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  • Every Day Is Halloween at Trick or Treat Studios

    by W. Eric Martin

    Chris Zephro, president and co-founder of Trick or Treat Studios in Santa Cruz, California, has been a gamer for as long as he can remember. "I bought my first D&D box set in fourth grade," he says.

    In junior high, he met and befriended Luke Gygax, son of Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax, who was temporarily living in Los Angeles because Marvel Productions was working on a Dungeons & Dragons cartoon series. "I met him on a Friday during roll call in sixth period," says Zephro. As soon as he heard the name "Gygax", Zephro approached Luke to confirm that he was indeed related to Gary Gygax. "I said, 'My name is Chris, and I'm spending the night at your house.'"

    After spending two decades working for various corporations, in 2010 Zephro and artist/sculptor Justin Mabry founded Trick or Treat Studios, which initially focused on designing and manufacturing Halloween masks and costumes. "We always knew that we would branch out," says Zephro. Over the years, the company added to its catalog: weapon props, action figures, home decor, jewelry, air fresheners, and much more. "Tabletop gaming was always on the list."

    Trick or Treat Studios debuted its game line at Gen Con 2021, albeit only with demo copies. "The original plan was to have the games out by Halloween," says Zephro, but the manufacturing and shipping issues that have been plaguing the game industry, as well as pretty much all industries, since Covid-19 hit in early 2020 have affected them as well.

    At this point, the first four titles from Trick or Treat Studios are scheduled for release in the first half of 2022, with many others planned through 2024.

    • One of those first titles is the card game Creature Feature from Richard Garfield. Says Zephro, "I reached out to all my favorite designers, and they all got back to me. I always assumed that designers like Richard Garfield would have a jillion publishers banging down their door, but it's more common for designers to be the ones doing the pitching."

    Creature Feature plays out over three seasons of movie-making, and in a season each of the 3-6 players has 8-10 cards in hand that they will use to audition for a spot in 4-5 movies. Cards range in value from 1-11, with some of them having special powers. To play, you reveal a movie worth 2-6 points, then each player chooses a pair of cards in their hand to audition for the star and co-star spots in this movie. Everyone reveals their co-star card, then in turn players have the option to withdraw from the movie to instead audition for a short film worth half as many points as the movie (1-3 instead of 2-6); you can even withdraw from that competition, moving your cards to the "fold" space on your player board.

    Once everyone has decided to fold or locked in their audition spots, players reveal their stars to see who has the higher sum of actors for the movie or the short. One twist, however, is that your actors are ignored if your co-star has an equal or higher value than your star — unless this is true for everyone who has auditioned for the same spot. Whoever wins the movie spot claims that tile and all actors who auditioned for that spot. These actors are score face down and worth 1 point each — unless you won the spot with a star that didn't outrank the co-star, in which case your actor cards are scored face up, with them being worth 2-5 points each.

    After you play through a hand of cards, you've completed a season, record your points on the scoretrack, then shuffle the cards to prepare for the next season. The deck includes helper cards that you can play while placing star and co-star cards, while resolving cards, and during other situations, with a helper replacing itself immediately so that you can have enough actors to fulfill all possible movie roles.

    Blood Orders is a game from newcomer Nick Badagliacca in which 2-4 players "each take on the roles of powerful but disgraced vampires, exiled from a centuries-old order and hoping to build a new underground kingdom of their own in an unfamiliar city. Players visit locations in disguise to gain resources, perform arcane rituals, and hypnotize the citizenry...but most importantly, to turn hapless victims into fresh, bloodthirsty vampires under their command!"

    In more detail:
    To build your new order, you must manage a continuously evolving hand of vampire cards at your command, sending them throughout the city to visit locations, perform arcane rituals, bewitch victims, and recruit new vampires, all over the course of nine rounds (days). All of these activities take the form of cards activated by your order tokens on the board, allowing you to amass critical resources, perform useful actions, and earn points. However, as your power grows, so does fear within the city, making your quest increasingly difficult as the days go by.

    At the end of the ninth day, the vampire player with the most points reigns supreme!

    And in still more detail: Blood Orders takes place over three acts, with each act consisting of three days, with rituals, locations, and victims being divided by act.

    Each day, you secretly program three order tokens (dawn, dusk, night) based on whether you want to visit the altar to select a ritual, the catacombs to have a garden-variety vampire join your order, or a specific quarter of the city, where you can carry out the effect of a location, pay influence to use a victim's ability, or acquire a specific victim for your order. You use your vampires to overcome the fear values in city quarters, and you must feed vampires blood to recover them from torpor at the end of a day.

    TrollFest is another 3-6 player game, this time from Bruno Faidutti and Camille Mathieu, and the best description of the game might come from Faidutti himself, who posted a diary about the game on his blog in September 2021:
    A game of TrollFest is made of three phases. At the beginning of the game, players draft action and musician cards and build an amateur band of at least four musicians: a singer, a drummer, a guitar and a bass guitar player.

    Every group then leaves its starting city for a big tour around the country, moving from town to town, holding concerts, sometimes recruiting additional or better musicians, sometimes even hiring dragons for the final light show. The main way to score points during the tour is to give concerts. The most successful ones are in the cities where the local crowd is most receptive to your musical style — basically, dwarves like dwarven music played by dwarven musicians, trolls like troll music played by trolls, etc. While playing elf pop in orc city halls makes little sense, multicultural big bands can have some success everywhere, especially if they also recruit a few exotic characters, like a siren or minotaur.

    Sample cards
    Unexpected events such as disagreement between musicians, snow storm, or yellow vests blocking the roads sometimes interfere with the band's well-planned tours. Nothing is more classy, of course, than to arrive on a dragon's back to end one's tour in one's home city.

    In spirit, TrollFest seems like a blending of Ticket to Ride and Elfenland, with players starting the game with 10-16 tour tokens and choosing one of the 25 cities as their hometown, that is, the starting point for their band.

    On a turn, you move along a road to a neighboring city — collecting a dragon token if one awaits on the side of the road and you don't already have it — then you conduct a tour in that city if you haven't already done so, scoring points based on the band members that match that city's named species, with bonus points if you're the first one to hold a concert there (as recorded by the depositing of a tour token). Some cities let you draft a new action card or draft a new musician for your band, thereby letting you adapt to future cities on your travel itinerary or prepare for varied endgame bonuses based on your band's authenticity; diversity; collection of dragon tokens and light shows; and attribute scores in energy, charisma, and skill.

    World-Z League is a straightforward zombie-killing game from David Gregg for 1-4 players, with those players using rubber bands to shoot at targets.

    To set up, take turns placing a building and a zombie, an obstacle and a zombie, then your final two zombies. The game includes rules that cover all the details of placement, but in general you need to leave at least half of your first two zombies exposed and all of your last two zombies in the open. Zombies have different point values on the back, and when you strike down an opposing zombie with a rubber band, you also score for zombies that have been knocked down by their owners.

    • Regarding the look of games from Trick or Treat Studios, Faidutti wrote this about TrollFest: "Their graphic artist, David Hartman, also works with Rob Zombie, a metal musician and horror movie producer. [Hartman] made the video clips for the movies Lords of Salem and American Witch, and the art for his albums. His style is of course dark and gore, but also light and full of humor, and he visibly had great fun drawing the musicians for TrollFest, which he did incredibly fast. It's different from what we are used to in the boardgaming world, but I think we will see it also in other games by Trick or Treat Studios."

    Zephro confirms this, noting that the company has used plenty of great artists over the years who will now bring their talents to board games. "It's like a breath of fresh air because no one has ever seen their stuff", he says.

    TrollFest game board
    Combined with the desire to bring a new look to their games, Zephro and project manager Andy Van Zandt are excited to have their games featured in new locations. Says Zephro, "We have established channels in the collectibles market for horror and costuming. We sell in tattoo shops, auto shops, toy stores, and elsewhere, so you'll see games in Hot Topic and other non-traditional channels that focus on horror, monsters, fun, and fantasy."

    These new markets and new artists will be combined with familiar designers as Zephro notes that Trick or Treat Studios is also working with established talent like Richard Launius, Banana Chan, Tom Lehmann, John D. Clair, Emerson Matsuuchi, Scott Rogers, and Reiner Knizia. "We're doing both original IPs and a number of licensed IPs as TTS has worked with over 150 licensed IPs," he says, specifically mentioning Child's Play and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

    • So what will you see from Trick or Treat Studios in years to come? Says Zephro, "I love Specter Ops, and Emerson [Matsuuchi] and I talked about how cool it would be to have a game like that based on Halloween. One character is Michael Myers, and everyone else is trying to escape from him."

    "Richard Launius was working with Mondo on a cool game called LA-1," says Zephro, but Mondo is now out of the picture, with Trick or Treat Studios being in. "It's the version of Arkham Horror that you've always wanted that game to be, and it takes place in a Blade Runner/The Fifth Element-type of universe."

    Launis also has a co-operative game based on the original Halloween film from 1978, and Zephro says one of the challenges of selling games into markets that don't normally carry games is that you have to help them understand that despite this game having the same license as the Matsuuchi design, the games themselves stand on their own. "They're mechanically different", he says. "I've had to do a lot of explaining."

    Aside from World-Z League, designer David Gregg is working on a new version of the deck-building game Nightfall, with Zephro describing it as a 2.0 version that will feature Universal classic monsters.

    Finally in this short list of teasers we come to Reiner Knizia's Dream Factory, a.k.a. Traumfabrik, a.k.a. Hollywood Golden Age. Zephro says that they've transformed the game into Nightmare Factory, with the game featuring all new art and with players now creating horror movies. "The artwork is spectacular", he says. "We're definitely going to make a big splash."

    Read more »
  • Designer Diary: Interior Design for the Discerning Overlord, or Making Dungeon Decorators Shine

    by Jen Kitzman SlugFest Games

    Introduction with designer Jeff LaFlam

    I never thought Minecraft was a game about decorating...but in some ways, and depending on the person, it is. That person is my son. He would spend hours and hours in that game building all kinds of interesting buildings, then he'd call me over to show me what he had built. He had a tour route already planned where I would see each room one by one. He would go into extreme detail: "See the torch I placed onto this wall so that you can see in the hallway", and "I put this chest next to the bed so a person can grab their stuff when they wake." He had a reason for just about every item he placed, where he placed it, and why that all made sense. It wasn't as much about the buildings, it was how he decorated them — and that's how my idea for Dungeon Decorators started.

    I immediately began building a prototype. I made some simple two-, three-, and four-way hallway tiles on the top half of cards and decorations on the bottom half. Before you knew it, I was at a Protospiel running a test of the design. I quickly learned through experience that tucking cards under other cards was a real pain while building your dungeon. Shortly after that, chatting with some designer friends led to the idea of making decorations into tiles instead of cards. I started to test with that, and all of a sudden a decent game was formed.

    The game had two types of objective cards that players could work on during play. One was based on the shape of your dungeon layout; I called them shape goals. The other was based on decorating. I noticed that some playtesters enjoyed doing one type of goal over another; some just wanted to do a cool layout; and others wanted to intricately place objects in their dungeons, so I needed both. While designing goals, I thought to myself, "What would a skeleton want to have to be a part of my dungeon?" Maybe it needed a sword rack and a few cobwebs. Maybe it'd like a cluster of rooms at the end of a long hall. What about other monsters? I would build from there.

    Every turn, players had to choose between a hall or room tile with which they could extend their dungeon or a decoration tile that they could then place next to an existing wall. A decoration could be placed only on a wall, not on an opening to a room or hallway. This was fine...unless you lacked an equal amount of decorations and dungeon layout tiles, which is why the double-sided tile came into play.

    With this change, you had an equal number of decorations on one side as the number of "exits" on the dungeon layout side. What's more, you never needed to flip over a tile to see what kind of dungeon layout tile was beneath. If the tile had four decorations, you knew a four-way hallway was underneath; if it had one decoration, it was a room; and so on. Drafting those tiles was working at that point, but it still had some issues.

    Eventually, I added an ordering system and some player-drafting powers to each of the tiles so that drafting was more interesting to players, similar to Kingdomino. Sure, you could take the best tile this round if you were first, but then you would select last in the next round. Next, I had to figure out how many rounds a game should go for and how many tiles the game needed to support that game length.

    In playtesting, I found that when people knew the game was coming to an end (as they could see just a few tiles left), they would give up on their objectives and just try to find points here and there. That is when I changed the end of the game to be when the third of three endgame tiles from the second-half set was revealed.

    Players would see the first endgame tile come up and you could see them take that as a warning. When the second endgame tile arrived, players were on edge since they really wanted to finish off their current objectives! Now, the game was usually ending before players wanted it to, and that was a great moment, just like Ethnos.

    I had a game, but now what?

    There was a game manufacturing trade show in Reno where they had a "pitch" session for designers and publishers. I set my game up and waited for publishers to come by. Those that were interested sat down and asked questions, while others moved by. I had a few bites that night that I followed up on, one of which was SlugFest Games.

    I ended up creating a Tabletop Simulator version of my game so that they could test it online since the company is comprised of people in different areas of the country. I was asked a few questions about my design choices, then eventually they announced they wanted to sign my game! We had some great back-and-forth during the development of the game, which was interesting and rewarding to see for the first time. They streamlined the game and left some of my design out for potential future work.

    My game design started from watching my son play Minecraft, and then realizing what made that game so much fun for him. I wanted to capture that fun in a board game, so that is what I set out to do. I usually get inspired by playing a game myself or seeing something inspiring and thinking, oh, what if this was to happen? It never occurred to me that you can also get ideas from watching and analyzing others play. My eyes have a new filter on the world now, and it's fun.

    And now SlugFest Games chimes in, with Jeff Morrow!

    For many years, the GAMA Trade Show has been a great venue for publishers to meet prospective game designers and look at their creations. At the 2019 show, we saw a game by designer Jeff LaFlam. It was a bit rough around the edges, but it was highly flavorful and had the elegant mechanism of players drafting double-sided tiles and deciding which way to place them when building their dungeon.

    After a bit of exploration and discussion post-show, we decided to license the game and start digging into it. This post talks a bit about what we changed and what we didn't.

    Let's start with what we kept: the draft mechanism and the tiles survived almost unchanged from Jeff's original design. The main changes we made were adding a fifth and sixth tile color, as well as slightly tweaking some of the assistant abilities. We also moved the "draw/mulligan" spot from the end of the line to the middle and changed its functionality ever so slightly.

    One other small change that we made was to the draft process. In the original game, you would fill the draft board each round with N tiles, where N is the number of players in the game. We changed that to four tiles regardless of N. This was easier to remember, and it ensured that the game lasted the same number of rounds no matter how many players were playing.

    SlugFest is best known for our flagship comedy card game The Red Dragon Inn. While we knew that we didn't want to try embedding this game in the RDI world, we felt it would be a good idea to add some "dungeon comedy" to the game, so while the original game had somewhat generic elements like goblins, rogues and skeletons, we went with cards like the Dragon Day Care Center and the Sharp Pointy Object Storage.

    Where we ended up making more extensive changes was in how players score points. In the original design, players had a hand of decoration goals, there were one or two shared shape goals on the table, and there were no boss goals. The decoration goals worked pretty well, but the shared shape goals were worth lots of points, were rather difficult to make, and gave diminishing point values as each player achieved that shape.

    Unfortunately, this tended to make them very decisive; players were generally forced to go after them, lest they find themselves in a big hole relative to the players who did. So we made shape goals easier, and we made a new deck out of them. This gave the players more agency since they could decide whether to focus more on decorations or more on shapes.

    However, we later decided that it would still be good to have some kind of shared goals. For this, we turned to an experimental mechanism that Jeff had just added to his prototype: "overlord" cards, which eventually turned into boss goals. By creating two different decks of boss goals and having one of each at the beginning of the game, it allowed us to make a mechanism that gave gentle nudges to players. This, in turn, made it so that each play of the game was somewhat different, while also mitigating the problem mentioned above in which shared shape goals were super important and therefore also super high-stakes.

    After making these changes, we kept playing the game, and we kept liking it. For those of you not in the industry, we should explain: Most of the time, after we playtest a game for a while, we get really, REALLY sick of it. We knew this game was special because that never happened. In fact, it STILL hasn't happened. We still really enjoy this game, and we hope you all do, too.

    Thanks for reading! Read more »
  • VideoGame Overview: Art Robbery, or Good Players Borrow, Great Players Steal

    by W. Eric Martin

    I have written a lot about Reiner Knizia's games over the years, and today I'm covering yet another of his designs, one that is about as far from The Siege of Runedar — a co-operative, deck-building, tower defense game from Ludonova that I covered in early October 2021 — as is possible.

    The game in question is Art Robbery from Swiss publisher Helvetiq, and the game is bare bones in terms of its components and rules, yet all the parts prove to make for an engaging little challenge, especially for those of us with family members who like to play games that can be explained in less than a minute.

    The goal of Art Robbery, as in many games, is to end up with more stuff than everyone else, and to emphasize your callous nature toward to the feelings of others who undoubtedly want to rack up a W for themselves, you play a thief who wants to claim your "fair" share of the goods your group has recently heisted. The problem, however, is that if you focus solely on goods to the exclusion of alibis, everyone else will make it to freedom while the police come down on you.

    In each of the game's four rounds, you reveal that round's nine tokens, then take turns playing a card from your hand and drawing a replacement card. When you play a number (0-5), take a token with that number from the center of the table; if all of them have already been claimed, take a token with that number from someone else, preferably while saying "Yoink!"

    If you play a guard dog card, you can take the guard dog figure, and when someone attempts to yoink a token from you, you can send the dog after them instead of that token. Sure, you no longer have the dog's protection, but you still have that token, so you're probably bett... Oh, wait, the next thief stole your now exposed token. Never mind — forget about it and see what you can get your hands on this time!

    If you play a boss card, you take the boss token, which sounds cool and all, but the boss apparently feels under confident or perhaps unsure of their abilities because if you don't have a 4 or 5 token to accompany the boss at the end of the round, the boss splits to a desert retreat to attempt to self-actualize so that they can stand on their own without support in the future.

    If you play a greedy thief, you can grab any one token that hasn't yet been claimed. You can't steal from others because the greed has arm-wrestled your reasoning powers into submission so you can't just go for the high-value tokens or boss token sitting in someone else's care, no, you just grab one thing that no one else has called dibs on.

    Don't become too attached to what you take because it can be stripped from you immediately. Ownership is locked in only when the final token from the round is claimed, and that often happens more slowly than you think as each round includes three 3s — which means that everything other than the 3s is usually claimed first, then tokens and the dog keep circling the table until someone feels like they're not going to do any better than taking one of the 3s, which then upsets the point equilibrium and sends players off on a new round of stealing.

    You might be hamstrung by what you draw, of course, since you can't steal someone's 5 or boss if you don't have those cards in hand, yet that's not necessarily a bad thing because in a game with more than two players, whoever is in the lead — or at least holding the lion's share of the points in the current round — might be stripped bare of tokens between one turn and the next. You want to collect points, sure, but not be so obvious about it that you attract attention and therefore attacks.

    At the same time, you want to collect alibis to keep from being eliminated from scoring at game's end, similar to what happens to whoever ends up with the least cash on hand in Knizia's High Society — but as in that game, you don't need to worry about all the other players; only the worst one aside from you. (See "You don t need to be faster than the bear.")

    I've now played Art Robbery six times on a review copy from Helvetiq with all players counts (2-5), and I talk more about the game in this overview video, including how the feel of the game varies based on the player count. One important thing to note: With only two players, whoever has the fewest alibis loses 10 points and is not immediately eliminated from contention — except that 10 points is probably a large enough chunk of your score to result in the same thing.

    Youtube Video Read more »
  • Create Patterns, Jump Exactly Two Tokens, and Flick a Foe to Their Doom

    by W. Eric Martin

    In December 2020, I wrote about five games from German publisher Clemens Gerhards, which tends to release perfect information, abstract strategy games created out of hardwood, and now it's time to revisit the company to see what they've released in the meantime. I would prefer to see the games firsthand, of course, given my interest in this style of design, but I wasn't at SPIEL '21 and neither was Clemens Gerhards, so here we are.

    • First, let's look at the two-player game Peak from Andreas Kuhnekath, who has previously created the fabulous games Kulami and Rukuni:
    When you move in Peak, you must always jump over TWO playing pieces. These pieces may lie on the board on top of one another, next to one another, or with a distance between them — all options are possible, but you must jump over exactly TWO pieces, not more, not less. Unoccupied spaces are ignored; you can jump over them or use them as destination spaces. If the chosen destination space already contains a playing piece, you stack the new piece on top.

    At the end of the game, the piece on top of a tower determines who scores for this tower; each playing piece is worth one point. The player who stacks best and is thus able to claim the most pieces wins.

    Hmm...that's it? Seems so very simple that I can't imagine what it would be like to play it, which mirrors this comment from user getareaction, who is the sole person to have commented on the BGG page to date: "First impression: aesthetically wonderful, beautifully simple rules, interesting decision space, not immediately obvious how to play well. I like it." Sounds like something to explore!

    • Designer Sascha Schauf has had two games with Clemens Gerhards previously — Disci and Raupenrallye — and is now back with the 2-4 player game Cube, which plays like this:
    In Cube, players try to recreate the color combinations of their task cards on the game board. Whoever first fulfills the required number of cards wins.

    The situation on the game board changes with every turn. The active player can choose to either place a blindly-drawn wooden cube on the board or to move an already-placed cube to a different space.

    A ball recessed at the bottom of the game board makes it easy to rotate the board in all directions, and the different perspectives — from above or from one of the four sides — allow for multiple possibilities of fulfilling a task card for all players, whether it's their turn or not. If the cubes on the game board lie on different levels or in different rows, the viewing direction is crucial. Cubes hidden from view don't count.

    Habt 8 from Lilly Schauf works similar to Cube, but it's solely for two players in a two-dimensional playing space, with white joker blocks that can serve as any color while players race to be the first to complete eight task cards.

    Diggrie is a two-player game from Tobias Grad, who in 2018 published Abstrakte Brettspiele, which describes fifty traditional and modern abstract strategy games that can be played on either a checker board or a 5x5 board, one of which was Grad's game Diggrie.

    Gameplay details are scant, which is unfortunate since the details of play matter much more when the rules are at a bare minimum. Anyway, here's what I have for now:
    Diggrie is a two-player game played on a 5x5 grid, with each player having five flat discs and one taller king disc in their color.

    To win, you must create in your color a row of four pieces or a square of pieces. You can move over unoccupied spaces; jumping is not allowed. The game includes three variants, and if you include the king piece in play, it needs to be part of the winning row or square.

    • Let's close with Schnipp & weg! (Snap and away!), a two-player design from Dieter Zander that first appeared in the early 2010s under the name Kosakenschubsen through his own company, Historische Spiele Zander.

    The design is supposedly based on an old Russian folk game, which is what the original name of Kosakenschubsen references: jostling cossacks or cossack pushing. As for how you play, here's an overview:
    Schnipp & weg! is a flicking game for two players that's played on a game board shaped like an hourglass.

    Each player starts on one end of the board with nine pieces of their own color. On a turn, you flick one of your pieces at one or more of the opponent's pieces, and if you manage to knock at least one opposing piece from the board while not flying off yourself, you take another turn; otherwise, the opponent takes their turn.

    If you manage to remove all of the opposing pieces, you start the game again, but with you now having eight pieces instead of nine and with those pieces being one level closer to the center of the game board. Each round that you win, you start with one fewer piece and one level closer to the center. If you win a round after starting on the fifth row with only five pieces, then you win the game.

    Clemens Gerhards has released the game with red and white tokens and with brown and natural tokens, but I've seen only the red and white version for sale in the U.S. (I include that link only because I've already ordered my own copy and am no longer at risk of the company selling out before mine is on the way.) Read more »
  • New Risk Awaits in 2022 Thanks to Shadow Forces from Hasbro

    by W. Eric Martin

    During Pulse Con 2021, U.S. publisher Hasbro has announced a successor title of sorts to 2011's Risk Legacy from Rob Daviau and Chris Dupuis, a game so influential that "legacy" has become a standard term used to describe games that feature permanent changes based on the results of a played game.

    That successor is Risk: Shadow Forces, a game for 3-5 players that will be released in October 2022 and is available for pre-order via Hasbro through November 8, 2021. Here's a quick overview of the setting:
    It is the year 2050, and the world is not as it should be. Tides lash the shorelines, smashing everything in their reach. Hurricanes whip down out of nowhere and destroy entire cities while uncontrollable firestorms tear across nearly every continent. Viruses rage out of control. Within this chaos, nefarious factions work from the shadows conducting disinformation campaigns and mobilizing mercenaries to collect a new mysterious energy resource of incalculable power. These factions, led by ruthless warlords, are fighting for power and control, but they are also simply battling for the destiny of humanity. The shadow conflict begins.

    Risk: Shadow Forces is a legacy-style game. You will write on your game, mark it, put stickers on it, and even throw away parts of it. Every game played will change every future game. All players shape how their world evolves: its history, its cities, even its factions and how they fight. Cards and stickers will come into play. Unlock new rules and watch events unfold with each game. No two games will ever be the same.

    More specifically, the game includes four sealed envelopes and one sealed container. You will be directed to open these envelopes as you play your campaign missions in order.

    Warlords have emerged to not only lead the various factions, but to also go on covert missions. Each of these covert missions is a squad-level skirmish game that will have a direct effect on the world map in certain undetermined secret locations.
    Read more »
  • The Ice Cream of the Future Travels to 2022's Zoo King

    by W. Eric Martin

    Saratoga Toy & Game Co. is a U.S. publisher founded in 2020 that is running a Kickstarter project for its debut title — Zoo King from company owner Evan Johnson — through November 4, 2021.

    Here's an overview of the gameplay in this 30-minute card game that's due for release in Q2 2022:
    In Zoo King, 2-4 players compete to build the best zoos by acquiring animal, staff, and facility cards, with the long-term goal of winning awards that will be revealed over the course of play.

    Before the game begins, each player purchases one of the staff or facility cards from their starting allotment of 1,000 money. Randomize the event and award cards into a single deck, with the cards being separated into groups based on the player count. On a turn, you reveal an event card from the deck, then perform two actions (whether the same or different) from these four:

    • Purchase an animal, staff, or facility card from those available on the market, then add it to your zoo.
    • Draw the top card from either the animal deck or the staff/facility deck, then either purchase it or discard it.
    • Purchase the top card of either discard pile at a discount, albeit not a card you discarded this turn.
    • Exchange an animal in your zoo for one of equal or lesser cost or star value in the market or on top of the discard pile.

    After you acquire a pair of animals, you receive an immediate bonus of 100. You can also earn money from event cards, with staff and facility cards granting discounts and other benefits.

    Mock-up cards
    After a certain number of rounds, the first set of award cards will appear, with the awards being handed out one by one or returned to the bottom of the event deck in case of a tie. Sample awards include most felines, most money in hand, and highest total star value. As soon as a player has collected three awards — or four awards in a two-player game — that player immediately wins. If no one wins during the first award ceremony, then complete another round of events, after which more awards will be distributed.

    Setting aside the gameplay for a moment, I wanted to focus on an unusual element in this game presentation, that being this logo on the cover:

    In case you're not familiar with Dippin' Dots, the self-proclaimed "Ice Cream of the Future", let me excerpt the company history:
    In 1988, microbiologist Curt Jones used his knowledge of cryogenic technology to invent Dippin' Dots — an unconventional ice cream treat that's remarkably fresh and flavorful, introducing the world to beaded ice cream.

    Dippin' Dots Ice Cream proved to be irresistibly fun to eat. In the late 80's and early 90's the Dippin' Dots dealer network began and various theme and amusement parks discovered their customers' love for the exciting new ice cream. In 1995 Dippin' Dots were first introduced to an international market, making their debut in Japan. In 2000, the company's dealer network evolved into what is now an award-winning franchise system with locations coast-to-coast. Today Dippin' Dots can be found in more than 100 shopping centers and retail locations and in more than a thousand theme parks, stadiums, arenas, movie theaters and other entertainment venues across the country.

    My wife Linda and I first encountered Dippin' Dots in a shopping mall in the early 2000s, and if nothing else, it's an unusual way to enjoy a cold, sweet treat. You can check out its dozen flavors and order some for yourself here.

    Banana split flavored Dippin' Dots
    Puzzled about the brand tie-in, I asked Johnson about Dippin' Dots' presence in Zoo King, and the explanation turned out to be simpler than I expected:
    I've always been a fan of Dippin' Dots but didn't really make the connection to my project until we went to the zoo to do some research. We bought some, and I realized that it would be a perfect fit for the nostalgic vibe of the game.

    Fortunately, Dippin' Dots is still a family-owned company, so there wasn't much red tape. We don't have a licensing agreement; it's simply a permission of use. They really liked the game and thought it was a perfect match. I give them free advertising, and I get that aspect of the game I wanted and hopefully some added credibility of a known brand in the game.

    Today's lesson for publishers: It never hurts to ask should you be looking for a marketing tie-in! Read more »
  • VideoZenobia Award Winners & SDHistCon & GMT Warehouse Weekend, Oh My!

    by Candice Harris

    • After its kickoff in November 2020, and a tremendous amount of work from designers/contestants, board members, and volunteers (mentors, judges, etc.), the Zenobia Award results are in. Three winners were selected out of the eight Zenobia Award finalists after a close vote and feedback from a panel of 14 judges and the Zenobia Award board members. I mentioned all the finalists in my last Zenobia Award post and now I want to extend a big congratulations to the winners: Akar Bharadvaj's Tyranny of Blood in 1st place, Will Thompson's Winter Rabbit in 2nd place, and Alison Collins' Wiñay Kawsay in 3rd place.

    You can check out brief overviews and snippets of the rulebooks for each game below:

    Tyranny of Blood is about a hierarchical system that has oppressed people throughout history and has lingering effects that continue to cause suffering today. The game is meant as a condemnation of the system and a method of understanding it, not an endorsement or celebration. I hope that learning about this history will inspire players to think critically about the inequalities that plague the world today, and to struggle against them. …

    The broad institution of caste has underpinned Indian society for more than 3,000 years, but our current concept of “the caste system” is far more recent. European colonialism and the indigenous response to it precipitated a shift in caste from a somewhat fluid indigenous hierarchy to a strict, oppressive system that has dictated the lives of entire families simply due to an accident of birth.

    Tyranny of Blood models the rise and fall of British colonialism in India from 1750 to around 1947, and the ensuing social displacement—in the religious, military, economic, and labor domains—that still resonate today. The game seeks to answer the lofty questions: how do classes with disparate bases of power work together in a society, how do they struggle against each other, and who are the victims of this process?

    Each player plays one of the four major caste groups (Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra/Dalit) with the end goal of shaping the coming independent Indian nation-state to support their interests. Each faction has its own role to play in the game and its own method of earning victory points based on its different goals.

    • The Brahmin player (priests and intellectuals, represented by saffron) uses religious authority to preserve Hindu influence, preserve the religious hierarchy, and support an intellectual basis for Indian independence.

    • The Kshatriya player (warriors and kings, represented by green) uses political and martial power to build royal luxury and military prowess, commemorate the legacy of the princely era, and maintain a princely basis for power in an independent India.

    • The Vaishya player (merchants and artisans, represented by purple) uses economic strength to increase national wealth, translate wealth into prestige and religious “purity,” and support India’s development as an economic power.

    • The Shudra/Dalit player (laborers and those barred from society, represented by grey) uses limited labor power to build caste consciousness by playing the other three castes off of eachother, and struggling to build a more egalitarian Indian nation-state.

    In this game, the British are not a playable faction, but a non-player force that players will have to respond to, either by fighting against colonial forces, or working with them to oppose the other players.

    In the world we’ve come to call the West, history is seen as a linear thing: events happen, someone writes them down — we interpret those texts to learn of the history; however, occasionally those texts are reinterpreted. For the indigenous people of this continent, the telling of history takes a slightly different form. …

    Thus, we see the Cherokee interpretation of history (one shared by many indigenous cultures), where the details of a story might be a vehicle made of “fiction” that delivers a deeper truth. … Games create deeper meaning in the experience of play than they ever could as simple artifacts on a shelf. The meaning emerges from the experience of the story. …

    In this game, we are telling a version of that story of the Cherokee people settling in their new homeland. But we aren’t doing so in a literal sense, in the way the story is traditionally told. Instead, we are using the characters from Cherokee fables — Rabbit, Bear, Deer, and others — to convey how such a settlement may have come to be, reflecting Cherokee cultural values. … So, from here, I take the liberty to create a story with you. The story of Winter Rabbit, where the people prepare their village, far to the North of their ancestral home, and work together to ensure all have what they need. …

    The goal of Winter Rabbit is to have the highest Wampum at the end of the game. The history and use of Wampum by the Cherokee and other tribes is complex. In this game, it represents each player’s contributions toward the goal of Winter preparation. You gain Wampum by completing Provisions and Stories. …

    There are 6 production locations on the board (and the Rabbit Burrow). … When all the Open Spaces (those not covered with Conservation tokens) of a location are filled with Villagers, the location produces. … Clearing land is an option for gaining resources of a particular type after that resource location has already produced. … If a location produces and the Rabbit is revealed there, then no player gets to take resources. Instead, all resources generated in that area are placed in the Rabbit Burrow. …

    The site of Machu Picchu has captured the imagination of historians for over a century. However, despite years of seeking to understand its secrets, the functionality of Machu Picchu is still an enigma. Was it a lost city as stipulated by legendary explorer Hiram Bingham III? Or was it a royal estate? Perhaps a citadel? A religious site? Or maybe something else entirely?

    It is up to you, my fellow historians, to explore the evidence found at Machu Picchu to argue for an interpretation of the functionality of the site. However, given the cutthroat nature of publish-or-perish academia, will you be able to succeed in dominating the academic and public perception of what Machu Picchu really was?

    Wiñay Kawsay is a 2-4 player competitive board game … in which players are historians seeking to manipulate public perception of the functionality of Machu Picchu. Though largely a deck building game, Wiñay Kawsay also involves worker placement (these workers being three assistants and a Lead Researcher), management of two currencies (coloured blocks and Faction Tokens), and the deconstruction and rebuilding of a central block model of Machu Picchu, which represents the public perception of the functionality of the site.

    The name Wiñay Kawsay means “history” in Kichwa, the language family of the Inca. However the word more literally translates to “always life”, reflecting the ever evolving and living nature of history and historical narratives.

    • Several of the Zenobia Award finalists will be demoing their games at the upcoming Fall 2021 San Diego Historical Games Convention (SDHistCon) which is being is held virtually Thursday, November 12 through Sunday, November 15.

    If you're not familiar with this game convention, their mission is to "create a diverse and supportive gaming community dedicated to playing exploring historically-based conflict simulations". Even though you may be missing the San Diego weather and sun with SDHistCon being online/not in-person, you can still expect a fun-filled weekend of a variety of historical board game sessions and demos, livestreams, and giveaways. In fact, I even signed up to run a demo for Geoff Engelstein and Mark Herman's WWI, political, negotiation strategy game, Versailles 1919, which I find appeals to wargamers and eurogamers alike.

    • I spent most of the past weekend in Hanford, California at GMT Games' first Warehouse Weekend event since 2019. I had such a wonderful experience there the both days I attended. Everyone was super nice, friendly, and welcoming. It sort of felt like a family reunion even though, besides the two friends I brought, it was a group of people I've never met before mixed with a few people I've "met" on Twitter. The energy was extremely positive and it was incredibly heartwarming to see so many people excited about building and diversifying the hobby. ...and this is coming from a woman (me) who was on a mission to play all 15+ games that she brought, but only ended up playing 3 of them. I was too busy learning new games from new friends, buying games, and socializing. ...and I loved every minute.

    Here are a few highlights from my days at the warehouse:

    Had a blast playing my first game of Mike Bertucelli's Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs with some new & old friends including Gandhi designer Bruce Mansfield and his brother Scott. Who knew I'd be into dueling tank warfare?! The multi-use cardplay, mixed with great art and graphic design makes it so hooky that a few of us played again later that evening!

    ...Tank Duel round 2 at our Airbnb

    Played a few rounds of my first 2-player game of Jerry White's Atlantic Chase just prior to strapping in my Panzer IV tank for Tank Duel (round 1). I continue to be intrigued by this design and need to make more time to delve in deeper.

    We all thoroughly enjoyed our game of Tomislav Cipcic's Brotherhood & Unity from Compass Games. It's an excellent 3-player game covering war in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992-1995. It left us all wanting to play again.

    If you're curious about other action at GMT's Warehouse Weekend, Justin Fassino (who's designing SELJUQ: Byzantium Besieged) captured and posted some excellent video footage of the weekend:
    Youtube Video Read more »
  • Double Up on Colt Express, Travel with Precognition, and Build 1001 Islands

    by W. Eric Martin

    At SPIEL '21, French publisher Ludonaute showed off a new expansion in the works for designer Christophe Raimbault's 2015 Spiel des Jahres-winning game Colt Express.

    Here's an overview of Colt Express: 2 Trains & 1 Mission, with this expansion that's due out in 2022 being for 3-9 players:
    Players now work together as teams to try to become the wealthiest bandits in the Wild West, and what's better than a second train containing precious documents to spice up the adventure? As soon as they hear this, our famous bandits do not hesitate for a second, jumping from train to train to try to steal these documents on top of everything else up for grabs — but the shotguns roam wild and the Gatling on the roof does not bode well. On top of everything else, bandits have to be back on the starting train at the end of the last round if they want a chance to win.

    Trains running side by side (Image: Beth Heile)
    This expansion introduces a new 3D train with special cars, two new bandits (Misty and the Twinz, each with new powers), a double team mode with the possibility of betraying your team or not, and an AI Bandit, Il Professore, to allow you to play with an odd number of players and a new action card to nudge a bandit from your team.

    Beth Heile, BGG's production manager, visited the Ludonaute booth during SPIEL '21, and she notes that aside from being able to betray your parter, the expansion features bullets you can pick up, documents that give you money for finding the opposing team, luggage that's points on its own, and a coal car that includes one gold-filled lump of coal amongst the (relatively worthless) lumps of actual coal.

    Don't rest in front of the Gatling...
    • Ahead of this release, Ludonaute will package the Colt Express base game and the two larger expansions — Horses & Stagecoach, and Marshal & Prisoners — into Colt Express: BIG BOX, with this item also including a new bandit — Silk — that will be available later from the publisher's web shop.

    • Another title in the works from Ludonaute is Precognition, a game in which you and your fellow mutants travel in ships down a river, rescuing humans to help you. Different parts of the ship unlock different abilities for the mutants, e.g., parking a mutant in the medbay allows you to heal humans.

    • Also, Ludonaute is revamping The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet from Antoine Bauza and Bruno Cathala for release as 1001 Islands in the first half of 2022.

    As the publisher explained to Beth, they no longer have the license to the book IP, but the game remains popular, so they're tightening the rules involving scoring and getting new art from Marie Cardouat for this new setting that will put the game on the market again.

    Here is a sampling of Ludonaute's testing regimen from mid-2021:
    [twitter=1414568514493587457] Read more »
  • At SPIEL '21, IELLO Teases Get on Board, Distant Suns, Wagon Infernal, and King of...

    by W. Eric Martin

    At SPIEL '21, BGG product manager Beth Heile met with publishers to explore possible future GeekUp bit sets, pick up games for use in the library during BGG.CON, and...become W. Eric Martin.

    This latter bit was not something she intended, but she told me that sometimes when she met with publishers, "they treated me like I was you" and talked about future game releases. Aside from marveling at the number of pronouns featured in that short phrase, I am thankful that Beth got a sneak peek at games on my account because now I can talk about them in this space.

    Today I'll focus on titles coming from French publisher IELLO and its children's brand LOKI, and I have a lot to cover, albeit often with little to go on. The prime example of this is the teasing announcement of the third title in the "King of..." line from designer Richard Garfield following King of Tokyo and King of New York.

    Image in IELLO's 2021 catalog
    Diorama in the press room
    So...King of the Sea? King of Atlantis? King of Crab? Any guesses on your end? This title won't be released until SPIEL '22, so we have a lot of time to speculate on such things. Please note that for almost everything depicted, the designs in question are not final and might change prior to release.

    Speaking of King of Tokyo, the King of Tokyo: Monster Box is due out before the end of 2021, with this set featuring ten monsters (with Baby Gigazaur appearing in this set for the first time), the Power Up! and Halloween expansions, Evolution cards for (I believe) all ten monsters, a dice tray, and power cards previously released as promo items.

    IELLO has stated that Baby Gigazaur and its power cards will be available separately at some point, with King of Tokyo: Monster Box meant to serve as introductory item for newcomers that gives them a lot of material all at once.

    I've already written about Get on Board: New York & London, the new version of Saashi's 2018 title Let's Make a Bus Route, but now I can show off the look of all the components in this February 2022 release.

    I know nothing about The Animals of Baker Street other than what's shown here, although one of the co-designers is Dave Neale, who has created multiple game designs about Sherlock Holmes and deduction more generally. The other co-designer, Clémentine Beauvais, appears to be new to games, but (if I have located the proper person) is an accomplished author of books for children and young adults.

    Slightly more is known about Wagon Infernal from Thomas Brissot, with this being a co-operative game for 2-5 players in which to win you must play through the entire deck of cards in less than seven minutes.

    You and your fellow players are trapped on a handcar that you must keep moving to escape from the danger behind you. You will play cards in front of the handcar to extend the track, and as long as the symbols match, you're safe; when they don't match, cards behind the handcar blow up — and if the inferno catches up to you and blows you off track, you die.

    Little Town, IELLO's version of Little Town Builders from designers Shun and Aya Taguchi will receive an expansion. Each worker receives two blank cards (visible at the bottom of the image below), and if you upgrade either of those cards, you get that bonus power when you place the worker. Upgrades get more and more powerful, but also more and more expensive.

    Break the Cube is a standalone successor to Ryohei Kurahashi's Break the Code, which is IELLO's version of his game TAGIRON.

    Distant Suns is a "choose and write" game from designers Gary Kim and Yeon-Min Jung in which you're trying to improve your equipment, map the galaxy, locate black holes, contact extraterrestrials, and reach the edges of space (i.e., your personal score sheet) to score extra points as a famous space explorer.

    In Last Message from designers Juhwa Lee and Giung Kim, one person tries to help others identify the suspect of a crime, while a second person attempts to thwart that communication. More details in this BGG News post.

    For the titles from LOKI, I often have a picture with no other info for now. Beth is forwarding the catalog that she picked up at SPIEL '21, but for the moment pictures with bare bones info will have to do, as with Cosmic Race from Alexandre Emerit and Théo Rivière.

    Or Tentacolor from Davide Panizza.

    Or the press-your-luck, co-operative game Carla Caramel from Sara Zarian.

    Or Farm & Furious from Luc Rémond.

    Or Hâpy Families from Olivier Cipière and Forgenext.

    Okay, we have a lot of unknowns in everything listed above, but now you have a brief taste of what was to be found in IELLO's media showroom at SPIEL '21. Once again, thanks to Beth Heile for the pics, and ideally I'll be on hand myself for SPIEL '22...

    Read more »
  • Richard Garfield and Alea Offer Dungeons, Dice, & Danger

    by W. Eric Martin

    To follow up my coverage of The Hunger from designer Richard Garfield, let's take a sneak peek at something new coming from him on 2022, with the publisher being Ravensburger's alea brand — and while Garfield+alea seems like an odd combination, I can imagine this design being similar to earlier, pre-Feld alea titles.

    Here's a quick overview of Dungeons, Dice, & Danger, a roll-and-write game that will debut in Germany in January 2022 and in the U.S. in March 2022:
    Gather your courage, pack your sword, and roll the dice as you journey through the realm in search of treasure and glory. In Dungeons, Dice, & Danger, you explore deep, dark dungeons filled with treasure — and infested with monsters! Do you have what it takes to be a hero of legend?

    After releasing no titles in 2021 as it transitioned from developer Stefan Brück to developer André Maack, alea also plans to release a second title in late 2022.

    Oh, and you can look forward to still more from Richard Garfield in a BGG News post coming soon. Read more »

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