Board Game Geek
- ● Roll into Cascadia, Fill a House with Cats, Tour Seoul, and Colonize Mars
What do I mean by that? I tag game announcements in email, then I dip into that folder to find things to write about, typically having a through line for each post — Knizia, mushrooms, trick-taking, etc. — but far more games are released than I can cover, so these announcements compost over time. I have more than 1,800 messages in that folder dating to 2018, along with 700+ messages in a separate "game industry news" folder, so I thought I'd search for games and topics that might still be of interest while also clearing out the deadwood. Can I start the new year with a clean slate? We'll see!
Games due out in 2024 and beyond will be included in posts to stay on top of what's being announced this month, such as:
• Cascadia: Rolling Hills and Cascadia: Rolling Rivers are a pair of flip-and-roll-and-write games from Randy Flynn and Flatout Games that give you new things to do in this ludic version of the Pacific Northwest. The pitch:Simultaneously roll dice, collect wildlife, and complete habitat cards to fill in different environments in Cascadia. Use special actions to manipulate your dice, and dynamic completion cards to unlock powerful combos.
Each set contains components for 1-4 players with four maps, so you can combine the two for games with up to eight players. Additionally, each game features a unique "central special die that changes the way each round plays out", along with a mini-expansion with new gameplay elements.
House of Cats from William Attia, Kristian Amundsen Østby, and Aporta Games debuted at SPIEL Essen 23, and its main twist on the roll-and-write formula seems to be that each turn you can write anywhere on your player sheet, but what you write has to all be connected.
In more detail, each turn someone rolls four dice, then everyone chooses three of the dice to add to their player sheet. The dice show 2/3/4/5/cat/mouse, and your main goal is to make number groups the size of the number in the group, i.e., a group of three 3s, four 4s, etc. Each time you do this, you gain the ability to use an action that was randomly assigned to this group size at the start of play, such as write one number not adjacent to the others or add or subtract 1 from a number that you're writing. Additionally, you score points for each group you create.
House of Cats includes four map layouts, each with their own rules for how to score cats and mice, as well as twists on how to play.
Arif Nezih Savi of Turkish publisher Keepers of Fun crowdfunded Pioneers of Mars, a roll-and-write game in which two players duel on the same sheet of paper to claim and colonize different regions of Mars. In more detail:The duel for Mars begins with the selection of specialized tools, each represented by unique icons: dust devils to simulate the Martian environment, rovers for exploration, solar panels to harvest the sunlight, greenhouses for cultivating food, satellites for communication, settlers as the brave pioneers, and volcanoes as potential energy sources.
Their mission is not only about survival, but about harnessing the planet's unique resources and establishing a self-sustaining settlement.
Pioneers of Mars is still available via the Keepers of Fun Patreon account.
Torben Ratzlaff of Shapes and Dreams released Tiny Travels: Seoul, a roll-and-write game for up to ten players:Visit amazing sights, taste a variety of foods, and bring home great souvenirs in Tiny Travels: Seoul. Whoever experiences the most within seven days wins!
Each round, one player rolls four dice and chooses two of them to pursue activities at twelve different locations. All other players get the remaining two dice. For each die, you cross off one matching number box of an activity at your current location. If you cross off all boxes of an activity, you get the activity symbols associated with it. Activity symbols are your main source of points. You can also choose to move to an adjacent location once per turn and use one or both dice there.
Lastly, the player who rolled the dice has to recommend an activity they pursued for the other players to follow.
The game ends after 21 rounds have been played. The final score is calculated, and the player with the most points had the most fulfilling journey.
Tiny Travels: Seoul is available both in a published form and as a print-and-play game on the Shapes and Dreams website.
Colour Square from Patrick Katona and SPIEL DAS! Verlag, a roll-and-write in the vein of Qwixx, with all players participating at the same time and everyone racing to complete fields first:Each turn, the active player rolls five dice colored, red, green, blue, yellow, and white. They choose two of the non-white dice, then write the value on each die in an empty space on their player sheet matching the color of the die. (The player sheet shows scoring blocks made of four colored squares; each block has a value in the center, e.g. 6, 14, or 20.) All other players write the value on the white die in any empty space on their player sheet.
If you fill the four colored squares of a block, and the sum of the numbers you wrote matches the value at the center of that block, circle that value; you'll earn that many points at game's end. All other players must X out this block and no longer write in it. If you fill a block and the numbers sum higher than the value, cross out the value; you'll lose 10 points for this block at game's end, but other players can continue to try to score it.
If you complete and score adjacent blocks, mark out the bridge that connects these blocks. Each marked bridge is worth 5 points. Twice during play, you can discard a number instead of writing, but you lose points equal to the discarded numbers.
When a player has no more open blocks, each other player takes one final turn rolling solely for themselves, then they cross out the value for all blocks with open spaces, losing 10 points for each one. Whoever has the highest score wins.
Colour Square includes two types of player sheets with different values and slightly different rules.
I think this post covers all of the take-and-make games in my folder, but I'll know for sure only in the weeks ahead... Read more »
- Sonic Prepares for Another Run, Commanders Fall on Planets, and The Witcher Is UnmatchedKess Co. has released a few titles based on video games, such as Mega Man Adventures and Contra: The Board Game, and in Q1 2024 it will add Sonic the Hedgehog to its catalog in the form of Sonic Roll, a game for 1-4 players from Anthony Thorp:Sonic Roll is a semi-collaborative multiplayer game in the style of 16-bit classic Sonic. Each player chooses Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, or Amy to play as they make their way through four classic Sonic Zones. You can challenge a single Zone or adventure through all of them in campaign mode.
As you traverse these iconic Zones, you can save the woodland creatures the evil Dr. Eggman has captured, using character-unique abilities to roll dice and take out obstacles in your path. Place dice to run through Zones; collect rings, power-ups, and Chaos Emeralds; and defeat the Badniks that stand in your way. A Zone isn't complete until the players face off against one of the bosses from across the Sonic franchise, where they must try to score enough hits to defeat Dr. Eggman and his army before time runs out!
• In other video game to tabletop game news, at the end of November 2023 Arcane Wonders released Age of Wonders: Planetfall, a 2-6 player game from Stepan Opalev based on the Age of Wonders: Planetfall video game from Paradox Interactive:The heyday of the Star Union has come to an end. Setting off massive gravity bombs designed to create spatial rifts to new worlds led to the Collapse, and many planets were cut off from the rest of the Empire.
The surviving factions began gradually rebuilding civilization and rediscovering lost technology. Being once part of a single state, they will have to meet again and find out who is worthy of succeeding the great power.
In Age of Wonders: Planetfall, you are the Commander of one of the six surviving groups that have set out to explore the once-abandoned parts of the Star Union. Your expedition will explore seven planets in search of valuable resources and technology, battle hostile units, and seize landmarks. Will you be able to create a new world from the shards of the old Empire?
The game is played over seven rounds, and a new planet is explored each round. Each player may conduct two explorations on every planet. The players will gain Empire points by defeating units, studying technology, claiming landmarks, and running operations on those planets. At the end of the game, players score Empire points for meeting certain conditions listed on a particular goal sheet. Whoever scores the most Empire points wins.
I remember reading articles back in 2012 about Lindy Hemming's design of Bane's coat in The Dark Knight Rises (such as this one), and that style lives on here.
Also, given Arcane Wonders' licensing of this title and World Wonders, publishers around the world might consider using the word "wonders" in their title to ensure a future U.S. partner.
Restoration Games will release two Unmatched sets based in the world of The Witcher video game — "Steel and Silver" and "Realms Fall" — with each set containing three playable hero decks and two unique battlefields. From the publisher: "In addition to the White Wolf himself, fans of The Witcher will be thrilled to: lead Ciri to her destiny as the Lady of Space and Time, quaff a Tawny Owl potion, and race across the battlements of Kaer Morhen to stalk your foe."
• In 2024, Steamforged Games will release Dark Souls: The Board Game – The Sunless City Core Set, a 1-3 player standalone co-operative game that can be integrated with 2017's Dark Souls: The Board Game to have up to four people at the table.
What's new in this edition of the game? Says the publisher, "Six years on, this new core game reimagines the original Dark Souls: The Board Game experience with refreshed rules driven by community feedback, including a new campaign and encounter system."
Read more »
- Designer Diary: Raising Robots
by Brett Sobol
Seth Van Orden and Brett Sobol here, the designers and publishers behind Stockpile, The Reckoners, and our latest creation, Raising Robots (available now). Today, we want to take you on a detailed journey behind the scenes of our design process for Raising Robots. Join us as we delve into its origins, unique mechanisms, and the challenges we encountered along the way.
Living Apart, Designing Together
Despite not living near each other, we both greatly enjoy designing games together. Every year, we make it a point to meet in person for a few gaming sessions. Typically, we'll do this at Gen Con after the convention hall closes with a stack of Gino's pizzas. We make it a point to play as many new games together as possible, discussing what we liked and disliked about each one. These rare opportunities have been the breeding ground for nearly all of our game design ideas, and Raising Robots is no exception.
The Genesis at Gen Con 2021
At Gen Con 2021, fate led us to acquire a copy of Khora from the exhibitor hall. Neither of us had played it before, but we eagerly dived in. Khora employs a mechanism in which players roll two dice each round and assign an action to each die. We were enthralled by the tactical choices presented by the random inputs and the challenge of making the best of the numbers we rolled. However, there was a downside: Higher numbers hold a significant advantage over lower ones. Those who rolled well were inherently better off, with no need to expend additional resources to compensate for low rolls.
This sparked a thought-provoking discussion on improving this mechanism. We concluded that by replacing dice with a deck of cards, we could retain the randomness we loved while mitigating the impact of extreme luck. Each player would draw through their card deck, ensuring a similar distribution of high numbers over the course of the game. Adjusting the values with resources would still be possible, but the frustration of feeling cheated by bad rolls would be eliminated.
Following our Khora adventure, we played Lorenzo Il Magnifico and loved it. In particular, we admired the rows of cards that could be triggered by a single die. Each card could activate if the number on the die met or exceeded its activation cost. However, these rows were run only a few times during the game, typically at high power, making the exact value needed to trigger a card less significant than desired. Building a large engine of cards that required low dice values seemed less profitable than we had hoped.
And thus, the core fundamental mechanisms of Raising Robots were born. From our experiences with Khora, we adopted the concept of receiving two numbers from a deck of cards each round, with each card being assigned an action or phase. Drawing inspiration from Lorenzo, we incorporated the idea that the chosen number for a phase would activate everything in that phase with a certain number requirement or lower.
This fusion of ideas formed the bedrock of Raising Robots, creating a dynamic gameplay experience that balanced tactical decision-making, random elements, and strategic planning.
Simultaneous Play: Enhancing Player Interaction
One of our design goals for Raising Robots was to incorporate simultaneous play mechanisms that would allow for higher player counts within shorter time frames. We were captivated by the idea of games in which everyone takes their turns simultaneously, but we were also mindful of the potential lack of player interaction that can arise in such games. We sought to address this challenge by drawing inspiration from titles like Race for the Galaxy and Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition, where players' chosen phases trigger actions or benefits for others, creating a sense of engagement and interdependence.
In Raising Robots, we were determined to create a game in which players not only influenced their own progress but also had a significant impact on others. To achieve this, we devised a unique mechanism using Energy Cubes found on each player's Energy Cards. When a player performs a high-powered action, they must place Energy Cube(s) on the Central Board, allowing other players to "Follow" their action and reap its rewards.
This added depth and tension to the gameplay as players had to carefully manage their Energy Cubes and make strategic choices for how to use them, considering both their own objectives and the potential advantages they could provide to their opponents. Furthermore, this mechanism ensured that all players remained actively involved and invested in the actions and choices of their fellow participants. By enabling players to follow and benefit from high-powered actions, it created a sense of interdependence and interaction throughout the game.
However, we quickly found that adjustments needed to be made to maintain consistent interaction and engagement across different player counts, so we introduced a simple change to the game set-up. This change specifically affected the Energy Cards found in each player's deck. By modifying the distribution of Energy Cards, we ensured that a similar number of Energy Cubes would be placed on the Central Board over the course of the game, regardless of whether the game was played with three players or six.
By incorporating this element of consistent interaction into Raising Robots, we aimed to create a dynamic and expert-level gameplay experience that could be enjoyed by up to six players in less than ninety minutes. The simultaneous play mechanisms, coupled with enhanced player interaction, added layers of depth and strategy to the game, making each session unique and compelling.
Picking the Theme and Artist
In our design process, mechanisms typically take precedence, but selecting a theme early on serves as a wellspring of inspiration for future iterations. As we explored different ideas and tested the game with placeholder resources, the concept of powering something at different levels resonated deeply with us.
Robots emerged as a natural fit for the theme, but we wanted to steer clear of the predictable and cliché approaches often associated with them. That's when we stumbled upon the awe-inspiring artwork by Matt Dixon for Transmissions. His style captivated our imaginations and sparked a new direction for our game. We envisioned our robots as creations of young inventors, each infused with their own imaginative spark and creative flair.
Finding an artist capable of bringing our vision to life proved to be a challenging endeavor. After an extensive search, Brett discovered Howard McWilliam, whose previous work hadn't delved into the realm of board games. Despite initial reservations, we decided to collaborate with Howard, and it turned out to be a serendipitous choice. His artwork for Raising Robots surpassed our expectations, delivering breathtaking visuals with intricately crafted details in each robot. The allure of his art sometimes captivates players to the extent that they momentarily lose track of the rules during their initial playthrough, enraptured by the charm of Howard's illustrations.
To provide a clear direction and inspiration for Howard, we crafted a detailed prompt that conveyed the thematic background and framework for the game's concept. We envisioned the perspective of a precocious inventor, a child between the ages of 10 and 20, determined to create their first robot. With limited resources, the young inventor ventures into their family's garage or shed, brimming with antiques, oddities, mementos, and various pieces of junk waiting to be repurposed. We emphasized that the only limit to their creation is their boundless imagination.
To help Howard develop each character, we posed a few questions: What would the robot do? Would it be cool, be functional, or have multiple functions? Would it be a loyal friend? Additionally, we asked Howard to consider the materials available in the garage and the problems they might have to solve creatively. We encouraged Howard to envision the robot running its first program, and we described how its response and emotions might be depicted.
Our North Star Vision guided Howard's interpretation and style, and through his incredible talent and meticulous attention to detail, our game, Raising Robots, came to life. We love how it turned out and believe that the creativity and charm from Howard's illustrations complements the mechanisms and captures the hearts of players young and old.
Graphic Design: Connecting Art to Audience
To bridge the world of adorable illustrations with the expert-level mechanisms in our game, we recognized the need for exceptional graphic design. We sought out the expertise of Viktoriya Fajardo, an enterprising graphic designer who proved to be an invaluable asset to our team. Initially, our expectations were focused on managing the hundreds of cards and icons within the game. However, as we delved deeper into the development process, we realized that creating a cohesive and expert-level product required a more extensive overhaul of our prototype than we had initially anticipated.
Viktoriya's contributions went beyond our expectations. She not only took charge of managing the visual aspects of the game, but also played a pivotal role in ensuring that the creative elements aligned harmoniously with the game's mechanisms. This involved even revamping the cover art for the game, ensuring that it accurately conveyed the essence of Raising Robots without giving off "kids game" vibes.
Throughout our work, Viktoriya proved to be a wonderful collaborator, demonstrating her passion and dedication to delivering a top-quality product. She provided thoughtful suggestions, leveraging her expertise to enhance the overall visual experience. Furthermore, she confidently advocated for what she believed was right, offering her insights and perspectives to ensure that every aspect of the game design and graphics were aligned.
Viktoriya's commitment extended to owning the final product end-to-end, ensuring that every detail was meticulously attended to and that the final result exceeded our expectations. Her attention to detail, creativity, and dedication were instrumental in creating a holistic expert-level product that seamlessly integrated adorable illustrations with sophisticated mechanisms.
Robot Balancing with Mathematical Precision
As we delved deeper into the development of Raising Robots, we faced the complex task of balancing the unique abilities of each robot. Component Studio, an online tool we mentioned in a previous guest blog post, played a vital role in streamlining this process. It saved us tons of time and proved incredibly helpful in keeping all the robot powers in check.
However, balancing the robot cards was no simple feat. Each robot had an assembly cost, consisting of resources and energy requirements. Additionally, each robot was assigned a specific number of victory points and possessed two powers, each with its own benefit and energy requirement. What we discovered was that the relationship between the energy requirement and the benefit was not linear. As game designers, this is the first time that we legitimately needed to employ the quadratic formula.
Furthermore, powers could have associated costs or provide multiple benefits. We found that powers offering multiple benefits were more impactful than simply the sum of the individual benefits. Needless to say, there was a substantial amount of math and formulas involved in keeping everything balanced and coherent.
In reflecting upon this mathematical endeavor, we cannot help but pay tribute to the many exceptional math teachers who fueled our love for mathematics. If Raising Robots is deemed a success, it is undoubtedly due, in part, to the invaluable lessons they imparted.
Player Powers and Famous Inventors
In Raising Robots, we wanted to offer players a chance to step into the shoes of famous inventors from various disciplines, paying homage to their groundbreaking contributions. To achieve this, we introduced the concept of player powers, with each player having unique, game-changing abilities that reflect an area of expertise. For example, players might play as Nikola Tesla with electrical prowess, channel the innovative mind of Marie Curie with scientific discoveries, or tap into the imaginative genius of Yo-Yo Ma with artistic ingenuity. Each inventor's power provides a special advantage that can be leveraged strategically to excel in different aspects of the game.
But the inventors' abilities are not static; they can be upgraded and enhanced throughout the course of the game. As players progress and develop their robots, they can also invest resources and effort into upgrading their inventor's powers. This progression system allows players to unlock additional abilities, strengthen existing ones, or even acquire new game-changing effects. The upgrades serve as a testament to the inventors' ongoing dedication to innovation, mirroring their real-life pursuit of advancing their respective fields.
By incorporating these player powers and famous inventors into the game, we aim to immerse players in the world of invention and discovery, celebrating the achievements of remarkable individuals who have shaped our world. These unique powers add an exciting layer of asymmetry to the gameplay, enabling each player to forge their own path and employ distinct strategies based on their chosen inventor.
The game design process is not always a linear one. Along the way, we found inspiration from a variety of sources, and we would be remiss not to mention them.
Drawing inspiration from games like Terra Mystica and Scythe, we introduced an upgrade phase that provided players with meaningful choices to enhance their robots and the player board from which the upgrade token was removed. The upgrades were themed around various programming concepts such as efficiency, speed, and communications, which we were able to link to the ability and energy concepts already present in the game. This addition not only deepened the thematic elements of the game but also allowed players to customize and strategically optimize their robots based on their goals.
Additionally, we received valuable input from fellow designer Kane Klenko, whose suggestion to incorporate the concept of power cubes benefiting the player who placed them transformed the game's intuitiveness and brought a new level of tactical decision-making to the forefront. This innovative twist became a cornerstone of Raising Robots, enhancing both the thematic and mechanical cohesion of the gameplay experience.
Wingspan and Earth also influenced the development of Raising Robots. These beloved titles inspired us to create a game in which players could gradually construct and fine-tune their robot tableaus. By integrating these influences and ideas into our design process, we were able to craft a game with expert-level mechanisms and engaging gameplay. Raising Robots stands as a unique blend of inspiration from various sources, resulting in a game that offers depth, strategy, and a touch of whimsical creativity.
Raising Robots has been an exciting journey for us as designers. From the initial spark of inspiration at Gen Con to the refinement of mechanisms, theme, and art, every step of the process has been a labor of love.
We hope that players will find joy and satisfaction in building their own robot engines, making tough decisions, and engaging in strategic interactions with their opponents. We can't wait to share Raising Robots with the gaming community and see how players embrace the challenge that we've created. Thank you for joining us on this behind-the-scenes journey, and we look forward to seeing copies of Raising Robots on tables in the near future thanks to a December 2023 release.
We want to express our heartfelt thanks to our friends and family, our playtesters, our Kickstarter backers, and everyone else who played a part in making Raising Robots a reality. We feel truly blessed by the support we've received throughout this journey. Feel free to ask us anything about the design process, mechanisms, or the creative decisions behind Raising Robots. We're here to share our insights and engage in a meaningful discussion with all of you.
Seth Van Orden and Brett Sobol
Read more »
- Walk in the Snow, Plant Tulips, Harvest Mushrooms, and Replace Humanity
• U.S. publisher Pencil First Games has been working in this field for years with titles like Herbaceous, Floriferous, and Sunset Over Water, and in 2024 it's releasing Snowfall Over Mountains, a solitaire game from Eduardo Baraf, Melissa Caputo, and Scott Caputo that leans heavily into the setting in its description:Discover the beauty of nature in the peaceful silence that fills the mountains in the wake of freshly fallen snow. Set out from your cabin to follow paths, look for animal tracks, and find plants amidst a new winter morning. Enjoy the solitude of a calm walk through the snow.
Explore the mountains around your cabin by placing and connecting tiles with different features. Find ways to earn points through goals for arranging animal tracks, ponds, trees, and shrubs in your environment.
Place tiles and chill.
Pencil First Games also plans to release a pocket-size edition of Floriferous, a design from Steve Finn and Eduardo Baraf that I covered in 2021.
• Flowers also take center stage in Windmill Valley, a Dani Garcia design for 1-4 players coming from Board&Dice inspired by the Bloemen Route in The Netherlands:In Windmill Valley, you and up to three players take on the role of tulip farmers and entrepreneurs. You will build and enhance your windmills, look for new tulip bulbs in foreign trades or among local vendors to buy and plant, and try to get an edge with hired help and lucrative contracts. Let your blooming fields make your competitors green with envy!
During their turn, players choose the action by rotating the wheels on their windmill board. During the game they can:
— Enhance their wheels, by adding enhancements, to build their engine
— Plant tulips in their fields, which will score VP at the end of the game
— Build windmills on the main board to activate rewards from adjacent fields
— Hire helpers that provide bonuses for certain actions
— Get contracts for endgame scoring
— Visit the local market and conduct a foreign trade
• Natera: New Beginning takes a page from After Us for its subject matter, but expands the character roster to include more species. Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game from Eric Fugere, Hugo Tremblay-Ledoux, and Horizon Games:In Natera: New Beginning, you play as a sentient and intelligent animal tribe, exploring and controlling areas abandoned in a bright, post-humanity world.
With the help of your unique tribe leader and your explorers, you will explore, build authority, and take control of four distinct areas. Doing so will unlock new, more powerful tiles and allow you to establish settlements to further cement your presence. Improvements with human science will unlock powerful bonuses on a tech tree. Collecting the most venture points after four seasons will prove you are the animal tribe that adapted the best to the new "Natural Era".
The game includes 150+ basic and advanced exploration cards featuring discoveries, improvements, science, and forty unique specialist cards, allowing each animal tribe to navigate and explore different strategies every single game.
• Competition for control of four areas takes place on a smaller scale in Nestlings, a 1-4 player game from Brandon Ohmie and Tangerine Games:In Nestlings, players assume the role of birds competing to gain priority across four biomes: savannah, alpine, freshwater, and desert.
Each round, players roll their biome dice, then place the dice in biomes one at a time. If you place first in a biome, you'll have priority for selecting a resource first and discarding another resource — unless someone else places more dice there. With resources, you can feed your nestlings and add to the resource ring on your player board, which can lead to other effects. You can also shoot for endgame nest goals.
• Rings of a different sort play a role in Gnome Hollow, a tile-placement game from Ammon Anderson of Levity Games that has been picked up by The Op for release in 2024.
Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game:Read more »Since the beginning of time, gnomes have been the humble caretakers of nature. In secret they emerge from their underground homes to maintain meticulous rings of mushrooms known to the humanfolk as "fairy rings". But the work must be done quickly because as soon as a mushroom path is finished, the mushrooms are ready for picking. Who will be the cleverest gnome and harvest the most mushrooms by the end of the season?
Each turn, you place a tile into the garden, then move a gnome to take a single action. Once a ring is completed, you harvest each mushroom, then eventually carry them to market to sell for treasures. As you grow the garden, some rewards give players access to rare signposts that become unique worker placement spots once placed in completed rings.
Wildflowers can complete any ring, and planting them grants the player a wildflower token. Other players can move to that flower to collect that same token, and in sets these tokens prove more valuable.
- Study the Sun and Earth, Draw Dapper Bears, and Pass Pa a Pass PassShort Zoot Suit, a 2-4 player design from Taylor Reiner of Taylor's Trick-Taking Table that will debut from Japanese publisher Gotcha Gotcha Games at Tokyo Game Market in December 2023.
An overview:In the land of Bollywood — that is, Bear Hollywood — the bears are out tonight looking good, but trying to make sure their suits aren't too short!
Players try to balance the number of tricks they win with the number of times they short suit, i.e., play off-suit. Specifically, at the start of the hand, players create a personal draw deck from some of the cards they are dealt. Drawing from this deck can help players manipulate their hands for later play and short-suiting.
The game ends when any player is out of cards, allowing for player-defined hand lengths.
Sai Beppu. Here's an overview of the 3-4 player "almost shedding"/climbing game Of What's Left:It's nighttime in the kingdom of Owlberta and the Knight Owls are standing guard — but five in the morning was never the best time to defend anything really, and they're all falling asleep. Can you allow enough of your Knight Owls to take a quick snooze, while not fully abandoning your post?
The moment one player sheds out, the other players score points based on the number of cards left in their hands. The fewer cards, the more points, so get as close to shedding as possible without doing so!
CATsle Builders from designers Fukurou and Yozaemon Matumoto and publisher 梟老堂 (Fukuroudou).
In this 3-5 player trick-taking game, players aim to build a robust castle with five types of buildings, collecting cards according to the blueprint and adjusting the ranking of structures through smart predictions.
Hipparchus is a two-player-only trick-taking game from Korean designer Geonil that contains only three types of cards: Sun, Moon, and Earth, with ten copies of each. It sounds bizarrely fascinating:Hipparchus was an ancient Greek astronomer who calculated the ecliptic and orbit of the Moon, and the paths of the sun and the moon, discovering in the process that the center of the universe was not Earth.
In Hipparchus, players become ancient Greek astronomers and present their findings on the Sun, the Moon, and the Earth to one another. You want to share the study of one celestial body with your colleague without monopolizing it, yet still gain more authority than them.
Each player gets a hand of fourteen cards and cannot rearrange them. The lead player plays 1-3 cards of a single suit, and when choosing something to play, you can't break up pairs or triplets in your hand. If you have three Earth cards in a row, you can play them only together as three Earths. The following player must play the same suit, if possible, but a different number of cards; if they can't do this, they can play 1-3 cards from either other suit.
If both players play the same suit, the player who played more cards wins the trick, stacks the cards in their collection, then leads to the next trick. If players play different suits, then the player who has fewer cards of their played suit in their collection wins the trick. (In a tie, the following player wins.)
When a player runs out of cards, the round ends. Each player tallies their score. If you have more cards in a suit than your opponent, you score points equal to the number of cards they have. Whoever has the highest score wins the round; the first player to win two rounds wins the game.
Pass Pass debuted in France in June 2023 from designers Alexandre Droit and David Paput and publisher Funnyfox, and it's a loosey-goosey trick-taking game for 3-6 players in which you can play any card you want on your turn, hoping to create temporary alliances so that you can score:Read more »Each round, players start with eight number cards in hand; cards come in four suits. The first player leads a card of their choice, then each other player plays a card of their choice. Whichever color collectively has the highest sum "wins" the trick.
More specifically, whoever played the highest card in this color takes one of the played cards and adds it to their collection; whoever played the second highest card in this color adds the two cards with the lowest values to their collection, then leads the next trick.
After eight tricks, the round ends, and each player scores 1 point for each collected card and 1 point for each diamond on those cards. Additionally, when a player has a set of one card in each color, they score a "pass pass".
After three rounds, the player with the most points wins — except that if a player scores three pass passes, they win the game immediately.
- Designer Diary: Doubt Is Our Product, or A Game About Tobacco Disinformation
Both of my parents smoked constantly. I grew up in houses with yellowing walls. I spent Friday nights with my parents in smoke-filled bingo halls and bowling alleys. One of my regular chores at home would be to sift through grocery bags stuffed with empty cigarette packs to clip out Marlboro points so that my mother could get a new baseball cap or tote bag. The sickly stale stink of it was everywhere, and it wasn't until I was an adult, living for the first time in a smoke-free space, that I stopped having problems breathing, smelling, tasting. I had just thought that was what air smelled like, what food tasted like.
Of course by that time my father was dead. Lung cancer. He was thirty-eight. I saw him die.
It was early on a Sunday morning. I had been dreaming about something, although I don't remember what — but at some point in the dream, I heard my mother screaming in the distance, and when I jolted awake, she was still screaming. It was coming from the living room. From my father's hospice bed.
My two brothers, with whom I shared a single room on the second floor, were still asleep. Alone, I headed down the stairs, toward my mother's voice.
"No, Tom, don't leave us," she cried over and over again, repeating it until the words seemed to lose their meaning.
His body convulsed. He vomited profusely. It was yellow and red and black: bile, blood, organ tissue, and fecal matter all over his face and chest. It was violent, and ugly. And when it stopped, my mother doubled over, pressing her face against him, sobbing uncontrollably into the wet puddle.
When I picture my mother, I see her with a cigarette, too. More than that, I can hear her voice. I don't remember what my father sounded like, but my mother, I remember the hoarse cough lurking in her laughter.
She kept smoking after he died. In fact, she told me often, before his death and after, that she didn't think the smoking caused the cancer. That somehow, the doctors had "put" the cancer inside his lungs, like they had her grandfather, the firefighter. And she believed, firmly, that there was no proof smoking caused cancer because of a fifty-year campaign of disinformation used by the tobacco industry to avoid culpability for a hundred million deaths.
After they took the body away, my mother spent the day slowly smoking one cigarette after another in the basement. I gave her a wide berth, as did my siblings. Late in the afternoon, I finally went down to see her. The rage of her grief had mellowed into something bitter and flat.
I asked her how she was doing, and she looked at me like I had just asked the stupidest fucking question in the world. "How do you think I'm doing?"
I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I sputtered an apology. I wanted to leave, but my body froze.
Then she told me it was our fault. Me and my siblings. That if we hadn't been born, my father wouldn't have been under such stress. If we hadn't been such terrible, ungrateful children, he wouldn't have smoked.
It was the only time I ever heard her admit that it had been the smoking. The only time that she ever acknowledged that she knew she was lying.
I can trace my lifelong interest in disinformation to that conversation. What makes people susceptible to it, how pernicious it is to disrupt, how people choose to sincerely believe things they know aren't true, returning to it even after admitting they were wrong. It was something that concerned me, something that fascinated me, something that made me sad and angry: sad for the people who believed the lies, and angry at the people who spread them – who did so deliberately, knowing the harm it would cause, knowing the human cost. That interest certainly became sharper these last few years as disinformation became an existential threat.
Our world is boiling while the corporations responsible deny consensus, ask for "more research", and fund "studies" by cranks and fools. The narrative there has shifted to one of personal responsibility, each of us individually tracking our carbon footprint while on an industrial level – the only level that actually matters — nothing changes.
Politicians openly traffic in deranged conspiracy theories, encouraging their followers to take violent action against their opponents for imagined crimes. Vaccination – one of our most important tools as a society for preventing the spread of disease – has become another signifier of our ongoing culture war. Bad actors try to shift the narrative to a matter of personal choice, ignoring that choosing not to be vaccinated endangers others, just as smokers ignored the effects of secondhand smoke on those around them.
And certainly, I am intensely aware of the way disinformation about queer and trans people is used to justify our marginalization, oppression, and eradication.
And the people responsible will remain unencumbered by guilt or consequence. The tobacco industry continues to take in annual profits of over a hundred billion dollars while being responsible for killing eight million people a year, targeting children and the marginalized, especially in impoverished and developing countries where their marketing is largely unconstrained.
(Not) Working On The Game
When someone asks, "Where'd the idea for Doubt Is Our Product come from?", the answer is: all of this. My personal history, my anger, my frustration, my despair. Unsurprisingly, that's where all my more political games come from. When I work on those games, I am steeped in those emotions for months at a time. Often, I need to immerse myself in dozens of primary sources from the period – reading that feeds my bitterness and depression. It has a severe effect on my mental and emotional health, strains my personal relationships, and generally makes me unpleasant to be around.
And I know this going in, every single time. It's the cost of making these things — and in the case of this project, I knew the cost would be higher than before, that the game would take more out of me, so I pushed it back. I first started talking about the game in 2018, as I was finishing up work on This Guilty Land, with the idea that it would be the end-of-the-year "prestige" game for Hollandspiele's 2020 sale.
Instead, that game ended up being The Vote: Suffrage and Suppression in America. The Vote charts two things in parallel: the struggle for women's suffrage, and the oppression of Black Americans under Jim Crow. The first was achieved by allowing the second – the movement that sprung out of abolition abandoning its roots. It seeks to both celebrate and condemn – to recognize the achievement, and also its incompleteness. Key to this model is the unequal nature of interference between the two players: Equality and Suppression. Suppression opposes Equality in her pursuit of suffrage, but Equality leaves Suppression to its own devices.
Completing this game helped me firm up what Doubt Is Our Product would look like. Like The Vote, I wanted it to be an expression of both triumph and despair. Triumph, because anti-smoking activism did win, and despair, because the tobacco industry didn't lose – not in any meaningful way. And I thought I could take The Vote's structure, of two opposed sides playing their respective "games" in parallel, but with key if unequal points of intersection, even further and more literally. Each side would play their own game, with their own mechanisms, rules, and components – two completely different kinds of games: an economic deck-builder for the tobacco industry, and a market-based political tableau builder for the anti-smoking movement.
And as I was putting The Vote through its paces in early 2020, I fully expected Doubt Is Our Product to be my next "big" game, releasing at the end of 2021, but then a funny thing happened. It turned out I was a woman this whole time? And nobody told me? Rude.
I assumed, correctly, that while I was redefining every aspect of my personality and my entire conception of myself that probably I shouldn't also be spending months working on a game that would leave me angry and depressed all the time. This was doubly true once I started hormone replacement therapy, giving me the emotional regulation of a teenage girl. Not the best time to put myself through the wringer.
Instead, I switched my attention to Nicaea. I like to joke that in making the game, I processed my religious trauma with dumb middle-school jokes, then a bunch of people gave me fifty bucks for it. And while that's largely true, the ability to use humor – something which would be wholly inappropriate for a game like Doubt or The Vote – and the fact that I didn't need to immerse myself in documents filled with virulent racism, misogyny, or ghoulishness meant that it was a relatively breezy affair.
It also helped that Nicaea was the first game I designed on estrogen. Up until that point, my brain was foggy. It was difficult to focus, and everything always took so much effort. My work up until that point certainly reflected this, but once I started dissolving tiny blue pills under my tongue, all that just fell away. I was able to think clearly for the first time in my life. As a result, Nicaea was very streamlined and approachable. It made its argument more directly and succinctly than my previous "message" games – it hit the mark I was always clumsily aiming for with my earlier work. That made me reasonably confident I could do the same with Doubt Is Our Product – that I could model the dynamics with a minimum of mechanical fuss.
That's not the only thing the design borrowed from Nicaea. That game is a tableau builder in which you flip cards face down to buy or play other cards. Those cards are bought from a market, and each market space has an action that you trigger with your purchase. That basic structure would form the core of the activist side of the game.
And so, huge parts of this game built on the work I did with The Vote and Nicaea. If I had started working on Doubt Is Our Product immediately, none of those elements would be present. It'd be a very different design, and a lesser one at that. Sometimes the best thing for a game is to not work on it – not yet, anyway.
By the summer of 2022, I had been on HRT for over a year. I had enjoyed my self-imposed break from big depressing serious games, dedicating my time to baubles and diversions like Eyelet, Watch Out! That's a Dracula!, and the co-designed Dinosaur Gauge.
But I also felt ready to do things that were more ambitious. It was at this time that I was entering the home stretch of my work on Endurance, my bleak solitaire game about the Shackleton expedition. and began talking with Wil Alambre about the cast of monsters for Kaiju Table Battles, my queer giant monster legacy game. Both of these would be released in 2023, and would be some of my most ambitious and experimental designs in recent years, but that still left the question of what was going to be our last game for 2023 – traditionally, the one that garners the most attention and drives purchases during our big end-of-year Hollandays Sale. And that's when I decided that it was time to finally get to work on Doubt Is Our Product.
As with my other political games, the first step was research. My interest in the subject had led me to read several books over the years, but one that I found particularly compelling was Allan Brandt's The Cigarette Century. I returned to that book, using it as a jumping-off point to other resources. I also spent quite some time sifting through tobacco industry documents – a fraction of the fourteen million that were made public as a result of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. Highlights include discussions of how to better target and pressure children to take up smoking, a proposal to increase market share among queer people and the homeless (contemptuously dubbed "Project SCUM"), and the memorandum "Smoking and Health Proposal", from which the game takes its title:Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the "body of fact" that exists in the mind of general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.
All this took the expected toll on my emotional and mental health. For the months that I was immersed in it, I was just full of despair and anger. So angry that sometimes I was paralyzed by it – I couldn't speak, couldn't give it expression. Words were too small for it. I felt hollowed out. Drained. I started having trouble sleeping. I became moody and restless, less patient with those around me.
And I was happy to be done with the research phase, but of course I wasn't really "done" with it. As I put the game together, I had to go back to the research frequently throughout, so for as long as I was working on the game, I was still paying the price of it.
But. Like I said. I knew that going in. I had been there before. Did it go smoother this time than in the past, as I had hoped? Yes, it did. There was none of the incoherent grasping that had defined my earliest "message" games, but it was still a hell that I knew I was inflicting on myself. Even revisiting that process here is kicking at the hornet's nest; the last couple days as I've been writing this, I've felt irritable and restless. There's a reason I didn't write one of these for This Guilty Land or The Vote.
Game As Semicolon
The trickiest thing was designing a game that functioned as a semicolon: two independent halves, each with its own internal logic, dynamics, and series of challenges, that together created a new thing.
With the tableau builder for the activist side I found myself in somewhat familiar territory. As I said, I built it on the basic mechanism of Nicaea. There was more to it than that, of course. Nicaea's tableau is all about generating and spending influence, and is in service of its stock game; its market actions reflected that. Here, the market actions would see the player combating disinformation and agitating for legislation, and the strength of the action would be dictated by the face-up cards within one's tableau. And so, flipping them face down to buy a new card from the market, taking the associated action, created a tension as you might be reducing the strength of that action in order to take it. Managing that, finding ways to flip cards back, would be key, as it was in Nicaea.
In Nicaea, the size of your tableau can vary but is largely limited by the fact that three to five other players all compete for the same small pool of cards — but there's only one player tableau-building here, and once that player got above a certain number of cards, the tension created by flipping cards dissipated: you'd have plenty to do whatever you needed.
So I capped the tableau size at eight. This meant that to add a new card to your tableau, you'd need to remove one – shifting your focus in pursuit of your competing aims, balancing the concerns of the disparate groups making up your coalition.
By comparison, the deck-building game I built for the industry player was a bit more sprawling, accounting for most of the cards and the majority of the game's table space. Each card in your hand generates some amount of Budget, which is spent (discarded) both to play cards for their actions and to buy new cards from the market, adding them to your discard pile. The card market itself is made up of five standard card stacks, and seven special ones, the latter chosen randomly from a pool of sixteen.
Cards can be played either for a standard immediate action, or into your reserve – a row of cards that stays in front of you until your deck is exhausted. These cards either have passive effects or are triggered by the play of subsequent cards – you could, for example, trigger that effect several turns in a row. Once it's time to reshuffle, your reserve is trashed – it's the primary way you remove cards from your deck. The actions themselves are mostly concerned with increasing the number of victims so as to eventually generate profit, and to protect those profits by spreading disinformation.
The industry side of the game is called the Company, but I came very, very close to calling it Capitalism because the tobacco industry isn't exceptional. The way it pursued profits at the expense of human lives wasn't some kind of mustache-twirling villainy. It is the consequence of capitalism and its incentives. And even if I ultimately decided to swerve from the name, I did want to reflect those incentives – the unsustainable and amoral pursuit of maximum profits, of infinite growth.
And so, the catch: playing and buying cards is mandatory. On each turn, the Company player must play at least one card and buy at least one card. If you're unable to do so – if you don't have enough Budget to do both, or if there are no cards in the market left to buy – you lose the game. You're able to buy cards from your trash pile, but it always must be the topmost card, and it is purchased it at a premium.
One of the standard cards that might be added to your deck as a result of your opponent's legislative agitation is Restrictions – a card that provides no Budget and costs a tremendous amount to play, for no tangible benefit. That legislation might also ban the play of specific cards, increasing the chance that you'll draw a hand that is unplayable, causing you to lose the game.
The Company can oppose this through the use of Lobbyists, peeling off Profits (i.e., your victory points) to make those legislative goals more difficult to achieve, so you can't just pursue your victory conditions – you need to spend time and resources slowing down your opponent. Likewise, the activist player can't only concentrate on that legislation, but must work to convince your victims of the danger of smoking – but only after they debunk your disinformation. Reflecting reality, it takes considerably greater effort to debunk than it does to put it out into the world.
It's at these points of intersections that the game makes its arguments about disinformation and the corrupting nature of capitalism – something that neither "game" could do on its own. That's why I haven't provided a solitaire mode that allows you to play only one side unopposed. I did give it quite serious thought, but ultimately decided against it.
Playtesting took place over much of 2023. The basic structure remained the same with some minor tweaks to player victory thresholds. The most substantive changes were made to a handful of the Company's cards. It probably won't surprise anyone to hear that making a deck-builder for the first time is difficult, and that when you're coming up with a wide variety of card effects they're not going to be perfectly balanced right out of the gate.
Mostly this was a matter of the math being off. This card cost too much for what it did, or that one cost too little, making the card too powerful. Costs were bumped up or down by one or two, and in some cases the actions were modified to make a given card less dominant.
I'm sure if I were a more mathematically-minded designer, the kind of gal who has a bunch of formulas and spreadsheets and determines that this action is worth 1.5 points and that one 1.75, that I would have avoided some of those pitfalls. But maybe not? I remember talking to John Bohrer, the original publisher and developer for Irish Gauge, about some of my math anxiety when I submitted that game, and he said, in essence, that there is no secret math to game design. You put something together, you try it out, you see what works or what doesn't, then you make changes and try again. That's when you apply the math to the problem – to figure out what went wrong, not to prevent it from happening in the first place. At any rate, the corrected cards worked a treat.
Concurrent with this process, I was finalizing the game's presentation: the rulebook, the tokens, the display sheets, the card layouts. Here I chose deliberately not to immerse players, but to alienate them.
It's easy to imagine a version of the game that has lots of vintage art in service of a slick presentation mimicking the Madison Avenue campaigns used by these ghouls to profit off the death of millions, a game that in its form reflects and thus subverts the seductive lie at the heart of the industry.
But I didn't really see the purpose of that. It strikes me as the kind of formal affectation that the occupants of a college dorm room would find deep. I think given the seriousness of the game's subject matter that if you're buying it, you're not a child asking to be dazzled or inveigled, so I stripped away all euphemism. That's the reason why I call them "Victims" instead of "Customers". From the point of view of the industry, wouldn't they have called them customers? Yeah, they would, but who cares about their point of view? A hundred million dead, while they lied through their teeth. To hell with them. To hell with anyone who asks about their point of view.
Identification and immersion are tools, and like all tools, they're well-suited for some purposes but not for others. I've used them many times before in my career and will do so again, but here, alienation is the hammer of choice. A blunt instrument, ugly, inelegant. The components for the company player are drab and functional, stark and uninviting. For the most part, their cards have been stripped of specificity: Journalism, not Edward Murrow; Mascots, not Joe Camel; Lifestyle Branding, not Marlboro Rewards.
This is in contrast with the movement. Here, each card is named for something specific, explained in flavor text. Hand-sketched icons dance across soft blues and purples. If I wanted the company to feel brutish and alien, I wanted the movement to feel human. To be, in its own way, immersive.
All that's left now is to release the damn thing. There's an anxiety to that. There always is, putting a new game out into the world, especially one that's important to me — but there's also a relief. I have lived with this game for years. True, many of those were spent only in uneasy anticipation of self-inflicted suffering. Putting it off until I couldn't any longer. Then going through it.
I don't know whether I have any more of these in me, these big depressing angry political things. They're the ones people seem to like the best, that garner the most attention and admiration. Just my luck.
Each game like this takes something from me. Something that I won't get back. I'm happier once on the other side of it, but I feel smaller than I was going in. And of course there's always the disquieting voice asking if it's worth it.
I hope so.
Amabel Holland Read more »
- Happy Camper Launches Trio in the U.S.Happy Camper is a new U.S. publisher that will launch its first title at PAX Unplugged 2023: an English-language edition of Kaya Miyano's card game Trio, a.k.a., nana. (Technically, the game is available now through the Happy Camper website, but the public debut will be PAXU 2023.)
For those not familiar with the game, here's how to play:The deck consists of 36 cards, numbered 1-12 three times. Players receive some cards in hand, which they are required to sort from low to high, and the remaining cards are placed face down on the table.
On your turn, choose any single card to reveal, either the low or high card from a player's hand (including your own) or any face-down card from the table. Then, do this again. If the two cards show the same number, continue your turn; if they do not, return the cards to where they came from and end your turn.
If you reveal three cards showing the same number, take these cards as a set in front of you. If you are the first player to collect three sets, you win — except that a player wins immediately if they collect the set of 7s.
Trio includes rules for a "spicy" mode in which you can also win by collecting two linked sets, such as 1s and 6s, as well as rules for playing in teams with four or six players.
In short, Trio is gamer Go Fish. You're searching for cards to make sets, so you have a memory aspect as to who has revealed which cards, along with a deduction aspect as to who has not revealed cards...assuming you can keep track of all the info you see.
For the team play, team members sit opposite one another and exchange one card before play begins (pulling cards from their hand and adding them below the table to hide their location), and each time an opposing team collects a set, your team can swap again.
Mob+, then French publisher Cocktail Games licensed the design and re-branded it as Trio. The word "nana" in Japanese — ナナ — is one way of saying 7, so the title emphasizes the winning condition. "Trio" instead relates to the sets you collect, and I would imagine it's a more meaningful word for casual game buyers than "Seven"...which would undoubtedly inspire endless "What's in the box?" jokes. (Answer: It's cards. Cards are what's in the box.)
How did a new publisher land the license for Trio? Probably because Happy Camper is run by Jason Schneider, who was vice president of product development at Gamewright for more than twenty years, with several Gamewright titles, such as Imagine and Happy City, having been licensed from Cocktail Games. (The licensing went the other way as well, with Cocktail releasing Gamewright titles like Sushi Go! and Super Mega Lucky Box in France.)
I've talked with Schneider multiple times over the years at NY Toy Fair, Spielwarenmesse, and other conventions. He has a great eye for what's appropriate for his audience, and he can pick apart tricky elements in a design immediately, making suggestions to move the design toward being mainstream appropriate. Compare, for example, the back of the box on the Cocktail and Happy Camper editions of Trio:
Cocktail uses a long header ("Who will be the smartest...") that doesn't stand out that much from the other text around it. The Happy Camper box strips that header down to "Can you find three of a kind?" Boom! Now you know what the game is about!
Similarly, Cocktail highlighted the phrase "only the lowest or highest number" in orange, which is good since that element of the game is a neat hook, but then Happy Camper changes that to make "lowest" orange and "highest" blue...which mimics the card colors adjacent to the text, adding a bit of hidden resonance.
In my opinion, pretty much every element on the back of the Happy Camper box is better than what's on the Cocktail box. (The Cocktail box isn't bad; it's just that the Happy Camper one is better.) The only drawback, at least from a gamer's perspective, is that the Happy Camper box is larger than Cocktail's. I don't think this would make a difference to the average person, but I wanted to point it out.
In any case, I wish Jason well with his new venture because I respect his approach to development and marketing, as well as his knowledge of the industry as a whole. Also, because Trio is great, so it's nice to finally have it available in the U.S.! Read more »
- Japanese Game Round-up: Build a Train Network in Shinjuku, Take Tricks with Time, and Play Cards in a LOOP
• LOOP is a new ladder-climbing card game from Takashi Saito and BrainBrainGames in the vein of OPEN, which debuted in 2022 and which I covered in October 2023 after Mandoo Games licensed the design. Here's how to play this 2-4 player game:How well can you play the same cards as someone else?
In the first round of LOOP, each player receives a hand of eleven cards from a deck of three suits, with each suit having cards numbered 1-15. They each choose two cards to set aside face down.
The lead player starts the first trick by laying down a single card, a pair of the same number, or two or more consecutive cards of the same suit. The next players in turn must play a higher matching combination of cards or pass, although a player who passes can re-enter the trick later. Once everyone passes, the player who won the trick leads again. (Note that all played cards stay in front of who played them.)
If a player lays down an 8, whether alone or in combination, everyone else must pass, then this player leads a new trick. If a player runs out of cards, they score points based on how many players still have cards in hand, and play continues until all but one player goes out.
The last player then takes over a player's seat: first in a two-player game, second in a three-player game, and first or second in a four-player game (with the third player then taking the other option). After moving to their new locations, players then take the eleven cards in front of them, discard two, then play the round again. If the player in the fourth seat can do better than fourth, they score points — lots of points if they come in first. Along the same lines, if the player in the first seat does poorly, they lose points.
If a player has set aside an 8 in their two cards, they can declare "どんでん" (donden = revolution) by revealing the card on their turn. Now 1s are the high cards and 15s the low ones for the remainder of the round.
Play multiple rounds until a player has reached the point threshold, which is based on the player count.
Masakazu Takizawa from こぐま工房 (Koguma Koubou) has created several games based on the manipulation of components, with you building a tower in BABEL, grabbing cards from a vertical pile in HIKTORUNE, and manipulate a shared pen in Magicalligraphy.
For 2023, however, he's putting his spin on a trick-taking game with PARADOMINETOR (パラドミネーター), with 3-5 players representing various time-travel organizations. Here's how to play:The game is played with chips instead of cards, and these chips are kept behind a player's screen. One side of the chip shows the suit and rank, and the other side shows the time: past, present, or future. Each chip is unique in the game.
Players follow suit as in a normal trick-taking game, but when chips with the same suit and rank are played, they become trump and are resolved based on their time phase; the earliest phase wins the trick, with the latter one earning half a trick.
After fifteen tricks, the player with the highest score wins.
For added style, the player screens are slightly raised so that you can flick your tile into play, probably to keep you from accidentally showing the reverse side of the tile:
指輪を落とさないで ("Don't Drop Your Ring") from designer O-sake (お酒) and publisher 酔いどれ趣造 (Drunken Hobby), but I found it compelling enough to include anyway.
This 3-5 player trick-taking game features seven unbalanced suits. You try to predict how many tricks you'll win by taking one of the rolled dice (I believe with the unchosen die affecting the strength of the bid), but if you win a trick that contains the same number as the card you used, then the win counts twice. Collect three of those numbers, and that's three tricks won! If you miss your bid, you lose points, which is symbolized by a ring falling lower on your finger. If the ring falls off your finger, you lose.
Your ring is on a plastic sheet that you slide lower on a hand scoring card, and that representation of the scoring is a thing of beauty.
Gary Kacmarcik first posted info about his game Shinjuku in 2019, and the first published version of the game will debut at Game Market from リゴレ (rigoler). (Kacmarcik had planned to Kickstart Shinjuku in 2021, then held off due to the uncertainty of shipping prices at that time.)
Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game:In Shinjuku, a strategic network-building and pick-up-and-deliver board game, you build stores in Tokyo and the rail lines to connect them so that you can build the most successful shopping/rail conglomerate.
Every turn, new customers will arrive on the map looking to purchase one of four different goods. On your turn, you choose two different actions from: (a) build a store, (b) expand your rail, (c) upgrade to a department store, (d) draw cards as income, or (e) move customers along the rail to stores.
You start with a hand of four location cards and draw a new card each turn. The build, upgrade and move actions require that you play a matching location card from your hand. Cards in your hand that match locations where you have previously built a store are wild and can be used to match any location.
The game ends one round after the last customer has been placed, and victory goes to the player who acquires the most sets of customers.
The publisher notes that it's incorporated changes to the game's beginning as suggested by Hisashi Hayashi "to make the early stages of the game more interesting". Read more »
- Hoard Veggies, Place Blocks, Keep Tulips, and Bomb a Dragonhere), KOSMOS (here and here), Helvetiq (here), and AMIGO (just a smidge here). Which other European publishers are previewing their release calendar?
How about frechverlag, a German book publisher founded in 1955 that started releasing games in 2020 under the brand TOPP? Gamer, BGG user, and Central and South American game fan Hilko Drude is a product manager at frechverlag, and I feel his influence on some upcoming titles, such as Alejandra Pini's Blockits, which was first released in 2022 as Juanito Blockits from Argentinian publisher El Dragón Azul.
Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game:Blockits is a roll-and-write game of managing blocks, both placing them in rows and using them to block others!
Each player has an individual game board, and each round you place the figure rolled on the die in your game area, either to complete one or more lines or to maximize the number of blocked spaces. You also want to create specific figures to score more points, but the game boards rotate from one player to another, which might complicate your plans.
Drachentanz from Taiwanese designer DuGuWei, who self-published it as Bomb the Dragon in 2020. Here's how to play this 2-6 player game:Drachentanz is a celebration of the Hakka people held in Miaoli, Taiwan during the Lantern Festival. Players in the game bomb the dragon by throwing firecrackers to win the blessings for themselves!
To play, shuffle the 19 dragon-body cards, lay out as many as dragon-body cards as players face up between the dragon-head card and dragon-tail card, then you shuffle the 45 firecracker cards and deal three cards to each player.
Each turn, players simultaneously choose and reveal a firecracker card from their hand, then place the firecracker onto the bomb zone by the dragon-body cards in order. When the total firepower next to a dragon-body card equals or exceeds the vitality point on that card, whoever played the most recent card wins it. If not enough dragon-body cards are available to fill up the vacancies of the dragon body, the round ends immediately. Record each player's blessings (points).
Continue playing rounds until someone has collected at least 50 points.
Zong-Ger and Good Game Studio in Germany as Veggie Crash, which is probably due to Germans not using the word "stock" in two ways as English speakers do. (The game's original title in Taiwan was Small Farmer.)
This 2-6 player game plays in 10-15 minutes, and win or lose I've had a blast with it. Here's how the game works:Vegetable Stock is a simple card game about vegetable economics. Each round, reveal one more card than the number of players on the table. Each card has three vegetable icons on it, with vegetables coming in five types. Players take turns choosing one of the cards and placing it in their harvest pile face down. The price of the vegetable(s) on the card not chosen goes up — but if the price goes too high, it crashes, although it can rise again next round.
After six rounds, determine your score by multiplying the number of each vegetable you have harvested by the final price of that vegetable. The player with the highest score wins!
Sara Perry's A Gift of Tulips from Weird Giraffe Games will become Eine Tulpe für Dich ("A Tulip for You") in frechverlag's January 2024 release.
As with Veggie Crash, Eine Tulpe für Dich is for 2-6 players, and you're collectively manipulating the value of items on a market, although now you're messing with tulips...and you're not just keeping them for yourself.
Tulips come in four types, and two of them are initially valued above the others. Each player starts with one tulip card in front of themselves, placing a second card face down into a "secret festival" pile. On a turn, a player draws a card, then:
• Keeps it, scoring points if that type is currently ranked third or fourth,
• Gives it to another player, scoring points based on that tulip's rank and value, or
• Adds it to the secret festival, either face up to adjust the ranking of the tulip types or face down.
Then the player draws a second card and chooses a different action than before. When the deck runs out, shuffle the secret festival cards, then reveal five of them and adjust the ranking of the tulips, if needed. Whoever has the most and secondmost cards of the highest three types scores their cards.
Clever wie Archimedes, a German version of Reiner Knizia's Arquimedes, which debuted in 2021 from Brazilian publisher Adoleta Jogos.
This real-time game is aimed at younger people, with 2-5 players racing to use mathematical operations — addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division — to rid themselves of cards as quickly as possible.
Read more »
- Visit a Swiss National Park, Collect Treasure, Build a Tower, and Defend Your Secret Drug NetworkAlpina will be a May 2024 release from Luc Rémond and Helvetiq in which you explore the Swiss National Park with a camera around your neck to photograph animals in their natural habitat:The spotted nutcracker, grass frogs, and more are waiting for you and offer you a unique opportunity to collect points in an original way that is related to the landscape and interaction with your neighbors.
Do you play a card to score more points, or do you use the opportunity to deceive your opponents? Find the card that allows you to strike a balance between these two objectives, and victory will be yours!
• Another upcoming Helvetiq title — Odin from Gary Kim, Yohan Goh, and Hope S. Hwang, due out in January 2024 — has even less information available: "Odin is a simple and dynamic game with quick rounds and far-reaching decisions. Be strategic, collect the cards that best suit your strategy, and carve your way to glory to become King or Queen of Valhalla."
• To follow up an earlier November 2023 post, German publisher KOSMOS has previewed more new game releases for the first half of 2024, such as Anno 1800: Die Erweiterung, which adds additional ship tiles, island expansions, and population tiles to Martin Wallace's Anno 1800: The Board Game.
• Lucky is a dice game for 2-6 players from Drew Richards in which you're once again splitting booty on a pirate ship and trying to end up with the most loot in your pocket, but to do so, you must risk it falling into the hands of others:You all take turns placing your treasure cards in the middle of the table. Now the person whose turn it is rolls up to five dice, depending on the number of cards on display that are to be won. If the roll succeeds, the treasures from the center or those of the other players become their own. Treasures are never safe from the others, though, and can be stolen again...
• One of Us from Johannes Berger and Julien Gupta falls into the "majority wins" category of party games, but it's not clear from the publisher's description how this 3-7 player game differs from others: "Who do you think of whenever you see a cat? And who do you think of when you see a sparkling diamond necklace...or a leek? All you have to do is agree with the majority of players, and you've already scored a point together."
• TowerBrix is a co-operative game from Simon Thomas for 1-6 players that works as follows:Over the course of the game, you build a tower out of bricks, with the cards in your hand telling you who has to fulfill which conditions — but each person knows only their own tasks and cannot tell the others about them. During the building process, the aim is to find out which conditions must be fulfilled in order to successfully complete the round.
TowerBrix features different levels of difficulty and additional missions.
Lukas Setzke, Martin Student, and Verena Wiechens with three new titles. These games put you in the role of shady characters — members of the New York mafia in 2021's Vendetta, and part of a gang of art thieves in Stillleben — and you use the materials in the box as well as information online to play.
In Masters of Crime: Mosquito, you're on the hunt for a legendary Latin American treasure and must figure out how to outwit the powerful secret organization "Mosquito", which is one step ahead of you and wants the treasure for itself.
In Masters of Crime: Inkognito, you're on the side of the law this time, specifically an undercover agent with the FBI who embeds themselves in a maximum security prison in Brooklyn to discover who killed a gang member that had become a police informant.
In Masters of Crime: Tiefenrausch, you've built secret drug network on the "Isla de Cubaidos", but international superstar Dayana — who comes from that Caribbean island — has vanished, and you need to figure out what's happened to her before the police search party arrives and inspects your island.
Read more »
- In 2024, Ravensburger Wants You to Race Pawns, Bid on Cows, Remember Hats, and MoreRavensburger has revealed some of its 2024 German releases, with Kasper Lapp's That's Not a Hat receiving a "pop culture" edition that features new items you are sure to forget as you pass gifts around the table and try to remember who has what. (We're naming this title That's Not a Hat: Pop Culture to match the publisher's approach, even though the words "Pop Culture" don't seem to be on the box. We can revisit this approach once the game has been released.)
• Ravensburger will bring the trick-taking game Skull King from Brent and Jeffrey Beck back to the German market after Schmidt Spiele first released the game there in 2014.
• Ralf zur Linde's HIT is a deck-building take on Pachisi and other such racing games, with cards now controlling the movement of your pawns instead of dice.
The brief game description doesn't explain how you build your deck, but my guess is that when one of your pawns is hit and sent backwards, you add a new card to your deck for compensation — and the depicted board is smaller than a regular Pachisi board to encourage more hitting, and thus more deck growth and late-game power moves. We'll see!
Avanti! with frequent designer partner Stefan Dorra. Here's the pitch from the publisher:Time to go on vacation with your friends in Avanti! — but you will find out where you are traveling with the camper only if you combine the clues as to where you are NOT going! Whoever solves it fastest wins the most points...
Robert Brouwer's Kuhhandel: Festival, which shares the "bidding for cows" aspect of Rüdiger Koltze's long-lived Kuhhandel from 1985, but gameplay details remain a mystery for now. Here's what we have on this 2-5 player game:Summer is here, and with it the festival season. All the cows from near and far are on their way in Kuhhandel: Festival, where good business and lots of auctions await. The new double auction brings extra excitement to the game, and the copycat is also there to stir things up. Are you at the party of the year?
I'm amused by the tagline on the cover: "Eine Kuh macht muuuh / viele Kühe machen Mühe", which essentially translates to "A cow goes moo / many cows are hard work", but I'm wondering whether Germans would be rolling their eyes at the wordplay, similar to how I want to smother anyone who refers to a cat as "purrfect".
Matthew Dunstan and Dave Neale continues with echoes: Das Orakel, with players listening to mysterious noises and voices associated with the themes on 24 cards so that they can put them in the right order and why visions of an old fishing boat on the Mediterranean are plaguing a woman in Greece.
• The Sagaland Mitbringspiel from Michel Matschoss and Alex Randolph will be re-issued as Sagaland: Time to Wish, that is, as a tie-in with the Disney movie Wish, although players will still be trying to find a particular thing hidden under a tree, as in the original game. Read more »
- Designer Diary: Art Society
by Dave ChircopMighty Boards' first U.S. appearance, us being from the little island of Malta (Europe). It was also one of my first times in the U.S. in general. There was a lot for me to absorb and learn, and a lot of memories: Philadelphia as a city, the food, the people, how U.S. fairs differ from European ones.
Two things I will never forget are the moment Mitch Wallace approached me and the smile I could feel creeping onto my face the first time I started playing what would become Art Society. I had flashes of images in my head of what the game could look like, what the game could feel like. I instantly loved what I saw.
I think our team really managed to execute on that vision thanks to Mark Casha's art direction, Max Kosek's graphics, and the excellent team of six illustrators who made this very art-heavy game happen. Most of all, I think we have managed to create a tactile, engaging, and satisfying experience that will hopefully give you just a little bit of what I felt the first time I played.
I'm going to pass the floor to Mitch, who will take us through his design process and how Art Society came to be. The game was pre-released at SPIEL Essen 23 and will hit retail stores in November 2023. —David Chircop, publisher
I started designing board games in early 2018, and from my second prototype on, I focused on tile-placement games. At the time, games beget games. Art Society came from another game of mine — or at least the seed of it did because it is quite different from what that prototype was. Let's get into it.
Game Designers of North Carolina. The feedback was (1) more player interaction was needed and (2) the puzzle was really hard. Effectively the design was "3-D Sudoku", a complicated Latin square. Each tile had multiple pieces of information, and the puzzle needed to be reduced. This was one week before Covid started.
Two versions later, the game has a rondel with new rules and the same artwork. The feedback then was that the tiles have more information on them than the game is asking for and it was distracting. That feedback was so right!
A few weeks/months(?) later, I brainstormed with my wife new settings that fit with the mechanism and goals of the game; the result was a salon wall gallery. I sketched on a sheet of paper how the game would work, and it was ready for me to tackle with a new prototype.
Fun twist: At this point in my board game design journey I was burnt out designing tile-placement games, so I stopped. For the next two years I worked on dice games, roll-and-writes, trick-taking games, and other card games. After that time away exploring other game styles and gaining design experience, I was ready to return to the "salon game", refreshed.
When I returned to my notes of the "salon wall game" and how it worked, two things occurred to me:
1) "Art Collectors", to use my working title, was based around square tiles that fit nicely into each grid cell. All the images of salon walls I found in my research had paintings of different dimensions and sizes, which created beautiful visual rhythms and possibly interesting challenges for players. It would be a missed opportunity to not include that as an aspect of the subject matter into the game.
2) I was a different game designer than I was two years prior, so I disregarded my notes and started anew. If I were to design a spatial-puzzle game about a salon wall, how would it work? What should be in the game? More specifically:
• What's the value of art?
Who am I to say? The players should figure it out, just like art buyers do in real life. At the time I was fascinated by games like Hats and Bites, games in which you collect a quantity of a suit but the value of the suit is determined by players and is unknown until game's end.
The "one remaining from draft" mechanism was a good way to implement that in this game. That mechanism mixed with four resources to create interesting draft decisions for players. They must determine what is valuable to collect "now", while also balancing what is shifting in the market. How the remaining tile affects the value of the categories of art would be the biggest design question to answer through testing.
• How do players acquire paintings?
With money at an auction since that fits the setting. A sealed bid auction allows the game to move along at a good clip. High card wins — or picks first. More money, more options. If you want to affect the market, bid low. (I say money in this section as at this time players bid with money cards. The paddle-shaped bid cards came later.)
• Why doesn't a player collect all the most valuable paintings?
Because if paintings are adjacent to paintings of the same style, they won't score. Society just doesn't like that faux pas. This was becoming another game that employs the four-color theorem, which is great because there is a solid math backbone on which to rely.
• Does it matter where the art is placed?
Through the research I did on salon walls, I learned that art hung closer to the eyeline is considered more important. I had to get that in the game.
The above was some of my initial thinking towards the design challenge. It quickly became an art auction game mixed with a spatial puzzle. To stand out amongst the crowd, I wanted to focus the game's setting in private galleries and collections as many games already take place in museums. To my surprise, I didn't find any existing games that focus on hanging art on a wall in your house, so I thought it would be something that would resonate with people.
Paintings and the Gallery Wall
For the gallery wall, I started with a 9x9 square grid. It needed to feel big. I created a variety of dimensions and played in Adobe Illustrator. I realized most real world paintings are not based on square proportions, thus changing the gallery wall to a 9x14 rectangular grid. This also makes it so that players can't rotate the art because art has an orientation. For asymmetrical play, the gallery became 10x14 so that there is no center column or row.
Grid 1 Concept
This game was "playing" like a polyomino game made of rectangles, so I removed the 1x1 tiles to be earned through gameplay to fill in the gaps, i.e., the circles in the diagram. How will they be earned?
A) The paintings could have frames that matched earn a player a 1x1.
B) The painting categories could be double-encoded with frames so that it would be easy to read which category the art is in, allowing the art to shine because the frame is the necessary information, e.g., a gold frame is always a portrait. If you complete a row or column using only one frame color, you receive a bonus. That sounds nice and easy, so let's start there.
The first internal and external tests went well. The game clocked at a good rate with clear changes for the next version. The 1x1 tiles were wildly unbalanced in how they were earned and valued, so I had to implement concept "A" above for the 1x1 tiles; I recreated all the prototype art to incorporate the picture frames into gameplay.
V1.2.1 – v1.8.2
For this next part, I've pulled out some aspects of the game and how they evolved from early stages to the pitched version:
• 1x1 tile / wall decor
In Version 1, the 1x1 tiles were paintings earned by completing rows and columns. The scores for paintings ballooned out of control for the player with the most 1x1 paintings, and the columns/rows were confusing for some players. After making the 1x1 tile only wall decor, the next discoveries were their value, their value in relation to the art, and what was the best way to earn them.
• Empty spaces at game's end
Many polyomino tile games have penalties for not covering your substrate. In early versions of Art Society, this was explored — and failed remarkably. Many players would be within a close range of each other when scoring positive points, then fall back 10-20 spaces because of negative points earned for an uncompleted wall.
• The first painting and restrictions
In the beginning, players started with no paintings, and new paintings could be placed anywhere. Players needed more motivation from the start to care about the first auction as currently the puzzle was either too easy or players felt aimless.
• Bidding ties
The game's first tie-breaker for bids was a set of ranked tiebreak cards that got passed around the table for tied players to resolve the order. This approach had been done before in other games, yet for some reason it caused a lot of confusion or fiddliness in "Art Collectors"; playtesters urged it be fixed. Many solutions were suggested, yet they all had their own flaws, so I looked for the easiest solution, which turned out to be the previously played bid.
• The change of painting values
The prestige values and how they moved on the track was the biggest focus for the design of the game. The prestige track was always going to move by what remained from the auction but by how much? And what determined its value? In the first version it was correlated to the lowest money played — wowzers.
Somewhere in the middle of testing, the painting type located highest on the track was valued the least. That was counterintuitive. The eureka moment was when I figured out the formula for the values of 3,4,5,6,7,8,and 9 tiles, creating a system that ensured the game had both volatility and limits.
I attended PAXU in 2022 and spent most of my time in the Unpub room testing my games. This was the first time outside of my local group to test "Art Collectors". The reaction was great. I answered a few rules questions, but it felt more like people were playing the game, not testing it.
For "Art Collectors", much of the feedback beyond the gameplay was, "This game must look amazing. I really hope the published version has amazing art." Only a handful of publishers consistently make the art and production of their games stellar, and Mighty Boards is one of them. When I met David on Sunday, he immediately picked up on the concept of "Art Collectors". He shared his vision for the production, and it was in line with what I had in mind, so I could tell it would be a good partnership. He also wanted to change the name of the game.
A Late-Stage Insight
Whenever possible, I like to test my games with two extremes of people: those who will find strategies quickly and expose weaknesses of varying aspects, and those who play unexpectedly. The latter will show you where all your "clever" thinking is confusing or what happens when something totally breaks.
After the game was signed, on one occasion family and friends visited. Excited to hear the news of my game contract, they wanted to play. This play was enlightening. Previously, the most excess paintings anyone earned was one. This playthrough had four and two excess paintings with different players, which created an imbalance of play at the table between the players who did and did not have excess paintings. The key insight was to stop the game before the excess paintings get out of hand, so I added a third game-end trigger.
Art Society is being shared at conventions, and I have seen photos of people playing. It is an incredible feeling to see it on the table and hear some of the initial reactions. Mighty Boards did an amazing job with the art and production. I am pleased to share the design process with you, and I can't wait for more people to play it.
David here again! We'd like to finish off with a small showcase of some of the art and components of Art Society. When you see it in person, it really does make an impression...
Read more »
- Game Overview: Surfosaurus MAX, or The Best Game of BGG.CON 2023Surfosaurus MAX — a SPIEL Essen 23 debut from designer Ikhwan Kwon and publisher Loosey Goosey Games — is an eye-catcher, a suggestion of what a game might look like if Peter Max were hired as cover artist. (The art is actually from Matthias Mödl, who has worked on all Loosey Goosey titles to date.)
The color explosion continues on the cards, with the deck having seven suits numbered 1-12. The cards could be tamer, of course, but why not have something along these lines? If nothing else, you can't help but see this game when walking the Messe or scrolling online. The first step to selling a game is to make people know it exists, and given the competition these days, neon might seem like a natural approach.
As for what you do in the game, you try to score surfing dinosaurs to max out your points compared to everyone else. It's all there in the title.
More specifically, each round in Surfosaurus MAX you and your fellow players will play cards to the table, then determine which cards make the best poker hand — and those cards are then scored by whoever played them. In short, you want to co-operate with others to ensure that your cards score at the same time that you are competing with them for the most points.
Each player has a hand of seven cards. The round's starting player plays a card face up on the table and draws a new card, then everyone else does the same in clockwise order, then you do that one or two more times (depending on the player count), then you determine the best card combination made of four cards (with 2-4 players) or five cards (with 5-6 players):
• Best: Straight flush
• High cards
Ties are broken in favor of higher numbers, so in a straight of 10-9-8-7-6-5, only the highest four/five cards score. If you end up with a six-of-a-kind or a straight of 10-10-9-8-7-7-6, all of these cards score, but the tied cards are worth only half points. Everything else played in the round goes in the discard pile.
Low-value cards are worth more points — e.g., 1s and 2s are 12 points when scored fully, whereas 11s and 12s are only 2 points — but the high cards tend to win hands, so both high and low numbers can be good.
Whether they will, in fact, be good depends on what everyone else does, which is why Surfosaurus MAX has won me over. You can't build a winning hand on your own, but must work with others, so you need to anticipate what someone is trying to achieve with their card plays, then push to make that happen — or offer an alternative narrative for others to join.
I've played Surfosaurus MAX eleven times so far on a review copy from Loosey Goosey Games with player counts from 3-6, and since I've been playing with new people almost every game (with eight plays at BGG.CON 2023), I try to make it clear what can score in the early part of a turn: "Orange 4 on the lead. Okay, now orange 7 joins in. Oh, wait, red 7 has jumped in, so we have two 7s and two orange. What are you going to do?" I don't know whether me talking like this annoys people, but I've noticed some people having a difficult time understanding that their piecemeal plays can turn into a point pie in the right situation.
(In the two-player game, you reveal two random cards from the deck during the cardplay, with those cards then being removed from play whether they score or not, and I don't care to play with or against AI opponents, so I doubt I'll ever try this set-up.)
Trendy. In that 2000 design from Reiner Knizia, players have a hand of three number cards, with numbers going from 3-7. Players keep playing and drawing one card in turn until a trend arises: three 3s, four 4s, etc. up to seven 7s. Those numbers score, and everything else is tossed.
Trendy includes special cards in each suit — one worth two of a number, and one that trashes all of a number in play — but otherwise it's extremely straightforward: Be part of a trend to score; even better, aim to start the trend so that you can (ideally) be part of it twice. (Trendy is one of my go-to examples for how Knizia presents a setting through gameplay. The cards could be blank, but when you play the game, you feel like you're trying to join others to make a trend peak. The runway imagery is just a bonus to hammer home that feel.)
In Surfosaurus MAX, cards have both number and suit, so you can combine them in more ways, which makes the gameplay more interesting when compared to Trendy.
Additionally, you play only a limited number of cards each round — e.g., twelve cards with six players, eight cards with four players, and nine cards with three players — so you can often make choices of what to play...or not play...in order to maximize your points. Sure, completing a straight flush sounds good, but maybe if you complete it, someone will play a higher number on the straight to cut out your (now sixth-ranked) card.
Having seven cards in hand gives you info to work with over multiple hands, and if your memory is good, you can keep track of what's scored and what's been discarded. (Depending on the player count, discards will be shuffled to make a new deck for later rounds. Also, for some player counts, you remove a few cards at random, which makes it impossible to count cards precisely.)
Not everything is perfect in Surfosaurus MAX. For a reason I can't understand, the publisher indexes all of the cards with two digits, such as 01 and 05, so when a 01 is played, those across the table often read it as a 10. You just can't help it! Similarly, a 10 can be read as 01. This is another reason I narrate the play; I don't want someone to be surprised at the end of a round when the five "10"s don't win.
I use the background color to name the color of the card, but for (again) some unknown reason the red and yellow cards both have white — the foam at the wave crest — at the top of the image rather the background color, so you can conflate the colors into a non-existent white suit when the cards are splayed in your hand.
Perhaps I should use the symbol index on a card instead of its color, but all of these symbols are white, so most of the time it's hard to make them out clearly compared to the background color.
Finally, sometimes the winning hand in a round is locked early, which means the last players in a round — instead of being in a position to determine what scores — can only dump a card in the hope of bettering their hand for next time. Sure, on occasion you don't have the right card to make a scoring combination, but when you don't even get the opportunity to be in that position, well...this happened to the same player three times in one game, so the experience was kind of a bummer for them, despite randomness like this being natural in a card game.
That said, I dig the feel of this design, which often compels people to chant at the table: "Tens! Tens! Tens!" or "Nines are fine!" Any game that inspires chanting is probably a winner, right? The chanters are invested and care about what happens; they're engaged, and importantly you care about what others do because it directly affects what happens to you. Together we can score — or together you will defeat me.
Pyramido, a 2023 release from Synapses Games that I've played three times, and while that game is a fine design, it's fine in the most damning way possible. It's acceptable. I'd have no objections to playing it, even though I'd prefer to play something else.
Pyramido mirrors a current trend of players interacting almost entirely via drafting, with each player building a clever arrangement of domino-style tiles on their individual player board. Sure, you can be clever in how you arrange tiles, and you refill the empty slot in the tile market from one of two stacks of visible tiles, so you usually have a choice as to what's available for the next player, but I haven't had any emotional investment while playing. I'm playing heads down to maximize points, and the other players at the table could be automatons for all that I know.
That's not the case with Surfosaurus MAX where I'm urging you to join me in a victorious hand and your cardplay feels more like a personal attack or a joining of arms against others.
Ideally this game will land international distribution — with modification to some of its graphics — and others will get to enjoy Surfosaurus MAX as much as I have.
Read more »
- Build Coral Reefs in Aqua, Process Algae for Cosmetics, and Rediscover Cave EvilSidekick Games is a Danish publisher owned by designers Asger Harding Granerud, Daniel Skjold Pedersen, and Dan Halstad that debuted in 2019 with Bloom Town and aimed to release "one perfect Generational Game" annually...then Covid hit, which put a crimp in that plan.
After several years, though, Sidekick Games has announced its next such title along these lines: AQUA: Biodiversity in the oceans, from the father-and-son duo Dan and Tristan Halstad.
Here's an overview of this 1-4 player game, which features art by the seemingly ubiquitous Vincent Dutrait:In AQUA, your starting point is a hot spot that gradually becomes surrounded by expanding coral formations. These corals serve as habitats for small marine animals. By fostering biodiverse habitats, you can then create ideal conditions for attracting the largest marine animals.
AQUA plays over 17 rounds. On your turn, you must take a new coral tile from the market and add it to your reef, then you may also attract animals to your ecosystem if you create the correct patterns of coral.
At the end of the game, the player who grew the best coral formations and attracted the most large and small sea animals will score the most points and win.
AQUA is due out in February 2024, and Pedersen notes, "[W]e are extremely pleased to have a lot of partners on board for the first print run (14 languages, 19 territories) including The OP and Asmodee."
• Since we're already in the water, let's check out Algae, Inc., a 2-4 player design from Julia Thiemann and Christoph Waage that Game Brewer will release in 2024:Algae, Inc. is a company that produces and processes different kinds of algae into cosmetics, bioplastics, and biodiesel. You manage one of these sectors of the company, trying to create an efficient assembly line; manage your team of operators, engineers, and scientists; and help expand the company to several locations all over Europe.
As the company becomes more and more successful, you try to achieve certain milestones before other departments may do so because as much as you like to see the whole company perform well, you would like to get that extra bit of credit compared to your peers.
Algae, Inc. is a medium-heavy strategy game that combines resource management, tableau building, and multi-processing. Each player has a unique player board and must adapt their strategy to the department they've chosen to manage. As the game progresses, you have to hire more staff, optimize your processing line, and keep a close eye on what your colleagues are doing. You also have to make crucial decisions as you decide to free up space on your science board by either unlocking engineer tiles (that will improve your factory) or science tiles (that will allow you to improve your actions). It's a meticulous game that reveals its true depth the more you play it as every decision you make will affect the next one.
• Let's keep diving: French publisher Bombyx would like you to be aware that 2024 is the tenth anniversary of Abyss, a game from Bruno Cathala and Charles Chevallier that features fabulous art from Xavier Collette.
In a Facebook post, Bombyx promises "a few surprises" for the anniversary year, while sharing only this image for now:
• If we keep diving into the abyss, what might we find waiting? How about Cave Evil, specifically a new edition of this 2011 design by Mat Brinkman, Jochen Hartmann, and Nate Hayden.
What is Cave Evil, you ask? In the designer's words:Cave Evil is a necrodemonic dungeon brawl board game that takes place in a vast deeply subterranean cave-crypt necropolis.
Players take on the role of Necromancers locked in a desperate battle to harness the power of The Pit, a chasm that connects to the realm of Shadow. The Necromancers must raise squadrons of creatures, demons and monstrosities to battle and do their bidding — players control six squads at the same time — through a maze of tunnels that can be strategically constructed or collapsed and are constantly evolving during game play in a process of brutal player elimination.
Minions must mine and excavate or destroy opponents to gather up resources to raise their Necromancer's army. Resources come in three varieties and correspond to various types of creatures (130+ unique creatures are included in the game).
The designers note that they plan to release a second "AND FINAL" edition of one thousand copies of Cave Evil should they receive five hundred pre-orders or "reach a particular level of funding through selling new merchandise" after a three-month pre-order period on their website. This edition will feature rule revisions and minor component changes, but no gameplay differences.
Additionally, the designers say, "The reprinting will also give us reason to produce the Expansions that have already been in the works for some time; these will be compatible with BOTH printings of the game." Read more »
- Bring Attack on Titan, Diablo, The Rocky Horror Show, and More to Your Tabletop
• Before the end of 2023, U.S. publisher University Games will release Rocky Horror Show, a board game adaptation meant to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Richard O'Brien's 1973 musical stage show The Rocky Horror Show. Here's teaser text about this 2-6 player game from the publisher:Let's do the time warp again! Relive that first Rocky Horror Show moment or play this game and create that moment. Sing the song, finish the callouts, play a character. Be the first player to build Rocky in the Lab, then escape the Castle to win. It all starts with a jump to the left then a step to the right. Celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ground-breaking Rocky Horror Show with this raucous party game.
Glass Cannon Unplugged plans to open the gates of hell in 2024, specifically by crowdfunding both Diablo: The Board Game and Diablo: The Roleplaying Game for release in 2025. From the publisher:Diablo: The Board Game is a co-op narrative-driven adventure board game in which players will gather a party of custom characters — known as Champions — and venture through the world of Sanctuary, help those in need, explore dungeons and tombs full of undead horrors, battle the legions of the Netherworld, and traverse the Realms of Creation.
Diablo: The Board Game, along with its direct companion tabletop RPG (TTRPG) system, will fuel one another with interchangeable game components, shared accessories, and complementary expansions with overarching events in a fully integrated product line.
Jasco Games rebranded as UVS Games, with its long-lived Universal Fighting System (UFS) CCG being similarly rebranded as the UniVersus CCG, although the nature of the game line will remain the same: a character-driven, multi-IP fighting card game that's included sets based on My Hero Academia, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and Cowboy Bebop.
In 2024, UVS Games will add an Attack on Titan CCG to the UniVersus line-up, with the cards featuring both original and reimagined artwork from the Attack on Titan manga. (The exact name of this card set hasn't been revealed, so expect an update on the BGG game page in time.)
Wizards of the Coast announced in October 2023 that it will release Magic: The Gathering sets in its "Universes Beyond" line-up that feature Marvel heroes, villains, locations, and more.
Other brands featured or announced for "Universes Beyond" sets include The Lord of the Rings, Fallout, Doctor Who, Final Fantasy, and Warhammer 40,000. Some retailers have noted that the recent proliferation of Magic sets is overwhelming the audience's ability to play (and purchase) everything.
• In still other CCG news, in 2024 Japanime Games will release Oshi Push, a collectible card game from Justin Gary and his Gamer Entertainment team in which you can collect cards and design decks based around your favorite Vtubers — and if like me, you don't know what a "VTuber" is, I'll let you know that a VTuber is a content creator who uses virtual avatars to livestream and create content for platforms like Twitch and YouTube.
Japanime Games is partnering with virtual entertainment company Phase Connect to include many of its VTubers in its first set of cards.
Read more »
- Make Drinks, Redecorate Your House, Count to 17, and Discover Lady Whistledown's IdentityZ-Man Games has announced that in February 2024 it will release Love Letter: Bridgerton, a twist on Seiji Kanai's 2012 game Love Letter in which players launch investigations to figure out Lady Whistledown's identity while encountering characters from the Bridgerton series on Netflix.
Love Letter: Bridgerton plays much like the original Love Letter: Each turn, draw a card from the deck, then play one of the two cards in your hand and resolve its effect. You want to eliminate all of the other players or have the highest-valued card in hand when the deck is empty. The winner of the round receives a diamond, and whoever collects a pre-determined number of diamonds wins.
Love Letter: Bridgerton, which is for 2-6 players, includes Queen Charlotte as a special character who gives you the power to eliminate multiple players in a single turn.
By the way, hats off to Golda Rosheuvel, who plays Queen Charlotte on Bridgerton, because she's commanding in every scene and great fun to watch.
Andy Bell's Ulterior Design from Cheeky Parrot Games, players attempt to win awards from Decor Rate magazine by building a trendy house with overlapping cards that feature lamps, portraits, and plants — and if your house is trending the right way, then try to bend the trend in your favor.
• Huradrim is a card game for 2-10 players that takes only two minutes to play. This design from Jefferson Pimentel, Bruno Sathler, 101 Games Brasil and Mind's Vision challenges you grab ingredients from the table — and discard the right cards — to brew the best beer for the king of dwarves.
Bézier Games will release Silver Eye, the fifth title in the Silver series from designer Ted Alspach.
Each of the Silver titles is a golf-style card game in which you want the lowest score on your cards in play. The deck contains cards numbered 0-13, with each number having a unique power to let you flip cards, exchange cards, and so on. You can make cards from any of the five Silver titles as long as the deck contains cards from 0 to 13.
Helvetiq will release the card game 17 from designer Munetoshi Harigaya in 2024, this being a new version of D!C!ASSETTE, which debuted from Japanese publisher Joyple Games in 2022.
Here's how to play this 2-10 player game:Read more »D!C!ASSETTE, a stylized display of the Italian for 17 (diciassette), is a bluffing card game in which players try to time when a set of cards on the table sum to 17 or more.
The deck consists of cards numbered 1 to 5 and cards with special effects, such as reversing the direction of play. Some of the numbered cards show their number on both the front and back of the card.
Each player has a hand of three cards. On their turn, they choose to play a card face up or face down to a row on the table, then draw a replacement card. Other players can then state "Diciassette!" if they think the cards in the row sum to 17 or more. If they are correct, they earn a daisy chip and the last person to place a card in the row takes a ghost chip; if not, the ghost chip and daisy chip are handed out the other way.
Players lose one daisy chip for every two ghost chips they obtain, and the first person to collect three daisy chips wins.
- University Games and Forbidden Games File Competing LawsuitsUniversity Games (UGC) and Forbidden Games filed lawsuits against one another in US District Court for the Northern District of California, with University Games alleging breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and fraud by Forbidden Games and its president/CEO Glenn Drover and with Forbidden Games and Glenn Drover alleging fraud, breach of contract, and wrongful termination by University Games, president Bob Moog, and SVP Marketing and Product Development Craig Hendrickson.
How did these two companies become involved with one another? From the University Games' lawsuit: "In early 2022, UGC became interested in acquiring the assets of Forbidden Games, Inc., a board game publishing company founded by Glenn Drover. To that end, the parties entered into a 'Memorandum of Understanding for Purchase of Assets of Forbidden Games by University Games,' on February 17, 2022."
The two companies signed an Asset Purchase Agreement (APA) on April 20, 2022, and University Games released this press release that same day:RACCOON TYCOON JOINS FUN AT UNIVERSITY GAMES
University Games adds Forbidden Games portfolio to its library of great brands
April 21, 2022, San Francisco. University Games and Forbidden Games have announced the acquisition of Racoon Tycoon, Mosaic, and the rest of the intellectual property of Forbidden Games, the brainchild of Glenn Drover, game designer and president of Forbidden Games. "I am extremely excited that our games will join the impressive product line at University Games, where they will benefit from University's broad market penetration and channel expertise,: stated Glenn, who will be joining the team at University Games as VP of the Strategy Games Division. He continued by adding, "And I anticipate being able to add a ton of value for University Games in a booming category that weaves perfectly into their existing strengths."
Bob Moog, President of University Games enthusiastically agreed, "Glenn is a highly regarded game designer and business leader in the strategy game category, with more than 30 years of experience. When he says that he can help us, he isn't talking poppycock. We are psyched!"
Racoon Tycoon is the leading game from Forbidden Games which launched its first game, Railroad Rivals in 2018. In 2022 the company will introduce its next hit game: Mosaic, which has raised more than $1.2 million through its first round of crowdfunding.
University Games plans to increase the introductions of new games and help Forbidden Games reach a global audience. Australian Managing Director, Andrew McCosker, asked "Never seen a raccoon...Is it some sort of weasel?" He then stated emphatically, "No worries! I can sell Raccoon Tycoon. It will definitely be a hit in Australia."
Forbidden Games will become a division of University Games. University Games announced that it will be realigning its Briarpatch and Front Porch games division to create product lines that best fit the addition of Forbidden Games.
No purchase price was given in the press release, and all dollar values have been redacted from the University Games lawsuit, but the Forbidden Games suit notes that while Drover "was adamant that he would not sell for less than $3 million...Mr. Moog countered with $2 million, but offered the additional $1 million in 'deferred payments' (as described in the APA) over a three-year period in the form of 5% of adjusted gross revenues from the sale of Forbidden Games assets, like Mosaic and Raccoon Tycoon."
The companies disagree on what followed the April 2022, as they lay out in the summaries at the start of their lawsuits. From the University Games lawsuit, which was filed on October 30, 2023:About a year later, Glenn Drover resigned from UGC. Both before and after his resignation, Forbidden Games and Glenn Drover breached their contractual obligations and Drover breached his fiduciary duties of loyalty and good faith and committed fraud. Defendants' breaches of their contractual and fiduciary obligations included, among other things, failing to transfer the assets and intellectual property as required by the contract, failing to transfer monetary proceeds to UGC's account, refusing to work with UGC under the terms the parties had negotiated, holding UGC's game development hostage until Drover's increasing monetary demands were met, chronically violating University Games procedures and policies, interfering with the development and launch of UGC games, refusing to return company property after Drover's resignation, and claiming that the intellectual property Drover and Forbidden Games had transferred to UGC actually belonged to Drover.
And from the Forbidden Games lawsuit, which was filed on October 31, 2023:Prior to the asset sale, Forbidden Games board games like Mosaic and Raccoon Tycoon had earned industry and consumer accolades and awards, as well as early promising sales figures. However, University Games fraudulently had no intention of permitting Plaintiffs to earn the additional $1 million in deferred payments or otherwise to promote the acquired Forbidden Games board games. Instead, University Games and its principal, Robert Moog, set about to breach their promises by: (i) promoting existing University Games over the Forbidden Games; (ii) refusing to attend and/or feature Forbidden Games at major tradeshows in the boardgame industry; (iii) slashing the Forbidden Games' marketing budget; (iv) making a hostile work environment for Mr. Drover and the colleagues he brought over to University Games so that they could not effectively promote the Forbidden Games board games in the market, and eventually would have to leave the intolerable working conditions at University Games; and (v) otherwise taking unreasonable commercial action and doing everything else they could to impede the performance of sales of the acquired Forbidden Games' assets (board games).
The lawsuits have been assigned to different judges in the US District Court for the Northern District of California. The parties each have 21 days to respond to a lawsuit after being served before a default judgment is made against them, and we're still within that 21-day window at this time. Read more »
- Teasers for 2024 from KOSMOS and AMIGO: The Crew, Ingenious, 6 nimmt!, and More
KOSMOS, for example, has been drip feeding announcements on its Instagram, starting with German editions of 3 Ring Circus from Remo Conzadori and Fabio Lopiano (designer diary here), Sky Team from Luc Rémond, and Bonsai from Rosaria Battiato, Massimo Borzì, and Martino Chiacchiera (diary). (KOSMOS has published four books on bonsai, so I'd expect a cross-promotion.)
Die Crew: Family, for example, puts a twist on Thomas Sing's highly successful The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine by crossing it with the setting of The Swiss Family Robinson. Players find themselves stranded on a deserted island and have to make decisions together to figure out how to eat, sleep, and fend for themselves.
Why can't players talk to one another this time? Maybe they picked up a tropical virus that affects their vocal cords? Or perhaps sensitive-eared wolves roam the beach, so they can't risk speaking or making any other noise? We'll see!
• Dodo is a 2020 co-operative game from Frank Bebenroth and Marco Teubner in which players need to "escort" a dodo egg down the sides of a steep hill so that it lands safely at the bottom and the dodo species will be saved. (Narrator: That did not happen.)
In Dodo Ahoi!, you continue the story, with the dodo egg now rolling around the boat because no one secured it. Communicate with other players to place the right cards and steer the boat through the open ocean until you find the right island to serve as a resting place for this precious egg.
• Reiner Knizia's Einfach Genial, a.k.a. Ingenious, debuted in 2004 and undoubtedly missed out on winning the Spiel des Jahres only because Ticket to Ride was released the same year.
That game celebrates its twentieth anniversary in 2024, so Knizia and KOSMOS have two new offerings in that game line. Einfach Genial 3D features the same gameplay as the original Ingenious, but with 3D pieces that allow you to stack tiles on the game board. The publisher has released only a cover image for now, but I imagine the game board is smaller to force you to keep building higher.
The other Ingenious title is Einfach Genial Brain Games, a collection of two hundred logic puzzles in which you try to duplicate a pattern with tiles from Ingenious.
The somewhat similar Einfach Genial Knobelspass was released in 2007, but that challenged players to race to duplicate a pattern with tiles from Ingenious — and with competition to win, that item is a game, whereas Einfach Genial Brain Games is a solitaire logic puzzle, and therefore not listed on BGG. Perhaps in time on PuzzleGeek...
• The Exit: The Game series from Inka and Markus Brand will have two new entries, with EXIT: Das Spiel – Die Venedig-Verschwörung (The Venice Conspiracy) being an advanced-level title that challenges you to uncover the cause of mysterious activities in Venice and save the city.
• In EXIT: Das Spiel – Kids: Gruseliger Rätselspass, you combine picture cards to solve puzzles and help Frankengirl Vicky get a spooky outfit so that she can join the party at Schauerstein Castle.
• Fisch & Flausch (Fish & Fluff) is a card game by Robert Brouwer in which the 2-6 player cats secretly bid with their cards on items of varying values to end up with the best collection of toys and fish.
• Rounding out the revelations to date is Adventure Puzzle: Das Licht im Zauberwald (The Light in the Magic Forest), an item by Dave Neale for one or more players that may or may not be a game. Where's that PuzzleGeek when you need it?!
Here's the publisher's pitch for what it describes as "an interactive point-and-click adventure in puzzle format":
Discover what adventures await in the mysterious enchanted forest behind the magical portal. Experience an exciting adventure story puzzle piece by puzzle piece!
In more detail, the 200-piece puzzle motif is puzzled in sections, with solvers alternating between reading a short section of the adventure book, then puzzling a part of the motif. In the puzzle picture, you discover the place described and find objects that help you solve tasks and progress through the story. Only in the end do all the pieces come together to form a complete picture.
AMIGO has dropped its line-up all at once, but with only bare bones information for now ahead of a full unveiling on January 3, 2024 — which used to be when AMIGO would reveal everything all at once.
The nine(!) titles coming from AMIGO in the first half of 2024 include four by Reiner Knizia — not quite 50%, maybe next time? — and two anniversary editions of classic designs:
— 6 nimmt!: 30 Jahre-Edition, a thirtieth anniversary edition of Wolfgang Kramer's 6 nimmt! that may or may not include any new material.
— Saboteur: 20 Jahre-Edition, which is similar to what's above, but instead a twentieth anniversary edition of Fréderic Moyersoen's Saboteur.
— Feiges Huhn! (Cowardly Chickens) is a card game from Ken Gruhl and Quentin Weir.
— Snack Rabbits is a card game from Trevor Benjamin and Brett J. Gilbert.
— Wolkenschiff is a co-operative game from Die 7 Bazis — a collective design group — that puts players in a cloud ship.
— L.A.M.A. Kadabra, a card game from Knizia that undoubtedly has you wanting to keep your point total as low as possible, as in L.L.A.M.A., which I covered in depth in 2019.
— Pick a Pen: Gärten, Pick a Pen: Riffe, and Pick a Pen: Schatzkammern, by Knizia, with this being a trilogy of roll-and-write games in which you roll colored pencils at the start of each turn, then draft a pencil and mark your sheet based on what was rolled on that pencil. I covered these titles in depth in March 2023.
Read more »
- Good Times at GMT Weekend at the Warehouse & SDHistCon 2023GMT Games warehouse in Hanford, CA for their fall Weekend at the Warehouse event.
The Plum Island Horror in Gene's office. I was instantly pumped when they offered to play it with me. The Plum Island Horror is a very thematic, co-operative, tower-defense style survival game for 1-4 players, created by Dawn of the Zeds designer Hermann Luttmann.
In The Plum Island Horror, players must work together to successfully evacuate civilizations while dealing with an onslaught of horrors and horror mutations.
We had a great time playing The Plum Island Horror. With the challenges the game presents, you really have to coordinate and work together with other players if you want to win. I really liked that we had our own unique factions representing different groups of people on the island, with our own strengths and weaknesses. Plus, some of the flavor was reminiscent of Dawn of the Zeds and Dead of Winter, which I loved because there's a cool narrative that evolves as you play. I was also really impressed with how streamlined the gameplay is compared to how it initially appears. I'm looking forward to playing it more when it's available in late Q4 2023.
Vijayanagara: The Deccan Empires of Medieval India, 1290-1398 floating around, which looked stunning. Vijayanagara, from designers Cory Graham, Mathieu Johnson, Aman Matthews, and Saverio Spagnolie, is the first game in GMT's Irregular Conflicts series, which is a spinoff series from the COIN series.
Unfortunately, I didn't get an opportunity to play Vijayanagara because I was immersed in a learning game of Lee Brimmicombe-Wood's Bomber Command: The Night Raids, which I had been wanting to try for the past few years. Thanks to Non-Breaking Space (NB) for the teach!
Solitaire TacOps: Ortona, which is the first in a very promising series of solitaire campaign games featuring an innovative dice system for resolving player and opposition actions. Here's brief overview of what you can expect in Solitaire TacOps: Ortona, which is available on GMT's P500 pre-order as of late October 2023:In Solitaire TacOps: Ortona, you command this campaign over twelve scenarios, from south of the Moro River to the city of Ortona, which ultimately became the proving ground for modern urban warfare tactics. Operationally, you will have to manage your units to maintain the fighting effectiveness needed to take the town—not an easy task as the Germans are determined to stop you at any cost, fighting over every inch of ground.
The gameplay for Solitaire TacOps: Ortona felt streamlined and suspenseful. It's great that you'll have the option to play one-off scenarios, but it sounds like the game will shine even more as you play through a campaign. I can see this being great for playing solo, but I played co-operatively with Sam London, which was really fun. Thus, I could see this also being enjoyable for people playing solo games with a companion.
Firefight Tactical prototype, which is another exciting new addition to GMT's P500 pre-order, that I'm excited to play more of. Firefight Tactical is an innovative dice-driven tactical, squad-level World War II game for 1-2 players. In the game, you draft different colored dice, similar to some eurogames, to assign them to your units so you can perform actions with them. The gameplay was tense, smooth, and fun. It really seems like this one will be a good introductory game for people interested in dipping their toes in wargaming, but also innovative enough to excite experienced wargamers.
• It's always great to see Scott and Bruce Mansfield the GMT warehouse. Here they are enjoying a play of the late Chad Jensen's Fighting Formations: US 29th Infantry Division (prototype), which Kai Jensen and John Foley are developing.
• It was awesome to see Downfall hot off the press and on the table. Downfall is another Chad Jensen design brought to the finish line thanks to John H. Butterfield's assistance.
• At GMT's Weekend at the Warehouse, I also enjoyed my first play of Christoph Cantzler and Sebastian Freudenberg's Carolingi, which is an interesting area majority game with a few twists, where 2-6 players take on the roles of Charlemagne's grandchildren competing for the throne. I played Carolingi's competitive mode for my first game, but I'm very excited to also try the semi-cooperative mode. Spielworxx is launching a crowdfunding campaign for Carolingi in Q1 2024.
• Just a couple weeks after GMT's Weekend at the Warehouse, I headed 2 hours south to join some of the same folks, but even more new faces at San Diego HistCon (SDHistCon). This was my first time attending an in-person SDHistCon event, and I had a blast. Similar to GMT's event, there were nothing but good vibes flowing the entire time. There were many designers and content creators there, most of whom I met for the first time.
Matthias Cramer, me, and Maurice Suckling
• I bumped into Sam London again at SDHistCon, and while he was running demos Firefight Tactical again, I ended up playing his prototype of Dear Boss, which is a unique Jack the Ripper-themed trick-taking game that fuses elements of Letters from Whitechapel with trick-taking. In Dear Boss, one player plays as Jack the Ripper who's trying to escape without being caught, meanwhile the other players are trying to find Jack by deducing which card the Jack player plays into each trick. It was pretty neat, so hopefully it gets picked up by a publisher so more people can play it.
• What a treat it was to sit down with designers Liz Davidson and David Thompson to play a scenario from their latest prototype of Night Witches, which is a future offering from Fort Circle Games.
In Night Witches, 1-2 players step into the cockpit as female pilots of the Soviet 588th Night Bomber Regiment, working together to fly harassment missions on the Eastern Front during World War II. I had a blast playing this with Liz. It's an introductory wargame complexity-wise, but with lots of cool, challenging gameplay to experience.
Kutná Hora with me and was happy to teach and play it for the fifth time. I've been enjoying this historically-based, economic, city-building game from designers Ondřej Bystroň, Petr Čáslava, and Pavel Jarosch, and CGE.
• I also enjoyed my first game of Alex Knight's Land and Freedom, which is a card-driven, tug-of-war, semi-cooperative game for 1-3 players on the Spanish Revolution and Civil War.
• I played an awesome 6-player game of Border Reivers, which is a new release from GMT Games, designed by Ed Beach (Here I Stand, Virgin Queen). In Border Reivers, each player represents a major family trying to protect its borders and become the most notorious border reiver in the land.
• I was so stoked to play a pre-production copy of Arcs, the upcoming, big Cole Wehrle release from Leder Games. Arcs nails it with boiling down a space opera game to 90 minutes, and it has interesting mechanisms that have me really excited for its release in 2024.
Space-Biff), and Josh Starr (Grand Trunk Games)
I talked in depth about my experiences playing Land and Freedom, Border Reivers, and Arcs on episode 30 of the BoardGameGeek podcast if you're interested in hearing more about any of them.
• Lastly, one of my favorite highlights of SDHistCon was participating in "Celebrity Liberty or Death". I teamed up with Cole Wehrle as the Patriots to play against the Indians (Jason Matthews, Liz Davidson, and Jason Carr), the British (Harold Buchanan), and the French (Alexander and Grant from The Players' Aid) on an epic, giant, beautiful version of Liberty or Death. The only problem is, I'm spoiled now. How will I ever play the normal-sized Liberty or Death ever again??
[twitter=1721042283691414002] Read more »
- Japanese Game Round-up: Make Bricolage Street Art, Shed Cards in the River, and Use Tricks for Sumo MovesTokyo Game Market, which next occurs December 9-10, and the cover of BRICOLAGE HEADS from designer Yasuyuki Yamagishi and publisher Ramble Odd Potato makes me want to book a flight for this show.
So dynamic! So full of energy and stories waiting to be told! As for the game, here's an overview of this two-player design:In a crowded red-light district, brothers are turning trash into gigantic monsters to win fans of street art in a competition that takes place in the crowded entertainment district. By promoting your work and expanding your influence in the city, fans will come from further afield.
Enter a mysterious world of street art in a mysterious city in BRICOLAGE HEADS. Make art quickly and promote it even more quickly so that your opponent doesn't steal your fans. After all, by bringing in fans you can get kick-ass effects. The higher the value, the more fans you can bring in at once — but you cannot concentrate solely on increasing the value because the player who draws the last fan from a town square gains the right to erect their own sign in that square.
Not only can you earn points by building a signboard; you can also choose from multiple signboard effects to activate.
Yamagishi published his first four games under the Yamazu Games brand, with his younger brother 蛙 (pronounced "Kaeru", which means "Frog") doing the art — and now Ramble Odd Potato lists Yamagishi as the designer with his younger brother SNAC doing the art, so either the Yamagishi family is larger than previously suspected, or his brother uses many aliases, as he's also been credited as KAWAZU. (Mystery solved just prior to publication: SNAC, 蛙, and KAWAZU all identify the same person.)
• Another explosive cover awaits on 隅田川 ("Sumida River"), a card-shedding game from ましかまる (Mashikamaru) of Mashika in which you're not allowed to play the same number of cards as a previous player. As the designer writes in the game overview on the GM listing: "I'm tired of 'If it starts as a pair, then everyone is a pair.'"
The deck contains 52 cards: three 3s up to ten 10s. The game includes a swapping rule that allows you to exchange all the cards in your hand, picking up an "almighty" card each time you do so, giving you the opportunity to make weak cards stronger.
• Speaking of making weak cards stronger, that concept was the heart of Mashikamaru's Trick Pages, which was released at the previous Game Market in May 2023:Trick Pages is a solitaire game in book form that challenges you to defeat monsters via trick-taking.
Initially the 25 cards in your hand have no effects — only their value as cards. The enemy monster plays cards automatically based on die rolls and a specified system. Win enough single-card tricks, and you defeat the enemy...then you have to fight the next monster with the cards remaining in your hand.
If you run out of cards before defeating all eight monsters, you die, at which point all of the cards return to your hand, all of the monsters respawn, and you return to the beginning of the book.
However, by defeating monsters you earn money, and you can use that money to purchase card effects, ideally allowing you to defeat monsters with fewer cards. Effects apply only to cards in hand, so if you've played strong cards already, you might have to wait until your next life to apply magic to them.
Monsters have different abilities, not just more life to defeat, so you need to develop tactics to defeat them, possibly by taking detours in the book dungeon to earn money through side quests. In the end, you must defeat eight enemies to win.
SUMO is a two-player trick-taking game from designer kota konno that attempts to mimic sumo action through cardplay:In SUMO, you try to use card play to push your opponent from the game.
To set up, place the sumo wrestlers card in the center of the sumo ring. (The sumo ring has only three positions: left, center, and right.) One player sits on the left of the ring, the other on the right. Deal each player a hand of eight cards from a deck that contains 20 cards: 1-5 in four suits.
Each player plays and reveals a card, with the high card playing first in the first trick; if the cards are tied, repeat this action until one player wins or all eight cards have been revealed, in which case you shuffle and re-deal.
The first player plays a card, then the other player must follow suit, if possible. If the second player is off suit, the first player wins; if not, whoever played the higher card wins. In either case, the winner pushes the sumo wrestlers card away from them, then leads to the next trick.
If the sumo wrestlers are ever pushed out of the ring, the pusher wins the game. If this doesn't happen, the winner of the final trick wins the game. However, a player can win earlier through one of three "sumo moves":
— Abise-taoshi: Crushing the opponent with your weight, which in game terms means playing a 4 in the same color after a lead 1.
— Hikiotoshi: Using the opponent's momentum to knock them down, which in game terms means playing a 1 in the same color after a lead 5.
— Wucchari: Throwing your opponent out of the ring, which happens should you play an off-color 2 when the sumo wrestlers card is on the edge of the ring near you.
konno. — at the previous Game Market with a different two-player trick-taking game: PEAS, which plays as follows:Lay out the point cards, which are worth -3 to 3 points, at random in a row; each of these cards designates a "trick lane". Each player receives a hand of cards, and they take turns playing a card in any lane they like; if you are the second to play to a specific trick lane, you must follow the suit of the first card played there, if possible.
Once all the cards have been played, the first person to play to the first trick lane in the row "leads" in the first trick with their played card; after that, resolve the tricks as expected, with the winner of a trick leading the next trick. Collect enough cards or (failing that) enough points, and you win the hand. The first person to win two hands wins the game.
• Let's start with a look at ゴリラ人狼 (Gorilla Werewolf) from designer よし (Yoshi) and publisher ボドっていいとも！ (Bodo Is Good!). This game for 4-21 players debuted at the Tokyo Game Market in November 2019, and it has a ludicrous premise that seems like a novel take on Werewolf:In ゴリラ人狼, you take on the role of gorillas with poachers in their midst. Gameplay is much like normal Werewolf — except you can speak only in grunts. Luckily when gorillas die, they gain the ability to speak human words briefly, and dying gorillas can choose any two words to teach the remaining players.
Can you overcome the limitations of your vocabulary to find the traitor in your midst?
Project Universe, a.k.a. プロジェクトユニバース, from designer Kentaro Yazawa and publisher Hoy Games is a much larger design than the regular doujin games featured in these round-ups, with a 100-120 minute playing time on this 2-4 player game.
Here's what you're doing:In the game Project Universe, you represent an interplanetary carrier that transports freight to space stations. You procure resources for the freight, prepare to launch a rocket, and head for your destination.
Once your rocket lifts off, you cannot make any on-Earth actions for the rest of this round, so you have to make elaborate preparations on the ground. Your time is spent whenever you take an action, and you suffer a severe penalty if you overwork beyond your time limit.
To win the game, you have to calculate total time spent for on-Earth and in-space actions in order to deliver your freight efficiently, while mitigating penalties.
• This mid-November 2020 tweet passed before my eyes, and I kept that game image open in a browser tab for weeks, vowing to investigate the title at some point. What a marvelous title! Whatever could the game be about?
Well, now I can tell you that Number Wonderful from designer Noriaki Watanabe and publisher Drosselmeyer & Co. is an example of what that publisher calls "ゆるゲー", which is pronounced like "yurugai" and means something like "loose game" — more explicitly, an activity that's certainly game-like but perhaps not exactly a game, although maybe it is. Here's a short take on the game, which is for three or more players:In Number Wonderful, players face all sorts of strange challenges, with each challenge being carried out by the game's current champ and one challenger.
The only way to score points is to be the champ — but the challenger gets to decide which challenge takes place. Will you be competing to see who can name the dish that other players most want to eat right now? Will you each pretend to be sick to see whose illness looks the most real? If the players vote for the champ, that champ scores points, but they keep those points only if they voluntarily step down from their position. If the challenger wins, then the champ loses all of their banked points.
As the publisher explains in more detail, you wouldn't necessarily want to play a 40-minute whistling game, but you'd probably be keen to have two people face off in a 40-second whistling competition, whether as participant or judge. Maybe someone exhibits tremendous skill and you discover something special about them — or about yourself?
You will also get to find yourself in a situation in which you're challenged to do — well, you don't know what exactly. The game contains 55 challenges, and the back of each card indicates whether the challenge is one of power, speed, technique, sense, or luck. How bold are you feeling, champ? Read more »
Powered by: RSS Feed News Blocks