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Game Preview: SPIEL 2016 — Sherlock 13, or What One Man Can Invent Another Can Discover

W. Eric Martin
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A bevy of games featuring Sherlock Holmes have been released in the past few years from publishers around the world — let's call it the "Cumberbatch effect" — and naturally most of them feature deduction in some form. One of the purest — shall we say, elementary? — deduction designs in this group is Hope S. Hwang's Sherlock 13, originally released as Holmes 13 in 2013 by Magpie and now reissued by BoardM Factory with art by the seemingly ever-present Vincent Dutrait.

I recorded an overview of the game at SPIEL 2015, and now in the run-up to its presence in three-dimensional form at SPIEL 2016, here's a look at the finished production.



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Tue Sep 27, 2016 9:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Colony — A Strategy Game

Ted Alspach
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In the middle of 2015, Doug Garrett (of Garrett's Games and Geekiness) mentioned the Japanese game Age of Craft to me. He had just played it at his West Coast MeepleFest invitational (brought by Denis Begin and taught by Joe Huber), and while the players enjoyed it, it was difficult to play due to the small cards and the need to refer to a translated guide while playing. He suggested it might be something that Bézier Games should consider translating and publishing. I picked up a copy and found that it had a lot of really interesting elements, kind of a "Dominion meets Settlers" vibe, and that by itself it was pretty compelling, despite the components and language barrier. I found that the license was available and got to work on developing the game, discovering in the process that the core game could be used to create something really compelling and deeper than the published Japanese version.

At its core, Age of Craft is a dice-drafting game set in medieval times in which the dice faces are resources, and those very specific resources are used to purchase cards that provide various abilities, like producing more resources, exchanging resource types, and generating victory points. Players continue to obtain cards until they reached 20 points or a certain card type was used up, at which time the game ended. The game came with 29 different "random" cards, and each game you used only seven of them, so it had a ton of replayability built in.

There were a whole bunch of things I loved about Age of Craft:
• Dice as resources
• Dice drafting
• Tons of "random" cards (which we now call "variable")
• Engine building
• Seven different categories of cards

And those things were pretty much kept in the game, forming the core of what Colony turned into.

Retheming

The first thing I did when looking at the game was deciding whether we were going to keep the theme or not. I'm fine with medieval/renaissance-themed games — yes, there are tons of these, but for good reason as the setting is rich with opportunities for various game mechanisms — but I didn't want this game to blend in. Add to that the fact that Dominion, which shares some DNA with Age of Craft, was also set in this broad thematic space, and it felt as though it could really be better by having a different setting.

Post-apocalyptic near-future games haven't been particularly overused in the boardgame world, and the idea of rebuilding civilization after some sort of cataclysmic event was interesting, and as the rest of the game began to take shape around it, it's hard to imagine a more appropriate setting. Near-future technology is fun as it takes the things we know and twists them just slightly with a bit of science to show where we might be headed. It also left the door open for some really compelling thematic followups, like the in-the-works sequel/expansion which Shall Not Be Announced Yet.

Naming the game provided another challenge, but Colony stuck out for several reasons: First, it's not really been used by another mainstream hobby game, and second, that's essentially what the game is about" building up the best possible colony. Finally, it also provided a great jumping off point for follow-up titles.

Graphic Design

The graphic design on the original cards wasn't going to work for a number of reasons, so a great deal of effort was made to come up with a design that would work universally for all of the cards and be as functional as possible. The resulting design is evocative of the theme and super functional; you can spot the cost of cards to be purchased from across the table, the different kinds of cards are clearly colored (while this isn't important to gameplay, it's very useful for set-up), and the imagery used fits the theme and the mechanisms perfectly. The upgraded version of each card is framed in black instead of white, and the artwork between the 1.0 and 2.0 sides of the cards is tweaked just enough to be noticeable.

Once you've purchased a card, you add it to your tableau in front of you, and if you're short on space or just want to keep your tableau compact, you can stack cards up, displaying only the bottom part of each card, which shows both what the card does and the number of VPs on the card. It's a well-thought-out design that is incredibly elegant and flexible.

The best graphic design is the kind you don't think about; it just works, and our graphic designer achieved that with the Colony cards.

Custom Dice?

The first thought I had when playing the game, as a designer, was, "Whoa…this would be awesome with custom dice, with each face representing a different resource." I wasn't alone in this sentiment as playtesters, after or even during their first game, would also make the same comment. I tested this out and found that while it was an interesting concept and definitely enriched the theme, it made playability nosedive. The number one reason was because purchasing cards in Colony is done with exact resources: such as three 3s and two 2s. Changing those pips to three wood symbols and two food symbols made it significantly harder to both remember which resources you had in front of you, and also what each card cost. Add to that the fact that players have to learn the six new resources and what they look like, and you've got an extra layer of translation going on behind the scenes for virtually every action in the game. Games with custom dice took significantly longer to play and were more likely to result in missed options because players couldn't track what they could and couldn't do as easily.

There were other reasons why custom dice weren't appropriate for the game, and while I've seen comments from folks who haven't played yet mentioning it would be better with custom dice, they'll find out that once they play, the dice values fade into the background, and the focus is on how to use the resources they have most effectively and not on the resources themselves.

To summarize why there aren't custom dice in the game:

1) Our brains can track combinations of numbers much easier than combination of symbols, even if those symbols are meaningful.

2) There are several other ways that the dice are used besides resources, and one of the modifiers allows you to tweak the resources by one or two at a time.

3) Traditional dice patterns are amazingly clear to read from across the table versus any sort of symbol. Again, that probably has to do with our brains being conditioned to track numbers.

Drastic, Sweeping Changes

There were a few things about the original game that I didn't care for. The most prominent one was the mechanism in the game that prevented players from hoarding resources so that they could buy the cards they wanted on future turns. It was essentially a creative Settlers' robber mechanism, but due to its implementation, it could turn out to be incredibly frustrating: By saving up resources to buy the thing you really wanted, you were putting yourself at risk of losing many of those resources with a roll of the dice, thus scuttling your efforts and making you start over. It was frustrating instead of fun. At the same time, I realized that hoarding isn't a particularly engaging gameplay mechanism, so I came up with a warehouse card that everyone starts with that limits the number of stored resources to six in between turns. As all but one of the 30+ cards in the game can be purchased with six or fewer resources, it was functional but at the same time reduced the possibility of hoarding.

That change sparked another major addition to the game: unstable resources. Instead of all resources being storable, these resources must be used that turn, or they dissipate and aren't available anymore. All of the cards that produce resources produce unstable resources. In Colony, stable resources are represented by white dice, while unstable resources are represented by frosted dice.

That change resulted in yet another major addition to the game: upgradable cards. In Age of Craft, all cards were singled sided; in Colony, every card in the game can be upgraded to a better version of that card. For production cards, upgrading them results in producing stable resources instead of unstable ones. In order to upgrade, players must pay 1 2 3 4, and this allows them to flip a card over to its upgraded side. You can even upgrade the "Upgrade" card, reducing the cost for upgrades to 2 3 4. Upgrading the "Warehouse" gives you three more slots for resources, and most upgraded cards results in more VPs than the original side of the card.

Now that cards could be upgraded, it caused a dramatic overhaul of all of the cards in the game in functionality, cost, and VPs. The original Age of Craft game had some balance issues with some of the cards, and the cards from [Age of Craft that made it into Colony were almost all modified in some way in order to work well together. The balancing of cards in a game with such a large scope continued throughout playtesting, up until the second quarter of 2016.

As cards were modified, several of them were dropped, and many new ones were created. At one point in testing there were about fifty unique cards that were active, and this number was eventually winnowed down to 28 for the final version of the game.

In order to streamline the rules, each player's turn was divided into four phases, with the Activate phase being the time when players could use each of their cards (once per turn). This in turn resulted in the Construction card, which is a card that players can activate to build (purchase) new cards. Sometimes you'll have a turn in which you are saving up for a card you really want and don't purchase anything; if that happens, you get a CHIPI (Cybernetic Holder of Instant Production Income), which you can turn in on a future turn for a random unstable resource. If you upgrade "Construction" to version 2.0, you can purchase multiple cards in a single round, or if you decide not to, you get two CHIPIs.

In Age of Craft, players started with a single card, which they could discard at any time during the game for resources equal to the difference between their score and the leader's score. This provided a nice catch-up mechanism, but typically didn't affect the game otherwise. In Colony, I took this to a whole 'nother level by allowing the players to discard *any* card once per turn, again for the difference between their score and the leader's in stable resources. Because this can be done multiple times during a game, it's no longer simply a catch-up mechanism, but instead it's this extra strategic tool that you have to know when to use (or if to use) at just the right time. Of course, discarding a card takes away the VPs you had for that card, so you have to leverage to resources you'll receive to compensate (and then some) for that. As the leader, you want to be careful not to get too far ahead of your opponents, or you'll give them a whole bunch of additional resources near the end of the game just when they need it, possibly enabling them to catapult ahead of you to victory. This unique mechanism adds a layer of tension to the game for all players and makes the last several rounds of the game fraught with excitement.

Age of Craft didn't have a score track, relying on players to do the math for themselves and other players throughout the game, both for purposes of seeing who is winning, as well as what they can gain from discarding a card. Colony has a scoreboard, which in the first few rounds is pretty much unnecessary…until you start to see one player leading by 2 or 3 points, and then the pressure to discard or not is on.

Speaking of reaching the total number of VPs in order to win, Age of Craft could end in a tie, one in which "all players share the victory". Anyone who knows me knows I HATE that (which is probably why co-op games aren't high on my list of game types I enjoy), and I even created TieBreaker in 2011 to solve what I see is a blight on the boardgaming hobby. For colony, you can never end in a tie because once someone gets the VPs required to win, the game ends instantly. This can mean that players don't get the same number of turns…too bad! The starting conditions actually account for this, and in the 300+ recorded plays of the game in the last few months of playtesting, players 1-4 were almost exactly evenly split in terms of who won, with about 3% difference between them.

All of these (and many more) changes took place in the first few months of design and development, reshaping Colony into a totally different game from its ancestor.

Interaction Between Players

I'm not a take-that kind of player. Targeted take-that mechanisms rub me the wrong way, both as the recipient (oh, that sucks) and the disseminator (now I feel a little bad about picking on you, even if you were the leader). Age of Craft had a bunch of attack and defend cards, and I definitely struggled to see whether they would have a place in Colony. I know some Euro-minded individuals felt the same way I did, and that any sort of attack cards would be a huge turn-off for them.

But the Age of Craft attack and defend cards were pretty clever as they were, and I made it a mission of mine to see what could be done to make them less "mean" and more like a reasonable strategic path. Attack cards in Colony are all about the attacker getting resources. However, some of the defensive cards in the game result in the defender getting resources, too…resulting in a little game of chicken as attack and defense cards are purchased. The powerful attack cards have some downsides — for instance, each time you use an un-upgraded "Pirate", you might lose it — and the defensive cards are relatively inexpensive…but they can derail a player's strategy, which is often more important than just taking a single resource from the opponent. The cost of attacking is simply the resources needed for the card as well as the missed opportunity of purchasing something else, so those cards, if you purchase them, have drawbacks as well.

And then there's trading. Some players love this, others not so much. In Age of Craft, players could always trade on every turn. For trade-minded players, this made the game incredibly long as negotiations and assessments of players' resources and game position added A/P that sucked the fun out of the game. In Colony, you can trade only if you have a card that gives you that ability, and only one trade per card is allowed. Further, everyone is incentivized to trade with you because there's usually a benefit for them in the trade, like a free resource.

If these kinds of interactivity interest you, there are a bunch of attack, defensive, and trading cards to add to the game; if not, there are plenty of cards you can put in the game in their place. It really does allow you to customize the game exactly to your group's liking.

Combos

I love it when you discover different aspects of a game that work well together. There are two, three, and four card combos throughout Colony just waiting to be discovered. As the game was developed, we discovered some combos that are truly awesome and incredibly satisfying to pull off. Some cards were tweaked to avoid being too powerful, but at the same time, if you're able to pull off a combo of cards every turn for a few turns in a row, you'll have your opponents wincing (haha) when it's your turn as they frantically scramble to figure out how to offset your devastating moves.

It's really hard not to list my favorite combos here — really hard — but I'm not going to because discovering them yourself is incredibly satisfying. Argh!

The Insert

With a game like Colony, which has dozens of cards to pick from each game, you need some form of organization for them. The first comparison most people will go to is Dominion, which has a similar number of cards and, at first glance, a very nice insert — unless, that is, you're a gamer who wants to keep their cards clean and in good shape, and you use sleeves. Then the Dominion insert fails miserably and makes a lot of gamers very sad.

The Colony insert went through seven iterations in design and prototyping, resulting in what is likely the best, most functional insert available in any game. Not only can you store both unsleeved and sleeved cards, but the cardboard label insert is used as a cover for three hidden pockets that hold score markers, CHIPIs, and dice, and that label insert snaps into place in the plastic insert to keep those items from moving around when the box gets turned sideways or jostled around. Just close the lid and the contents are securely held in place until the next time you play.

The Set-up App, and the Awesome Meta Rule

With all the variable cards in the game — you play with seven types, and there are 28 types from which to choose — you might not be sure which set to pick. The rules have a great starting set, and three additional tested sets for different types of players. Instead of having a deck of random cards to determine which cards to choose (you’re *so* much more sophisticated than that, right?), there’s a free Colony set-up app for iOS and Android phones and tablets that provides a random set of cards for each game. You can also specify which cards you want to see more often, all the time, or not at all, even while providing you with one card of each type (or not…that's an option in the app as well).




If you play multiple games of Colony in a row (and you very well might want to do just that), there's a special meta-rule you need to follow. The players who *didn't* win each pick one variable card to get rid of and a new one to replace it with. This way, the player who won by taking advantage of a card (or combo of multiple cards) has to find a new way to play next game, and each of the other players gets to pick a card they really like or that suits their particular play style.

An Honest-to-Goodness Strategy Dice Game

In general, I really like games in which you can plan out what you want to do based on where you start a game, or how things start to evolve around you. Each game of Colony starts you off in a different potential direction, and you have to evaluate what your options are each turn in the midst of planning your long-term goals, all the while being aware of what each of your opponents are doing.

Colony redefines how dice are used in games, with a randomized starting point for each turn — the active player rolls three dice, then they are drafted around the table — instead of the dice determining what you can do. The dice are merely a gentle nudge in one direction or another, but what you do with them — whether you store them, modify them, or use what you have to purchase something as you get them — is up to you. It allows for both short- and long-term strategic planning, as well as a pivot when you find yourself with a set of resources that could provide you with an alternative strategic direction as necessary.

Colony fills the void of a deep, strategy game with dice as a central part of it. The more you play, the more you discover additional nuances and combos that are really satisfying to pull off. I can't wait until everyone starts to get their hands on Colony when it is released at SPIEL 2016!

Ted Alspach
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Tue Sep 27, 2016 1:00 pm
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Game Preview: SPIEL 2016 — Goths Save the Queen, or Scatter Her Enemies and Make Them Fall

W. Eric Martin
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If ever I suspected a game of originating from a title, it's Goths Save the Queen, which sounds like a name created by bored high schoolers, but as folks like Reiner Knizia and Magic: The Gathering head designer Mark Rosewater point out, if you start game creation in the same place every time, you'll likely end up in the same place as well. Why not start a game design by generating a bunch of titles, then seeing what inspires you? (My wife and I did the same thing when writing magazine articles eons ago, which is how she ended up selling an article on "The Orgasm Diet" to Redbook.)

In any case, Goths Save the Queen from Vincent Bonnard and Sit Down! is a team-based game in which players act in a very un-teamlike way — that is, not knowing what the other person is doing — while trying to rescue a queen hidden in the middle of an extremely small countryside.


Goths Save the Queen, with variant "fog of war" tokens
and (on the right) plastic Twinple figures


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Mon Sep 26, 2016 9:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Germania Magna: Border in Flames, or Rome Is Falling!

Michał Ozon
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Germania Magna: Border in Flames was supposed to be published in 2015 by Wydawnictwo Alter. This didn't happened, but we heard stories about it, saw the artwork, played the game...and we couldn't resist what we experienced, so now PHALANX has acquired the publishing rights and prepared the game for release at SPIEL 2016.

Now you know the ending of the story, but what has happened earlier? I have asked designers Łukasz Wrona, Daniel Budacz, and Piotr Krzystek to tell their story, and here it goes!

The Beginning

Now that Germania Magna is ready, we often reminisce about the past, going back to the very beginning of the project.

What makes a board game successful? Even the best catchy phrases, an elaborate storyline, or beautiful graphics may not be enough if the gameplay just doesn't "click" as it is indeed the cool gameplay and the game's mechanisms that decide whether we come back to a given title or not. That's why our adventure with creating Germania Magna began by coming up with satisfying game mechanisms.

It's quite a long story as we based this game on our first design: Rok 1863, developed in 2012. The year 2013 was a special time for Poland. It was the 150th anniversary of the January Uprising, one of the most important events in the history of this country. Celebrations took on many forms: reconstructions, conferences and formal events. Łukasz and Piotrek, reconstruction enthusiasts and board game developers, decided to stand out and developed the first ever game about the January Uprising, the aforementioned Rok 1863. The game took the players to the time of the January Uprising, when we once again took up arms against the Russians to win back our freedom. Although historical sources focus on the fight for independence, it's no secret that during the uprising, commanders of the various insurgent parties clashed repeatedly. As such, we felt it was important that 1863 reflected this nuance, so we came up with mechanisms that would let players play against the game itself, as well as against other players. Player cooperation allows them to win battles, but the rivalry plot line between them develops at the same time as in the end there can be only one winner.



Piotr and Łukasz as reenactors of the troops from January Uprising 1863


That was the basic idea for the game, one in which the players go into battle together, helping each other out and...undermining one another at the same time. We'd been trying for a long time to come up with a way for the players to direct their troops, while building tension and keeping them guessing at the other players' intentions. At first, we had it that before playing their cards, the players had to indicate where they would add their units; battlefields had different colors, and the players showed their colored chips at the same time to declare which battle they'd participate in. However, we decided to drop that feature because it quickly made it apparent that a given battle is either unwinnable or too easy. Finally, we adopted a solution in which unit cards are played in sequence, and the player can add a card to a single battle, several battles, or none of them. The result is mounting tension as we send our troops into battle not knowing whether the other commanders will follow suit. Immediately the players start discussing and deal-making!



Should I help the cause — or myself? That is the question.


Almost from the very beginning, we assumed that the players would play with one of the several insurrection leaders. Each commander would in turn have different skills. In time, they also started to determine the sequence of each turn. Originally, we wanted the rounds to go clockwise. In each round, priority would shift to another player. However, we dropped it and moved the sequence determination to the commanders. This was a much better solution as you never know who's going to start the next turn, and at the same time it evens out the disproportions we started to notice between the abilities of different commanders. The assumption was that the stronger (in our opinion) commanders had higher initiative. As a result, players with theoretically weaker commanders had a little more control over the game as they knew what the players before them did. In that sluggish manner, step-by-step, we soldiered on, publishing the game in 2013.



Łukasz and Piotr awarded by Bronisław Komorowski, former President of the Republic of Poland


The game was noticed and became quite popular, both among the players, who appreciated the interesting mechanisms, and public institutions, which appreciated the freshness of the concept. The game received many awards, including the award of the President of the Republic of Poland. It was a major learning experience (both in the positive and negative sense), therefore our next game, based on the same core principles, needed to be thoroughly improved.

Development

What happened next? In 2014, Daniel joined the team as the third author, to work on the next titles as a bigger team, but we always had this idea in the back of our heads to expand and re-use the mechanisms that Piotrek and Łukasz developed for 1863. The January Uprising is, however, too obscure a topic to be interesting to non-Polish players, so we decided to use what we already had, but put a new coat of paint on it. Łukasz put in a lot of time researching player preference, and the team discussed every single possible game concept. We thought about creating a product set in World War II, during the early-medieval Viking invasions, and even the losing battles of Native American tribes against European settlers. Finally, we settled on late antiquity, the area around rivers of the Rhine and Danube, and the asymmetric warfare between the barbarians and the Imperium Romanum.

And so, Germania Magna was born.



Playtesting the game


Since Daniel has always had a thing for antiquity — not only in the pop-cultural sense, but also as a serious researcher as he wrote and published several articles on the topic — he gladly jumped right in and started working on the new game. First and foremost, we needed to splice 1863 with the realities of Germanic invasions. The 19th century military formations and tactics were replaced with the ones described in ancient sources, insurgent leaders changed into German chieftains, the Russians into Roman legions, and Insurrection battlefields into Imperium Romanum provinces.



Aquitania Prima under siege!


Many mechanisms fit quite well with the new setting; however, we weren't satisfied with simply more of the same. Therefore, we decided to replace and improve as many of the elements criticized by the players as we could.

As a result, the final version of Germania is very different from 1863. It has many of its advantages, but without, we think, any of its defects. We not only added new cards and improved the existing ones, but also introduced totally new types. Negative interactions and competition in 1863 took a back seat to battling the common enemy. In Germania, they take center stage, as where insurgent leaders competed for prestige, the German chieftains were oftentimes openly hostile towards each other. Battle cards from 1863 had only a marginal influence at the beginning, whereas in Germania each province is full of features that can completely change the course of the battle, as well as influence victory or defeat. Uniform unit cards in 1863 now come in five different types. Infantry, cavalry and war machines all have unique characteristics, which we can multiply by playing appropriate tactics and formations.

We also developed deck-building, which opens up virtually unlimited possibilities of expanding on the game, especially in the context of planned expansions, or playing with those who own their own copy of the game. As we said, we had so many changes that when we were finishing development, we realized that aside from the core mechanisms, there is very little 1863 left in Germania. Those who played the previous game will probably have a sense of familiarity while playing Germania, but they should also feel that they got their hands on something new — improved not only in terms of graphics, but also mechanisms, and additionally that it is a title open to expansions, new card types, and much, much more...

Graphics

We love illustrations. For as long as we can remember, we've been passionate for historical paintings and we love discovering the little details in every picture. We have great appreciation for works that, even in the tiniest of details, try to show the characters, their clothing, and the buildings and surroundings as they might have looked like in real life.

Nowadays, you can't have a good game without high graphic fidelity. Products with high-quality art, especially historical titles (most often strategy games), often become our favorites. Unfortunately, just like in movie, computer and literary pop culture, oftentimes the graphics have nothing to do with history. Illustrators go with current trends, copy and replicate falsehoods, and depict characters, events, and locations in a fantasy convention without caring for historical accuracy. For us, an approach like that is a simple cop-out.



Game box image from sketch to final artwork


That's why when we design a board or card game, we pay a lot of attention to the art. This is our favourite part of development. Coming up with ideas for cards and illustrations, browsing the Internet in search of inspiration, contacting illustrators, assessing their sample works, selecting the best candidates and reviewing each individual piece – fascinating months!

Germania Magna is a card game, and those rarely take up historical themes. Therefore, we had to come up with a satisfactory standard all by ourselves. We wanted to present the historical reality not only through game mechanisms (loose, ever-changing alliances between the barbarian tribes in their fight against Rome), or card names and quotes, but also in the graphics.



Fulcum card graphics


We were lucky enough to meet the right candidate on the first try. We were put in touch with a very talented artist who usually works on video games. Apart from great technique, Paweł Kaczmarczyk had several other virtues. He has a degree in history and knows how to work with different source materials, including archaeological findings, which are particularly important for our theme (late antiquity).

Additionally, he expresses his love for the period through historical reconstruction as a member of one of the top European groups dealing with Roman legions, the Legio XXI Rapax. Although he usually plays a Roman soldier from the turn of the eras — and those from the 4th century looked completely different — he knew exactly where to look to supplement his knowledge. He, and by extension ourselves, received help from our friends from the VicusUltimus group, who reconstruct late antiquity legionaries.

After only a few days of talking to Paweł, we knew we would be working with a hyper-competent person. That's why we weren't afraid to leave the scene composition entirely up to him. We came up with the card names and their functions, and Paweł created an entire series of artworks for tribal cards.



Paweł is ready to fight for the Empire!


Therefore our only enemy was the unrelenting passage of time. We wanted to release the game in time for the SPIEL 2015 fair, and in order to make the deadline, we needed the product to be ready for print by the end of August. Not counting the weeks, when we discussed the style of the cards and his responsibilities, Paweł had around two months to complete all the pictures. To make the task more realistic, we decided to contact Judyta Sosna to work on province cards and a dozen or so tribal cards. All the other cards from the tribal deck, as well as all the Roman and Chieftain cards, were painted by Paweł, who also created the layout for all card types, their backs, and most importantly, the box art. A group of German warriors plundering a Roman city is his piece.

A good example of how history influenced our work are the province cards. West-German tribes and confederations, i.e., the Alemanni and Franks, raided Roman provinces along the Rhine and Danube. Those territories were conquered by the Imperium Romanum at the turn of the eras, but during the late Roman Empire, the administration constantly changed their borders, created new provinces, and designated their capitals. Therefore we had to select around a dozen provinces and determine their distinguishing features, with all of this capable of being expressed in a single, small artwork. The process was simplest for provinces, which included cities and monuments we can visit today. The best example is the Augusta Treverorum, which is the modern-day German city of Trier with its famous Black Gate (Porta Nigra). City illustrations appeared on province cards with a high value of military strength. The weaker ones, we decided to adorn with pictures of less civilized parts of the province: forests, swamps, mountains, and at most a village and fields. Finally, we received a set of gorgeous landscapes of antiquity-era provinces, from the lower Rhine province of Belgica to the Alpine Raetia.



Final components showcase


Finally, after several months of work — yes, as you all know, the game didn't premiere in 2015 — Germania Magna can boast several dozen pieces of art that showcase the world of the barbarian tribes and their Roman enemies.

The Future

Our vision assumes that Germania Magna will be a basis for a system set in late antiquity and early middle-ages that takes the players back to the difficult times of the 3rd, 4th and 5th centuries around the Roman Limes, i.e., the borderlands along the Rhine and Danube. In this setting, the players take command of the powerful tribes of Western Germania: the mighty Alemanni confederation and the Franks, banding together around the Lower Rhine. Combating raids from these groups and dealing with constant political intrigue with their chieftains was the most important task of every single Roman Emperor of the time. However, the German menace was not the sole concern of the ruler, let alone officers from border forts, or rich owners of Roman villas and latifundia. The Imperium Romanum also fell victim to invasions from other tribes, which are due to appear in our game.



Some Huns would like to meet you


If you guys like the game, then you can look forward to expansions in the near future that will be devoted to wars between the barbarians and the declining empire. These will let you both play with new tribes as well as upgrade your existing decks and create unique alliances and confederations. We hope that Germania Magna: Border in Flames is just the beginning of a grand adventure in a world lit aflame and on the verge of collapse.

Thank you for reading!



This is how the dreams look, so far only in digital form, but soon in reality
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Mon Sep 26, 2016 12:02 am
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Game Preview: SPIEL 2016 — Garden of Minions, or Three Shall Be the Number Thou Shalt Count

W. Eric Martin
United States
Apex
North Carolina
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Kuro, who self-publishes games under the label Manifest Destiny, creates games that — despite having few components or rules — are complicated to play, most notably with The Ravens of Thri Sahashri. You know what the goal is, that's clear, but you have no clue what to do to get there. You can't easily judge when an action you perform is good or bad because everything is circumstantial and all will be revealed in time, possibly when it's too late.

Garden of Minions is not nearly as opaque as Ravens, but you have lots of little choices in this solitaire dice game and often a choice is revealed to be wrong only as you see death zooming toward you — and yet maybe the choice was right after all, if only fate had proved kinder with the dice rolls. You're playing the odds constantly, yet you can split the odds over and over again to try to pull things in your favor. Sometimes, that works...

Close to death, despite the lack of enemies

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Sat Sep 24, 2016 8:02 pm
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Game Preview: Conan, Unchained and Unboxed

W. Eric Martin
United States
Apex
North Carolina
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Frédéric Henry's Conan from Monolith is a massive beast of a game, made even larger when funded on Kickstarter to the tune of $3.3 million, and now nearly a year after the original expected release date, the main game is due to arrive to KS backers in October 2016, followed by a retail release in November 2016.

Asmodee North America, which distributes games for Monolith, passed along a review copy of the base game, so I tore it open for your inspection:

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Fri Sep 23, 2016 9:00 pm
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Game Preview: SPIEL 2016 — Cat Town, or Oh, Won't You Please Take Me Home

W. Eric Martin
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North Carolina
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After years of wading through zombies, pirates, ninjas, zombie pirates, pirate ninjas, zombie pirate ninjas, and European men holding maps, I think we might now be nearing the time of peak-cat in the world of board games. Yes, cat games are all over the place, even though the variety of activities that cats perform is not vast. They only sleep, purr, climb trees, attack things, clean themselves, and form towers — yet somehow game designers have got a lot of mileage from that handful of activities.

One of a handful of new cat games showing up at SPIEL 2016 is Jog Kong's Cat Town from his own TwoPlus Games, which features plenty of cats on cards walking around and doing cat things while humans are represented only by, say, the end of a broom or hands pouring out food. Humans are mere tools for the cats to get what they want, and that's just the way the cats like it.

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Thu Sep 22, 2016 10:17 pm
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New Game Round-up: Riots for Mechs vs Minions, Revisions for Dominion and Dominion: Intrigue, and Rules for The Game

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• I've been swamped trying to keep up with announcements related to SPIEL 2016 — check out the SPIEL 2016 Preview here! — but plenty of other happenings have been going down in the game world, such as Riot Games announcing the October 13, 2016 release of Mechs vs. Minions, a cooperative campaign game for 2-4 players set in the world of League of Legends, its phenomenally successful battle arena game that I didn't know existed until I got a sneak peak at Mechs vs. Minions at Gen Con 2016.

Mechs vs. Minions uses programmed movement a là Robo Rally, and the game lasts ten missions, with each mission coming in an envelope that possibly contains new stuff, giving a Legacy-style element to the game.

Riot Games is selling the game directly through its online store for $75, and while I don't normally comment on pricing — since that's a personal issue for most people — I was dumbfounded when I found out what they were charging for the game. I expected the MSRP to be at least $100, but apparently Riot is treating this release as a fun experiment and not a money-making venture — perhaps because League of Legends already makes plenty of money for Riot on its own.

• Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande Games has announced that second editions of Donald X. Vaccarino's Dominion and Dominion: Intrigue will be released, um, really soon since "[t]he games have been produced and we expect to begin shipping them to distributors next week". These new editions — in the BGG database Dominion (Second Edition) and Dominion: Intrigue (Second Edition) — will each replace six kingdom cards in the original edition with new kingdom cards, while also replacing blank cards with a seventh new kingdom card. (Vaccarino details all of the changes in this BGG comment.)

For all those who own the original editions, these new cards will be sold as Dominion: Update Pack and Dominion: Intrigue Update Pack so that the most important new stuff is obtainable at a lower price than the games themselves. Vaccarino notes, though, that the revised rules and reworded existing cards will not be included, and that these update packs won't be available forever.

• I recorded my one hundredth playing of Steffen Benndorf's The Game today, and to celebrate German publisher Nürnberger-Spielkarten-Verlag announced that SPIEL 2016 will see the release of The Game: Extreme, a standalone game co-designed by NSV developer Reinhard Staupe that features the same gameplay as the 2015 original, but now with 28 instructions on the cards themselves that must be obeyed during play. The publisher hasn't released rules or detailed examples, but in the image below you can see cards with "3!" and "STOP", and you can probably figure out for yourself what they mean.

I'm glad they widened the eye sockets on the skull to fully express how extreme this game will be.

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Thu Sep 22, 2016 5:31 am
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Designer Diary: Gentleman's Deal, or Where Game Design Meets Game Theory

Yan Yegorov
Russia
Moscow
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Hello! My name is Yan, and I am the author of Gentleman's Deal, a new boardgame from GaGa Games. Here is my story...

Background

As a boardgame designer, I am very interested in game theory. Everybody who knows game theory even a little can understand that game theory isn't about regular games most of the time. I know that, too, but game theory is full of mathematical problems and different game-like systems. More importantly, people have been working on these problems for years! That is thousands of playtests that have been already held with open access! All in my hands! So I started digging into this.

My first goal was to make a game based on the prisoner's dilemma. Game theory has told me everything about its main problems, paradoxes, and dominant strategies. I changed the dilemma so that it became more fun, more playable — more of a board game. That game was Swords and Bagpipes.




After publishing S&B, I started searching for another cool game theory problem to use, and I stumbled into the "Pirates' Gold" riddle — and that what Gentleman's Deal is all about.

Pirates' Gold Riddle

Five supersmart pirates want to divide one hundred gold coins between them. According to the Pirates' Code, they must distribute it the following way:

Quote:
The oldest pirate offers a way to divide the stash, then everybody votes. If half or more of the voters accept the deal, the gold will be divided the way described. If most of the pirates are against it, they will kill the dealer and start again. What should the first pirate do?

This riddle is solvable by the method of reversed induction. (I don't really know how it is called in English, so I just translate it roughly.)

• If two pirates are left, the pirate proposing the deal will get everything. He will offer one hundred coins to himself, they will have a tie vote, and the deal will be accepted.
• If three pirates are left, the pirate proposing the deal can offer one coin to the youngest pirate, which is more than the nothing he would get in a deal with only two pirates, so they will seal the deal.
• If four pirates are left, the pirate proposing the deal will bribe the guy who would be left out if only three pirates remain.
• And so on...

That's it! So how are you going to make the game out of it? Let's figure this out!

What's the Main Idea?

A negotiation-based party game! I wanted to make a game in which the dealer would get some resources, then offer a way of dividing it. All the players would then vote to decide whether or not they like the proposed distribution.

What Must Change to Make the Riddle a Board Game?

1) People shouldn't drop out of the game for too long.
2) The game shouldn't end after five or fewer rounds.
3) The game shouldn't be solvable.
4) People must have some "conditions" that make them more or less "appealing" for the dealer — and the overall "appealingness" shouldn't be too obvious.

Stage 1: Early Development

What did I do exactly? That was a long journey, so let's get back to 2014. My first attempt was rather straightforward. People were playing as countries during the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, and the dealers would be offering each other parts of Africa. I have to admit that was the most boring setting that I've ever done in my games, and I am a big fan of Smash Up and other cool themes.




Anyway, in my game people received the cards with each new deal every time, then tried to distribute them. If the dealer loses, he doesn’t drop out of the game, but rather he — brace yourself — drops out of the game until the next acceptance of a deal.

That was a real hardcore rule, which allowed players to drop several opponents in a row out of the game in order to divide a big fat pile of resources between smaller groups. That was really complicated and not everybody got it. And as you remember, my idea was to create a party game.

Stage 2: Mafia Theme

I next returned to this prototype after almost a year. In 2015, I "kickstarted" an English version of Swords and Bagpipes and was now ready to continue my project by changing the setting and fixing the most major flaws.

First, I had noticed that the game was solvable because everyone knew everyone else's income. You could count the opponents' coins and decide exactly how many coins you could offer to each player. And I had constructed the most ridiculously overweighted counting system in the world that included a VP-tracker with several resources that combined personal goals (Container style) and the place where you got them.

That was re-e-eally complicated.

So I simplified it and simplified it and in the end I had only one resource that was hidden behind the screen. That was exactly what I needed! People can't remember the income of each player anyway. And it took almost a year of playtests.




The second big thing was the different "conditions" I talked about earlier. I realized quickly that the only punishment the dealer can get was skipping the turn. Without detailed information about money and without the ability to make a "kicking combo", every player became the same. There were not a lot of things to negotiate about. It was still possible. There were triple-vote tokens, for example, but that was not much.

And then the "Partners" kicked in...

Stage 3: Le Finale

I worked with one Russian publisher at a time. The "partners" cards really make this game. The six cards that can go from one player to another drastically enrich the gameplay as people now get things to negotiate about. They still have triple-voting, different offers, and different money behind the screen, but now they also have cool abilities:

• Do I want to negotiate with the guy who has the Senator?
• Do I want to give some to the Sheriff so he won't take me down?
• The guy with the Banker will get money anyway. Maybe I will give him a little bit extra to lure him to my side?

And this is only tip of the iceberg.




I went with this version to Essen and showed it to several publishers. GaGa Games made the best offer.

I hope that this game becomes a success as I think that it's a really cool pure-diplomacy party game, and the full rules are available on the Gentleman's Deal page here on BGG.

Thank you for reading.

Yan Yegorov
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Wed Sep 21, 2016 5:46 am
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Designer Diary: When I Dream, or A Dream Come True

Chris Darsaklis
Greece
Peristeri, Athens
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Once upon a time in a kid's movie, I heard an amazing quote:

No dream is too big and no dreamer too small.

And it is so right! Never stop dreaming. But what are dreams really? And how do they affect our lives? I don't know, and in fact I am not so keen to know after all. All I know is that they are awesome and maybe even necessary. Either when sleeping or daydreaming, dreams have a meaning, that's for sure. What affects our dreams? Do they depict our inner shelf, or are they affected by our everyday experiences? So many unanswered questions, but I won't analyze it anymore. I could write about dreams all day long!

Instead I will write about my first to-be-published game: When I Dream. As you probably already understand, I like dreams a lot! There was also a time that I was even keeping a diary of my dreams — but I also like board games, too. In my free time, when I do not play, I am constantly thinking about themes that can be transferred into board games.

First, let me tell you a bit about my game. When I Dream is a party game in which each round one player becomes the Dreamer and puts on a sleeping mask for the two minutes of the round. The other players become the Dream Spirits, and in those two minutes, they draw dream cards, one at a time, and try to help the Dreamer guess the words on those cards. The fun part, though, is that some of the spirits are naughty and want to confuse the Dreamer to guess wrong! So let's take it from the beginning...

I participated in the sixth Greek board game design contest in 2015 with two games, and I had such a great time! I met great people who I admire and they sat to play my games, so I knew that I couldn't miss the 7th design contest in 2016. I had a game already prepared, but then I came up with the idea of a dreamy party game! My closest friends aren't hardcore gamers, so I decided to create a game to play with them, and if it turned out to be good enough, I would participate in the contest with this game, too. And the ''music'' for my game would be… what else… dreams! But I needed to create the ''lyrics'' — the mechanisms — of the game.

The first idea was that one player would be sleeping, of course. A cloth mask would be great for keeping his eyes closed and it fit the theme. The other players would try to describe things that appear in his sleep and are parts of his dream, and that is the idea I started with.

"But it would be too easy to identify the dream if his teammates spoke clearly, so what about his teammates giving fewer clues? Maybe one word each, this could maybe work… Still though, it would be very easy to find what he is dreaming about… Oh, that's it! Some players will try to confuse him! Great!"

With all these things spinning into my mind, I gathered some friends to have the first playtest. To do that, I used the cards from the game Hedbanz. There were four players, and each card had a word and an image. I also picked someone to be the "bad" guy who would try to confuse the dreamer — and it actually worked quite well!




The following day I started working on the game, writing down words to make my own cards. I wrote three full pages with possible words. Oh my god, my choices were endless! I could put every single word that came to my mind, but then I thought better of it and reduced them by keeping only words that could be guessed with just two or three clues. You see, when your eyes are closed, it is not so easy to guess correctly, especially with someone trying to confuse you. Let's take for example the word "watermelon". If you hear the clue words "fruit-summer-red", you can easily guess it, but if you hear "fruit-summer-yellow", then you would probably mistake the item you're supposed to guess as a melon — and that was the point of each card/word. With some thought, the traitors would be able to confuse the dreamer.




After a lot of brainstorming, I made the first prototype consisting of two hundred cards, each with a word and an image found online, then the playtesting began. It was so easy to playtest and to find people willing to play because of the nature of the game. Fast and funny!

Each game had a lot of laughs, and everyone wanted to play again as soon as they finished. People seemed to enjoy it a lot. And through the players you can feel it, too. In the first prototype version, I used a timer app that beeped every five seconds so that no player would take too long to give a clue, an addition that I removed from the base game for later playtests because it confused many players.




After many changes, the game was now as follows: One player closes his eyes with a mask. He is the dreamer of this round. The other players assume the roles of good, bad, and trickster spirits. Every round lasts 120 seconds in which players give clues for cards that the dreamer needs to guess. Every good guess gives points to the good spirits and every bad guess gives points to the bad spirits. Trickster spirits are also a late addition in playtests and maybe the most fun role to play! At the end of the round, the dreamer can storytell his dream for extra points using the cards he guessed.

After months of playtesting, I appeared at the first pre-show of the contest with When I Dream.




Many people playtested the game that day. A designer I admire, Vangelis Bagiartakis, also playtested it and told me the design had great potential. That day Drawlab Entertainment also playtested my game, and they saw that potential in When I Dream, too!

I got a call from Drawlab the following day while I was away for a business trip, and I was ready to jump into the sea from happiness! And when I later heard that the artists of When I Dream would be Vincent Dutrait and Christophe Swal, I was thrilled! I couldn't believe it! I was living in a dream... Later I was approached by other great publishers, but we had already started working with Drawlab and the future looked bright.

The first thing to do was clean up the words according to what worked best and worst in playtesting, which reduced the number of dream words down to 120. This was easy. I also divided the cards into categories. In each playtest I kept changing cards that I found too difficult or too easy. I wanted all the words to be equally hard or easy to describe — goodbye, gravity! — and also to be a single word (goodbye, ejection button).

The final day of the contest was a blast! The convention center was full of people and When I Dream always found players eager to try it out. At the end of the day, the judges awarded When I Dream the third best game of the contest (tied with Motion Pictures, which turned out to be the other SPIEL 2016 release from Drawlab). But even more excitingly, the people showed their love and appreciation, and When I Dream won the people's choice award with an enormous difference from the second-best title! What more can I ask? People's appreciation is something unique!




After a while, the first art samples for the cards arrived. I loved them all, but they were not really what I expected. I was concerned that the piranha was too scary for children who may play the game, the chef too violent with the lobster. We discussed it with Drawlab, who understood what I meant and reassured me that the final art would not be "aggressive" or "violent". They had in mind more surreal and bizarre illustrations, and both Vincent and Christophe were in line with these. The art took a turn to look more dreamy and playful and it was amazing! Every card now is a unique piece of artwork.




Artwork was our main concern from the very beginning as in playtests we saw that players, because of the pressure of time, were giving word clues according to the images they saw in the card. A great example of that is the "boar" prototype card. As you can see, the boar in the prototype card wears a fancy yellow helmet, and this guided many players (maybe one in every two games) to say "helmet", "hat" or "yellow", which has nothing to do with the boar. And the worst part is that those players were not bad spirits. We concluded that a lot of things on each card was the way to go. After all, a dream is weird, right?

Now that the time for our trip to Essen is coming, we have the art of almost all the cards ready. Day by day, we will have more and more before the game goes to the printer. They are big (almost Dixit-sized) with amazing artwork and two different words on each! The game will come with a cloth mask and point tokens. High quality, great artwork, and a lot of fun for the players — exactly what I need for my first published game!

Hope you enjoy the game and never stop dreaming!

Chris Darsaklis


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Mon Sep 19, 2016 1:00 am
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