extent. I figured if something so incredible existed that I had never heard of before, surely games were filled with many treasures to be discovered or created.


    DM: You are probably most well-known for Magic: The Gathering, which has been a phenomenal success. Can you tell us the story of how Magic came to be, and at what point did you realize just how popular Magic was?

    RG: Magic came about because I couldn't find a publisher for RoboRally. When I showed it to Peter Adkison, the head of Wizards of the Coast, he said he would publish it but needed something cheaper and fast-playing first to get started.

    Soon after that, I had one of my few "flashes of inspiration" moments — most of my design is slow, intuitive, and experimental. I realized not all players had to have the same deck. I was swept up in all the possibilities for game play that had — and wary of the many problems it posed. It is sobering to think back to that time and remember — that amid the excitement — I told Peter that it might not be possible to make such a game. After all, Scrabble where you choose your pool of letters or Poker where you choose your deck are not necessarily good games, let alone better games. They are likely at best interesting puzzles. It was a matter of several weeks before I had a prototype that looked like today's Magic; it was built upon the framework of one of my many designs that I had enjoyed playing with, but didn't think was finished yet.

    Looking back, it is easy to see that for years I had been fascinated by games where many elements of the game allowed the player to "break the rules". This interest first got kindled with Cosmic Encounter — and the spirit carried through many of my designs and was fully a part of Magic. My ideal was a game that was simple, but endless complexity was introduced through different cards. Anyone who sees the early magic rules knows I fell short of the "simple" goal, though probably not as far as it looks. 99% of Magic could be learned easily — and players could learn that fast and play a long time based on it. The remaining 1% was a nasty mess though.

    There was no particular point that I realized how popular Magic was. I was perpetually surprised during the first few years, and honestly its impact on game design still surprises me from time to time. I knew Magic was a special game — the playtesters' passion was a testament to that — but I also knew many of my favorite games were not "smash hits", so I didn't think that meant Magic was destined for big things.


    DM: Magic was followed by other well-known card game systems: Netrunner and KeyForge to name just two. How did you approach those designs? Was there pressure to repackage Magic, or were you free to experiment and take the designs into new directions?

    RG: Usually I have been free to experiment with my designs, and that is what really keeps me interested. My first and second post-Magic trading card games (TCGs) were Vampire: The Eternal Struggle and Netrunner. With those, I was trying to figure out what mechanics worked well in this new kind of game. I learned many things about TCG design back then; for example, prior to V:TES I used standards that I had developed in board and card games, so I thought nothing about having a trading card game that ran for two hours with four or five people. After V:TES, I realized that so much of a TCG's value is in replay, possibly with a new deck or different tweaks to the old deck, that making the game short enough to allow for replay was a really good thing. Fans of V:TES either liked it as a TCG despite its length, or often liked it as a boardgame experience more than a TCG experience.

    With Netrunner, I tried a lot of new things and I ended up with a game that I was really pleased with — but also learned some hard lessons. While Netrunner was in some objective sense simpler than Magic, the fact that everyone by that time knew Magic meant it was in fact much more difficult to learn than a game that was more like Magic would have been. I realized then that novelty in design comes with a cost, and as a designer it was my responsibility to make sure that novelty carried with it a payoff that was worth it for the player. For this reason BattleTech — my third TCG — was intentionally designed to be close enough to Magic to allow players to learn it easily, while being different in enough ways to make it interesting to them.

    Fast forward twenty years and we get to the design of KeyForge — which was a game concept I wanted to explore for a long time, but couldn't because printing technology wasn't up to the challenge (or at least it would have been prohibitively expensive). With KeyForge I was trying to get the variety and uniqueness back into the game form which is diminished, if not destroyed, by players playing constructed decks with access to all the cards they need. For years I have been dissatisfied with that point in trading card games where one finds themselves removing cards they like from their deck because they just don't pull their weight. My preference is to play decks that are not honed to a razor's edge, but to play decks with more variety. In the TCG culture this is simply playing bad decks — and a player who does so is viewed as casual at best, and probably a bad player. But these decks, they can be very challenging to play and there is a great deal of skill to playing them well. I don't want to play casually — I want to play seriously with interesting decks. That is what KeyForge is about.


    DM: In addition to creating your own "worlds", you've also designed within existing IPs — Star Wars and BattleTech, for example. Can you describe how the design and publication process differs for these compared with your other games?

    RG: Yes, I have done a number of licensed games, and the experience varies widely with how appropriate the license is for the game and how flexible the licensor is so that the best compromises between good play and best reflection of the world can be made. Working with a supportive licensor can be marvelous; it was that way with Star Wars, for example. Working with the other kind is soul killing.

    I quite enjoy the exercise of figuring out the best way to frame a game within an existing world. There is a special pleasure to be found with a world elegantly reflected in an appropriate game. However, I will always lean toward making my own world since I know that I can do whatever I think is best for the game in that case.

    DM: From a design point of view, how does iterating within a Living/Collectible System differ from designing expansions? Are there specific challenges that need to be overcome?

    RG: Designing massively modular game expansions and expansions for a board game each carry their own challenges. In some ways, the massively modular games are easier to expand because that is what they are designed to do. Expanding a board game often involves challenges associated with adding complexity without a good enough value to the player, or the expansions undermine appeals the unexpanded game had. There are many times I have played board games and liked the base game — but then played expansions of it and for all the added variety the aggregate experience was worse, sometimes much worse.

    A particular example from my own work is King of Tokyo. The success of the base game lead us to think about an expansion — but the challenge soon became clear. The easy expansion of "just adding cards" is not satisfying because cards are only a part of the game experience; some players play an entire game without getting any cards. Just adding cards impacts only some players, and the more cards added the less they each mean to the overall game.

    So then let's explore another common request: monsters get unique powers. On the surface, this is an easy and obvious thing to add — but it turns out to be quite difficult to add without making the game worse. To see this you must understand that the basic game is a dice game with three principle strategies: attack, get VP, or get cards. A more casual player might pick a strategy and run with it, but a player who plays well will be adapting their decisions to the circumstances and the dice rolls they get. Being a dice game, either approach can win — but the "serious" player will win more often, a characteristic I really like in games.

    Now if powers are added in a straightforward way and a monster gets, say, an advantage in attacking, suddenly the "pick a strategy and run with it" approach becomes stronger, and the player doesn't even have agency in that strategy since it is defined by their monster. The simple solution will be satisfying for a certain audience of very casual players, but many players will have the feeling that the expansion isn't as fun — even if they can't always put their finger on why.


    Expanding a massively modular game is far easier in this regard – there are usually many different mechanics to explore, and even when there are limited mechanics, there are essentially infinite environments of mechanical combinations.

    The challenges facing expansion of these games, however, in their own way can be quite difficult. As an example, let's talk about game balance. The stakes are generally much higher in balance, and the massively modular nature of the games usually make that balance much harder to gauge. To see why the stakes are higher, you have to understand the promise these games make to the player is endless variety and personal customization. A card that is too good must be in every player's deck, which makes both those promises less maintained. A card that is too bad shouldn't be in any player's deck, which does the opposite — which isn't quite as bad but still undermines the game's promise. Some degree of that is okay, but the more the expansion strays, the worse the overall experience becomes. And the more cards there are in the environment, the harder it is to manage that without making the game changes very conservative.

    There are many reasons this is often not as big a problem in board games. Some of that is cultural; boardgame players typically have an easier time getting their group to not play an expansion they don't like — or even just play part of the expansion, or they modify it to their taste. The massively modular games tend to have massively modular playgroups — which makes that much more difficult.

    Another reason is that often the imbalance in a game impacts all players equally, so going back to King of Tokyo, a card can absolutely be too powerful, but the system is much more forgiving since all players have access to it. A card that costs 0 and makes you win the game would ruin the play experience since the players' strategy would almost certainly be simply to collect energy and use it to sweep the board until they draw the game-winning card. However, a card that costs, say, 5 and was twice as good as another card of that cost? It would make collecting energy more appealing certainly, but is unlikely to break the game in the same way. That is a really large range of "error" one can get away with, especially if as a designer you aim for about 25% difference in power being acceptable rather than 100%. But in a game where players choose their own cards? This would be a "must have" card and make the play experience noticeably worse since every player would feel they have to have it.


    DM: You have also designed some hugely popular board games. Most well known is probably King of Tokyo. Can you tell us the story behind this game, and why you think it has been an enduring success?

    RG: King of Tokyo came out of a thought exercise around Yahtzee. A friend of mine was doing some serious analysis of Yahtzee at the time, so I was reflecting on how strong a design it was in that fashion that I really like: excellent play gives you better chances, but casual play can win. I wondered that if I were to try to design a game with the same principles, but interactive: what might it look like?

    Interactivity in games can be tricky; done carelessly, it can involve a lot of "take that" political decisions which I am not fond of. I don't mind directly affecting another player, but I don't want to be in the position of choosing which player to affect, at least not often. The usual way to solve this issue is to make the interaction indirect, which, of course, can make an excellent game — but often one that feels "passive aggressive" rather than directly interactive.

    My solution here was to make a "king of the hill" structure to the game. Being on the hill was rewarded, but carried with it risk in that you were the target. This made players in some sense in control of how much damage they were subject to and had a feeling of "low politics, direct interaction" that I often like in games.

    Later came the flavor of "the hill" being Tokyo and monsters. I often design my mechanics first with some fairly generic theme, then completely redesign once I settle on what the theme should be. Once the theme has been picked, if you fail this redesign, it will feel much less integrated into the game play. For the record, I do design in the other way as well — where I have the theme first and build a game to that theme.

    My own guess as to the enduring popularity of the game is a combination of the direct, yet low politics interaction — which is really pretty rare in games — and the cartoony and playful theme which IELLO managed to create around the concept.


    DM: Staying with your board game designs: King of Tokyo sees players fight giant monsters, in RoboRally they control robots while Bunny Kingdom is an area control game about rabbits. These are thematically and mechanically quite different games. What do you feel is the thread that connects them?

    RG: Mechanically I am driven to explore different areas of design, so I am likely to move to something new once I have gotten what I want out of a particular space. Sometimes it doesn't appear that way; in particular I had a number of drafting games (Treasure Hunter, Carnival of Monsters) come out shortly after Bunny Kingdom, so it may have looked like that was "my thing" — but actually they were all part of the same exploration at about the same time, and they were made in part because I was having a lot of difficulty getting a publisher to see them as interesting game space. Before 7 Wonders came out, they weren't really enthusiastic about it, and after 7 Wonders there was quite a stretch of time where they seemed to think there was no point in doing another because of 7 Wonders. Then there was a shift, and suddenly it was a class of game that could stand on its own.

    A mild thread of mechanical connection, which is really more of a design style, is that all of these games can be played casually with a chance of winning or with great thought for increased chance. I tend to prefer games the casual and serious player can play together.

    Thematically there is a strong connection between these games and most of my games which aren't made for existing properties: a sense of humor and playfulness. I like that more than "dark serious" game flavors because I think serious players can get past it if the game mechanics are worth it and the players are more playful with it when learning the game — which allows them to take the swings in the game a little less seriously when learning it. There is kind of a toxic "rush to judgement" with some players these days, and I believe this helps mitigate that just a bit — and if they stick with the games a bit longer because they don't take them seriously, they might actually get good enough to see how to play well and have fun with the mechanics.

    DM: How has the huge success that you've enjoyed changed your approach to game design during the course of your career?

    RG: I would guess that it is mostly the amount of time I can spend designing, playing, and studying games. The nature of my interest hasn't changed; I don't design more or less publishable games these days except insofar as my practice has probably made me better. Most of my designs are just for my own interest and that of my friends, and that has always been the case. Sometimes that leads to something I think other people will like — and then I look for a publisher. I have been in the fortunate position of never having to design to make ends meet, which might have lead me to working on games that didn't interest me or that I thought wasn't servicing the players enough to warrant.

    Certainly, looking for a publisher is much easier than it was before Magic, and I do take pleasure in the fact that if I have a game that I think players will like, I can get a publisher to look at it and consider it seriously. That doesn't always lead to a product — or sometimes it takes a long time as it did with my series of drafting games — but that process of presentation and consideration always leads to improvement in the design, or at least the presentation.


    DM: Is there a game you would like to revisit and do differently if given the chance and why?

    RG: Hah. Every game I have made I want to redesign at least in minor ways. I am known to be reluctant to play any game of my own design once it is published — and I think the reason is that I get frustrated when I can't fix something.

    For a major case of that perhaps I would go to SpyNet — which weirdly I would actually change very little about except for the messaging. I am disappointed that it barely got noticed after publication, yet find it one of my favorite two-player games. I think the decision to promote it primarily as a team game made people not give the two-player game a fair shake. Also, I think the special cards in the game gave a sense of "wackiness" to the play and players didn't take it seriously because of that — despite the fact that once you know what is in the game, there is a lot of interesting play dealing with that. I had some luck with friends incorporating a small card reference, I believe because it showed the players that they were supposed to anticipate the possibilities rather than just be surprised by them — which, of course, is common in first plays of any game.

    DM: Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to tell us about?

    RG: Roguebook is a digital game I worked on with the folk who made Faeria. It is a deck-builder in the same family as Slay the Spire. One of the key things we aimed to do was make constructing a big deck — a "tower deck" as we call them — a viable strategy. Most deck-building games are as much, or more, about removing cards than adding them. This is an interesting and skill-testing characteristic, but it is not logically required of the genre for an interesting game.

    Personally, I like adding cards more than subtracting them, and I am particularly pained by removing cards that are fun to play but aren't quite worth playing with. The resulting decks are more challenging to play because the decks are less reliable and generally more flexible. One way we went about this was by adding a bonus that is unlocked for getting your deck to particular levels, so adding cards gives a bunch of cool powers to your deck over time. Of course, you can still play a lean mean deck if that is what you want.

    Half Truth is a trivia game that I made with Ken Jennings, and I am really pleased with how it turned out. My inspiration was Ken's book Braniac, and I resolved after reading it to try to make a trivia game that could be played by a broad audience that wouldn't feel like the trivia nerds would always win. When I first shared the design with Ken, in fact, he played two games and lost the second one. (Not to me — I wrote the questions!)

    The way it works is each question is multiple choice, and half the answers are correct. All players secretly make 1, 2, or 3 guesses. If a player misses any guesses, then they don't profit from the question at all. The players get only a small advantage for getting the second and third answer. Each question is a little minefield, and you can definitely get by with always just trying to get one answer correct. A lot of the fun comes from the really random and silly questions that are sprinkled throughout. One of my favorites was written by Koni, my wife:
    Is a poisonous mushroom:

    • Fool’s Webcap
    • Blinding Angel
    • Destroying Angel
    • Deathspore Thallid
    • Deadly Galerina
    • Night’s Whisper

    Here I guessed Destroying Angel with some confidence, but I wasn't sure about the others. When the answers were revealed, it turned out all the bad answers were Magic cards! I saw the Thallid but missed the other two — but this opens up a really interesting characteristic of the game: You can have questions that you have no idea about but can still get a good guess in — occasionally even getting all three — if you can recognize the fakes.


    DM: Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring game designers?

    RG: Play lots of games, even games you don't care for. Learn what players like about them. Getting those qualities into other games where possible, ones you do like, will make your games better. Also, you will get more pleasure from games in general. Often a game I didn't like, once I really took the time to understand it, I not only understood the appeal but I acquired the taste.

    Get a playtest network that has both casual and serious players. Listen to both. One common development standard that I regard as a mistake is just listening to the best players and looking to them for data. This is natural as a single group plays the game through many iterations over months or years. The problem is that game balance that is ideal for beginners and casual players is not the same as that for experts. One that seriously considers the former will often be much more exciting the first few times it is played and that is critical these days since there are so many other games to play. Development that relies too much on the latter can look very same-ish to the beginner — as if it doesn't really matter which strategy is chosen and the expert will always win by their 2% advantage.

    If you use Kickstarter or some other method of self-publishing, get some playtesters outside your bubble, playtesters in particular that you don't teach the game to. One very important thing a publisher provides is an experienced sanity check on the game play and rules. I have many games that profited from their insight that I would have published on my own without hesitation. Sometimes that insight leads to improvement in mechanics; at other times it leads to improvement in the way the game is presented — both are important. Read more »
  • Survive Stationfall, Fight the Machines, and Escape the Black Death

    by Candice Harris

    Now that vaccinations are rapidly rolling out and in-person gaming is slowly but surely becoming a reality again, I'm looking forward to getting some higher-player count games to the table.

    I've been eyeballing Jeff Gum's The Menace Among Us from Smirk & Dagger Games on my shelf the past year, eager to play it again after playing a fun and memorable eight-player game at the BGG team retreat in January 2020. It was my first time playing the game, and I was impressed that it gave me Battlestar Galactica feels yet played in an hour, so I've been eager to play it with my gaming group ever since. I bought a copy for myself which has been collecting dust as Among Us has been the only social deduction game I've played in the past year; that game is fun, but it's just not the same as being in the room not trusting your friends in person.

    Here are some upcoming releases in a similar vein that feature deduction or hidden roles and sound like they'll be fun to play with bigger groups when it's safe to do so:

    Stationfall is a sci-fi, deduction game with hidden roles from designer Matt Eklund, with publisher Ion Game Design crowdfunding (KS link) the game for an anticipated delivery in December 2021. Stationfall includes 27 characters with unique abilities and plays with 1-9 players in 90-120 minutes.

    As a fan of Eklund's Pax Transhumanity — the intriguing, futuristic 2019 addition to the Pax series — I am very curious to see what he's cooked up now. When I saw the box cover image for Stationfall and read the description below from the publisher, my curiosity spiked:
    What is Stationfall? Well, imagine a dozen or so random humans, robots, and none-of-the-aboves — each with their own abilities, goals, and secret relationships — have been turned loose on a space station that is going to be incinerated in approximately 15 minutes. You are one of these weirdos, and you have collaborators on hand ready to assist you in achieving your goals. There's also definitely probably some sort of alien presence or murderous monster locked up on board, maybe.

    Stationfall is unbalanced, inasmuch as certain characters have overlapping goals with others, not to mention overlapping conspirators. Opposing identities are unknown at the start of the game. Their actions may be unpredictable, violent, or disrupt your plans. Or most likely all of the above.


    Due to the actions of your opponents, seemingly simple victory conditions may be achievable only through complex means. Stationfall is a box full of creative solutions, but that box is going to morph, twist, and grow teeth over the course of play. Your best turns will exploit the unique tactical freedom of being a secret conspiracy, as well as deductions about your opponents' identities and motives. Stationfall is messy, intricate, and full of dangerous variables. Welcome to the Station.

    Quest is a social deduction game from Don Eskridge (designer of Avalon and The Resistance) and Indie Boards & Cards that's coming to retail in 2021 after delivery of the Quest: Avalon Big Box Edition to Kickstarter backers.

    Here's what you can expect from Quest, which boasts playing well with as few as four players:
    In Quest, a new game in the Avalon universe for 4-10 players, all will show their true colors as Good and Evil struggle for the future of civilization. Hidden amongst King Arthur's loyal servants are Mordred's unscrupulous minions. These forces of Evil are few in number, but if they go unknown, they can sabotage Arthur's great quests.


    Players are secretly dealt roles that determine whether their allegiance is to Good or to Evil. Then, players debate, reason, and lie as they decide who to send on Quests — knowing that if just one minion of Mordred joins, the Quest could fail. Quest includes 25 different characters and many different ways to play the base game.

    Human Punishment: The Beginning is a new standalone game in the Human Punishment universe from designer Stefan Godot and Godot Games that was successfully funded on Kickstarter (KS link) in January 2021, but will be opening up for late backers.

    Playing in 120-180 minutes, Human Punishment: The Beginning is a prequel to Human Punishment: Social Deduction 2.0 in which 3-6 players fight the Machine Revolution in a dystopian cyberpunk city:
    Human Punishment: The Beginning is a semi-cooperative, social deduction, and pick-up and deliver hybrid. In the game, 3-6 players try to avoid the secret Machine revolution, but Machine spies are everywhere and they try to corrupt the Human players. There are also Outlaws, Fallen, and Legion just as in Human Punishment, and every faction works for their own goals.


    This game features a new mechanism called CWS (Connecting World System) that gives you the option to combine Human Punishment: The Beginning with Human Punishment: Social Deduction 2.0 to experience an epic theme night with YOUR OWN outcome!

    Fight Machines, build Apex, avoid Deus X Machina and don't become corrupted by the Machines. Rewrite the history of Humanity!

    Bristol 1350 is the latest addition to Travis Hancock's Dark Cities series from his publishing company Facade Games.

    Bristol 1350 plays with 1-9 players in 20-40 minutes and sounds like it'll lend itself to some very interesting gameplay based on the description below. Plus, as an added bonus, you can sneak it onto your bookshelf when your game shelf is already packed, and no one will notice you bought another game...
    The dreaded Black Death has descended upon the town of Bristol. You are racing down the streets in one of the three available apple carts, desperate to escape into the safety of the countryside. If your cart is the first to leave the town and it is full of only healthy villagers when you leave, you and your fellow cart-mates successfully escape and win the game!

    However, some villagers on your cart may already have the plague! They are hiding their early symptoms from you so that they can enjoy their last few days in peace. If you leave town with a plagued villager on your cart, you will catch the plague. You must do whatever is necessary to make sure that doesn't happen!

    Image: Travis Hancock
    On the surface Bristol 1350 is part co-operative teamwork, part racing strategy, and part social deduction. In reality, it's a selfish scramble to get yourself out of town as quickly as possible without the plague, by any means necessary.

    The game comes in a magnetic book box and includes a rubber playmat, 9 wood pawns, 3 miniature carts, 6 rat/apple dice, a linen bag, and 64 cards. The deluxe version adds 6 coins, 6 cards, and 3 metal carts. This standalone game is Volume 4 in the "Dark Cities Series" by Facade Games following Salem 1692, Tortuga 1667, and Deadwood 1876.
    Read more »
  • Five from Flatout Games: TEN, Dollars to Donuts, Abstract Academy, Cascadia, and Verdant

    by W. Eric Martin

    Flatout Games — the game design collective comprised of Molly Johnson, Robert Melvin, Shawn Stankewich — has a new title coming in 2021 with publisher AEG, which has worked with Flatout previously for the card games Point Salad in 2019 and Truffle Shuffle in 2020.

    This new title — TEN — is for 1-5 players, is due out in Q3 2021, and currently features this minimalist description:
    TEN is an exciting push-your-luck and auction game for the whole family! Players draw cards one-at-a-time, trying to add as many as they can without exceeding a total value of TEN, or they bust!


    Players may push their luck to draw more cards and use currency to buy additional cards in their attempt to build the longest number sequence in each color. When valuable wildcards emerge from the deck, players compete in auctions to obtain them in order to fill gaps in their sequences.

    • Two other titles designed by the Flatout team of Johnson, Melvin, and Stankewich will be released in 2021 by U.S. publisher Crafty Games.

    Dollars to Donuts was funded on Kickstarter in August 2020 and is due out Q3 2021, and you have to live up to the title of this 1-4 player game because in the end dollars mean nothing and donuts are everything:
    Donuts must be made whole! That's the spirit driving your actions in Dollars to Donuts, mostly because the customers in your donut shop will not want to purchase half-donuts that will undoubtedly be stale on their open ends.

    To set up the game, place four 1x1 starting tiles on the 6x6 game board that represents your donut shop and take five "dollar" tiles from the bag; on their back side, dollar tiles have either a half donut (plain, chocolate, sprinkle) or a set of donut holes (again in the three flavors). The starting tiles depict half donuts in these three flavors

    On a turn, you can purchase a 1x4 donut tile that depicts half donuts along its edges from the six available tiles for a cost of $0-5. You then add this tile to your shop — with some of the tile hanging off the edge of the board if you wish — ideally lining up the half donuts on that tile with those already on your board. If you make a matching donut, i.e., putting two sprinkle halves together, then you take a sprinkle scoring token; if you make a non-matching donut, i.e. a plain half combined with a chocolate half, then you draw a dollar tile from the supply bag. Note, however, that jelly donuts give no dollar tile if paired with a non-jelly donut because who in the world would reward something like that?


    To end your turn, you can place a dollar tile on your shop board to complete a donut (and score) or fill a space with donut holes (which might also score). Additionally, you can serve a customer in line by offering them scoring tokens that match their desired donuts, which will earn you more points than the tokens on their own.

    When one player has filled every space in their shop or the donut tiles run out, the game ends, with you scoring for satisfied customers, neighborhoods served, donuts still on hand, and donut hole pairs in the shop, while losing points for empty spaces in your shop. The player with the highest score clearly has the most popular shop in town!

    • The other Flatout title from Crafty Games is Abstract Academy, a game for two or four aspiring art students who must share a canvas for their creations:
    Abstract Academy is played over three rounds, with the players completing a new canvas each round.

    At the start of the game, you lay out 2-3 scoring cards for each round, so you all know what you're trying to achieve to score. Additionally, at the start of each round, each player receives an inspiration card that shows a pattern they're trying to create on the canvas.


    In the two-player game, players take turns playing canvas cards into a shared 4x4 play area, and in the four-player game, they play in a shared 5x5 area. Canvas cards are divided into quadrants, and each quadrant is colored yellow, red, or blue. The canvas grows organically as you all play cards, and the edges aren't fixed until you have four (or five) cards in a row or column. The edge of the canvas closest to you is your home row, and once the canvas is locked in size, no one else can play in your home row (unless all other spaces are filled).

    Once the canvas is filled, the two rows closest to you form your scoring zone. If the color patterns in your zone complete a scoring card better than the patterns in anyone else's zone, then you claim the scoring card. Additionally, if you've created the right pattern in your scoring zone, you can score your inspiration card. Whoever has the most points after three rounds is the star pupil of Abstract Academy and wins!

    • Aside from designing and developing games, the Flatout team also publishes them, with Randy Flynn's Cascadia having been funded on Kickstarter in Q4 2020 with delivery expected in Q3 2021. Here's an overview of how the game works:
    Cascadia is a puzzly tile-laying and token-drafting game featuring the habitats and wildlife of the Pacific Northwest.

    In the game, you take turns building out your own terrain area and populating it with wildlife. You start with three hexagonal habitat tiles (with five types of habitat in the game), and on a turn you choose a new habitat tile that's paired with a wildlife token, then place that tile next to your other ones and place the wildlife token on an appropriate habitat. (Each tile depicts 1-3 types of wildlife from the five types in the game, and you can place at most one tile on a habitat.) Four tiles are on display, with each tile being paired at random with a wildlife token, so you must make the best of what's available — unless you have a nature token to spend so that you can pick your choice of each item.

    Prototype copy
    Ideally you can place habitat tiles to create matching terrain that reduces fragmentation and creates wildlife corridors, mostly because you score for the largest area of each type of habitat at game's end, with a bonus if your group is larger than each other player's. At the same time, you want to place wildlife tokens so that you can maximize the number of points scored by them, with the wildlife goals being determined at random by one of the three scoring cards for each type of wildlife. Maybe hawks want to be separate from other hawks, while foxes want lots of different animals surrounding them and bears want to be in pairs. Can you make it happen?

    • Finally, we come to Verdant, a design by Johnson, Melvin, and Stankewich along with Aaron Mesburne and Kevin Russ that Flatout Games will Kickstart in 2021 ahead of a planned release in 2022. For now, we have only a general description of the game, which seems to fit in the same category of games as Dollars to Donuts, Cascadia, and Flatout's 2020 runaway hit game, Calico:
    Verdant is a puzzly spatial card game for 1 to 4 players. You take on the role of a houseplant enthusiast trying to create the coziest interior space by collecting and arranging houseplants and other objects within your home. You must position your plants so that they are provided the most suitable light conditions and take care of them to create the most verdant collection.

    Art by Beth Sobel
    Each turn, you select an adjacent pair of a card and token, then use those items to build an ever-expanding tableau of cards that represents your home. You need to keep various objectives in mind as you attempt to increase plant verdancy by making spatial matches and using item tokens to take various nurture actions. You can also build your "green thumb" skills, which allows you to take additional actions to care for your plants and create the coziest space!
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  • Quacks Is Backs, Dream Machines Need Repairs, and Dragons Come to Catan...Again

    by W. Eric Martin

    • In late June or early July 2021, Wolfgang Warsch's The Quacks of Quedlinburg will return to print in North America from publisher CMYK, which has picked up the license previously held by North Star Games.

    Asked how CMYK acquired the game's license, co-owner Alex Hague told me, "I'd say we got the license because: 1. We have a close working relationship with Wolfgang as co-designers and developers on Wavelength, The Fuzzies, and some upcoming projects — and he wanted to be more hands-on in the manufacturing and publishing side of his games. And 2. [originating publisher] Schmidt Spiele publishes Wavelength and The Fuzzies in the German language markets, and we've had a great experience working with them on those. So between those two things, it was a really good fit!"

    At the same time, the game's first expansion — The Herb Witches — will be joined on the North American market by the game's second expansion: The Alchemists, which to date has been released only by Schmidt Spiele.

    CMYK also plans to bring Warsch's The Taverns of Tiefenthal back to the North American market, although a release date has not yet been announced for that title.


    • In 2009, Catan GmbH released Die Siedler von Catan: Schätze, Drachen & Entdecker, a set of six scenarios for use with Klaus Teuber's Catan and the Seafarers and Cities & Knights expansions.

    This set was released in other languages, such as Dutch, Polish, and Chinese, in 2017 to coincide with a new German release from KOSMOS, but the English-language edition has taken a few more years to bring to market, with Catan Studio planning to release Catan: Treasures, Dragons & Adventurers in July 2021.



    • In September 2021, French publisher Bombyx will release Nicodemus, a two-player game from designers Bruno Cathala and Florian Sirieix set in the world of their 2018 release Imaginarium. Artist Felideus Bubastis will provide entrancingly imaginative character illustrations for this game, as he has for the earlier Imaginarium releases.

    Here's an overview of the game:
    Nicodemus Gideon is retiring! To take his place, two assistants of the Dream Factory — that is, you and one other — will face off in a duel in which you repair machines and complete projects as quickly as possible in order to score 20 or more points first.

    In Nicodemus , you can return to the universe of Imaginarium in a game in which the two players must block one another repeatedly, with advantages swinging one way, then the other, with the slightest mistake possibly being fatal to your chances.


    On a turn, you have a choice of two actions:

    —Play a machine card from your hand to the Bric-a-brac to earn charcoalium, produce a resource, or apply the effect of the machine.
    —Repair a machine from the Bric-a-brac to score points and place this machine in your workshop.

    Each resource indicated in the production zone of machines in your workshop reduces the number of resources needed to repair subsequent machines. Additionally, repairing a machine can help you complete specific projects and win points.
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