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  • We Finally Did It....We Have a Podcast!

    by Candice Harris

    On September 30, 2022, BoardGameGeek officially joined — well, re-joined — the board game podcast club with an all-new BoardGameGeek podcast, featuring fortnightly casual conversations with passionate gamers who geek out about board games, the mechanisms behind them, and the people who create them. I'll host the BoardGameGeek podcast with a variety of folks from the BGG Team, in addition to other special guest board game enthusiasts and personalities.


    The BoardGameGeek podcast is currently available on Spotify and Buzzsprout, and will be rolled out to all major podcast services within a week, so be sure to subscribe and check out new episodes every other Friday. The main topic of each episode will vary between game reviews, convention coverage, and discussions on different game mechanisms, themes, designers, artists, and types of games.

    In episode 1, BoardGameGeek owner Scott Alden (a.k.a., Aldie) and I discuss what we've been playing recently, what SPIEL is all about, and the SPIEL '22 releases we're most excited about.




    Read more »
  • Designer Diary: Peak Oil Profiteer – Revealed†

    by Heiko Günther

    Most readers will probably remember how, a few years ago, a new game smashed all the records and constantly dominated the news*. Peak Oil had hit the scene like the landslide of boardgaming goodness that it is. It's not necessary to repeat any of that crazy hype here as you probably know all about it anyway, and really, we don't have nearly enough space.

    In light of this remarkable monument to boardgaming history, an idea was born: What if there were an additional installment in this epic boardgame series? Another piece in the legendary Peak Oil saga? Was there any easier way to amass further fame and riches? (Rhetorical question: Nothing could be easier. Trust us.) And who better to design this new game than the original designers (us). Not surprising, therefore, that our greedy, Spaniard publishing team known as 2Tomatoes Games, otherwise a bit slow on the uptake, quickly latched onto this plan.

    Thus, in the dark and stormy fall days of 2018 in the quaint German town of Essen, the 2Tomatoes approached us with a simple question: Can this be done? Is recreating such genius even possible? Immediately our brains set to work on this tricky task, and quickly, a conclusion formed: Yes, this is possible. So we did it.** And that is the story of how this game was made, how this shining beacon of hope in a sea of dross came to be.

    The first priority was obvious. We needed a hex grid to move armies, nukular tanks, and little plastic pieces about on. Next, what should this game be about? "War" could work — but let's cut this introduction, already three paragraphs long, mainly silly, and without really a lot of content (very sorry about that), a bit short. The actual designers' diary begins below. Sorry for any inconveniences.

    The guy on the left (not Travolta) also played in a lot of crappy movies
    In the days before the oceans drank Atlantis...aargh. Sorry. Let's try again.

    In case you have no idea about the original Peak Oil (which, contrary to above claims, might have been less of a smash hit), in that game, the players, representing big oil companies, drill for oil, ship oil, hire agents, and do various other things in various countries all over the world. However, it's never really spelled out what happens in detail when you take such action. This is, of course, nothing unusual for a board game at this level of abstraction, but we always felt that there were interesting stories to explore.

    As a second aspect, somewhere along the many roads the development of Peak Oil took, it had been possible to trade in arms, to stabilize and destabilize countries. These things to us seem interesting, relevant, and wildly underrepresented in board games.

    First, we tried to design a mini-game that could integrate with the original Peak Oil to play out the actions mentioned above, with the results carrying over back into the main game. Obviously and not surprisingly, this didn't really work out too well. It took away from Peak Oil's main focus, bloated the gameplay to unholy lengths, and generally was not really fun. So, after some to and fro, we settled on creating an entirely new game that only tied back to Peak Oil's theme, but not its mechanisms.

    One of the early prototypes
    Fortunately, our corporate overlords — the 2Tomatoes — didn't demand any specific design choices***, as long as there was a clear connection to Peak Oil. For this new game, we decided to zoom in on a country**** "affected" by the international oil trade and to play out the consequences of "Big Oil" taking an interest in the oil reserves there.

    A few design choices didn't change. We were sure from the start that there would be armies moving over the map. The players — representing amoral Big Oil corporations — wouldn't have complete control over one faction each, but would be able to influence all factions and their armies to varying degrees over the course of the game. Each of the factions would get a number of leaders, which the players could bribe and take control of to steer the factions, increasing the corruption in the process. We wanted the game end to be triggered by the collapse of the country, that is, by achieving maximum corruption. To win, only your profit would count, with utter disregard of how you achieved it or what you did to the country to do so. Also, the smallest unit of money needed to be one million.

    You want one of these
    Other aspects changed considerably between the various versions. Tobias' harebrained idea of a hex-based map was abandoned as quickly as possible — wait: Writing this sentence and discussing it, we just made up a really cool movement system that might actually work better than the one used in the published game, one that would use a hex-map and that requires only another five or six custom dice to work. Okay, but on the upside, it would give each of the three armies their own, very unique movement profile — which, admittedly, would be nice, but not really make the game any better. Okay. Let's move on. So. All in all, the map got quite a heap of tweaks and adjustments, even after the switch away from hexes.

    The pricing mechanism was introduced relatively early on, getting a few improvements and add-ons along the way. For a long time during development, influence over and corruption of leaders had a very strong narrative aspect to it, with little stories developing around all of them: where they would hang out, how you could blackmail (sorry, influence) them, and generally giving a very nice Junta vibe. Unfortunately, while absolutely charming, it was very clunky and fiddly to handle in practice, with a heap of cards and bookkeeping that we did not really care for a lot, so we removed all of it.

    Of course, this rather broad description of the design process leaves out a huge number of tiny adjustments††. Game design, in practice, is an iterative process: implement a small change, play a number of test games, evaluate the results, and address the next tiny adjustment. Over and over. This seems like a good place to thank all of the people who had to play endless repeats of marginally different versions of Peak Oil: Profiteer with us. (You know who you are, and you have been paid well to keep shut, so better.)

    Spot the difference
    So, when after a few months of refining, we approached our publishers (you might remember them from above, the 2Tomatoes) with our "finished" game, we were quite confident that they would love it. And, of course, the first thing they asked was: Right. Does it play solo?. Hm. Yeah. That had been their only design specification, which we had conveniently "forgotten". The game we had designed was an awesome, highly interactive piece of mayhem, but it didn't have a solo mode, so we added a really good one — but why bore you with details?

    Each of you, go out there and buy your own copy*†, so you can play it in the quietness of your peaceful abode by the lake, where none of your loud and meddlesome "friends" will interfere with your well-laid plans of how exactly to drive this poor country into total ruin and despair.†††† Enjoy!

    Heiko Günther and Tobias Gohrbandt

    Drain the oil before corruption ruins these lands
    •••
    Written by Tobias and Heiko together, or rather against each other. This probably did not become clear from the above, we are indeed a bit proud of this game.

    † One of the few advantages (apart from the stellar pay, of course) of working for such a big corporate publisher is the total lack of any quality management. "You there, here is a big wad of money, write a designers' diary for your game, Rockodrommo, was it? Nah, just send it directly to print, no need for US to read it." Harhar. Here you go:
    * Undeservedly eclipsing many other, far better games, also hitting the market in 2018: Just One, CuBirds, Tokyo Highway, First Contact, and Decrypto
    ** Please imagine this read in the voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
    *** At least that was what we thought then...
    **** Let's not try to narrow the location any further, shall we?
    †† We could, of course, bore you with countless made-up anecdotes from the design process, bombard you with all the iterations and changes the game went through, explain why one of the consultants wears this really silly beanie, iterate all the nonsense we came up with, and luckily (for you), removed again, and and and, but why?
    *† Or, if you are so inclined, download the free PnP and craft that.
    †††Reading footnotes that are not referenced from anywhere in the text, are we? Terry Pratchett fan, eh? Who reads designer diaries anyway, and while we are at it, the really small print at the bottom, does anybody read that?
    †††† Em, yeah, this sounds like the solo mode is easy to beat or lets you play out your "well-laid plans" undisturbed. This does not apply. Maybe your friends are easier to beat after all. Why not invite them to your cool hut by the lake, to play against you? Read more »
  • From Yellow & Yangtze to HUANG

    by W. Eric Martin

    In 2018, Grail Games released Reiner Knizia's Yellow & Yangtze, a sister game to Knizia's classic Tigris & Euphrates that retained the same principle of gameplay — maintain balance in your growth — while changing the setting and many elements of gameplay.

    That game is now off the market, but Polish publisher PHALANX is bringing it back to print as HUANG.

    Front cover
    As far as I understand based on my bare Google skills, the name is meant to represent both "yellow" (黄色, huángsè) and "emperor" (皇帝, huángdì).

    As before, this 2-4 player game is set in ancient China during the time of the Warring States. You take control of one of these states, battling to unite the country under your dynasty.

    Each player has five different leaders: Governor, Soldier, Farmer, Trader, and Artisan. Clever placement of these leaders and their corresponding tiles on the board is key to your growth, allowing you to build pagodas to score points, trigger or avoid wars, and instigate peasant revolts that bring down your enemies. At game's end, your score is the number of points in your weakest category, so failing to achieve success in one category means failure overall.


    PHALANX plans to run a crowdfunding campaign for HUANG in early 2023, with standard and deluxe pledge options as well as three expansions. From the press release:
    The Deluxe option will come with five sets of leader miniatures. These will be anthropomorphic representations of animals from the Chinese zodiac: the dragon, goat, rabbit, rat, and tiger. They will replace the leader tiles in the Standard version of the game.

    Mock-up from PHALANX
    The first expansion will be the Royal Palace, a large unique pagoda miniature that comes with its own ruleset, that will be free for all backers who follow the campaign before the launch. It will be unique to [this campaign] and not available in retail. Information about the other two expansions will be made available during the campaign.

    HUANG will be previewed at SPIEL '22, which takes place October 6-9 in Essen, Germany. PHALANX notes that HUANG "will be available in English, French and Polish language versions. Due to licensing restrictions we will only be able to make the game available to backers from the USA, the UK, France, and Poland."

    Mock-up pagodas from PHALANX
    Game board background Read more »
  • Designer Diary: To Deck Management and Beyond, or The Making of Stellarion

    by Shadi Torbey

    From the Skies...

    In Aerion's designer diary, I explained how I stumbled upon deck management largely by chance: I was looking to create a dice game in which you'd need to gather resources (cards) by rolling appropriate dice combinations, but with no free re-rolls to improve your result. Instead, you would pay for re-rolls by discarding the very resources you were trying to acquire with your rolls.

    To avoid adding the randomness of drawing cards to the uncertainty of rolling dice, I divided the cards into decks whose content stayed the same from one game to the next, with open knowledge of the cards.

    This had the expected result of drastically reducing the randomness in the availability of the cards, but it also added a new layer of decision-making: Knowing the composition of each deck meant choosing which card to discard was no longer determined simply by how useful the card in question still was, but also by the probabilities of revealing a card you actually needed in its place.

    This deck-management aspect turned out to be an essential part of in-game decision-making.

    ...to the Stars

    I started to wonder: What if I used deck management as the main mechanism of a game?

    What about a game centered on a series of decks, with every decision directly related to manipulating those decks, and cards that could be discarded either to obtain a victory condition or to trigger a helpful effect?

    The theme imposed itself. After the Garden and Aquarium of Onirim, it was time to take a closer look at the Observatory and the infinite skies that surround it.

    In Stellarion, your goal is to launch voyages into four galaxies. A voyage needs four cards: a ship card (which is specific to this destination), plus the stars, nebula and planet cards of that galaxy (as if you were triangulating your co-ordinates). Once you have those four cards, you discard them and get closer to victory.


    As in Aerion, the cards are distributed between pre-constructed decks (eight here instead of six). Their contents stay the same from one game to the next: four decks are specialized in one type of card (for instance, one deck will have only stars), and four decks are specialized in one galaxy (for instance, one deck will have ships, nebulas, stars, and planets belonging only to a single galaxy).

    You can play only with the first (face-up) card of each deck, so your aim is to have the four cards needed to launch a voyage on display.


    If you don't have the cards required for a launch, you must discard two cards of the same type, e.g., two ships, which will trigger a helpful effect.


    The effects offer various options for manipulating the decks: a limited but certain search for one specific card, a broader but less certain search for several cards, the retrieving of discarded cards, and the option to set cards aside for later use (which expands the "pool" of available cards).

    If both discarded cards are from the same galaxy (i.e., they are identical), the effect is doubled, adding an extra layer of dilemma.

    Since each card can be used for a launch or to trigger an effect, this can make decisions rather tricky as all the cards are rather limited, with only four copies of each card being available.


    The Oniverse Is in Expansion(s)

    When it came to the expansions, there was a great deal of experimentation. Here I’ll name two options that failed to make the final cut:

    The first version had several levels of difficulty, including an introductory level without any effects; discarding two identical cards served only to "unblock" situations in the search for the cards needed for a launch. This played like a very simple phone app, but was ultimately rejected for failing to offer enough challenge, even for an intro game. This "multi-level" system (similar to Castellion) was instead replaced by a system consisting of base game + modular expansions (similar to all the other games in the series).


    The Glaucous Sun's pawn first traveled from one deck to another, wreaking havoc on your card combos. This version was fun but a bit too chaotic, and eventually the pawn got its own board (making Stellarion, when playing with the expansion, technically the first "board" game of the series).


    Eventually the game stabilized around four expansions. Each adds extra voyage cards to the game, raising the number of these cards (and the victory condition) from 8 (base game) to 16 (when playing with all four expansions combined).

    Each expansion allowed me to push the deck-management system further: black holes block the decks but yield a high reward; theories require more cards on display than needed for a launch, but without the need to discard them; the Glaucous Sun encourages the sacrifice of some effects to avoid defeat; and mirrors are useless for the launches but increase the number of effects triggered.

    After this journey of discovery and in-depth exploration of deck management, I was ready to get back to the more familiar shores of hand management...or should I rather say hands management? But this will be the object of another diary, in one year from now (if everything goes to plan).

    In the meantime, I hope you'll enjoy Stellarion!

    Shadi Torbey
    inPatience

    P.S. If you're at SPIEL '22, you can come try it out at booth 5-I104. Read more »
  • Designer Diary: Skate Summer

    by Randy Reiman

    "Just one more trick..."

    That's what I convinced myself as I took flight in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 during the summer of 2001. My best bud Gary had bested me in every competitive mode the video game offered. If I could nail just one last 360 Benihana over the Carlsbad Gap, my combo would take him down. I didn't even finish the thought before we both watched my digital Geoff Rowley face-plant straight into the pavement.


    There's an undeniable thrill to pushing your luck. I often had more than enough points to defeat Gary, but lacked the discipline to cash out. It was simply too much fun to keep skating. The scuffed rails, graffiti beaches, and punk music all worked in tandem to create a world I never wanted to leave.

    Fast forward: Years later, I'm holding a pen and some paper. I decided to take everything I loved about skateboarding and capture it in a board game. Of course that would prove easier said than done.


    A few early design choices crept into my head. I wanted dice for the risk of bailing and skatepark paths in which to place them. I tested a dice system using several route-building games, but it didn't feel like skateboarding.

    My initial resistance to cards held me back because skating is all about tricks and their unique names. I implemented a novel method to draft trick cards. It was inspired by the rondel mechanism from a game called Seeland in which you spend coins to draft further tiles. Instead of a circular arrangement, my cards would be curved along a halfpipe. A player would spend "momentum" to slide a skateboard and select their card, then roll dice to attempt that trick. Recharging momentum cost a die, so dice management was key to extending your combo.


    The halfpipe rondel was an interesting foundation for many iterations. I sought assistance from my college friend, Tony, and we used our engineering backgrounds to design and print a 3D ramp that held the cards and sliding token. We also printed skater meeples to move around the board.

    These physical components got me excited enough to take Skate Summer on the road. My first playtest at an Unpub Mini event provided invaluable feedback. The game had a "rich get richer" problem and bails felt devastating. Developing a satisfying bail mechanism would continue to haunt me for the next two years.


    Constant playtesting opened up new ideas. My Gen Con 2019 prototype saw increased player interaction and dice manipulation. Trick paths were gone in favor of an open world skatepark, complete with a gear shop for upgrades. Player mats were designed with skill attributes and trick multipliers. Skills were spent to re-roll, and upgrading meters would unlock additional dice. This system worked fine, but often a new player would get stuck as their opponents grew way too powerful. Balancing the pace of upgrades became a top priority.


    Trick multipliers also saw an evolution. Initially, you could multiply card values by attempting a higher roll. This changed into gear tiles that slotted under each completed trick. You earned gear by matching symbols on neighboring cards, thus giving more to consider when drafting.

    I split the cards into three sliding halfpipes based on trick variety. For example, your dice had to beat the yellow value to draft a grind card. The pipe token then slid to your rolled number, making subsequent grind cards harder to draft. Player interaction was heightened because sliding the tokens changed your opponent's options.


    As this iteration unfolded, more homages from Tony Hawk's Pro Skater were sprinkled in. Cards now had S-K-A-T-E on them for a collectible endgame bonus. Secret tapes were hidden under gap tokens. The card chaining system would activate one of three bonus paths: (1) special tricks, (2) gear multipliers, or (3) stat boosts.

    Skate Summer was complete enough to bring to PAX Unplugged, where all my "clever" systems came together to produce one unfortunate conclusion: The game was slow.

    Painfully slow.


    Due to the pandemic, Tony and I worked with our friend George to recreate Skate Summer digitally. I commissioned a few pieces of concept art to give the game flavor.

    The virtual Skate Summer was playtested at Gen Con 2020. I had added thematic goals like spraypaint and smashing boxes, but mostly it was the same lengthy experience. Each player took their slow turn and waited for the next player to take their slow turn. My frustration reached a boiling point, leading me to trash the whole design. It was time to take every lesson I learned and build Skate Summer for real.


    Sliding a token back and forth was still fun, but skating is more about performing tricks than drafting them. I converted the sliding track into a personal balance meter. Staying balanced in Tony Hawk games was always exhilarating, so that became my primary focus.

    Tavarua is a great surfing game with a balance mechanism. In Tavarua's system, ocean waves affect your balance through a deck of cards. I considered what felt unique to skate combos. I wanted your first few tricks to feel easy, then escalate in risk. I stuck with dice, but made them a universal balance roll affecting all skaters simultaneously. Each trick added another die to the pool which increased tension. Players would need clever cardplay to pull their meters back toward center.


    The balance meter became the glue for each subsystem. Gear was moved to the skatepark and upgraded your meter for better combos. Trick values could score more points by raising your skill with flames. These flames were earned through balance arrows, adding extra consideration for which direction to choose. Simultaneous play felt compelling. Bailing made more sense since players had agency with their cards. Special tricks were earned on the player mat through long combos, offering greater rewards to risk-takers.


    Using inspiration from Viticulture's wake up track, I developed the "landing track". Now when stopping your combo, you'd get first choice of a landing bonus. This proved a critical decision point because a flame-starved combo would make certain spots more tempting.

    You also entered the movement phase based on landing position. Turn order mattered in the race for skatepark goals as they were scored for endgame majorities. Big Air, Revert Ramps, and Manuals added faster board movement. Skate Summer finally had action and energy.


    Player scaling, upgrade balancing, and game length were the last screws to be tightened. Different player counts affected the landing track. Gear upgrades were tweaked to ensure they felt equally enticing. A score target marker was created for adjusting game length.

    Finally, I was ready to show the game again. I pitched to several publishers during a virtual Unpub event and Pandasaurus Games clicked as a great fit for Skate Summer. Developer Alex Cutler and owners Nathan McNair and Molly Wardlaw had exciting ideas on how to merge my design with their top-tier production.


    Since teaming with Pandasaurus, additional development elevated Skate Summer to incredible new heights. Alex cleaned up remaining rulebook issues and handed the game to Pape Ink for art design. Pape crafted a skate world so detailed it left my jaw on the floor. All the elements were in place to form the experience I had been chasing.

    It had taken countless late nights cutting tokens on the floor to build Skate Summer. Whenever I got lost or frustrated, I tried to clear my mind and focus on one single goal at a time.

    The key to moving forward was always just one more trick.

    Randy Reiman Read more »
  • Ten Years of Qwixx, and Tricky Card Play in Triggs

    by W. Eric Martin

    To celebrate ten years of Steffen Benndorf's Qwixx, German publisher Nürnberger-Spielkarten-Verlag is releasing Qwixx: 10 Jahre Limited-Edition, a special edition of the game that includes the Qwixx base game, as well as the Bonus and Gemixxt expansions and the components needed for the Qwixx Longo standalone game. All of the boards are erasable, and the game includes dry-erase markers.

    NSV notes that this edition will consist of 10,000 copies, which seems large for a limited edition, but Qwixx has sold more than a million copies since its debut in 2013, so a print run of at most 1% of the existing market is likely a good call.


    • Should you just want more Qwixx with a twist, NSV is happy to satisfy that desire with Qwixx: Double from Benndorf and Reinhard Staupe.

    Each of the two scoresheets gives you a different way to double up on marks: one sheet allows for each number to be marked a second time (up to a maximum of 16 marks in a row), while the other gives you two marks only for particular numbers, giving you an incentive to hold off for just the right roll.


    • As for a non-Qwixx release, NSV has Triggs from Karin Hetling, a 2-4 player game that seems right in line with the NSV model of quick tactical play:
    In Triggs, the numbers 1-12 appear on your player sheet 2-5 times, and you want to cross them all off first in order to win.

    On a turn, you either draw cards, discard cards, or tick off numbered boxes. When you draw, you take two cards from the face-down deck or the two face-up decks as you choose. You have a maximum hand size of ten cards, and when you discard, you can dump only cards of the same number.


    To tick off numbered boxes, you name a value from 1-12, then play cards from your hand, whether a single card matching that value or a pair of cards that sum to that value. Tick off one space in that row for each card or pair of cards you play. When you cross off the final box in a row, you gain an extra cross, which (if you play cleverly) might earn you another cross, and so on.

    After discarding or playing cards, if you have no cards in hand, draw five cards from the face-down pile.

    The first player to cross off all of the squares on their player sheet wins.
    Read more »
  • VideoWhat I'm Looking Forward to at SPIEL '22; How About You?

    by W. Eric Martin

    SPIEL '22 opens on October 6, and Stephen Cordell and I have been racing to put the finishing touches on BGG's SPIEL '22 Preview, although such things are never finished as much as done. At a certain point, updates no longer make sense, with that point being the end of this week, or perhaps the moment I step on the airplane to Germany, or perhaps once the show opens. We'll see!

    At this moment, the SPIEL '22 Preview features:


    And while I'm loathe to disturb that symmetry, we undoubtedly will, possibly within minutes of me posting this item.

    I've created a short video about the SPIEL '22 Preview, how to use some of its features — namely (1) how to use the pulldown menu to sort the listed titles in various ways and (2) how to use the filters and priority tagging (Must Have, Not Interested, etc.) to better see what you want to see.

    I also talk about my picks for SPIEL '22, which generally consists of card games, abstract strategy games, and co-operative party games. You can see all of my picks here.

    You can generate a list like this yourself! Once you prioritize titles as "must have" or anything else, you'll have a link like this in the bottom right of the black info box at the top of the page:


    Click that link, and you open a separate window showing all of your picks. This link even shows undecided and "not interested" picks, so if you don't want to show those, open the filters, uncheck undecided and not interested, then click APPLY. Voilà!

    Feel free to share your link in a comment below or on social media. Maybe you'll find others with similar tastes, or just introduce someone else to a game that excites you that they haven't heard about. You're probably not lacking for interesting-sounding games, of course, but I just like seeing what others are excited about, even if we don't share the same tastes. Excitement equals hope, something you're looking forward to, something you want to share with others.

    Youtube Video Read more »
  • Designer Diary: Roll Camera! and the B-Movie Expansion

    by Mal Rempen

    The Inciting Incident

    In August 2017 I launched the Kickstarter campaign for Itchy Feet: The Travel Game, a card game based on my web comic, fully believing that to be the beginning and end of my flirtation with the world of tabletop games. I figured if I were lucky, I'd raise $15k, break even, have a neat bit of merch for the comic's followers, and that would be that. Instead, the campaign raised over $113,000, to my utter disbelief and astonishment, not to mention that of my friends and family! After printing and fulfillment was complete, my wife encouraged me to make another game. "You'd be stupid not to", were her exact words. The gears started turning in my head.

    My career and passion was filmmaking. Since I was ten years old, I'd been directing movies. I went to film school in LA, worked in Hollywood, freelanced in Europe, and helped build and lead a film school in Berlin. The web comic was just a fun side thing; I was a filmmaker. Then, in December 2018, I was in the Berlin metro on my way to a Christmas party, listening to an episode of the Imaginary Worlds podcast about indie board games, when the host began talking about the explosion in the variety of themes that modern board games were experiencing. And it suddenly struck me: What about a board game about making a movie?

    It was so obvious! Shooting a film has so many parallels with playing a co-operative board game: You work together, each with a specific role that has "special abilities", moving people and things around in a defined physical area under specified rules, motivated by ever-dwindling resources while challenges escalate. I mean, come on, storyboard scenes are already the shape of playing cards! This thing designs itself!

    It seemed SO obvious that I was sure it had been done before, but I found that most "movie-making" games, like Dream Factory or Hollywood, were from a studio executive's perspective — matching actor types with scripts, that sort of thing — and they were all competitive. That didn't interest me. I wanted a game that captured my own indie filmmaking experience: what it's like to work together under the pressure of time, budget, and everything going wrong, toward that strange intangible artistic goal of cinema. THAT is real movie magic and something worth sharing, so that Christmas in my in-law's house, I got to work.

    The First Few Takes

    My first attempt at the design was the most literal: Players had roles that made decisions on what to do and could "veto" each other in ways that mirrored actual film team hierarchy. The board was a movie set with a hex grid on which you placed crew and equipment. And that was pretty much it.


    I played one game of this version with my brother, who said in his politest voice possible, "Well...it isn't very fun." I realized I had gone TOO literal. The simulationist approach wouldn't work; I needed at least one level of abstraction that would allow players to get into the world of the game.

    Being relatively new to this industry, I didn't know of many board games at the time, and I didn't really know BGG too well either, so I asked my board gamer friend whether he knew of any games that featured a crew. He suggested I borrow his copy of Tony Go's excellent Deep Space D-6. This game was a revelation: The crew are dice, and their roles are different faces on a set of custom d6s. You assign them to areas of the ship based on which faces you roll, and one face is a (!), which accumulate to spawn enemies. It's like Faster Than Light: the solo board game. It's awesome — and it was exactly what I needed, so I borrowed this core mechanism wholesale to see if it provided the abstraction I needed.

    Later on, when it became clear that the crew dice placement mechanism was here to stay, I reached out and asked Tony whether he was okay with me using the idea. He graciously gave the project his blessing. I didn't technically need it, of course, but I felt better with it. I wanted him to feel not that something had been taken away from him, but rather that his work had inspired something new. Credit where credit is due! Thanks, Tony.


    Now, although this first dice-based version was of course riddled with early-design issues like over-complication — two types of custom dice, one for crew and another for equipment, a checklist for shooting a scene?? — and imbalance, it was almost immediately fun to play. Most of the fundamental elements of the final game's design are in that image above: a rolling market of shot cards to shoot, problems that crop up, the steady downward march of budget and schedule, and the tension of the limited die faces pulling you in different directions — classic dice placement at its best. Although the crew dice was (and remains) the least directly thematic thing about the game — on a real film set you obviously don't just get a random assortment of crew each day — it delivered that dead accurate filmmaking feeling of having to do too much all at once with very little, as well as the uncertainty of what each new shooting day will bring. Overall, I was delighted. The game was working!

    And best of all, right at this point the game's title smacked me in the face at about 100 miles an hour. I was reading about Roll Player, thinking about that pun and what variant might work for filmmaking given the dice mechanism, when — WHAM, there it was: Roll Camera! It was just too perfect.

    The Kuleshov Effect

    But the game still had these many design issues to iron out. Chief among them, the film set area was wayyyyy too static. It just felt really stiff to assign actors, lights, and other equipment to these fixed spaces on the set area. Real filmmaking is incredibly dynamic; you are always moving around into different formations and patterns as required by the scene. The hex grid on my first iteration let you really place anything anywhere you wanted, which was great. I still had all these individual pieces for crew and equipment. But now they were cubes. Hmm. What if...A-HA!


    Once again, this set grid was a step toward abstraction and away from simulation — and yet, once again it far more accurately captured the real-world filmmaking process. Weird!

    I was learning a LOT at this point about the relationship between theme and mechanisms in board game design, especially about the inverse relationship between fidelity and authenticity. I wouldn't have been able to put it into words for you at the time, but I was realizing that very often, the more a game component LOOKED like the thing it was trying to represent, the less it actually FELT like that same thing when engaged with — and the reverse was also true, to a point.

    It was still early 2019, over a year before I discovered Pax Pamir: Second Edition, still today my go-to example of this idea made perfect. Give me resin blocks over high-detail minis any day of the week. I would argue that this relates to the old filmmaking rule of thumb that the monster is scarier if you DON'T see it (see: Jaws, Alien), or that old true but useless writing tip: "Show, don't tell." Your imagination filling in the blanks is far more fertile and emotionally engaging than anything that could be detailed for you by someone else. In fact, the more you detail, the less relatable it becomes. Cinema is at the height of its powers when it suggests, and so, I now believe, are board games.

    Anyway, if you scroll back up to that image, you'll notice another new addition to the game's design: the dual-sided quality track under the set area and above the budget. Initially my idea was to try to be funny and suggest that you couldn't make a film that was both good and popular; you had to choose one of the two, a sort of meta-commentary on my part. So, some scenes when shot would push the meter up in popularity, while others would push it toward awards. Popularity would gain you money, awards would gain you bonuses.

    It's a fun idea that made it pretty far down the line until later on a filmmaker friend of mine played a prototype and immediately said, "So you can't make Gladiator?" I don't really like Gladiator, but I took his point. I could foresee this smart-alecky comment coming at me over and over after publication, so I later changed this meter to overall quality, if only to save myself the annoyance. It managed to maintain its dual-sided nature; in the final design you have to make a film that's either "Not Bad" or better, or "So Bad It's Great", but nothing mediocre, which still today manages to get a laugh whenever I teach the game the first time.

    Places, People! Picture's Up!

    Around this point the design was stable enough that I thought I should start prototyping a physical prototype of the game with a wider group of people.


    Hoo baby, that's ugly. Yes, it's literally scrapped together with tape and a cardboard box. I did try consciously to be spartan with the layout at this point. I didn't want to do more artwork and graphic design than was absolutely necessary (for some reason I felt the shot card artwork WAS necessary), mostly to save myself the hassle of redoing it later, and which I now know is the rule of thumb in game design.

    But, I learned, withholding graphic design does come at a UX cost. I figured I could just cram everything together like a condensed wireframe and it would be at its easiest to playtest — but it wasn't. In fact, despite its minimalism, players found this version of the game confusing. Eventually I realized this wasn't due to the gameplay itself, but rather how the gameplay presented itself through its "interface" on the board and cards.

    This was a really valuable lesson: Graphic design, artwork, and gameplay are intimately fused, at least for me. I honestly have no idea how other publishers can manage to put a game together taking design, art, and graphic design from separate places. I get that these people usually work together, but I doubt they can afford the continuous sort of iterative back-and-forth between the three areas that I did on Roll Camera. I guess that's what more experience will earn you.

    Playing with the first physical prototype inspired me to give shot cards — later renamed "scene" cards to avoid confusing "shoot a shot" type language in the rulebook — two sides: a "before" side and an "after" side. This cleared up an annoyance I had early on that scenes in the editing room, after being "shot", still looked like storyboard sketches; now they could have a colorful "cinematic" side to show they're "in the can", as they say. This change also allowed me to put different information on each side of the card. This, in turn, gave me an opportunity to make the "editing" part of the game a bit more interesting.


    Above are some scene cards that have been "shot" and are in the editing room side of the board. On the right side of the cards you'll see their bonus (movie tickets = popularity, laurel wreaths = awards, as described earlier), as well as numbers and arrows pointing down. Until now I was finding in my testing that there was no reason to put the scene cards in any particular order after the film had been shot, which again didn't feel very thematic; of course editing can dramatically alter your final film. So the idea here was that adjacency would matter; certain scenes would impact other scenes above and below them. It would be a little efficiency puzzle to try to maximize your film's output based on the arrangement of the scenes.

    Personally, I really liked this puzzle as it was tense and many of the modifying numbers were high enough to make editing a central part of gameplay, but players ultimately found it confusing to read. Around this time I read about Isle of Skye, in which at set-up, four scoring tiles (out of many) are revealed to determine which tile patterns will award victory points. I loved the replayability that this offered, so inspired by this, I created "script" cards that were set out anew each game, then assigned the scene cards different colors. The adjacency of colors in the editing room provided the patterns that would score variously according to the script.

    This was the best kind of design choice because it killed a flock of birds with one stone: Editing was important again, space on the scene cards was freed up, and I got the thematic one-two punch of adding a movie script PLUS giving scenes colors, which corresponded to their "emotional content", informed by the artwork. It all just came together so well.

    I'll Be In My Trailer

    There's one more mechanism present in this iteration that I really loved, but which had to get cut, that this gives me the chance to talk about: the crew mood.


    I wanted a dynamic way for idea cards (the helpful kind of card) and problem cards (the unhelpful kind) to enter the game. Deep Space D-6 has an "alert" system in which one face of each crew die is a (!) that must be slotted into an alert area; three alerts draws a new enemy. I also had this in early versions, but pretty quickly I needed the real estate on the dice and abandoned it. Instead, I came up with this mechanism in which the game's bonuses and penalties would be meted out by how the crew is feeling, represented by a big "crew mood" die. At the start of your turn, you'd roll the die, then place it on the corresponding area on the mood track and get the bonus or penalty. You could then later use various cards and/or dice placement slots to impact the crew's mood, mitigating the randomness.

    On paper, I loved this system for two reasons. First, that big chunky fun crew mood die would have made a great component (just look at that thing!), and second, I loved what it said about the theme. The reality of filmmaking (or any kind of group work really) is that morale is absolutely critical. The difference between crappy sodium-heavy snacks and healthy ones, for example, can quite literally make or break a shooting day in the real world. It's important to take care of your crew and think about their well-being. I liked that this mechanism gave a face to these otherwise poor abstracted dice-people working for you. They are people, too, you know! It seemed only fair that their mood should have some power to swing your film's production.

    But the problems with it were pretty glaring. You can probably already tell it's not very interesting, gameplay-wise. It's also awkward to have your turn involve first rolling a die, then rolling more, different dice. Even if you can mitigate the crew mood roll to your advantage, between the mood and crew dice it just felt very arbitrary to have so many game systems connected to random dice chucks.

    And if you DO get the mitigation under control, then problems don't come up at all, which is also not fun, even though you're technically playing well. Too much was tied up into one roll of the die, so the crew mood was scrapped, and nobody missed it but me. Maybe this thematic idea will find its way into one of my future games, but with a stronger design to back it up.

    Dramatic Arc

    Playtesting continued through 2019. I iterated quickly. I knew I was on to something here because players were always fully engaged with the game's puzzle, and almost always the tension increased as budget and schedule dwindled and came down to the wire near the final turns. Players seemed to win the game more often than not, but at the same time almost always expressed at least once during the game, "Oh no, we're going to lose!" in desperation. I felt this was a strong feature. If the game could always feel like it COULD have tipped into failure near the end, it didn't matter if there were more wins than losses. This would later be tweaked with difficulty levels, of course.

    The best feedback I got, however, which encouraged me to stay the course, came from my fellow filmmaking friends and colleagues, who almost without fail would say after playing: "This feels exactly like making a movie." In fact, even today I hear reports of people from the film industry avoiding Roll Camera because it's "Too much like work!" I love that.

    Expanding the Call Sheet

    There were still two major final pieces of the game's design, both of which came into place after the playtest pictured below. My extended family and I were vacationing together in a castle in Ireland. (Hence the tapestry — castles are actually super reasonable on Airbnb, believe it or not!) It rained often because Ireland, so we played Roll Camera quite a bit. After this specific playtest with my brother and his girlfriend, she looked at me and said, "It's fun, but why is this a game for more than one person?"


    Oof.

    But she was right. At the time, the game had no individual player roles or player boards and no hand of idea cards. It was quite literally multi-player solitaire; you just all worked together doing what one person could do by themselves. Not great.

    Being new to the world of board games gave me some critical advantages in the design, development, and publishing of Roll Camera. As an outsider, I did not carry much baggage about what a board game "should" be, or (apart from my research of every dice-placement game in existence during design) what had been done before, or what the industry's pulse was, or indeed care much what most people thought, so I was free to do pretty much whatever I liked without really feeling tied to anything in particular. I think that made Roll Camera feel in many ways that it "came out of nowhere," mostly for the better.

    But the flip side of this blissful ignorance was that I was not really part of the conversation about alpha players / quarterbacking in co-operative games, which meant I reinvented that particular wheel from SCRATCH. I'm really pleased with how positive the reception of the game has been on that point in particular, considering how little I knew going in. It could have gone really wrong. Ignorance is a dangerous bedfellow!

    In the end, I was happy about my brother's girlfriend's critique because it gave me the opportunity to bring something back that hadn't found a place in the design since the very first iteration: player roles!


    Again, as with any satisfying design choice, the addition of player boards accomplished a few things. First, it let players feel that a part of the game was "theirs", which I learned is psychologically important, especially for co-operation. Ironically, it's harder to feel like you're contributing if ownership over everything is shared. (There's a political argument in there somewhere for someone cleverer than me.) It also gave them a "person" they could be, a role they could inhabit, and thematic games thrive on this role-playability. Plus it allowed me to fulfill on that final part of the filmmaking fantasy: being a named head of department. I'm the director! Do as I say! No, I'm the producer! I'm your boss! It's just good fun.

    This change also offered new dice-worker placement possibilities, which would vary depending on which player boards were in play. This was needed because the main board actions became kinda rote after a while. It didn't take much effort to nerf those enough to make looking at your player board or other players' boards a necessity to get out of a tough spot. Finally, individual player boards gave a reason for the players to suggest to each other what they could do on their turn or what others could do to contribute, making the game far more interactive. Home run!

    Have Your People Call My People

    The idea cards were the second system to get an overhaul, and the production meeting mechanism is one of the places where players and reviewers have said that the game offers something novel to the co-operative experience.

    Well, I have to come clean: It wasn't my idea. I mean sure, the idea cards were my idea, but they were fairly straightforward; if you played the production meeting action, any player could play an idea card from hand if they wanted to, then you decided how to use them. It was fine, but muddy. When I allowed anyone to pitch, it was almost never done by players when it wasn't their turn. If I forced everyone to pitch, inevitably the other players used it to dump their "bad" idea cards because they didn't want to overrule the active player.


    I now, of course, can't find it for the life of me, but I posted here on the BGG forums that I was stuck on this idea card system, and some intrepid user suggested that three idea cards would always be played: one to be activated immediately, one saved for later, and one discarded. The "saved for later" really brought the idea cards to life, because you knew that even if yours wasn't picked, you could pitch something to be useful for the future — but there was always the risk it'd be discarded. Either way, none of the cards pitched could be returned to hand. This change just made the decision space around idea cards SO much more interesting. (Editor's note: Josh Ellis suggested this idea here in Nov. 2019. —WEM)

    Best of all, this change suddenly made players say things like "I have a GREAT idea!" or ask, "Does anyone have any ideas?" or suggest puckishly, "I have a terrible idea", all of which work toward making the production meeting feel like a real meeting — because it is one.

    This taught me a lot about strong language in game design. In many games, you hear players say something like, "I can pay two story points to activate that blue tile, so if you play that sword card we can gain that movement buff." Hard to tell what that's supposed to mean outside of the game's systems. In Roll Camera, most of the components and actions are named such that during the game, players are speaking in the language of the theme. They will commonly say things like, "We're running out of time, we have to shoot!" or "Let's not resolve that problem now, let's hold a production meeting!" or "Our film's quality is terrible! You're the director, can't you compromise on the budget a bit?" All of which make you sound like you're actually on a film set making a movie — or at least, what you THINK it actually sounds like on a film set making a movie, which is good enough!

    This sort of naming wasn't done consciously here; it just came naturally as a result of my goals with the design, but it made such an impression on me that it will be at the front of my mind in any future designs, that's for sure.

    Cheap, Fast, Good: Pick Two

    The final bit of design worth mentioning involves what used to be called the clipboard:


    Ooh, cinema-y. This component made it so far that it's in the Kickstarter campaign video! I really liked the clipboard because it felt right to hold in your hands, just like actual important production paperwork for a film's budget and schedule.

    The intention was to print it on thick board and use clips for trackers so that it would be a REAL CLIP BOARD, get it? It just worked. But in the end, I couldn't find good clips. Any existing clips the manufacturer had were made for card stock, and I didn't want it to be flimsy card. I knew the clips would fray the edges, and anyway it's not supposed to be flimsy. A clipboard is sturdy! But board-sized clips were either so tight they scraped the printed art or so loose they slid all over the place. It just wasn't going to work.

    Someone suggested I take a look at the Gloomhaven dials, and I did, but I wasn't all that excited at first. I still wanted that clipboard. Eventually though, on a whim I threw together a sketch and the manufacturer made a prototype, and you know what? I was sold.


    They felt good, I could give them a "film reel" look to at least keep things in the film theme, and best of all, I was able to print the difficulty levels on the back side of the dials, which is something I was having trouble with on the clipboard. To set up, flip the dials over to the back, set the difficulty according to your choice and player count, and on the front it's ready to go. As usual, I'm most satisfied when a design choice can impact multiple areas and solve multiple problems at once — much like a good film scene, which ideally should be able to deliver information about characterization, background, plot, and setting, all at the same time.


    The Martini

    So there's an overview of the design and development of Roll Camera! The game was originally published in 2021, but sold out quickly and the reprint is now available, along with editions in many languages and, of course, the anticipated B-Movie Expansion. I'll say a bit about the design and development of that here as well.

    The Cutting Room Floor

    During Roll Camera's design I had a few ideas that didn't make the cut (appropriately enough). When the base game's Kickstarter campaign did well, I figured it was worth exploring an expansion utilizing these leftover elements, and I did some initial design work.


    I've got to be honest, I rediscovered these genre scene cards when I was rooting through my old Roll Camera box o' prototypes for this diary. I had completely forgotten about them. You can tell they're from a very early point in the design process because they have the little film reel icon, which dates the design to when the quality track was still popular vs awards, so the idea to incorporate genre scenes was there from very early on, but I never found a good place for them.

    After Roll Camera! hit people's tables, one of the most oft-repeated comments was the desire for "more scene cards!" This was a great way to find a new home for an old idea, and just like these initial genre card designs had their own little mini-mechanism (as indicated by the ghost and cowboy boot icons), so does the B-Movie Genre mechanism provide a new layer of challenge for players.

    The second element was something I had planned until very late in the design: a semi-cooperative mode. My idea was, thematically, players could compete for "credit" on the film. Each action you took would earn you points, and the player with the most points won — IF the film was successfully completed on time, under budget, and of appropriate quality! If not, then the player with the FEWEST points would win. They could find another job unscathed, employing plausible deniability; it wasn't THEIR fault the film had tanked!


    Thematically I found this idea delightful, and I was sure it could work somehow. I turned out to be sorely mistaken. The game mode was cut entirely after months of trying and failing to make it work. It's probably for the best.

    At this point, I have to admit, I was pretty Roll Camera'd out. I was delighted that Roll Camera was getting such a warm reception, but I wanted to focus my design efforts on new games, ideas completely different than Roll Camera — and yet I knew it was time to strike with an expansion while the Roll Camera iron was hot, so I brought on development studio John Brieger Creative and co-designer John Velgus to help me bring my B-Movie Expansion ideas over the finish line. You can read all about the development of the genre mechanisms, a new equipment system, and the exorcism of the semi-coop mode on their excellent project debrief.

    Post-Credits Sequence

    After the successful Roll Camera and B-Movie campaigns, I found myself at something of a crossroads. Filmmaking has been my dream career since I was ten years old, and I was lucky to work in and around film for 25 years after that...and yet, here was a new (to me) medium — board games — that seemed to be extending its hand, offering a lesser-trodden path with a commercial potential and full creative control — every auteur's dream.

    The end result is that I have strayed from my filmmaking path to explore this new realm full-time. I can't say I expected that turn of events, but I am so, so happy to be here. To anyone who has or will get Roll Camera or any of my games, thank you for helping make it possible.

    I have many untold stories to tell and unexplored worlds to share, and the tabletop could just be the perfect place for them. See you there!

    Malachi Ray Rempen
    Keen Bean Studio Read more »
  • Designer Diary: Hamlet: The Village Building Game

    by Dave Chircop

    This post includes two diaries: one from David Chircop, the designer of Hamlet: The Village Building Game, and one from Johnathan Harrington, the game's developer. The goal here is to give two different perspectives and approaches towards a design.

    Throughout the post, we have scattered in photographs of prototypes of Hamlet in a somewhat chronological order, so that you can see how everything changed as the game grew and bumped around in the cauldron. Enjoy!


    Last-minute update: Copies have started to ship to Kickstarter backers, so Hamlet: Founders' Deluxe Edition will be available for purchase at SPIEL '22 in limited quantities for 65€.

    Designer Diary: The Thing About Sense of Space

    Ever since I started dabbling with making games, a village builder was always a fascinating prospect for me to model. My formative experiences with games in general were deeply rooted in the RTS genre — games like The Settlers, Age of Empires, and WarCraft. I absolutely adored those games, but the thing I loved the most about them was not the battles or tech trees; it was that opening twenty minutes when you are presented with a town hall and a few peasants, and you start forming, shaping a thing from scratch.

    I enjoyed the management of the workers, the movement of the workers, the placing of the woodcutter close to a forest so that the workers don't have to walk too far. I enjoyed the fact that without much thought and almost out of necessity, my village starts organizing itself: houses next to each other, the wood production area, the mining area, the farms placed in a location where I know I can expand it later. All of this, the necessities of the mechanics, combined with the randomness of the map, the sense of distance between areas, their segregation, and a touch of my own desire for pretty organized things eventually allowed a "place" to emerge, a place that I later gave a name — often funny, ridiculous, or childishly lewd, knowing tween David.

    And then I zoomed out a bit and just watched my village be alive. The villagers walking, from one cute building to another, carrying things.

    This was my favorite part. The other arcs that often accompanied games like these — discovering other villages, the race for building a stronger army, the defense and the opportunistic counter offense — were all secondary for me. I often would bring the village to its operating state, then abandon that save and start over, just to do the build-up again and see what will emerge this time.


    This, at its core, is the biggest inspiration for Hamlet. In March 2021, after four years of on-and-off development, through grueling AAA video game work, I had the Hamlet I wanted to publish. By October 2021, I had what I thought was a "finished" version of this game. The game was balanced, smooth, streamlined, short, competitive, easy to explain — it looked pretty. It had the elements that made a good village builder... Yes, of course there is a "but".

    In November 2021, we delayed the Kickstarter for Hamlet. We wanted to re-do some art, we wanted to work a bit longer on the video, we wanted to refine the page. I found myself with a game that I had written off as finished, but also a game that was in some way not fully satisfying me. With a few extra months of time bought thanks to the Kickstarter, I sat down to figure out why.

    In David Lynch's "Catching The Big Fish", I remember his insistence on servicing the original idea. Making not always the "best" decisions, but ones that service the original idea the most. In media that require a creative process that involves reduction or distillation — like games or film — this adherence to the inspiration becomes both more important as well as harder to achieve.

    With the extra time the Kickstarter delay granted me, I locked myself in the "Hamlet" room at the Mighty Boards office and sat for a few weeks. It was a strange time as I barely spoke to anyone, and I think people were afraid to interrupt me. After thought and a few discussions with the people who had access to the game at the time, and a few deep discussions with my dear friend and fellow designer Gordon, I pinpointed the issue: At some point in its streamlining and fat trimming, Hamlet had become a better game, but it had stopped creating "places" — you know, places I can give names to.


    A Place with a Name

    Why this was happening was not so difficult to figure out. In the process of streamlining the game, we had cut the majority of distance restrictions that the game had, which removed a lot of clunk. This meant that all workers could go pretty much anywhere rather easily, downplaying the importance of buildings that need to be close to each other to be effective. If where you place something does not matter, then even with the engaging spatial puzzle, the different tiles and buildings and their multitudes of effects, they all become mostly symbolic. A sense of place emerges from questioning the "where". Where will I place this? Where is the timber? If the "where" does not matter, then there is no place.

    Movement is likely one of the oldest or most basic of mechanisms in board games. It's also one of the most rhetorically efficient — I move a piece from one place to another. It is a clear image generator, one that anyone can relate to. It is also, rather unfortunately, sometimes the most annoying, especially in Eurogames.

    Since in board games we often abstract our spaces into segments, moving pieces frequently devolves into an exercise in counting. This is fine when limited to a few spaces — "You can move one or two spaces" — and mapped to a timeframe and space that is thematically resonant, perhaps market stall to market stall in Istanbul, or room to room in a mansion in Mansions of Madness. It also makes sense in much larger spaces, say, city-to-city or area-to-area in an area-control game.

    But what about that middle ground?

    What follows is my thought process.


    Worker Placement Is Traversal without Movement

    I always imagined worker placement to be the natural response to this movement problem. Most of the early classics of worker placement mapped out spaces that are around the size of the places I wanted Hamlet to generate. I'm thinking Stone Age, Caylus, Agricola. They showed us traversal, while skipping the movement, shifting the restriction instead to the "occupation" of a space rather than the distance between places. Hamlet needs distance — in fact, it needs distance more than it needs movement itself. What else?

    Then there are rondel and mancala games, which are worker-placement games re-introducing a touch of movement, with restrictions that dodge the abacuses of counting spaces. These games are a nice middle ground and are usually clever ways of mapping distance with restriction. They are, however, heavily designed, tight systems in which the sequence and distance between possible actions are carefully calculated. Hamlet is largely a sandbox game in which every village is completely different, and the locations of the buildings are all based on the emergent economy and the players' decisions of placement.

    These types of games also usually have an issue with opacity of plan, where one needs to make significant effort to plan a series of actions correctly, resulting in the movement/action-selection mechanism being quite forward and focused-on. In Hamlet, movement is important but cannot interfere with opacity of plan as there are already quite a few moving parts: emergent economies, organic and grid-less village building, spatial puzzles, roads.

    At this point I turned my attention to less directly "active" modes of restricting space. Perhaps something that's slowly built, something that's a bit clearer to plan. Something that makes sense for medium-sized spaces. My attention turned to train games and network builders.

    Games such as Brass and Steam achieve a sense of place not through the movement of their "active" element — in the case of Hamlet, the worker — but through the slow development of their networks, and consequently the movement of goods through said networks.


    Enter the Donkey

    The solution in the very specific case of Hamlet was to separate the active element from the movement, as many great designers have done in the past when they came up with worker placement. Then introduce the sense of place and movement in a more passive, slow-building manner.

    Hamlet now has two different workers: the villager and the donkey. The villager is the fast and active action taker, giving all the good things that come from reducing clunk and restrictions: speed, agility, and clarity of choice. The donkey is the slow network builder and mover of resources, giving all the great things that come with that: slower long-term planning, a sense of distance.

    The synergy of the two then constructs the rhetoric in the mind as well as the strategy in Hamlet. The direct actions of the villagers rely on the donkey network for delivery of the resources needed to build, refine, and fulfill deliveries, and the growth of the donkey network relies on the efficient action planning of the villagers to fund their expansion. This forms a satisfying incremental cycle of growth, and suddenly our arrangement of tiles comes alive into a bustling living village — one I can give a name! Perhaps a more creative one this time.

    "DAVIDTOWN!"" — ahhh, the creativity.

    I'll pass on the baton to John now. My approach to design and this diary has been very much experiential, so I asked John to chime in with a more technical breakdown of process of how the experience I created was slowly refined to what it has become today.

    David Chircop
    •••

    Developer Diary: OSHA Approved — A Hamlet in Working Order

    Do not let David's light tone fool you. He put a lot of sweat and blood into Hamlet. He chiseled the game's marble into something very complex, yet elegant. Eventually, when it was time for me to involve myself in the project, all we had to do was polish the marble and make it shine. In this part, that is what I'd like to talk about, sharing my playtesting process and discussing what I felt went well — and perhaps less well — during the Hamlet development process.

    There is a lot that goes into developing a game, and external playtesting is definitely a significant part of it. It's tempting to just over-playtest, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. However, I often find this to be under-productive. I think what's more important is that each playtest is asking an answerable question; make the question small (so that other people can also help you answer it) and trackable / documentable (if you can't record an answer because it's too vague / speculative / grandiose, then there is probably a better question to ask). In this post, I hope to show you how I (and Mighty Boards in general) try to make the most of our playtests.


    Introduction

    We divided our Hamlet external playtests into three waves. Dividing tests into waves accomplishes quite a few things. First, it makes the workload manageable; saying "We need to just test, test, test" is daunting because it's unachievable – there's no final test in sight! Second, it allows us to make each wave have its own unique question. Now, not only do we have a goal (answer the question), but we also have an end in sight. (The tests are over when the question has been sufficiently answered.) Third, it allows us to push major changes in bulk. This is important as each change will affect both questions and answers; it also allows us to process any testers' suggestions and concerns appropriately (by placing feedback in their correct development version), it helps give natural deadlines (next changes need to be done by the time this round of tests are over), and consequently it makes the project more manageable as it sets milestones both for testing and its dependencies (such as design changes, production, graphic design + art, and so on).

    We're not as organized as this post might make us seem, so these waves aren't set in stone, but they're reasonably accurate representations. Additionally, I am including only external tests. I played the game (a lot) by myself, as did David (the designer) and Nick Shaw (the solo version designer). Additionally, by now everyone at Mighty Boards (and our friends and family at other adjacent companies) has played some version of Hamlet. Some takeaways from this post will stand for these internal playtests, but the marketing manager asked me to keep this post under a 15-minute read, so I am going to talk only about external playtests.

    So, we divvied it all up into three core waves (with each wave having its own little tides):

    • Focus Group Wave
    — Feeling tide
    — Balance tide

    • Mass Wave
    - Concept tide
    - Break tide

    • Blind Wave
    - Rulebook tide
    - Ease of play tide


    Focus Group Playtests

    Once we got through the internal playtests, it was time to start reaching out to players outside of the company circle. We kept the sphere of influence small because Hamlet was still in its early stages: the art was largely not there, the written rules were tentative, and so on. We didn't want a large group of people to get a bad impression of our game just because it was unfinished, so we stuck to groups we know and trust, with two large questions we wanted to answer:

    The first question was "Does the game feel balanced?", which we sectioned into more manageable questions about individual parts, such as "Does the church give too many / too few points?", or "Which flag buildings score the most points on average?" We had an Excel sheet that we used in real time during the playtests. (We never played in these sessions; we just observed, filled out cells, and nodded our heads pensively.)

    The Excel sheet recorded each worker action in each round, how many points that action made, and how many times each action was taken. From a balance perspective, I am really glad we set this sheet up as it allowed me to calculate point efficiency across players, point efficiency across actions, opportunity costs gained through early worker investments, and many other metrics. A lot of numbers changed here, which would not have been obvious had we been playing the game only internally. Each player tends to be set in their ways, so having a few extra hands moving the pieces around showed which numbers needed to be bumped up or down.

    It also allowed us to start shipping minor updates during the same wave. If a flag building is too good in the first playtest, we can up the cost a bit or reduce the final point tally a bit, then see what happens. An individual flag building won't muddy the overall results, but these small changes still gave us the opportunity to figure out the little things before we went to larger groups. This said, each individual change was still marked in our internal change log and feedback forms, so we still kept track. If something broke, we'd know.

    The second question was "How does the game feel to play?", again sectioned into more manageable questions such as "How did you feel about the donkeys?" or "How did you feel about connections?", or "Was the game length good?" The Excel sheet helped here, too. For example, there was a clear correlation between the actions that felt good / felt intuitive and the number of actions that were taken. This sounds obvious at face value. If making buildings feels good, players will do it more. However, there is always value from having numbers because it allows us to see whether an action is starting to feel better in subsequent tests because the number of times it is taken increases.

    We also gathered feedback from the playtesters through Google forms as well as focus group discussions after the playtest. Honestly, we were quite floored by the reception. Usually there is a gigantic hiccup for the playtesting process at this point as there's often a mismatch between internal playtest feelings and external ones. Internal tests have people you know very well, so the teach is much easier as you can cater to people, not groups. Moreover, people in board game companies are often quite proficient at playing board games, so the weight-tolerance range isn't as wide as it would be for an external test. Finally, internally, people get you, which gives a larger communication tolerance. External playtesters won't always understand your intentions for the game.

    Hamlet had one big thing going for it: We had already shown an early internal version at SPIEL. I will let someone else discuss whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. One good thing it did was that during the demos we ran for people, we had already quite a bit of information on how the game felt (although not as much about the numbers). However, the bones of contention for player feelings were clear, and before we started these focus groups, we already had a good idea of what worked and what did not.


    Mass Playtests

    In this wave, the first question we looked at was "Are players getting the Hamlet experience?" I know this question seems quite vague, but I'm going to explain.

    At the time, Hamlet was the first game David and I had worked on together. He's a very talented designer, and I think I'm decent at the whole development thing. However, we still came to frequent impasses on the project. He would give me a design, which was interesting, but clearly had something a little off. In one iteration, I overhauled the economy injection; in another version, I suggested a different bag-building mechanism; another time, we played on and off with the idea of individual player boards; and so on.

    After the nth iteration of me removing something and him adding something else, it became clear that our issue was a concept issue. As a developer, I want Hamlet to be a functional game: fair, clean, simple to learn, no rule overhangs, etc. However, as a designer, David had a vision for Hamlet; he wanted to make a game about sharing, about a sprawling town where logistics become harder as the town grows, about organic growth where everything happens because it is time for it to happen. I think we got a version that we were both happy with only when he managed to communicate this vision. From then on, development really started to go smoother, and I could focus on easier things like numbers and game flow.

    So, the first question was a very clear one. I finally got David's intentions, but when external players finally started getting their hands on Hamlet, would they get his intentions, too? Had we cleaned and directed the experience well enough that, while each player might have their own direction (donkeys, roads, refining, building, or something else), all of them will feel the joy of a shared communal board, while managing the burden imposed by a sprawling town. It was tricky getting feedback on this at first, but we were ultimately able to gather some very useful data.

    The second question we focused on was "Can the game break in any way?" Games can break in really drastic but also more subtle ways. Sometimes, the game state can become unplayable; an earlier version of Hamlet had a game state in which getting money was impossible if players were playing antisocially. This is an undesirable state, which we thankfully spotted quite quickly.

    However, sometimes a game state can simply become less enjoyable to play: is the game dragging on too long, does it ramp up too slowly, are we injecting resources into the game at the right pace, does adding more workers add mental load in an undesirable way, and so on. All these cause cracks in the game, but if having no way of making money is the equivalent of a flat tire, then these latter conditions are more like a slow puncture: air's going out, but you'll notice only after the tire has been used for much longer. The best way (maybe even the only way) to find out whether a game is slowly letting out air is through stress testing — playing as many games as possible with as wide a variety of people as possible until the tire goes flat! That's what we were trying to accomplish with our external tests, and we were very successful in this regard.

    Blind Playtests

    There are two main questions we look to ask during our blind playtests. The first question is "Is the rulebook understandable?" We think Hamlet is at its core a really simple game that is complicated by players' interplay as well as an unconventional mechanism. A good rulebook is paramount for Hamlet especially; it can make a 3-weight game feel like a 2. If we manage to communicate the core experience to the players in a clear and efficient manner, then we truly believe that any player can hold their own.

    The second question we want to ask during the blind playtesting is "Is there information that players need to be reminded of during gameplay?" This is already something we have kept an eye on, but only within the context of us being there (so questions can be answered easily and concisely). What happens when we're not there? Will players be able to answer the questions as easily? While we feel the rule overhang is light to non-existent, it'll be good to gauge whether others feel the same way. Board games are at their core about communication; blind playtests are there to help us make sure that we can communicate our designs even when we're not physically present in your living rooms (yet).

    For both these questions, we met new focus groups and did the hardest thing for us as designers: Shut up and let them play. For the first tide, we have to zip it from the moment they get the box. Let them pick up the rulebook, read it, then time their learning process. We looked at whether they got anything in the rulebook wrong and tried to figure out (after the playtest through questionnaires) what phrasing caused the misunderstanding. For the second tide, we let them read the rulebook themselves, but we clarified any misunderstandings that arose. Then, we stay silent during the playtest to see which rules fall through the cracks during the gameplay.

    As opposed to the previous waves, these two tides ebbed and flowed with each other. Board games, especially closer to their release, end up in a lot of people's hands, whether reviewers or publishers, other designers and developers, and even distributors. Each of these parties want to deal with our game in different ways. Some want to have a pure unadulterated experience (and so, we ask whether we can at least watch), while others want to get a grip by themselves, but also not spend too much time on something unfinished (in this case, the rulebook). Denying ourselves any rules feedback (whether clarity or retention) because the tide has gone definitely felt like folly.

    To this day, we are still getting feedback from blind tests, whether we are physically there or not. After all, as soon as players get the game into their living rooms or leave nice comments on BGG, that is another informal blind test under our belt. As recently as last week, a good friend of our company and an even better designer played the game and gave blind rulebook feedback, even though the games are on boats on the world's seven seas (or at least two of them). This feedback won't make it into the first copies, but we believe in Hamlet, so we will keep updating both the rolling online rulebook, as well as the rulebook in future copies (perhaps ahead of exciting expansions in the future?). Even so, our most recent changes to the printed copy still feel very definitive. Thanks to our blind testers as well as the great people on our Discord, there are so many QOL changes to not only the rulebook, but also the graphic design, that hopefully your experience with the box will feel smooth like butter made from high-quality milk.


    Conclusions

    Playtesting could be a book chapter, if not an entire book, so I didn't go into too much detail here. However, this post hopefully provided some key takeaways:

    • Every playtest needs a question (but not every playtest will necessarily give a good answer)
    • Help people give you the answer (Guide them, but don't lead them. Good questions are open questions, with necessarily closed answers!)
    • Playtest in waves, and keep your big changes for the end of these waves (minor changes are often fine – if a Sharpie stroke solves it, then it's probably not a big deal)
    • Time your playtests to match with any dependencies
    • A game that takes long is an expensive game (your time is an expense too, fellow designers)
    • Make your development workloads manageable
    • Have easy questions
    • Have multiple questions
    • Have recordable questions (waves and tides, waves and tides)

    That's it from my end. If you would like to help us playtest our games, you can join our Discord to get in touch with our current testing coordinator. We're always looking for feedback as well, especially from the sort of people who enjoy reading long BGG posts about playtesting.

    Johnathan Harrington

    Read more »
  • SPIEL '22 Preview: Finish Mozart’s Requiem in Lacrimosa

    by Candice Harris

    Gen Con 2022 was filled with teasers for me. I was equally, if not more, excited to get sneak peeks of SPIEL ‘22 releases as I was to check out new Gen Con releases. I especially couldn’t wait to get to Devir’s booth to get a glimpse of Lacrimosa, a Mozart-themed game that I heard just enough about to know that I wanted to play it. Devir had a single copy of Lacrimosa in shrink at their booth, so a glimpse was exactly what I got, until they were able to send me a review copy so I could actually play it and see if it resonates with me.


    Lacrimosa is SPIEL '22 release from designers Ferran Renalias and Gerard Ascensi, where 1-4 players take on the roles of Mozart's most generous patrons after his death to help his widow, Constanze, employ the right composers to complete Mozart's unfinished Requiem in D Minor. Over the course of the game, players tell their stories of travels with Mozart across Europe and the works they funded, while financially supporting the musicians to complete the Requiem, all to appear most impressive to Constanze, in hopes to be mentioned in her memoirs as Mozart's most significant patron.


    A game of Lacrimosa is played over five rounds, each of them corresponding to a different creative stage in Mozart’s life. Each round begins with a Main phase where you take actions, followed by a Maintenance phase where you clean up and prepare for the next round. At the end of the fifth round and endgame scoring, whoever has the most victory points is the winner of the game.

    Each player starts the game with a deck of 9 Memory (action) cards and an Opus card in their tableau. At the start of each round, all players simultaneously draw Memory cards from their own deck until they have 4 cards in their hand. Then starting with the first player in turn order, each player takes a turn playing 2 cards from their hand into their personal player board. One card is placed in the Experiences section at the top of the board, and the other is placed in the Story section at the bottom of the board. The dual-layer player boards and Memory cards are well-designed, so when you slide a card into a top or bottom card slot, you only see details relevant to where it’s positioned. After 2 cards have been played in the respective areas of your player board, you perform the action on the card you placed in the top slot, then draw new cards based on the number showing on the leftmost empty slot of your personal board.

    Player board
    In Lacrimosa, there are five different actions available and each has its own associated icon. I’ll describe each action as it relates to the main game board from the top down. At the top of the game board there is a card market with two different types of cards: Opus and Memory cards. You can acquire a new Memory card to modify your deck by performing the Document Memories action. When you take this action, you choose a Memory card that’s in the card market and pay its cost in ducats (money) and story points (resources) based on the space it occupies in the card market. Then you remove the card you just played in the Story (bottom) section of your player board, and replace it with your newly acquired Memory card.

    Double-action Memory cardsThe Memory cards in the card market get juicier as the game progresses. There are some with two action icons which will allow you to take two actions on a single turn, some with rewards you gain when you play them as an action card, and they all usually have better story point income on the bottom portion of the card if you choose not to use it for its action(s). Remember, you’ll only ever have a 9-card Memory deck, so as you Document Memories, you are always replacing an existing card with a new card. After you swap in your new Memory card, you refill the card market by sliding all cards to the right and drawing new cards from the main deck.

    The Commission an Opus action is similar, but slightly different. When you Commission an Opus, the cost of the card is on the card itself, but depending on the space it occupies in the card market, you may have to pay an additional cost. Or, if you're lucky enough to snag an Opus in the rightmost slot of the card market, you gain a bonus story point resource, which can be used to help pay the cost of the Opus card. Either way, after you pay the Opus card’s cost, you gain an amount of victory points (VP) as indicated on the card. Then you place your new Opus card in your tableau above your player board and refill the card market. Similar to the Memory cards, the Opus cards get juicer from round to round, making them progressively harder to ignore.

    The next action, Perform or Sell Music, is the only action that is independent from the game board as it only impacts your personal tableau of Opus cards. When you Perform or Sell Music, you are performing or selling one of the Opus cards in your tableau. Each Opus card has a cost and reward for performing it, as well as a cost and an even more powerful reward for selling it.

    When you perform an Opus, you rotate it 90 degrees, after paying the cost and gaining the reward, to indicate it has been performed this round. Each Opus card can only be performed once per round and resets at the end of the round during the Maintenance phase. Alternatively, you can sell an Opus card which removes it from the game, but gives you a much stronger reward.

    I was all about the Symphony Opus cards...
    Each Opus card also has a type (Opera, Religious Music, Symphony, and Chamber Music), and there are mid-game and end-of-game benefits to collecting the same type of Opus card. Thus, deciding the right moment to perform versus sell your Opus cards is one of the decisions you’ll be wrestling with throughout the game. You’ll also want to watch your opponents and make sure they’re not going overboard with one type of Opus card so you can prevent them from taking advantage of the various set collection benefits.

    The map
    Jumping back to the game board, in the center, there’s a map of Central Europe which relates to the Travel action. When you perform the Travel action, you decide which city or royal court you’d like to move the Mozart’s Journeys marker to. The paths connecting the various spaces each have a ducat value. You can move the Mozart’s Journeys marker to any space you’d like, but you have to pay ducats based on the route you choose. Once the Mozart’s Journeys marker has reached the destination, you must also pay the cost in Journey story points that is shown on the destination tile, then remove the tile from the board.

    Royal Court tile exampleIf you take a city tile, you discard the tile to the side of the board after you gain its reward. The rewards could be resources, money, victory points, actions, and more. For example, there’s a city tile that grants you 3 VP for each religious music Opus card you have. This is one of the Opus card set collection benefits I mentioned above. Alternatively, if you take a royal court tile, you gain an immediate reward, then you take the tile which has an endgame scoring objective based either on Opus works you’ve funded (Opus cards in your tableau) or for your participation in completing the Requiem, which brings me to the fifth and final action in Lacrimosa.

    At the bottom of the game board, you’ll find staff paper for five different movements in the unfinished Requiem score. When you take the Requiem action, first you choose an empty instrument space in a movement of the Requiem that you wish to commission. Then you remove the matching Requiem marker from your player board, receive the corresponding reward, and place the marker on the empty instrument space with the side matching the composer you wish to hire facing up. As you would imagine, the composers don’t work for free. You also need to compensate them by paying the cost on the top corresponding composer tile in the movement where you placed your Requiem marker.

    An almost finished Requiem towards the end one of my 4-player games
    During setup you randomly choose two of four different composers to include in the game. For each movement, each composer has a set of composer tiles which are stacked in ascending cost order such that the cheaper ones are on top, and they get more expensive as players acquire them. Each composer has a varying number of tiles for each movement. For example, for one movement, a composer may have three tiles stacked, whereas the other may have five.

    After you pay the corresponding composer tile costs, you collect the reward on the tile and place it face down on your player board where you removed the Requiem marker you just placed. The rewards may be one-time, immediate benefits, or in some cases, ongoing special abilities. There are composer tiles that allow you to perform a particular action a second time, some that give you an extra story point during the Maintenance phase, and others that give you victory points whenever you gain, perform, or sell certain types of Opus cards.

    At the end of the game, there’s an area majority scoring for each movement based on which composer made the greatest contribution. Each movement has two VP values, a higher value and a lower value. To score it, determine which composer contributed the most to that particular movement, then all players with matching Requiem markers score the higher VP value for each of their Requiem markers matching that composer. Any Requiem markers matching the other composer are worth the lower VP value. If both composers are tied, then all Requiem markers are worth the lower VP value.

    Stadler was all over this Requiem
    When you're taking the Requiem action, there can be a lot to think about, especially later in the game. You need to decide which movement, which instrument, and which composer makes most sense for you to contribute to at that moment. There are times where the instrument you choose is based on the reward you get, which can help pay the composer tile cost, or set you up for something on your next turn. You might also want to pick a particular instrument to block out your opponents if there's only remaining space for that particular instrument. Then when deciding on a composer and a movement, you'll often need to decide if you want to help the rich get richer and get in on some of that richness, or go against the grain and pick the underdog to stir up some composer competition in a particular movement. There's also a race to get the composer tiles before they get super expensive or run out. I really like all the competition that stems from the Requiem action and how the pressure you feel is player driven.

    Players continue taking turns playing 2 cards from their hand into their player board and taking actions until all players have played 8 of their 9 cards, completing 4 turns. The 9th card is held over as part of your starting hand for the next round. Then there’s a Maintenance phase for income and cleanup to prepare for the next round.

    During the Maintenance phase, the first thing you do is return your story point tracks on your player board to zero, then you update them according to the cards you played into the Story (bottom) section of your player board. This is something you'll be thinking about when deciding which 2 cards to play each turn. You have to consider the actions you want to take along with what resources you want to start with next round. It makes for some interesting hand management decisions that make you think, but also give you plenty of flexibility. You may also have composer tiles that give you additional advancements on your story point tracks as well.

    Next, depending on the position of your purse marker on the Finance Track, you may receive money, story point track advancements, and victory points. Throughout the game, you’ll be working to get your Finance Track purse marker as high as possible, but there are times you’ll need to also drop it down as part of the hiring costs for getting the composer’s to contribute to the Requiem. It's a constant struggle. Every bit of income is important since money can be so tight in Lacrimosa.

    Period II bonus tileEach round, there’s also a bonus tile which sits on the game board and rewards you for action icons that appear on cards in the Experiences (top) section of your player board. This is nice because it’s positive and it's something to nudge you in a direction each round, but if you choose not to play the corresponding action, there’s no penalty. After everyone gains rewards for the bonus tile, you take the 8 cards in your player board out, and shuffle them to form your new Memory card deck.

    To clean up the game board, you flip over any city and royal court tiles on the map which aren’t on the side with the gilded frame. Then you fill any empty slots from the appropriate deck, with the gilded frame face down. In this way, new tiles show their starting side with weaker rewards, and all existing tiles are on the gilded frame side with more enticing rewards. Then you clean up the card market by removing some cards, and changing to the next round’s deck to refill the market.

    Once you’ve completed the fifth round of the game, after getting your player board income in the Maintenance phase, perform endgame scoring by tallying up victory points for any royal court tiles you fulfilled, then you score points for each movement of the Requiem, and for your remaining story points and ducats. Whoever has the most victory points wins the game.

    Lacrimosa plays well at all player counts, noting I only got a small taste of the solitaire module. The main deck of Memory/Opus cards is adjusted based on player count, as well as the number of composer tiles, and the amount of instrument spaces that are blocked randomly during setup with Constanze counters.

    In the solo mode, you set up a 2-player game with a few modifications. The Soloist bot you compete against has its own deck of cards and three difficulty levels. Your turns are performed the same as they are in a multiplayer game. When it’s the Soloist’s turn, you draw the top card off the Soloist deck and place it in the Experiences section of the bot’s player board, then draw a second card to place in the Story section. The top of the card indicates an action the bot will perform, while the bottom of the card is divided into three columns to indicate how the action should be performed.

    The leftmost column indicates which of the available Opus or Memory cards the Soloist will take when performing the Document Memories, Commission an Opus, or Perform or Sell Music actions. The middle column indicates which direction Mozart’s Journeys marker will move and the number of royal court tiles to visit with the Travel action. The rightmost column indicates which movement and the instrumentation priorities when performing the Requiem action.

    Soloist cards in action
    The Soloist earns points and adds player interaction throughout the game from performing revised versions of each action. At the end of the game, the Soloist also scores points for royal court tiles, and the Requiem is scored as normal. I found the Soloist bot to be fairly easy-to-learn and smooth-to-run. Plus, I love that the Soloist scores throughout the game similar to human players. You really feel the competition and an underlying tension since the Soloist bot is scoring points often and snatching up precious tiles and cards that you'll often want.

    I really dig Lacrimosa; everything from the theme, to the gameplay, to the components, feels smooth and well-crafted. I found the art to be lovely and very fitting as well, so kudos to Jared Blando and Enrique Corominas for their contributions. Plus, it's great that you can play Lacrimosa with four players in less than two hours, and it doesn't overstay its welcome.

    I didn't delve too deep into the resources, but besides ducats (money), you have three different types of story points: Mozart's Talent (black), Journey (red), and Composition (white). Each type of story point fits logically and thematically with the actions in the game. It's also interesting that you have story point tracks on your player board which reset each round based on the cards you play into the Story section of your player board, but there are also plenty of opportunities to gain wooden disc story points. When spending story points, you can spend your discs or tracks, but the beauty of the discs is that you can can also exchange a story point disc for 1 ducat at any point on your turn, so they can be very valuable when money gets tight.


    Besides its refreshing theme, one of the things I appreciate most about Lacrimosa is the abundance of player interaction. You're always hoping someone doesn't take the Opus or Memory card you have your eyes on in the card market. Or better yet, it's exciting when your opponents buy other cards so the card you want slides down and becomes cheaper for you. Meanwhile, you'll be itching to grab a particular city tile on the map, hoping no one beats you to it. Or even worse, your opponents may decide to perform the Travel action ahead of you and move Mozart farther away making it more expensive for you to get to the city you were hoping to move to. Plus, you can't sleep on contributing to the Requiem. Once people start filling in instruments and claiming composer tiles, you might miss out on getting the higher scoring composition placements. Or perhaps you want to block the last timpani space and deny your opponents from placing their timpani Requiem marker at all. There's so much player interaction, but it feels more subtle than aggressive.

    If you're looking for a medium-weight eurogame with a unique theme and player interaction, along with interesting hand management and deck construction mechanisms, be sure to check out Lacrimosa.

    I picked up On the Origins of Species from the same designer duo when I attended SPIEL for the first time in 2019, and I really liked it. Unfortunately, I never got it to the table aside from a 2-player learning game, so I eventually (regretfully) sold it. After playing Lacrimosa, I definitely want to revisit On the Origins of Species and I'm also looking forward to checking out 1998 ISS, another SPIEL '22 release from Gerard Ascensi and Ferran Renalias, published by Looping Games. Read more »

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