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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
Evolution is the culminating work of three game designers and an entire development team at North Star Games. My part of the story begins when I was a wee child.
I come from a European family that did not watch much television. We played board games twice a week instead. Dad taught me chess when I was four, entered me into tournaments starting at seven, and hired a chess tutor for me during elementary school. His dream was for me to become an international chess champion. Sure, my family also played party games and took vacations to the beach, but that's not the part of my childhood that played a role in shaping Evolution.
I started designing intricate fantasy games in sixth grade, and in eighth grade I designed a wargame that was banned from school because too many friends were playing during class! In high school, my final economics paper was a business plan for the game company I planned to start after graduation. But the summer of 1998 is when my part in the development of Evolution kicked into high gear because that's when I decided I would stop playing Magic after the New York Pro Tour. I wanted more time to develop some of my game designs and start a game company. Perhaps knowing ahead of time that New York would be my final Pro Tour took away some of the pressure because I ended up taking second place and winning $15k at that event.
That's me in (and on) the 1998 Magic State Championship poster; I was Virginia state champion that year
It was from these five years of intense tournament experiences that the deep-seated desire to create a tournament quality game was first planted in my heart — and it's a desire that I've been carefully nurturing ever since.
The History of Evolution
Evolution has an interesting history. Nearly ten years ago, a Russian biologist named Dmitry Knorre created a game to demonstrate evolutionary principles to students. It was very thematic and educational, but since it was designed by a biologist and not a game designer, it fell a little short on game play. Rightgames, the Russian publisher that picked it up, had game designer Sergey Machin overhaul the concept and released it as Evolution: The Origin of Species.
Dmitry Knorre with his kids; Sergey Machin; Evolution: The Origin of Species
When I came across the published game in 2013, I was immediately struck by how well the theme was integrated into the mechanisms, but there were still some glaring game design flaws that bothered me. I stayed up until 4 a.m. that night thinking about how to solve the problems. This is not unusual for me when I come across a new game that excites my imagination. What is unusual is that I stayed up late the next night, too. And then again and again and again for about two weeks straight. I did this without knowing whether the license was available, which helps explain why my wife says I'm obsessive about game design, although I prefer the term passionate. Suffice it to say, I was hooked.
The biggest flaw of Evolution: The Origin of Species is that the winner gets determined on the last round of the game, making all of the previous rounds feel meaningless. Furthermore, it's possible for that final round to be determined by the roll of a die. This is fine for an educational tool designed to demonstrate evolutionary principles, but it does not make for a great game. The next flaw I addressed is the numerous exceptions to the rules created by the cards. What started off as a very simple design quickly compounded into a complicated web of rules that needed a large compendium to resolve specific card interactions. There were also issues with regards to card balance, luck of the draw, runaway leaders, and excessive text on almost every card.
There was no simple key to fixing these problems. It just took time – a freaking ridiculous amount of time! I have over thirty versions of Evolution saved on my computer and detailed notes recording nearly three hundred different playtests.
The hardest thing to balance was the carnivore trait: If carnivores were too powerful, the game turned into a "take-that" diplomatic game of negotiated wins; if carnivores were too weak, the game lost its excitement and turned into a Euro-style resource management game without any interaction. I wanted the threat of carnivores to be great enough that players had to pay attention to what others were doing, but I didn't want carnivores to be so strong that games would be determined by who was targeted the least instead of who made the best strategic decisions. It was a tricky balance to find, but I think we nailed it. Carnivores are the glue that hold this game together.
The illustration of the carnivore in Evolution
All of my games are designed using a similar framework: Create the most amount of fun (or replay value) with the fewest number of rules. I added one additional criteria for Evolution: Make it as thematic as possible!
• Bursting with Theme
Evolution is my first published game with a theme, and I took the endeavor extremely seriously. I wanted the theme to exude from the game mechanisms, not get slapped on afterwards with flavor text. In fact, I'll go a step further and say that flavor text isn't theme – it's chrome. Theme is designed into the game by the game designer. Chrome is added afterwards by artists, graphic designers, historians, writers, and poets. I'm not against chrome. In fact I love it! It helps immerse the players into the setting of the game. Evolution has chrome in spades, but it is also imbued with theme that comes directly from the game mechanisms. Evolution would feel thematic regardless of whether it was published by Fantasy Flight or Cheapass Games.
Evolution is not a wargame about conquering the environment or a civilization-style game about progressing along an evolutionary tech tree. The heart and soul of Evolution is an ever-changing ecosystem. Players must continually adapt to the environment in order to survive and thrive. The brilliant part (inherited from Dmitry Knorre) is that the act of adapting your species is what changes the ecosystem, so every turn in the game creates a feedback loop which keeps the system in continual flux. When you play Evolution, you'll feel immersed in a dynamic jungle with interesting species and symbiotic relationships.
In some games of Evolution you'll find that herbivores proliferate best; in others, the carnivores rule the day. Most of the time you'll find that carnivores and herbivores cohabitate in a balanced ecosystem that mimics what you find in nature. If you're lucky, you might even witness a situation in which a carnivore cultivates another species for food, just like humans do with cows and chickens! All of these situations arise naturally through the game play. I did not add an event card called "Cataclysm: Every species has a 90% chance of extinction", but you'll experience a cataclysmic event every tenth game (or so) in which 90% of the species go extinct. This will occur naturally through the actions of the players instead of getting dictated externally through a "thematic" event card — and if the surviving carnivores do not adapt after the cataclysmic event, they will also go extinct due to the lack of species to eat within the ecosystem.
On average, I threw out over twenty card ideas that were mechanically interesting and well-balanced for each card that I deemed thematic enough for the base game. In other words, my desire to maintain a strong theme increased the development time of Evolution by over twenty times! It was a high price to pay, but we think it's a smart bet since we plan to support Evolution with thematic expansions for the next 10+ years. The end result is a vivid game system that mimics many situations you'll find in nature.
• Intuitive Rules
While the number of rules appropriate for a game depends upon the genre, I consider it of paramount importance to always use the least amount of rules possible. If I can create the same effect with fewer rules, I'll do it. Each rule is a barrier that keeps people from entering into your game world. Actually, the metric I use is not the specific number of rules in the game, but how easy it is to learn the game or teach it to other people. Not all rules are created equal. Some rules are very intuitive, while others are very difficult to wrap your head around. In general, a rule that is highly thematic is always easier to learn and harder to forget. My goal with Evolution was to create a game with similar depth to the popular big box games loved on BGG, but with fewer and more intuitive rules. I want the rules to quickly disappear so that players can focus on the deeper strategies that emerge through the card synergies.
• Replay Value and Fun
This is the most difficult thing to quantify in game design because fun is amorphous. I look at this issue from a typical artist's point of view: If your work of art resonates deeply with the human spirit, then people will find the work compelling (fun). It will reflect their experience of the world in some way or another.
In Wits & Wagers and Say Anything, much of the replay value (or fun) comes from the social interaction at the table. Those games are fun to play again and again largely because of the social interactions they generate. On the one hand, Evolution is different because it's a strategy game, which means the activity of playing the game should in some way reflect the players' experience of reality (more on that later), but I still wanted the social interaction at the table to be a large part of the fun.
My model for this aspect of Evolution was No Limit Texas Hold'em. While there is a strong statistical/strategy backbone to No Limit Hold'em, you cannot play at the highest level without profiling the players at the table. The same is true with Evolution. While a large part of the game is adapting to the changing ecosystem, an equally large part of the game is adapting your play style to the players at the table and anticipating their next move.
Team Wits & Wagers at a local coffee house, and people playing Say Anything in Sweden (Photo by Olov Johansson)
The strategy in Evolution is derived from the emergent complexities of the card synergies. My goal was to create tons of synergies with the cards – as many as the theme would allow. This is one of the ways that Evolution mitigates the luck of the draw because every hand in Evolution can be played out in many legitimate ways. And profiling the players at the table helps you predict the way that each player might choose to play out their cards.
One of my goals with Evolution was to create a environment where people could play in the style that was most comfortable to them and still have a reasonable chance of winning. Gamers who prefer Euro-style resource management games can play defensively and mind their own business, while gamers who prefer aggressive Ameritrash-style games can go on the offensive. But players who change their play style depending upon the current situation are the ones who will win most consistently. At the highest level, Evolution is a game you win by adapting to an ever-changing ecosystem, one consisting of the current cards in play as well as the tendencies of the players at the table.
Evolution is plastered with chrome. We commissioned Catherine Hamilton, one of the world's most prominent nature artists, to hand paint all of the card art for Evolution. It was laborious and extremely expensive, but we wanted the look and feel of Evolution to be reminiscent of scientific journals and childhood dinosaur books. We also included swanky food bags and a HUGE wooden start player meeple. Evolution has about as much chrome as it possible to stuff into a box. The only thing it lacks is scientific flavor text because we did not want our game to become a political hot button. It's a board game designed to be engaging and fun – nothing more.
• Mirroring Nature (or Esoteric Mumbo Jumbo)
On the surface, Evolution was designed to mirror nature with its theme – literally. It's a game about nature. But I want to talk about an underlying tension that occupied more of my thought than making the mechanisms fit the theme. A work of art is compelling only to the degree that it resonates with you and your view of the world. That's why you hear the phrase "great art mirrors nature". If the world being depicted is large enough and accurate enough, then everyone will find something they can relate to. I wanted to create a game environment where most people could find something that reflected their view of the world.
Some people believe they are in control of their lives, and others think they are blown around by the winds of fortune. Finding the right balance between control and chaos is the concept that I wrestled with while designing this game. Is our future predictable, or is this an illusion we cling to because the alternative is too scary to face? What of all the plans you made for your future when you were young? How many of them have come to fruition? Thirty years ago I planned on starting a game company and running it for the rest of my life. That company was going to focus on RPGs and fantasy board games. What happened with that plan? You could say nothing happened with that plan — at least for twenty years. Or you might believe that it is slowly coming about in its own way.
Ameritrashers have a vision of reality which puts them in the middle of a chaotic system in which their fate is as much determined by the actions of others (through direct conflict) as by their own actions. Ameritrashers are happy if a game creates a good story that can be talked about. Eurosnoots want a predictable system they can master. When playing Evolution, I wanted Euro gamers to feel in control of their fate and Ameritrash gamers to enjoy the unpredictable chaos of a world in flux. If you play Evolution conservatively, you'll have ample control over your fate in the game, and if you play riskily and aggressively you'll find ample chaos in the game. I wanted both of these viewpoints to coexist in one game. Given the BGG dialogue about this topic over the past five years, it's not surprising that this was something that occupied much of my thought.
Evolution Tournament Structure
You may have noticed that I'm extremely passionate about Evolution. I love this game. It has occupied nearly every waking hour of mine for the past two years (and unfortunately there have been many sleepless nights over that time). We are now in the process of creating a tournament structure for those interested in exploring what it has to offer. Ask your local game store if you would like them to run an Evolution tournament. We will support them with prizes.
The First Expansion
I am happy to announce that our first expansion will be available at Gen Con 2015: Evolution: Flight. Will the ability to fly allow your species to soar to new heights? Or will it bring about your downfall?
My name is Oobydoob Scooby-dooby Banooby. I have the silliest name in the galaxy
The term "dead air" was originally used to describe the silence caused by an unintended interruption in a radio broadcast, but I'd like to re-define it and use it to describe the empty space so generously provided by many manufacturers in their game boxes. I consider it a particularly fitting term because whenever I break the shrinkwrap on a new game and open the box, there's often a moment of silence (and an unspoken "What the...") when I see how little space is taken up by the components!
Now, I've been playing Euro-style board games for over 25 years, but it was only a few years ago that I decided to start addressing the Dead Air issue in my game boxes and take some action. What precipitated said action was that well-known gamer's dilemma affectionately known as "lack of shelf space".
Of course, Dead Air is included deliberately in some games in order to accommodate future expansions for the game — which is perfectly acceptable, even desirable! For example, I have the original Thunderstone game and all its expansions tucked neatly into just one of the Thunderstone boxes.
Thunderstone insert with expansions
There are other games, however, that ought to leave room for expansions and don't...
...while on the other end of the spectrum we have companies that don't even provide enough space to put the components back in the box once you've punched all the pieces! [Cough! Thank you, Fantasy Flight.]
Anyway, I came up with the idea of shrinking some games to reduce the Dead Air and free up shelf space, but before I went any further with my plans another issue had to be addressed first, and that was the issue of a game's permanence in my collection. In an attempt to keep my game collection to a reasonable size (reasonable by my reckoning, not my wife's) I continually prune out games that I'm not playing or haven't played in years, and replace them with new ones that seem arrive on my doorstep on a regular basis. I now have 622 "previously owned" games, which is more than twice as many games as I currently have in my collection (284, with neither number including expansions).
So as I began going through my collection and assessing which games I might be able to shrink, I had to ensure they were games I was convinced I was never going to part with, games that had stood the test of time, games that I still wanted to play, games I was, in fact, still playing! It's unusual, therefore, for me to shrink newer games, although it does occasionally happen. The most recent game I've shrunk is Machi Koro, which I loved when I first played the Japanese version over a year ago, and I knew immediately it would find a permanent place in my collection as an easy game to pull out as a filler or to play with non-gamers. Once the outlandishly-huge English box version arrived, I shrunk it down within a week, leaving space for the (at the time upcoming) Harbor expansion as well!
Machi Koro: original and shrunk version
Since I don't plan on purchasing any other expansions for this game, the size of the box works fine. I even managed to squeeze in eight dice so that each player would have their own! But Machi Koro is the exception rather than the rule because most of the games I've shrunk have been part of my collection for many years.
Once I'd considered the "permanence" issue, I browsed through my games looking for potential candidates for the shrinking process. I decided right away that I would not attempt to simply cut down the existing game box, or try to construct boxes of my own, but instead I would use a tried-and-tested box size that would be relatively cheap and easy to get my hands on: namely, the KOSMOS two-player game boxes and the Fantasy Flight small box games. They fit the bill exactly. The KOSMOS boxes are even available in two different depths, which was an added bonus. What's more, they stack beautifully on the shelf!
Consequently, as I opened games and considered whether they could be shrunk, the first thing I did was to see whether the game components fit into one of the chosen box sizes. If they did, and the only item that didn't fit was the board, then I knew I would just have to shrink the board as well, which is a relatively easy fix. Since some of the KOSMOS and FFG games I purchased for the job come with boards, the task of shrinking a game board was made that much easier. Das Amulett is a prime example of this. I include New England in the picture to show you the size of the original box (which I no longer have) compared with the shrunken version...and the shrunken game board with it.
The simple but fun race game Favoriten came in a box as big as the Ravensburger game in the picture, but once I'd shrunk the board it fit easily into an FFG-sized box
Initially, I did try cutting down a regular board from some other game I'd cannibalized — a Monopoly board or something — to fit into the KOSMOS box, but I quickly discovered that regular game boards were much thicker than the ones that come in the two-player boxes, and they took up so much space that the components no longer fit! Thus, that approach was quickly abandoned.
Details of the Shrinking Process
Having chosen a game to shrink and checked to see whether the components fit in the box, the first thing to do is scan the box (and perhaps the board) that needs shrinking. I do this on a photocopier, scanning the front, back, and all four sides. (If all the sides are the same, then you need to scan only one of them of course.) Some boxes are large enough to require two scans of the front and back to ensure the whole image is captured. If the board needs shrinking too, it always takes at least two scans to capture the whole thing.
Another option for the box cover is to copy the image from its entry on BGG and use that instead of a scan. These images often come with a higher resolution than the one you can get from a scan, so they work really well. If this is an option, I always use it.
Anyway, having sent the scanned images to your computer, they then need to be copied and pasted into a Word document — no, I don't have Photoshop I'm afraid — where they have to be cropped to remove all unwanted margin material around the edges before being re-sized.
Scanned and cropped image
For those of you proficient in Photoshop, the following steps will probably seem clumsy, but Word is what I get to work in, so for those of you who don't have Photoshop it is possible to do everything you need without it.
Once you have all the images cropped and ready to go, then it's time to create the templates to fit them in. I use "text boxes" for this. I measure the box and determine the size I need for front, back and side, then create a text box for each image. Microsoft Word has helpful rulers which tell you the size of the text box, but I've learned they're not to be trusted. Always print out the text box template you create and check it against the game box to make sure it's the size you need.
Text box template
If I'm shrinking a game to a Fantasy Flight small box, then I can create a template with top and sides on the same sheet, but I can't do that for the KOSMOS boxes so the templates have to be slightly smaller than the box measurements to leave room for the rounded corners.
Partial templates for KOSMOS boxes
Once you have the template size all figured out, it would be nice if you could just copy and paste your cropped images into them and be done — but it's not that simple. The image sits inside the text box and leaves a white border all the way around. To make the image fit the text box exactly you have to create another text box, paste in the image, then send it behind the template so you can adjust the image to fit the template.
Putting the image behind the text box
It sounds more complicated than it really is, but that's the only way I know to do this in Microsoft Word. Having followed the above steps for each of the images you wish to use, you are then ready to print them off.
Box covers printed off and ready to be cut out
Cutting out the separate pieces for a box is easy — but if the box is all in one piece, then it needs a little more attention. First, it needs to be folded around the box lid, then it needs to be cut so that the corners will overlap and make it look nice and neat.
Before pasting them on, however, you need to prep the game box. I use a Sharpie to blacken all the corners of the KOSMOS boxes so that they're ready to receive the paste-on images.
Box edges blackened
Also, one other tip before you do any gluing: Run a Sharpie along each of the edges of the cut paper. This eliminates the white edge paper-line that will be visible otherwise. It's a small thing, but it makes the final product look that much cleaner.
I use an artist spray glue to attach the images to the boxes because it gives a nice even coating. (Make sure you spray it outside, or you'll stink the house up and your wife will yell at you!) It is critical, however, to use glue that allows you to re-position the paper because, trust me, you're going to need to do that on a regular basis.
The end product should look something like this:
Image of completed box
The box is now one step away from being complete. In order to stop the newly attached images from getting caught on something and peeling away from the box, I cover the boxes in clear sticky-backed plastic (a book covering) that you can pick up at any art store. This can be a little tricky, but it's a necessary step. (I do not cover the small boxes in plastic as the paper is all in one piece and is in no danger of peeling up.) First, place the box lid on the rolled out covering so that you can cut it to the right size. You need to leave enough room all round to be able to fold it up the sides, then wrap it under the lid.
Paper being cut
Then you need to remove the plastic from the protective backing paper and lay it on a table.
Plastic, ready to go
Press your box lid onto the middle of it, then slide it on top of a cutting board so that you can custom cut the edges. You can see how they need to be cut from the following image:
Custom cutting the corners
Note: You need to leave tabs on two edges that can be folded over the corners. I should also mention that I never cover the back of the box, and I've never had any problem with the attached image coming off.
Once the plastic is attached, I run the side of my thumbnail over every inch of the box lid to ensure it sticks properly. This has the added benefit of making the image come through the plastic much clearer. Any unwanted air bubbles (which occasionally occur) you simply pop with a pin or the tip of your utility knife before rubbing them with your thumbnail to squeeze out the air. And voilà, you have a shrunken game!
Here are most of the games from which I've removed the dead air. Since I don't keep the old game boxes, I can't show you the contrast between the original and the shrunken edition — but the shelf space saved is significant.
W. Eric Martin
• Looney Labs continues onward with its plan to Fluxx the world with the introduction of two branded standalone games in mid-2015: Adventure Time Fluxx, which hits retail on July 24, and Batman Fluxx two weeks later on August 7.
Adventure Time Fluxx inserts the familiar characters and events into the familiar Fluxx game, while Batman Fluxx adds a twist to play as no one can win while a Villain is on the table, so you'll need to cart them to Arkham Asylum before you can claim victory and celebrate in the only way that Batman ever should.
• Blue Orange Games has had enough success in the U.S. with its versions of Battle Sheep, Longhorn and Niya — titles first published by sister company Blue Orange in Europe under the name Jactalea — that BOG has decided to add eight additional titles to its European line in 2015. I covered most of these titles — Attila, Dragon Run, Armadöra, etc. — in a January 2015 BGG News post, but now BOG has announced that it will debut Marc Brunnenkant's smuggling game Prohis at Origins 2015, with forty copies shipped in ahead of a retail release later in 2015. Prohis first appeared at Spiel 2014 from French publisher Blackrock Editions, and no changes have been made to the game other than a change in logo and a re-writing of the rules.
What's more, in 2016 Blue Orange Games plans to release another Blackrock Editions title in the U.S.: Alain Ollier's The Boss.
• Designer Uwe Rosenberg noted on Facebook in mid-May 2015 that Ora et Labora will return to print "in a few weeks". He thinks that Z-Man Games will again handle the English-language edition, but I'm checking with Z-Man to see whether this is indeed the case. (Update, May 21: I just received confirmation from Z-Man, which expects to have Ora et Labora available again in Q3 2015.)
In the BGG forums, Hanno Girke from original publisher Lookout Games — which will re-release the game in German — notes that "We upped the quality of those components everybody was complaining about. Everything that used to be thin cardboard is now sturdy cardboard."
• German publisher Clicker Spiele has now released Old Town Robbery from Günter Cornett and Peer Sylvester, a title initially announced for Spiel 2014 but delayed from that show. Here's an overview of this communication-based game:
In the first part of Old Town Robbery, the robber wanders through the city, and the players construct a story based on the places he visits. In the second part, players take turns playing the sheriff who is trying to retrace the steps of the robber, visiting the same places as the robber has before. The story element helps players do just that, and they earn points by correctly guessing the next building.
W. Eric Martin
• Dutch publisher Quined Games celebrates its tenth anniversary in 2015, so it's lined up a quartet of releases for the year, with more possibly coming.
The biggest release is undoubtedly Carson City: Big Box, a new version of the 2009 design Carson City from Xavier Georges that includes the base game, the 2012 Carson City: Gold & Guns expansion (which already included the 2010 Carson City: Indian promo), and the new 2015 Carson City: Horses & Heroes expansion. Here's a rundown of the game and its expansions:
Carson City is a strategic game played in four rounds, and in each one of them, the players choose a character from the seven available that gives certain advantages.
After selecting characters, your cowboys are placed on action track locations that allow you to construct buildings, houses, or roads; claim ground; earn money; or score victory points. When more than one player is on the same location, get ready, it is time for a duel! Roll the dice and see if you are the last one standing and lay claim to the goods!
During the game, you can take various actions that earn you victory points for your plots, pistols (the hired help), and buildings. At the end of the game, your buildings, houses, mountains, and money contribute to your victory points, and the person with the most points wins. So go round up your posse of gunslingers and get ready for some Wild West action in Carson City!
Carson City: Gold & Guns contains updated buildings and houses, new buildings, new double-sided characters, the "Indian" character, and a separate expansion called "The Outlaws".
In Carson City: Horses & Heroes, players can visit the rodeo to claim additional victory points and use horses to unlock special actions. Three new characters are also added to the game. Finally, all the material needed to play with a sixth player are included in this expansion.
Quined Games plans to run a Kickstarter campaign for both Big Box and Horses & Heroes in June 2015, with the game debuting at Spiel 2015 in October. In a press release announcing the title, Paul Mulders from Quined writes, "Depending on the success of this Kickstarter campaign, the game will see more upgraded parts. If the stretch goals are met, you will receive added wooden components for horses, guns, mountains and houses, alongside a notepad of 'A New Beginning' mini-expansion and luxurious player boards." Carson City: Horses & Heroes will be labeled "5B" in the Quined Games Master Print Series.
• As noted in January 2015, German publisher Spielworxx decided not to publish Thomas Spitzer's Haspelknecht, the third title in Spitzer's coal trilogy following Ruhrschifffahrt 1769-1890 and Kohle & Kolonie. Quined Games has picked up the title, and Haspelknecht will now appear as title #15 in in the Quined Games Master Print Series. Here's an overview of the setting and gameplay, with Haspelknecht scheduled to debut in October 2015 at Spiel:
In Haspelknecht, the third title in Thomas Spitzer's coal trilogy of games, the players take upon the role of farmers with opportunities to exploit the presence of coal in their lands in the southern part of the Ruhr region of Germany.
The game is set during the time when the lands were mostly flocked with forests and roads were rare. Coal was found here, nearly at the surface. During the game, the players obtain knowledge about this material, extend the farm, and dig deeper in the ground to get more coal. The game has many ways that lead to victory.
Haspelknecht has an innovative action selection mechanism. The player has to pick the right tasks, and he has also to take care of the ground water which will spoil opportunities to get coal.
The game offers a lot of variation and replayability as the knowledge tiles offer countless possible set-ups.
• Finally, or perhaps fourthly, Quined Games has picked up Javier Velásquez's Xanadú, first released by Colombian publisher Azahar Juegos in 2012. This game is also due out in October 2015, and here's an overview:
The year is 1252 and the great Kublai Khan has decided to build his summer palace. He has searched for the best architects who are looking to win fame and prestige — and sometimes you have to harm other architects' prestige to step forward...
Xanadú is a highly interactive card game for 2 to 5 players. Cards can be buildings with four squares of available resources that can be used by any player (including the owner of the card). To be able to retrieve and use those resources, the players assign workers, which are also cards.
The players compete to earn the most "tong baos", the money in the game, by selling the constructions to the Khan.
Xanadú is a strategy game of building and sabotage, for casual and experienced players.
Xanadú is the first title in Quined's new Master Print Pocket series, and this artwork is sharp, with only the logo seeming out of place, a bit too bright on the well-worn cover:
Cardboard Vault Reviews!
• Steve Jackson Games has announced two upcoming boosters for Munchkin, due out in August 2015. The first is a reprint of Munchkin Dragons. The second booster is all-new and continues the "slaying dragons for treasure" theme, titled Munchkin Dragon's Trike. That little dragon looks so adorable on its tricycle, but it's most likely part of an elaborate ploy to make us humans let our guard down. Don't say I didn't warn you when they're melting you with their fiery breath!
Both boosters include 15 cards to satisfy all your treasure hoarding desires.
•Arcane Wonders has announced more details about Mage Wars Arena: Battlegrounds Domination, the first in the new Battlegrounds expansion line for Mage Wars Arena.
The expansion adds puzzle-cut tiles to the game that players can use to construct suggested arenas to battle on, or to create their own arenas. The new tiles have optional terrain effects that can be used to increase the difficulty, presumably creating obstacles and traps that you need crafty spells to bypass. Battlegrounds Domination also includes a new mode, aptly called Domination, in which players need to focus on controlling powerful orbs in the arena. The expansion comes with new spells and other cards, all compatible with the play modes in the base game, so you can start tweaking your spellbook to meet the new challenges.
Battlegrounds Domination will be pre-released in limited numbers at Origins at the beginning of June 2015, just in case you're too excited to wait for the expansion's full release on July 6, 2015.
• Do you find Fluxx a little too predictable? Do you crave more chaos? Look no further because Looney Labs has announced Fluxx Dice, an expansion that can be added to any Fluxx card game. Fluxx Dice takes the only consistent element of the game — the starting "Draw 1, Play 1" rule — and throws it out the window. Players instead roll a draw die and a play die at the start of their turn, following the instructions on them. Designer Andy Looney said the expansion makes Fluxx "a new game every turn".
Fluxx Dice also includes five cards and is expected to be available worldwide starting on August 28, 2015.
• Bezier Games will sell Suburbia: Con Tiles through preorders on its website and at upcoming conventions. This mini-expansion contains five tiles so you can add some of the best gaming conventions to your very own suburb: Kublacon, Dice Tower Con, Gen Con, Essen SPIEL and BGG.CON. Just like in real life, the more conventions the better; each one grants you an increasing reputation bonus, until your suburb is eventually an irresistible hub of gaming heaven.
Con Tiles can be used with only the base game, but they also include the ★ symbol to integrate with the upcoming Suburbia 5★ expansion.
• Epic Spell Wars: Rumble at Castle Tentakill is now available from Cryptozoic Entertainment. Technically this is an expansion to Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre, but it can also be played as a standalone game.
Rumble at Castle Tentakill adds familiars that you can befriend (until you throw them in the line of fire), blood to collect to power your dark magiks, reactions that can activate from beyond the grave, and turns the standee into an heirloom that increases the strength of some spells.
• Fantasy Flight Games has announced Strange Remnants, an upcoming expansion for Eldritch Horror. In the expansion, players face a new Ancient One that is no mere monster; its name is Syzygy, a deadly alignment of the planets that will devour the Earth. I may not know much about Lovecraftian lore, but I know that sounds ominous.
Strange Remnants tasks players to save the universe by exploring ancient landmarks for clues, adds new Special Encounters and includes four new investigators. It is expected to be available in the third quarter of 2015.
W. Eric Martin
The Origins Game Fair 2015 Preview is now live on BoardGameGeek, just over two weeks before the convention itself opens on June 3, 2015. Close timing!
The preview currently lists just over one hundred items, with other items being hidden in the publisher listings for one reason or another. You'll note that many of the game listings are for prototypes that will be crowdfunded at some point, and that's not surprising given that Origins is far cheaper than Gen Con for the aspiring publisher-to-be, so if you want to put something new in front of gamers, you're risking less by showing up in Columbus, Ohio ahead of the rush of gamers to Gen Con in Indy.
If you plan to attend the convention to sell or demonstrate a new game that's not listed in this preview, please contact me via email through the address in the BGG News header. I'll be at the show for a couple of days to take pics, check out new and upcoming games, record a video or two, and otherwise make a nuisance of myself.
W. Eric Martin
The Spiel des Jahres juries have announced their nominees for the German game of the year (Spiel des Jahres), enthusiast game of the year (Kennerspiel), and children's game of the year (Kinderspiel), and without further ado let's start with the nominees for the big prize, with the SdJ award typically leading to hundreds of thousands of additional sales from German families picking up something fun for vacation and the holidays. The nominees are:
• Colt Express, from Christophe Raimbault and Ludonaute
• Machi Koro, from Masao Suganuma and KOSMOS
• The Game: Spiel...so lange du kannst!, from Steffen Benndorf and NSV
I've highlighted each of these titles in BGG News posts, and I've included links below for those not familiar with the nominees. Overall, I can understand why each title was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres: Colt Express is a viciously chaotic game that's been a blast of fun every time it gets to the table. Players typically need one game to see the results of their moves unfold, to understand what can happen when everyone is doing things at roughly the same time. You're playing the other players and not just playing the game, so it helps to know what they're like and how eager they are to shoot you. The train play set seemed like a gimmick when I first learned about the game, but it's a gimmick that works, a gimmick that adds to the playing experience, and the upcoming expansion for Spiel 2015 seems to add even more to that staged interaction.
Machi Koro is the "old man" of this group, dating to 2012 for its initial release in Japan. In my overview from October 2013 before this game set the world on fire at Spiel 2013 and cemented the influence of Japanese game design on the larger industry, I dubbed the design "Catan writ small", and perhaps Machi Koro will follow that title down the path to a SdJ on Catan's twentieth anniversary.
As with Colt Express, Machi Koro is another design in which you can't go off in the corner and do your own thing; you must pay attention to the cards everyone else is acquiring to try to break up combos — but you're also at the mercy of the dice because despite whatever smart plans you might put into play, fate might be stacked against you.
The Game: Spiel...so lange du kannst! seems like the oddball in this group, the second coming of 2013 SdJ winner Hanabi in that it's a cooperative card game in a tiny box that places restrictions on what you can say during the game. At first glance the nomination doesn't fit with the earlier two because it sounds like a retread with a quiet spirit — but then I consider my play stats and realize that while I've played Colt Express and Machi Koro roughly a half-dozen times each, I'm closing in on sixty plays of The Game because my wife loves it and I love it and we take it everywhere with us and it works well as a solitaire design and yes, okay, I can see this winning, too.
The only drawback to The Game — aside from its thematic emptiness and quiet gameplay that will turn off some percentage of the potential audience — is the generic name that makes it tough to find. On BGG, search for "kannst" and the game, i.e. The Game, will be the first hit.
Other titles recommended by the SdJ jury in this game weight are Abraca...what?, Cacao, Loony Quest, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, Patchwork, and UGO! — fine choices all, with UGO! being the only question mark for me as I've played only once, liking the game but having a dickens of a time getting anything resembling a trick-taking game in front of local gamers.
The nominees for Kennerspiel des Jahres, the award intended for enthusiasts who want something a bit more challenging than the SdJ candidates, are:
• Broom Service, from Andreas Pelikan, Alexander Pfister and alea
• Elysium, from Brett Gilbert, Matthew Dunstan and Space Cowboys
• Orléans, from Reiner Stockhausen and dlp games
My biggest surprise on this list is that Broom Service is available for purchase! We recorded an overview video at Spielwarenmesse in Nürnberg, but I had heard nothing about the game since then, perhaps due to the game being available right now only in Germany with German text on the cards. Apparently the English/French version of the game is due out in North America in mid-2015.
Recommended titles by the SdJ jury in the Kennerspiel weight are Deus, Fields of Arle and The Voyages of Marco Polo.
Nominees for the Kinderspiel des Jahres are:
• Push a Monster, from Wolfgang Dirscherl, Manfred Reindl and Queen Games
• Schatz-Rabatz, from Karin Hetling and Noris
• Spinderella, from Roberto Fraga and Zoch
Schatz-Rabatz is a complete mystery to me, and we didn't even have it in the BGG database until a Noris representative submitted a listing this morning after the nominations were announced. Honestly, children's games are not the focus for many BGG users, so we tend to let those slide compared to getting other games in the DB. Sorry!
I edited the rules for Push a Monster from Queen, and it sounds like a fun little game that would tickle the dexterity game lover in me. Whether I'll actually play it at some point, well, who knows?
We did record an overview of Spinderella at Spielwarenmesse given that the title is from Zoch, and BGG users often want to know what's coming from them. Seems like a great gimmicky game along the lines of what Fraga has done previously:
Recommended titles from the Kinderspiel des Jahres jury are Chef Alfredo, Fliegenschmaus, Fröschlein aufgepasst!, Honigbienchen, Joe's Zoo, Schau mal! Was ist anders? and Der verdrehte Sprachzoo.
The Kinderspiel des Jahres winner will be announced on Monday, June 8, 2015 while the Sdj and KedJ winners will be announced on Monday, July 6, 2015. Congratulations to all the nominees!
W. Eric Martin
• Three years after debuting on the German market, Michael Palm and Lukas Zach's The Dwarves from Pegasus Spiele — a cooperative game based on Markus Heitz' five-book series of the same name — is finally coming to the English-language game market thanks to the introduction of Kickstarter in Germany. (KS link)
While announcing this project, Pegasus marketing director Michael Kränzle wrote, "For you it is a small thing maybe; for us it is huge as Kickstarter Germany just launched today and made it legally possible for companies over here to be part of their global crowdfunding community." Modern day Oprah: "You get a Kickstarter campaign! And you get a Kickstarter campaign! And you get a Kickstarter campaign! Everybody gets a Kickstarter campaign!!"
In addition to the base game, Pegasus is offering (in both English and German) The Dwarves: The Saga Expansion, which adds new components, adventures, quests and game boards to the base game.
• In addition to the Germans on Kickstarter we have Dutch designer/publisher Corné van Moorsel from Cwali with Samara, a worker placement game of sorts in which time is represented by a time track below the buildings and other things that workers can spend their time on. Once all the workers in the current month have been assigned tasks, you slide the time track to the next month to see who can work now. (KS link)
• Salvation Road from Peter Gousis, Michael D. Kelley and Van Ryder Games is, according to this light-hearted description from the publisher, "a cooperative game for 1-4 players set in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by famine, pestilence, war, and death." (KS link) Would that someone create a game set thirty years in the future that features a non-post-apocalyptic world much like this one (except for the neckjacks) in which everyone's just worried about keeping their job and finding the right college for their daughter Becky? (Everyone's named Becky in the future.)
• Of course a glance at the subtitle of Harbour Bridges from Matthew Thredgold and Ludogix — "The Bridges of Auckland & Sydney" — shows the value of post-apocalyptic environments in terms of imbuing a game with drama. Perhaps you've been searching for a connection game set in that part of the world, though, in which case...here you go! (KS link)
• The latest KS campaign from regulars Eagle-Gryphon Games is for Matt Wolfe's Wombat Rescue, which I've played once in prototype form. It's a tricky take on a racing game with you needing to feed your wombats so that they'll poop scent cubes on the board, which you'll need in order to move more freely as apparently wombats feel twitchy and unsafe if they can't smell their own poop. What are you trying to do in the game? Rescue your baby wombats from the dingo before (insert meme here).(KS link)
• Cool Mini Or Not is racking up support $90 at a time for B-Sieged: Sons of the Abyss from Víctor Fernández, Gorka Mata and Sergi Solé Pascual, and while some might want to know more about this cooperative fantasy-based castle defense game, I'm mostly curious as to why the game is titled "B-Sieged" instead of "Besieged". You're not protecting the land of B. What am I missing here? Is it just something to mess with people who might search for this game online? (KS link)
• Another miniatures-based, cooperative, tower defense game on KS is Project: ELITE from Konstantinos Kokkinis, Sotirios Tsantilas, Artipia Games and Drawlab Entertainment. What are the odds! One strong difference is that players compete in real time, with rounds being timed at two minutes and players moving and shooting as quickly as they can against the alien invaders based on the dice they roll. (KS link)
• Tom Dalgliesh's The Last Spike from Columbia Games is a revamped version of a design published nearly four decades earlier, and while the game is themed around westward expansion of train networks, in reality the design is more of a stock-market game with players trying to get rich by bringing traffic to the towns in which they're invested. (KS link)
• In its second go on KS, the miniatures strategy game Requiem Vampire Knight from KiniGame has cleared the first hurdle and is now piling on the extras. (KS link)
• No Thank You, Evil! from Monte Cook Games seems like a board game version of Scribblenauts, with players creating a story based on whatever ideas seem to work as they make their way through an adventure. (KS link)
• At Spiel 2014, designer Rikki Tahta and his family ran a small booth for La Mame Games and sold — I'm taking a wild guess here — a few hundred copies of Coup: Guatemala 1954, a new version of his bluffing game Coup that allows players to choose five of 25 roles each game instead of using the same five each time. Now a revamped version of this design, Coup: Rebellion G54, is on KS from Indie Boards and Cards and the thing has more than three thousand backers. Better marketing? Better artwork? Better market presence? Better availability for the average Joe? Probably all of the above... (KS link)
• In the microgame Swamped from Benjamin Gerber and Bellwether Games, players collectively control a boat moving through a swamp on a quest for treasure — but each payer also has a secret side goal that might cause them to sabotage the group for individual success. (KS link)
• Shadowstar Corsairs from Ryan Wolfe and the intriguingly named 0 hr art & technology has players doing all sorts of things in space that one might expect to do while playing a game: fighting, collecting resources, upgrading their ships. (KS link)
• Along the same lines is Sky Relics from a first-time publisher, with player customizing their armadas in order to claim some of the floating mountains of Targus. (KS link)
Editor's note: Please don't post links to other Kickstarter projects in the comments section. Write to me via the email address in the header, and I'll consider them for inclusion in a future crowdfunding round-up. Thanks! —WEM
W. Eric Martin
• Lookout Games initially included Helmet Ohley's Trambahn on its 2014 release schedule, and the game is now coming to market in Germany in mid-May 2015, with Mayfair Games scheduled to release it in Q3 2015 with rules in English, French and Italian. Here's an overview of the game:
In Munich at the end of the 19th century, the successful new tramway needs expansion, and the two opposing players in Trambahn are competing for the contract.
To do this, in a grid marked by cards players use their cards in three different ways: as passengers on the trams, as suggested stops on new routes to be built, and as money to pay for these routes. When laying out cards for suggested stops, players need to both match colors and build them in ascending order — but they also need to bring passengers to this tram line in order to score victory points for it.
The cards resemble postcards that feature street cars in Munich and historical parts of the city.
• Another title coming from Lookout (in July 2015) and Mayfair (in Q3 2015) is Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King from the design team of Andreas Pelikan and Alexander Pfister. Here's a rundown of the setting and gameplay:
Isle of Skye is one of the most beautiful places in the world, with soft sand beaches, gently sloping hills, and impressive mountains. The landscape of Isle of Skye is breathtaking and fascinates everyone.
In the tile-laying game Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King, 2-5 players are chieftains of famous clans and want to build their little kingdoms to score as many points as possible — but in each game only four of the sixteen scoring cards will be scored.
Thanks to the scoring cards, each game is different and leads to different tactics and strategies, but having enough money is useful no matter what else is going on. Managing that money can be tricky, though. Each turn, each player places two area tiles in front of them and sets the selling price for the tiles. Setting a high price is great, but only so long as someone actually pays the price because if no one opts to buy, then the seller must buy the tiles at the price they previously requested.
In the end, the player with the best kingdom — and not the richest player — becomes the sovereign of the island.
• Z-Man Games has sort of announced one of its Gen Con 2015 releases, and I say "sort of" because details are scarce at the moment for Florian Fay's cooperative Apocalypse Chaos, which carries a 2-5 player count on the box but is described as being for 1-4 players by the designer. (Update, May 19: 1-4 players is correct.) All we have to go on right now is a thematic setting and a searing cover that bears the archetypal arched-back damsel in distress carrying heavy weaponry:
We are in grave danger. Enemies are swarming around the ship, and they will not go down without a fight. We'll have to work together in order to get out of this one alive. We're going to need a plan, and we need it fast. Let's not let these...things...outsmart us, outnumber us, and certainly not outshoot us! I need you all to do what you do best. Got it? Let's do this!
W. Eric Martin
While visiting Tokyo Game Market in early May 2015, I managed to do something that I almost never do at conventions: Play a game that was sold at that convention. Typically at cons I speak with designers and publishers about what they're releasing in the future, possibly playing prototypes so that I can talk about these upcoming games immediately or whenever they're officially announced, but this time I played a released, new-to-me game bought at the con. Even comets pass by every few decades, right?
My guide at TGM, Ken Shoda, had only a few titles on his "must get" list, with one of them being the 2014 release TimeBomb from designer 佐藤 雄介 (Yusuke Sato) and publisher 新ボードゲーム党 (New Board Game Party). Ken's description started with "It's a hidden role party game..." and I almost stopped him right there as those types of games are typically not my bag due to me being a terrible bluffer who can neither keep a straight face nor read people, but Ken is a huge Reiner Knizia fan, as am I, and with him buying five copies of the game — three for himself and two for a friend — I thought I'd trust his judgment and buy one for myself. What's the worst that could happen? (Well, the worst would be our plane crashing on the way home because I acquired too many games at TGM, with the weight of TimeBomb being the straw that broke the 747's back, but more realistically, I would waste whatever this game cost and I can live with that.)
I visited a game group in Tokyo the day following TGM, and Ken taught me the game then, with us playing twice with five players. In TimeBomb, each player is either a terrorist or a member of the SWAT team, and you want to set off a bomb or prevent that bomb from being set off depending on who you are.
All of the cards in TimeBomb
To set up, you take as many "Success" cards as the number of players, the single "Boom!!" card, and as many "Safe" cards as needed for the deck to equal five times the number of players, e.g., thirty cards total with six players. Each player takes a secret role card at random, with four SWAT cards being in the mix for six players and three SWAT cards for four or five players. After looking at your role card, look at the five cards you were dealt, then shuffle them and lay them out in a line with the backs being face up. Choose a start player at random.
The start player takes the nippers and "cuts" one of the cards in front of another player. This player reveals the card, then uses the nippers to cut someone else's card. This continues until 4-6 cards have been cut, with this number equaling the number of players. You then take all of the face-down cards, shuffle them, then deal four cards to each player, with players once again looking at their cards, then shuffling them and placing them in a face-down row.
This process continues for at most four rounds. If all of the "Success" cards are revealed before the end of the fourth round, the game ends and the SWAT team wins. If this doesn't happen — or if the "Boom!!" card is revealed at any time — the game ends and the terrorists win.
Ken Shoda (r) is probably lying about something; he lied a lot that day
In case it's not obvious, TimeBomb could be completely dry with people just passing the nippers card back and forth until one side wins or loses, but Ken and the two designers from Saien in the image above (whose name cards I can't find at the moment — sorry!) had played previously, and they started making claims and accusations immediately: "I have only one Success. What about you?" "I have no Success cards, so don't cut any of my cards as you're wasting your time." "You're lying! That's what you always say!" And so forth.
I goofed in the usual way that I do with such bluffing games by volunteering too much information too soon. My best tactic is always to keep my mouth shut so that I don't lie and give myself away, but I didn't do this and was pegged as a terrorist fairly quickly. I never correctly identified my fellow terrorist, but he managed to get someone to keep cutting his cards in the third round and the wire on the bomb was snipped. Boom! Victory for us!
In our second game, I was SWAT and we cruised along decently picking up Success cards until I suddenly found myself holding the nippers and completely unsure of what to do or who was what. Honestly, I'm terrible at these games! Through sheer luck I chose the terrorist who was holding the final Success card (and also the bomb) and cut our way to victory. An accidental win is still a win!
(In the U.S. and Canada, you can call 411 to help you find a person or business, so 411 is sometimes used as a shorthand for information. In "Game 411" posts, I present an overview of a newly released or obscure game to you, the BGG News reader. —WEM)
Fri May 15, 2015 11:15 pm
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