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Links: DaVinci's BANG! Lawsuit Shot Down, Gender in Munchkin & Mark Rosewater on Twenty Years of Magic

W. Eric Martin
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• In 2014, DaVinci Editrice — which publishes games as dV Giochi — filed suit against Yoka Games and ZiKo Games. DaVinci, which has published Emiliano Sciarra's BANG! (along with many expansions and spinoffs) since 2002, alleged copyright infringement based on the publication of 三国杀 (San Guo Sha) in English as Legends of the Three Kingdoms (LOTK) in 2012 by ZiKo Games, with Yoka Games having been the publisher of that game in Chinese since 2007.

As noted by the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Texas in 2014, "The parties agree that Bang! and LOTK have nearly identical rules for playing the game." What differs is that BANG! is set in the U.S. wild west of the 1800s and features characters and artwork typical for that locale, while LOTK has artwork and characters based on the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which dates to the 14th century. The court denied Davinci's request for preliminary injunction, which would have prevented ZiKo Games from further distribution of Legends of the Three Kingdoms, but it allowed DaVinci to pursue its claim that ZiKo and Yoka "improperly copied protected features" of BANG!

In late April 2016, the court ruled against DaVinci, noting in its summary that "Bang!'s characters, roles, and interactions are not substantially similar to those in LOTK. The aspects of the roles, characters, and interactions that are similar are not expressive, and aspects that are expressive are not substantially similar. ZiKo and Yoka are entitled to summary judgment of noninfringement."

The ruling makes for fascinating reading, and you can download a PDF of the ruling here. Some excerpts:

Quote:
Unlike a book or movie plot, the rules and procedures, including the winning conditions, that make up a card-game system of play do not themselves produce the artistic or literary content that is the hallmark of protectable expression. See Boyden, 18 GEO. MASON L. REV. at 466. Instead, the game rules, procedures, and winning conditions create the environment for expression. Id.; see also Nat'l Basketball Ass'n, 105 F.3d at 846 ("Unlike movies, plays, television programs, or operas, athletic events are competitive and have no underlying script.").

This general rule is consistent with the decision in Baker v. Selden, 101 U.S. 99 (1879), in which the Supreme Court ruled that a particular bookkeeping system was not copyrightable. The language and illustrations that the plaintiff had used to explain his system were copyrightable, but they did not protect the system itself from use by other parties. The Copyright Office has applied the rule that copyright does not protect a system's operation method to games. The December 2011 fact sheet for Copyright Registration of Games states:
Quote:
Copyright does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles. Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author's expression in literary, artistic, or musical form.

Quote:
In Bang!, the Sheriff and Deputies are pitted against the Outlaws and the Renegade. Other than these alignments, the events in a Bang! game are not predetermined because the interactions between the roles have no underlying script or detail and are not fixed. Making certain roles aligned and others opposed is part of the game's winning conditions, but these determine little about how players will progress through the game. See Boyden, 18 GEO. MASON L. REV. at 466 (copyright does not protect systems that set the stage for expression to occur). Like basketball, Bang! has created a number of roles, defined their alignment with and opposition to other roles, and created rules for their interaction, but has not created a scripted or detailed performance for each game. Using Spry Fox's example of Gone with the Wind, Bang! identifies characters analogous to Scarlett O'Hara's two romantic interests, Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler, giving them names and appearances consistent with their setting. Unlike Gone with the Wind, however, Bang! has no specific plot or detailed information about the characters that tells us what these characters will do or how they will interact with other characters.

Quote:
The character content found protectable in Capcom is distinguishable from the character content in Bang! The Bang! characters' abilities are largely drawn from stock-character abilities. Like a punch or kick in a karate game, Bang! characters' abilities are common in games in which the object is to kill the other players, such as enhanced attack ranges and strength. These abilities are neither original to DaVinci nor as imaginative as the moves found protectable in Capcom. The other similar characteristic between Bang! and LOTK is the characters' life points. The court in Capcom specifically held measures of player viability to be commonplace and not protectable, and this court agrees.

Even if the Bang! characters' abilities were not stock, they are still not expressive because they are essentially rules of game play. The character of Rose Doolan, for example, has the ability to strike opponents from a longer distance than other characters. (Docket Entry No. 61, Ex. 6 at 110:6-10). This ability is no more expressive than the ability of a rook in a chess game to take an opposing piece from all the way across the board, as opposed to a pawn that may attack only from the next square. The rook's ability affects other characters or roles in the game because the attack range increases the queen's and king's exposure. But this special ability is neither literary nor artistic. It is an aspect of game play, a subset of the rules that make up the game system.

Quote:
DaVinci argues that because each Bang! player is assigned a character and a role, the alignment of the roles combines with the expressive elements of the characters to create protectable expressive content. This argument fails because any character can be assigned to any role. In one game, Rose Doolan could be the Sheriff who works with one of the Deputies, Slab the Killer, to kill the Outlaws and Renegade. In the next game, Rose Doolan may be the Outlaw who must kill Slab the Killer, who is the Sheriff in that game. The characters' interactions change from game to game. See Nat'l Basketball Ass'n, 105 F.3d at 846 (basketball is not protected because the action is not "scripted"); Boyden,18 GEO. MASON L. REV. at 466 (copyright does not protect systems that set the stage for expression to occur). The combination of roles and characters also adds little to the overall expressive content of the game, given that the content of the game itself is not fixed. It is the equivalent of casting actors to roles in a movie that has no detailed script, no specific plot, and no detailed information about the characters.

• In May 2016, Steve Jackson Games surveyed Munchkin fans about their personal background and experience with the game line. Now SJG's Andrew Hackard has posted findings from the survey on Medium, including an overview of why the survey asked about users' genders in the way that it did:

Quote:
Gender is a specific mechanic in most Munchkin games. Some treasures are better or worse (or completely unusable) depending on your gender, and some monsters get bonuses or penalties when fighting a character of a specific gender. The Munchkin rules say that gender is dual; a character is either male or female, no other options (with a very few cards that cause exceptions, often by removing a character's gender altogether). Starting in the very first Munchkin game in 2001, changing gender resulted in a one-time combat penalty "due to distraction." This idea comes from early fantasy roleplaying games, many of which had effects that would involuntarily and permanently change a character's gender. Munchkin was originally designed as a parody of D&D and similar games, and this was one of the tropes that was brought over for the sake of that parody.

It's not 2001 anymore, and we now have thousands of people who play Munchkin and have never seen games such as D&D, much less explored the history of those games. We occasionally get social media comments, emails, and even physical letters taking us to task for belittling transgender players. Some of them are heartbreaking.

Speaking on behalf of the entire Munchkin team, it is not and never has been our intent to poke fun at the struggles faced by people who don't match society's gender norms. It has always been our view that the penalty for changing gender in Munchkin derived from its involuntary nature, not the gender change itself, and we have encouraged people to remove the penalty  —  or the entire effect  —  if their group found it problematic.

Magic: The Gathering head designer Mark Rosewater appeared at the Game Developers Conference in March 2016 and gave an hour-long talk titled "Twenty Years, Twenty Lessons Learned" that provides a ton of material for designers of all types of games to consider. (For those who don't like video, Rosewater has started to post the material from his talk in his weeky column on the M:TG website.)

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Sun Jun 5, 2016 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: The Looter's Guide to Looting Atlantis

Nick Sauer
United States
Hamilton Square
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Inspiration

Inspiration can come from the strangest places. I had just gotten my first working prototype of another game called Born to Serve — a game in which players are out-of-work superheroes fighting for a wait-staff position at a restaurant — up and running when I was approached by a game designer friend of mine to create a board game based upon a specialized board the company had. I looked at the board which had an elevated area in the center with steps down the sides. If you can imagine a step pyramid, you pretty much have it, but for some reason it reminded me of a volcano. When I thought of a volcano erupting, I thought of the destruction of the legendary civilization of Atlantis — so what would the players be doing during a game in which Atlantis was being destroyed by a volcano?

I guess my cynical sense of humor was still active from the recent Born to Serve work because I had the following brainstorm: If I were forced to flee a high-tech society to go live in some podunk kingdom where they didn't even understand what electricity was, I would be grabbing as much high-tech gear as I could to set myself up as a wizard. I was also going through the series Stargate SG-1 at the time, so I'm sure there was some subconscious inspiration from that going on as well.

I decided to simulate all the high-tech gadgets with cards and have a variety of scoring systems for each group. The game would be a set-collecting one in which players tried to grab as many cards as they could before lava from the central volcano wiped out everything. As I built the card sets, it became apparent fairly quickly that the board I was using didn't work for what I was trying to accomplish. I needed a larger state space for the game in order for the scoring to work the way I wanted. I ended up withdrawing the design from consideration and began engineering a board around the scoring system itself.

Development Process

In some myths, the city of Atlantis was rumored to be a series of concentric circles, so I made a round board with the city on the outer edge and the volcano that would rain lava down on the city in the center. The first board I built was literally round as well. I created the cards with PowerPoint, which I usually do as I seem to be one of the few people on the planet who actually finds the software easy to work with.

After one solo playtest in which I played all four players, I realized that there needed to be additional cards that granted players special abilities to spice the game up a bit. The original equipment cards were just victory points in the early version of the game. I banged out twenty of these action cards to add to the eighty-card deck and set up to play again. I got about a third of the way in when it became obvious that these special abilities had to be on the equipment cards themselves so that in addition to giving players victory points at the end of the game, you could also discard them to help yourself during the game. Another session with PowerPoint gave me the card set I wanted and brought the game surprisingly close to its final form. This all happened in about two months, which is a record short design time for me.

The rest of the work on the game was a lot of details. The Mass-Energy Converters, Fusion Batteries, and Unified Field Generators all had slightly different scoring systems. The yellow cards (Fusion Batteries) started life as regular Fibonacci sequence which, for reasons I can't honestly remember at this point, gave me some sort of scoring concerns. The modified sequence that exists on the cards today fell into place first for these three sets. The UFGs took a little longer, and I created them because I wanted to give players a reason to collect different sets.

In the process of doing this, I kept simplifying how they scored — which sounds a lot easier than it actually was at the time. The blues (Mass-Energy Converters) got hit last. Originally, you needed one donut to score the circles at all, with each additional donut effectively adding one to the multiplier. Playtesting quickly revealed that the blues kind of sucked, so they ultimately got changed into how they score today. A side note here: The donuts were originally half-donuts, which quickly got called "rainbows" by just about everyone who played the game. I really hated that name for them.

Anyway, the other thing that shifted at this time was the card mix. I locked down the number of cards (80) first. How the deck used to work was that the maximum on the scoring chart was the total number of that type of card in the deck: ten Fusion Batteries, five or six UFGs, etc. I think it was one of my gaming friends who gave me the idea of raising the number of cards in a color but allowing players to score only at whatever the highest value on the table was. I also tend to design my games with expandability in mind, so between this and my friend's suggestion I decided to lock all the main sets at 15 cards each with five UFGs, the idea being that I could add new suits at a future date that players could swap in for existing ones.

The blue cards went through two more changes, one game related and one cosmetic. Their original discard ability was to be able to draw the top two cards at your current location. This was close to the Fusion Batteries' two-actions-per-turn ability, which was pointed out to me by about a zillion playtesters. It took me an unreasonably long period of time to come up with the current ability, but it definitely works better.

The cosmetic change was the scoring chart on the card. Originally, all of the cards, including the browns, had a scoring chart on them. In the case of the blues, it was actually a scoring matrix that basically took up the entirety of the card that wasn't the top bar or the discard ability text. The matrix confused a lot of players, and the change to the blue scoring system I described earlier only made it harder to understand. Then there's this thing called artwork that most players seem to prefer on their game components, so between these two factors the matrix got pitched and replaced with the current system, which seems to work better for most players.

Final Adjustment

The final, and in my opinion, best change was the addition of the kingdoms, which happened only comparatively recently. They were inspired by the concept mentioned in a gaming podcast, and I apologize for not remembering which one specifically as I have seriously fallen off the podcast bandwagon over the past couple of years. The concept mentioned was the idea that a good game should tell a story, and the story here was that you were fleeing the collapse of Atlantis. Logically, there should be a point in the game when the players can actually do that.

I came up with the number of players minus one idea and actually got the point values pretty much right out the gate. If I remember correctly, originally fleeing was another action like moving or grabbing a card, but I changed it almost immediately as I wanted the decision on when to pull the trigger to be a little harder. It also made more thematic sense to me as — even though it doesn't look like it on the board — you are supposed to be flying a quarter of the way around the world or more with your air car.

Speaking of the board, the kingdoms also gave us something to do with the corners. To show you how late these were added, I had originally looked at the possibility of a round game board. For any future game developers/designers out there, spoiler alert, it's really expensive. Since we were kind of locked into doing a conventional square board, the kingdoms conveniently gave us something to put in the corners, and since we needed only three, this left room for the game logo on the last one.

That is the story of the construction of Looting Atlantis, and I hope you found it as entertaining as destroying that mighty civilization will be when playing the game.
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Sat Jun 4, 2016 4:00 pm
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King of Tokyo Scrubbed Clean, Dressed Anew for Fifth Anniversary

W. Eric Martin
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For the fifth anniversary of Richard Garfield's King of Tokyo, a.k.a., Yahtzee King of the Hill, which has had editions in thirty languages and has racked up more than 750,000 copies sold, French publisher IELLO has decided to do what it does best: Throw money at artists to create a huge portfolio of enticing fantasy illustrations.

Yes, as you can see at right, IELLO has given King of Tokyo a new set of clothes, starting with the cover by King of New York illustrator Régis Torres and carrying through to almost every flat surface associated with the game. Four of the six monsters from the earlier editions of King of Tokyo have been buffed, chromed, and made ready for their close-ups, as with Gigazaur and Alienoid below.

IELLO notes that these new illustrations will be used in the digital version of King of Tokyo, the development of which demanded a makeover for some parts of the game, as Matthieu Bonin has explained on BGG: "...the art we had were not compliant to that [digital version], both esthetically (take a closer look at the art on the cards — it's fine when it's printed in small, but not as quite when displayed on a larger screen...) and technically (we missed most layers to fully animate the monsters, for example...)."





Two of the six previous monsters (Kraken and Cyber Bunny) have been sent to the bench, with them being replaced by Space Penguin — previously available only as a KoT tournament prize — and Cyber Kitty, the driver of which has some big ears to fill in the cyber department.




The power cards have also freshly illustrated, with the text being rewritten for clarity and to incorporate a more consistent use of icons and keywords. Why create 66 new pieces of art when you see only a dozen or so each game? Why not?! IELLO receives a subsidy from the French government to ensure that native illustrators are supplied with a steady flow of work, and that subsidy won't spend itself. (Also, it might not exist.)

The backs of these cards used to bear the cover artwork, and since that's changed, the backs have changed as well, with IELLO noting that it plans to produce KoT card sleeves in the future for those who own promo cards or the King of Tokyo: Halloween expansion.

As for the evolution cards from Power Up!, those can be used as is since those cards are kept in their own decks and not mixed with cards from the base game. IELLO says that a new version of Power Up! is also in the works, and King of New York: Power Up! — which contains evolution cards for both KoT and King of New York — is now due out in October 2016.




IELLO has also overhauled the rulebook (English, PDF) to make the game easier to learn, and it plans to release this new version in France on June 17, 2016 and in English in North America on July 14, 2016 (with brick-and-mortar stores that participate in its preorder program receiving English-language copies on June 30). Other English-speaking regions will receive this new edition in the weeks that follow, and by the end of 2016 it will be released in an addition fourteen languages: German, traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazil), Spanish, and Swedish.




And continuing a trend that I've been seeing from a number of publishers, IELLO also has a separate new edition of King of Tokyo coming out that will be exclusive with the U.S. retail chain Target. This edition is the same as the new one described above other than Gigazaur being replaced with Baby Gigazaur, with IELLO noting that this toddling terror will be exclusive with Target for one year, after which it "will be available to the owners of the other versions of the game".

As for the new parts added and old parts removed, IELLO notes that it's working with its two dozen-ish publishing partners on the "possibility of offering Cyber Kitty and Space Penguin as a mini-expansion" so that current KoT owners can add these monsters to their game. Kraken will be replaced with a new tentacle-bearing monster, complete with evolution cards, while Cyber Bunny is gone for good, with Bonin noting that "We chose to discontinue Cyber Bunny for legal technicalities". Clearly a lawyer monster should be joining the game in the future...

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Sat Jun 4, 2016 6:00 am
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New Game Round-up: Revisiting Hogwarts, Making Fake Art, and Going Loony in the U.S.

W. Eric Martin
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• For the most part, USAopoly has released themed versions of existing games — Clue this, Monopoly that, Yahtzee the other thing — but the company has taken efforts to expand its product line, as with its new version of Nefarious in 2015, the impending release of Star Trek Panic in June 2016, and now the announcement of a cooperative deck-building game titled Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle.

I got a first look at the game during NY Toy Fair, but details were scant at the time. USAopoly was unsure whether to label the game "deck-building" given that the casual gamer would not know what that means, but the parallels between deck-building and spellbook-building — think of Harry and friends advancing over the years from Wingardium Leviosa and Expelliarmus to Avada Kedavra and Obliviate — seem obvious once you start thinking about the two, so apparently USAopoly has now embraced the term.

Here's an overview of the game, which I believe is due out at Gen Con 2016 in August:

Quote:
The forces of evil are threatening to overrun Hogwarts castle in Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, a cooperative deck-building game, and it's up to four students to ensure the safety of the school by defeating villains and consolidating their defenses. In the game, players take on the role of a Hogwarts student: Harry, Ron, Hermione or Neville, each with their own personal deck of cards that's used to acquire resources.

By gaining influence, players add more cards to their deck in the form of iconic characters, spells, and magical items. Other cards allow them to regain health or fight against villains, keeping them from gaining power. The villains set back players with their attacks and Dark Arts. Only by working together will players be able to defeat all of the villains, securing the castle from the forces of evil.

Space Cowboys is known for arty projects like T.I.M.E Stories and Elysium, and its next release — Final Touch from Mike Elliott — takes a far different approach to art, with players trying to make their own, sort of:

Quote:
To earn your living as an artist — that would really be something. But what can you do if you're not creative?

In Final Touch, players hire themselves out as art forgers willing to copy the masterworks of great artists, with all of them competing to create — or rather, re-create — the same image. But only the player who uses the right colors to finish the image will receive money for their work, and this skill is sure to reveal the best painter...or the best bluffer...

In more detail, players play "Touch of Color" cards from their hand to either improve or smear the forgery, working both together and against their fellow painters. The first player to put the final touch on any forgery in the making earns the money for that forgery, while smearing pays out to their opponents and moves them on to the larger paydays. The first artist to earn $25 by putting the final touch of paint on a forged painting wins!

• Speaking of T.I.M.E Stories, Space Cowboys estimates that the fifth scenario for that game — T.I.M.E Stories: Expedition: Endurance — will now be released in Sept. 2016 in France and in Q4 2016 in the U.S.

• Laurent Escoffier and David Franck's Loony Quest from Libellud has been unavailable in the U.S. since its debut in 2015 due to Blue Orange Games' development and publication of their Doodle Quest in 2014. Both games feature the same elements at their core, but were developed for different audiences by their respective publishers. Now Asmodee has cleared the way for distribution of Loony Quest in the U.S. and expects the game to be available in August 2016.

dV Giochi has picked up Jim Henson's Labyrinth: The Board Game for release in Italian in late 2016.
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Fri Jun 3, 2016 4:00 pm
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Mayfair Games Acquires Twilight Creations

W. Eric Martin
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In January 2016, Asmodee announced that it had acquired the worldwide English-language rights to Catan from U.S. publisher Mayfair Games, leaving some to speculate that Mayfair would die off soon without its cash cow.

If Mayfair has died, however, it's at least chosen a suitably undead partner for the future. Five months after the Catan deal, Mayfair Games has announced that it's purchased "a controlling interest" in Kentucky-based Twilight Creations, best known for its endlessly-shambling game series Zombies!!! and other horror-themed games.

Twilight Creations was founded in 2002 by Kerry and Todd Breitenstein, the latter of whom died in 2013; Kerry Breitenstein has continued to lead the company since that time, and she will "remain an integral part of Twilight Creations, overseeing the creative side of the company as the Vice President of Design and Production", according to a press release accompanying the announcement. Mayfair Games's Loren Roznai will serve as President of Twilight Creations and run the company's day-to-day operations.

A further excerpt from the press release:

Quote:
All logistical operations for Twilight Creations are being moved to Mayfair Games in Skokie [Illinois]. All sales and distribution inquires will be handled by our Sales team in Plant City, FL. All distributors will remain the same.

Twilight Creations wasn't scheduled to have a presence at the 2016 Origins Game Fair, which opens June 15, but thanks to this acquisition Mayfair Games will now feature the Zombies!!! line at that show. Mayfair and Twilight Creations will each have their own booths as scheduled at Gen Con 2016 (since those spaces were already paid for), with them sharing a combined space at conventions in 2017.

The press release ends as follows: "We are both excited about the possibilities ahead of us and we hope you'll join us in this Zombie adventure. Stay tuned for BIG Zombies!!! announcements in the coming months!" In April 2016, I posted about the forthcoming Zombies!!! Ultimate Collector Set, Zombies!!! Ultimate Upgrade Kit, and Zombies!!! soundtrack being created by Midnight Syndicate; Twilight Creations had posted about those items solely on Facebook as far as I can tell, so I don't know whether those items are what's hinted at or perhaps other things. Either way, no word yet on when Agrizombies!!! might be released...
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Fri Jun 3, 2016 2:00 pm
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Designer Diary: It's All In The Past Now, or Designing Guilds of London

Anthony Boydell
United Kingdom
Newent. Glos
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All of my children have attended Pauntley Primary, a tiny school located in the Gloucestershire countryside with views of the Malvern Hills. The village is typically-rural with its farms, detached cottages, and badly-maintained roads; where it is atypical, however, is in its history: Pauntley was the birthplace of Sir Richard Whittington (1354–1423), a medieval merchant and politician who is most famous for being London's Lord Mayor (four times). British folklore retells the story as Dick Whittington, with added foreign adventures and a famous cat. I was curious as to the difference between the modern "political" Mayor of London and this medieval alternative, so when one starts reading up about the Lord Mayor, one is quickly introduced to the idea of "Guilds":

London: The biggest, most important and richest city in England in the late medieval and early modern periods. The guilds played a major role in the lives of London's citizens, controlling the way in which trade, manufacturing and business were conducted in the City. The members of the guilds, the liverymen, were rich men who were appointed to the most influential positions in the community and wielded immense civic power. The chief representative of the guilds became the Lord Mayor of London, and the leading delegates of the guilds became its aldermen. The guilds ran the City and controlled its commerce; each had its own Hall and its own coat of arms (livery) and the chief representatives met at the Guildhall to discuss the great issues of the day.


Guild tiles: Incomplete and complete sides visible


Before I go on, this diary will not be going into full detail about how the game plays, so for more information, please read these blog posts from mid-2015 (noting that the pre-Tasty Minstrel Games artwork is used):

Part 1: A Brief Introduction
Part 2: The Guild Tiles
Part 3: The Action (Main Deck) Cards
Part 4: The Board and the Plantations
Part 5: The Mayoral Rewards (Game-End Scoring) Cards

Guilds of London is a card-driven area control game in which the timing and the application of combinations ("combos") are key; if I were to make an "elevator pitch", I would suggest Blue Moon City meets El Grande meets {insert name of trading card game here}. During the game, you recruit, place, and manipulate your Liverymen in newly-forming guilds, building your power base so they can achieve the status of Master. Achieving control of guilds provides victory points and, importantly, additional (free) actions that you can exploit, aiding your future developments in the City. The player with the most points at the end of the game becomes the Lord Mayor of London.


Noble (Crown) action cards (from L to R):
Gain 2 VPs,
Resolve the Plantation at the end of this Round, and
Spot two Guilds you have a Master on to move the Beadle to a non-Crown Guild and resolve
it at the end of this Round (even if it doesn't have the required minimum of Liverymen on it)


Designing Guilds of London

Due to the passage of much time, my recall is a little fuzzy, but Guilds of London was already an on-going project by the time Surprised Stare Games had a railway conversation that led to Snowdonia. I had just started working in London and was required to live away from home during the week; evenings were taken up with games — almost exclusively Magic: The Gathering — and, indeed, the first prototype was stickered on to M:TG commons. You don't need to wander very far in London to be smacked in the face with its incredible heritage and a little background reading revealed a rich historical world with an intriguing hierarchy of powerful, curiously-named organizations and their ornate, ostentatious rituals and traditions.


Compass (Artisan) action cards (from L to R):
• If you have hired four or more Liverymen this turn, gain 3 VPs,
• Every time you move a Liveryman with a card, you may move two Liverymen instead, and
• If you have moved three or more Liverymen this turn, then draw three extra cards at the end of the turn




Researching the Guilds

I do love to immerse myself in Theme when researching a game, preferably via collecting rare and unusual books about that theme. The history of Guilds of London begins with the book on the right; as well as being chock full of facts, it has a double-page spread with tiny photographs of the Company Liveries. This was the seed:


Discovering the Guilds (from the Discovering Series)


My next is another book-in-an-historical-series, this time from the 1950s and 60s; there is plenty in here about the Plantations, a key scoring element:


Other tomes available include: British Islands, British Architects and British Seasides


On my travels to-and-from London, I found the following close-up exploration of the form and functions of the Guildhall, the meeting place of all the Senior members; this inspired the "special buildings":


Gog & Magog, Giants, in resplendent carved glory


I also picked up this complete guide to how the Armorial Bearings — the Liveries, the "shields" — are structured, what the symbols are, and what the symbology means. I used this book to redraw all of the Guild shields for my prototypes. It's a beautiful book to just peruse:


Shields and Woodcuts


The piéce de resistance, though, is this rarity: one of just 500 copies, turning its thick, textural pages requires reverence:


Careful, now; a delicate treasure




Developing Guilds of London — 1

The very first prototype was a large deck of multi-function cards and nothing else; they could be played out as Guilds, be used as money, move your liverymen (your area control tokens), and (try to) take control of Guilds already in play. The range of card effects was very limited, though, and the first playing — with long-time pals Richard and Jimmy, prior to an M:TG booster draft — was rather lackluster.


Church (Cross) action cards (from L to R):
• Spot 2 Guilds you control of different colors and draw two extra cards at the end of the turn OR
Spot 2 Guilds you control that share a color and draw three extra cards at the end of the turn,
• Look at the top 5 cards of the draw deck: keep 1 and discard the others, and
• Move the Beadle to an unresolved Anchor Guild and/or draw 1 card immediately


However, from such inauspicious beginnings have many great games arisen, and I couldn't let this rich and delicious subject drift away, so I set about re-building: I separated the Guilds from the deck of action cards, giving them tiles of their own and hugely-increased the variety of card effects, tying them to color/suit themes:

Anchors (Blue): allowing special movement to "the plantation", a Guild that can be "mastered" more than once in the game;
Scythes (Yellow): recruiting new liverymen to seed across the City;
Crosses (Green): boosting your card-drawing and card-flow;
Compasses (Red): boosting your area control effects; and,
Crowns (Purple): all the other things that you'd want to do that don't really fit, thematically, into the other colors!

The second playtest, a few months later, was with Jimmy and another regular gaming pal, Jon Challis. We three chaps hunkered down for the evening and it proved a hugely-important session; the game not only worked, but it worked fantastically. I came away from that session with 80% of the game you see today and a little bounce in my step!


Maritime (Anchor) action cards (from L to R):
• Red (compass) cards are wild for the rest of your turn,
• Every time you use a card to move a Liveryman, you may move the Liveryman to the Plantation instead, and
• Move 1/2 Liverymen to/from the Plantation




Becoming Part of the Guilds of London?

On a whim, after another positive session at Jon's house, I contacted one of the Guilds: the Worshipful Company of the Makers of Playing Cards. I was getting hooked-in to the theme and given that I now, regularly, played games at The Red Herring Pub in Gresham Street (one hundred yards from the Guild Hall), I found out it might actually be possible to become a real Liveryman! After a tentative e-mail exchange, I took the Master of the Company out for an expensive lunch (£25 for the cheese board alone!) and was, then, invited to one of their official Suppers. The Supper was a very posh event for which I bought a brand new tuxedo; feeling rather out of my depth amidst the great and the good, I small-talked, sipped champagne and nibbled canapés, feasted in the Apothecaries' Company Hall, and listened attentively to all the speeches. Rounding off the evening was the ancient ritual of "The Loving Cup", for which I was given a brief "what to do" from my neighbor; here's a helpful video (NOT from that evening, I hasten to add):


Goodness! I don't think I've ever felt more out of my depth in my entire life!



Developing Guilds of London — 2

Life, work, gaming (and the tweaking of GoL) went on as normally as it could while I was split between Home and London. With the core elements from that second session in place, I concentrated on refining the cards; any shared deck mechanism stands-or-falls by the relative powers and distribution of its cards and, if power comes with a cost, the costs must be absolutely right. Fortunately, I had a gaming group with extensive trading card game experience, so we were able to spot the broken and/or under-costed combinations, beef up the weaker cards, establish effect templates, and improve the distributions quite quickly.


Common (Scythe) action cards (from L to R):
• Every time you hire a Liveryman with a card/effect, hire two instead,
• Hire two of your Liverymen OR one neutral Liveryman, and
• Spot a Guild that you control to hire two of your Liverymen and one neutral Liveryman (this is awesome!)


An aside familiar to designers everywhere: We often refer to "The Integer Problem" in game design, i.e., setting something at value 1 is broken/a "no brainer"/over-powered, but when set to value 2 is now neutered to the point of unplayability; in this instance, the value 1.5 would be absolutely PERFECT. Costing the powerful card effects suffered from this particular issue and it was one of the most focused parts of the game's development.


A selection of the Mayoral Reward cards: gained during the game, scored at the end


Something was still missing from Guilds of London, and as time marched ever onward, my attention was being drawn elsewhere. Over the next few years I designed and released Scandaroon, Fzzzt!, Totemo, Paperclip Railways, Snowdonia and Ivor the Engine — though, to be fair, in the gaps between those releases I would return to things GoL for brief periods. Then, as you can imagine, when Snowdonia took off, I could barely bring myself to think about anything else! GoL would come out at the occasional Surprised Stare Games designer day or informal games evening, eliciting a Boydellian cry of "I must get working on this again!" And back on to the shelf it would go.

During the final preparations for Ivor the Engine at the end of 2013, Guilds took its rightful position — front-and-center — in my priorities. I had brought both games along to Spiel for blind testing with some of my international pals, and as I laid out the Sheep tiles on the Top Left-Hand Corner of Wales, I realized how fighting for a Guild could be made more enticing, i.e., by adding randomly-placed "juicy" second-place bonus chits. I immediately borrowed the Ivor pieces and played a couple of games through that evening: It totally rocked! The next day I was visited by Richard Ham (rahdo) for an "overview video of what Tony is doing next" (which we ended up recording TWICE, thanks to a dodgy microphone):

I love the ENERGY in this video!

Such a positive reception spurred me on, and by the time Spiel 2014 rolled around, I had tested the bottom out of the "second place chits" and was ready to pitch it to potential publishing partners. As I was driving home from Spiel, I got a call from one of them (Intrafin) saying that they wanted to take it on and, within a few weeks, Klemens Franz started work on the layouts! I threw myself into helping Klemens because there were a LOT of different elements that needed doing: original box art, templating for 48 Guild tiles, standardizing the iconography of all the cards (105 action, 21 Mayoral Reward) and — of course — the rules. As if the volume of work wasn't bad enough, a posh spanner was also thrown in to the mix; I'll let the rulebook take the story from here:




Here are some of the "alternative" shields I put together (Christmas, 2014):






The greater part of 2015 progressed in this manner: questions, clarifications, checking and double-checking, and — all the while — my excitement for the coming Spiel increasing. Imagine, then, how hard the fall to Earth was when, on August 3rd, 2015 — the deadline day for committing the project to the manufacturers — our partner decided to pull out. At the point when I thought the long climb was over, it had all proved to be a false summit!

When the rage had subsided, Surprised Stare Games regrouped, made several full print-on-demand demo copies, and got back on the horse! And it's a bloody good thing that we did because otherwise I wouldn't have met Seth Jaffee or Andy or Michael Mindes or Daniel or Mischa! Tasty Minstrel Games has restored my Faith in the process and this game, set firmly in the Past, has gained itself a bright Future!


After ten years, I finally hold it in my hands!




Annex: The Guilds of London Chronology

v1.0 (early 2006): A homogenous, multi-function card flopper with no particular saving grace apart from the theme being intriguing to everyone.

v2.0 (mid-2006): A varied, interactive and TCG-tastic card-driven, area control extravaganza with a dynamic board (the Guild tiles) and a card list that needed some serious balancing.

v3.0 (2007-2009): Playtesting with pals (deck-tuning) and outside of my normal group at the London On Board club where we removed an entire type of action ("PLACE") by putting hired liverymen straight in to the Guildhall to be moved about instead. Reduced delay, reduced complexity — all the more satisfying.

v4.0 (2010): The introduction of the neutral liverymen who, during resolution of area control, can "swap in" and mess with majorities and tie-breaks. This mechanism also added additional effect options to the cards for more "agonizing decisions" — essential for a game with multi-use cards! Player interaction steps up a notch.

v5.0 (2011-2013): Lots of work on getting the two-player variant correct; this led to the decision to have a fixed board for two as opposed to the "grow during the game" board for three and four. I rejected the idea of making GoL a five-player game during this time: It simply made the game go on far too long, i.e., more than 75 minutes!

v6.0 (Spiel 2013): Player interaction takes a further step up by introducing randomly-placed, lucrative "second place" chits and reducing the restocking of Guild tiles to tighten up available play space! A final, increased, set of (now) unique game-end bonus cards was added to offer many more options for scoring.

v6.0 (Spiel 2014): A partner express their desire to publish Guilds of London; I commence graphical work with Klemens Franz.

v6.0 (Pre-Spiel 2015): The partner expresses their desire, at the last possible minute, to postpone everything until 2016. I got to Spiel anyway...with PoD copies!

v6.1 (Post-Spiel 2015): Tasty Minstrel Games contacts me and expresses its desire to publish Guilds of London!

v7 (Pre-production, 2016): With re-jigged components, Klemens revisits his files and we run through an extensive proofing cycle one more time — deja vu?

Final version (UK Games Expo 2016): The launch!

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Thu Jun 2, 2016 1:00 pm
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BGG.CON Spring 2016: Games Played — Guilds of London, Imhotep, Karuba, Sea of Clouds, Codenames: Pictures & Simon's Cat: Card Game

W. Eric Martin
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BGG.CON Spring 2016 isn't quite over as I write this, but since I'm at the DFW airport waiting for a flight home, the con is over in my eyes.

For the first time in a long while, I mostly stuck to playing games at a convention instead of interviewing designers and publishers about their new releases, and this was a welcome change from my normal experience of being surrounded by games for days but playing not even a handful of titles — and with the titles that I have played being embargoed since they haven't yet be announced. Instead of trying to dip into every new thing at BGG.CON Spring, I reverted to my con habits of old, that being to play only a few new games but to play them multiple times to try to internalize the nature of the gameplay and build on what I learned with each play. Sometimes I even succeeded at that goal!

• Tony Boydell's Guilds of London was the biggest success for my tastes, with my summarization of the gameplay being "card-comboing area control". In order to move your liverymen into guilds and elevate them to the position of guildmaster, you employ cards that can be used three ways:

1. Discard any card to add one of your liverymen to the guildhall.
2. Discard a card to move one of your liverymen to a tile bearing the colored guild symbol on that card.
3. Pay the costs on a card San Juan-style to take the action on the card.

After everyone has played cards for the round, you resolve guild tiles that have enough tokens on them, granting rewards to those with the most and secondmost tokens on the tile, then placing one of the majority tokens on that tile as a master — with those masters being required in order to use some cards. Throughout the game, your hand of cards ebbs and flows as you put together combos for maximum impact, and everyone dances through the challenge of determining what to score when as turn order depends on your current score, with those at the back of the line acting last during a round in order to best punch those bullying frontrunners.

I've played three times, but I still want/need to play Guilds with two players as that set-up features a fixed playing area instead of one that grows during the course of the game. Once I do, I can then feel comfortable squawking about the game on camera. Experience matters...


Early stages of a three-player game

Finished!

Four-player game; note how many more guilds have been mastered


• Phil Walker-Harding's Imhotep from KOSMOS was nominated for the 2016 Spiel des Jahres just prior to the opening of BGG.CON Spring.

As SdJ jury chairman Tom Felber told me at the show, the 2016 nominee list was a bit unusual as six of the nine nominees were released in the latter half of 2015, which means that many people have already tried them out. Even so, the SdJ jury had brought three copies of all Spiel, Kennerspiel and Kinderspiel nominees to Dallas to make them immediately accessible to all — and this included Imhotep, which debuted in Europe in March 2016 and which won't be released in the U.S. until June 21. All three copies of Imhotep were occupied much of the show, but Thames & Kosmos had rushed me a review copy as well, which meant that I could still play despite this.

After five plays with three or four players, my quick take on Imhotep is "meaner chicken Splendor" — not that the game plays anything like Splendor, mind you. Rather, like that earlier game, Imhotep features four micro-actions that don't seem like much when you view them individually. Once you interlace those actions with those of opponents, however, the competition heightens and you're rarely sure that you're doing the right thing, especially in the early game.

In short, you take blocks from the quarry, load them on boats, then deliver the boats to ports that provide either different scoring opportunities or cards that give you (1) an action-plus on a subsequent turn, (2) an immediate play elsewhere, or (3) an endgame scoring bonus. The gameplay feels somewhat like a truncated Medina in that timing is everything; you want to stuff boats full of your blocks in order to maximize scoring at one location or another, but anyone can move any boat as long as it has enough blocks on it — which means that as soon as you load that triggering block, you might find yourself shunted somewhere useless.

Yes, hurting you costs someone else an action, which might make them less inclined to do so, but they might also be protecting their own scoring opportunities in the same turn. Each round you try to suss out who might be a great hook-up partner for the round, but almost inevitably they disappoint you, leaving you to wait for the next round of boats in order to try, try again.


First game, first round

I like big blocks and I cannot lie

Trying the B-sides, which have different scoring conditions and more to think about

Victory via tiebreaker!


• I taught Rüdiger Dorn's Karuba, another of the 2016 SdJ nominees, to at least six different groups during BGG.CON Spring, and I played another four times myself. (I had already recorded an overview video of Karuba in Sept. 2015.)

Karuba is a SweeTarts game, something you race through quickly before grabbing another and doing it again. For the most part, you focus solely on what you're doing as you lay down paths through the jungle in order to move colored explorers to color-coded temples. Only after suffering a few disappointments do you pay attention to the progress of others and try to keep pace with them in order to break the temple tape at the same time.




• The final SdJ nominee at BGG.CON Spring was Vlaada Chvátil's Codenames, but since I've already played that game a ton, I instead indulged in Codenames: Pictures, which was present in prototype form courtesy of Joshua Githens from Czech Games Edition.

Codenames: Pictures plays the same as Codenames, but with the cards showing images instead of words. Simple, yes? As in the earlier game, the spymaster gives their teammates a single word clue along with a number, then those teammates try to identify the spies on their team. You can now say any word you like, even something like "window" when the card in question clearly depicts a window! Such a clue isn't very helpful, after all, since you want your team to identify several cards each turn, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

Convention goers disagreed on whether Pictures was harder or easier than Codenames, and I think such disagreements relate to temperament as much as they do experience. One fellow walked away as soon as he saw the image cards, for example, but after listening to us play, he admitted that using them might not be as impossible as it had originally seen.

According to Githens, the images are black, white and gray in order to avoid clue-givers being able to use color words as easy clues. The image layout is now 4x5 (as opposed to 5x5 in the original game) in order to make more stuff happen; you're more likely in this situation to hit something positively or negatively instead of whiffing on a bystander. You can easily make this change in Codenames by using the spy layout cards from Pictures (or play 5x5 in Pictures by using the original cards).

Heck, you can also mix the word and image cards however you like. We've already seen plenty of people playing Codenames with Dixit cards, game boxes, etc., and I expect the iterations will only further proliferate with this new edition of the game. Githens says that CGE also changed the layout and made the Pictures cards square instead of rectangular to show that they're not fixed on one particular way to play or one format for the components. As I've stated before, the rules for Codenames are a flexible framework that can be filled with whatever content you can imagine, so don't expect this to be the final iteration of the game...


Solver's perspective; close to victory...or defeat

Clue-giver's perspective

Trying to transmit clues psychically


• I had played Théo Rivière's Sea of Clouds from IELLO once prior to BGG.CON Spring, and I wanted to get in more plays, so I brought my copy along, playing it twice during the con and lending it to someone for a couple more plays on their own.

Sea of Clouds is a drafting game of sorts, with you taking a share of loot (which consists of one or more cards) during your turn or adding another card to the share. Some cards are poison depending on what you're trying to do in the game — rotten rum, cursed objects, relics that ruin you on their lonesome but become valuable in multiples — so the value of the loot varies widely from player to player, and even over the course of the game once someone cuts off a particular relic type or starts building up a pirate horde for the thrice-a-game boarding party, which is not a party, of course, but a chance for you to steal, swap and gain.

The gist of the game is the "bird in the hand" conundrum, with you not knowing whether the birds in the bush will taste delicious or peck your eyes out, combined with you often not wanting to leave the bird for the next sky pirate.


Sacrificial monkey on board

Final holdings: a rancid selection of rum, and a rum selection of relics


Simon's Cat: Card Game from Samuel Mitschke, Randy Scheunemann, and Steve Jackson Games didn't interest me from the initial description, but then I heard the magic words — trick-taking! — and knew that I should give it a try, especially given the game's early debut at the con.

Simon's Cat is an UNO-style rolling-trick game, with you either matching the color or number of the card most recently played or else taking the pile and starting a new trick. The number of cards that you take doesn't matter, only the number of piles that you take, with that player (or players) receiving a blame card at the end of the round. Collect three blame cards and you lose the game.

The hook for this design is a six-suited deck in which each suit has a different range (1-2, 1-4, 1-6, 3-8, 3-10, 3-12), which makes for a fun challenge when you're counting cards during play — not that I was doing that or anything. The piles that you take remain face-up, making it easier for everyone to know what you lack and play into those holes in your hand. I played twice and took home a copy so that I could lay blame on others.


Randy Scheunemann takes pleasure in my suffering


• I played a few other games as well: Deep Sea Adventure because I wanted to play with those at the table; Steam Time because I saw folks setting up to play, offered to teach, then accepted their offer to join them; I Hate Zombies because the publisher was running a special con version with lots of people and Happy Salmon because ditto; Lanterns and Isle of Skye because I just hadn't made the time before; Deception because I could get away with murder (and did); and Concordia because I knew that I'd probably love the game and someone who already did offered to teach it to me. (Success! Anyone selling a Concordia bundle cheap?!)


Every Steam Time is a good time


One game that I didn't play but plan to in the near future is Evolution: The Beginning, a streamlined standalone version of Evolution produced by North Star Games that will be available exclusively through the Target retail chain starting around August 2016. More details on this game in a future post.



Nick Bentley (l) and Dominic Crapuchettes (r) of NSG get eaten by SdJ jury member Martin Klein
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Wed Jun 1, 2016 7:30 pm
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New Game Round-up: Old Games Made New — Acquire, RoboRally, Order of the Gilded Compass & Ghostbusters: Protect the Barrier Game

W. Eric Martin
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• In what might be seen as a perfect branding opportunity, Brian Yu's Ghost Fightin' Treasure Hunters — the 2014 Kinderspiel des Jahres winner that's finally due out in English from Mattel in July 2016 — will also be released in a separate edition as Ghostbusters: Protect the Barrier Game. I believe that this latter item will be exclusive to the Target retail chain in the U.S., but I'm double-checking that detail. Update, June 1: This item will be available at multiple retailers, according to designer Brian Yu. Target, which does have exclusivity on a number of game releases, has just listed the game prior to anyone else in this situation.

Ghostbusters: Protect the Barrier Game includes four ways to play: Basic Battle, Basic Battle with Rowan, Advanced Adventure, and Advanced Adventure with Rowan. Designer Yu tells me that Rowan is a special ghost figure included in this version that cannot be killed. When Rowan's card comes up in the deck, you draw the next card, then move it to that room. If that room becomes a haunting due to the number of ghosts in it, Rowan automatically moves to the next room.


Grey Fox Games plans to release a new edition of Jeffrey D. Allers and Bernd Eisenstein's Alea Iacta Est at Gen Con 2016 under the title Order of the Gilded Compass. (Note that the image at left shows only the logo for this new release.) Here's an overview of the setting for this re-design:

Quote:
Order of the Gilded Compass is a dice assignment game for 2-5 players. In this game, each player takes on the role of a treasure hunter seeking invitation to join the most prestigious of archaeological secret societies. Players scour the globe to unearth fantastic and valuable artifacts. By assigning their archaeologist dice to the right locations at the right time, players acquire treasure maps and specialists to follow them, dive for sunken treasure, acquire rare finds at the auction house, and even enlist the help of the Illuminati. The player who has the most treasure at the end of the game earns an invitation to The Order of the Gilded Compass and wins.

Order of the Gilded Compass uses a variable set-up in order to create fresh and interesting game play experiences. Each game has five locations in play to which players may assign their dice for various kinds of treasures and bonuses, and the game includes nine different buildings to allow for many unique combinations.

• I skipped ACD Games Day this year to attend BGG.CON Spring 2016, which meant that I missed out on seeing the new versions of Sid Sackson's Acquire and Richard Garfield's Robo Rally that Avalon Hill displayed at that trade show, but thankfully Josh Githens from Czech Games Edition passed along the following image to me:


I posted some details about the new edition of Robo Rally on BGG News in March 2016, but this is the first that I've head about Acquire hitting the market again, so I've contacted Avalon Hill for details and will post again if I hear anything.
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Wed Jun 1, 2016 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: World's Fair 1893, or Everything Affects Everything Else

J. Alex Kevern
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It's probably important to mention up front that World's Fair 1893 started as something entirely different. The whole process from end to end, inception to initial production, was about two years. It all started with a simple concept I call "stickiness". The idea is that on your turn you're placing a piece somewhere to take what's there (like in, say, worker placement), but then the piece stays there to score for other things. I love tradeoffs in games, and this became an interesting way to make each choice have implications for several things. To me, the fun part of playing games is making those tough decisions, deciding what to pursue and what to sacrifice. I had first explored this mechanism in Gold West, but I wanted to create a game built around that concept as the starting point. I also won't claim I invented this mechanism either — if you haven't played the game Québec, it's absolutely wonderful, and I took a lot of inspiration from that design.

Speaking on inspirations, the two biggest inspirations for the game were El Grande and Ra, two of my favorite games. If you've never played, El Grande is the definitive area majority game, with a wonderful tradeoff between placing more caballeros (read: cubes) on the board, activating more caballeros (so you can place them), and taking better/worse actions. Ra, on the other hand, is an auction game in which the winner of the auction will collect sets of tiles that score in different ways. Each player is collecting different things, so everyone evaluates a particular combination of tiles differently, which is what makes the auction interesting. I imagined a game that combined these mechanisms together — you're adding cubes to different areas trying to control them, all the while also collecting tiles that scored in different ways. This coalesced into the first prototype: a brown bag full of tiles with different symbols on them, and a hand-drawn board spanning four sheets of paper.


First "rapid prototype" of what would become World's Fair 1893


From this prototype a few different mechanisms were established that form the core of the game and still form the basis of the final game today. Place a cube in an area to take all the tiles there (cards, in the final version, more on that later), then replace three tiles, starting with the region from which you took and proceeding clockwise. I made it three tiles (instead of two or four) because three felt like a good amount of tiles to pick up each turn, so if I wanted players to usually pick up three, I figured each time you should put out three. Sometimes game design is as easy as that; other times it's not.

At this point, the game was more or less abstracted. When I'm exploring mechanisms, I'm always hesitant to weave in a theme too soon. I've always had the approach that I want to start with a game that creates interesting thoughts in players' heads, and doing that requires an unbounded decision space when it comes to changing the mechanisms within the game. Once I figure out how the "game" works, then comes the second step, which is coalescing it around a theme that fits, using that to refine secondary mechanisms, and tie everything together.

The Prototype

So as the concept slowly developed, it came time to find a theme and let the game coalesce around it. I had read a book called The Amber Room — don't bother as it's not that great; if you're going to read anything, read The Devil in the White City instead — and become interested in the amber trade, amber being the precious stone made from fossilized tree sap. As a fan of historical themes, I decided that the idea of players being amber merchants, collecting amber and other goods, and trying to control different key cities of the amber trade (Bern, Venice, etc.) would fit the game fairly well.

In this prototype, each region had a different value for first and second generated by placing a randomized tile on the area. The game had five "goods", which scored only for set collection (collecting multiples of the same good scored more points) and were not linked to any specific area. All the actions that are in the game today were present, but the actions in an area were executed immediately when you placed there. The subtle change to have actions played in your subsequent turn came later, but I'll talk about it now because my memory is not so great. Playing actions on your next turn gave players more options. For example, in the game today, the Daniel Burnham card lets you place an additional supporter in the same area where you place your initial supporter. By allowing players to pick up the card on one turn and use it on their next, it could be used on any one of the five areas; you're not stuck waiting for the action to pop up on the specific area where you need it.


Prototype at Gen Con 2014


I brought the prototype to Gen Con 2014 to play with trusted friends, including Adam McIver, who would end up doing the wonderful graphic design on the game. These playtests inspired a number of changes. I changed the game to a modular board and removed the tiles that increased the value of individual regions. In its place, the game had its first major breakthrough. (Let's call it Breakthrough #1.) I realized that the five goods in the game should correspond to the five areas you're trying to control. It made sense to link each of the goods to an area thematically and have each area be worth more if you had more of the associated good. It was a subtle change, but it resulted in each area having a different value to each of the players, which created interesting trade-offs in the game.

I decided to submit the game to Randy Hoyt at Foxtrot Games. I knew ever since I had played a prototype of Lanterns at Gen Con that I wanted to work with them, and the game seemed like it would fit with the weight and style of game they were looking for. A few weeks later Randy emailed to inform me he'd like to sign the game. There's no better email than that. I was thrilled.


Prototype submitted to Foxtrot Games


Intermission: The Theme

Underlying all of the changes that are to come was a major thematic overhaul of the game. All along, we knew the game probably needed to be rethemed. We explored a number of different things, all of which worked okay — but the World's Fair theme was a revelation. Sometimes you just know, "This is it; this is the game".

The Chicago World's Fair theme was both a better fit for the mechanisms and weight, and an infinitely more interesting and appealing theme that miraculously had not been explored in detail before in a game. Having lived in Chicago for over five years, I already had a fascination with it, so when Randy starting mentioning World's Fairs as a possible route in which we could go, the idea of focusing on the one from the city I loved so much only made sense. It helps it was the best World's Fair (completely objective and unbiased opinion).

I really credit Randy for all of the incredible thematic details in the game. Though a lot of the development happened under the "amber" theme, for sake of ease of understanding, I've re-couched all of the terminology in the diary below to match the final game today. What were goods became exhibits, the amber in the game became the Midway tickets, and the actions became the influential figures of the fair. If you're interested in more of the thematic aspects, we discussed them in detail on a podcast of The League of Nonsensical Gamers.

The Development

This was just the beginning of the game's development, and we needed to figure out a way we could reasonably playtest with me in New York and Randy in Texas. Randy imported the files onto Roll20, an online platform that would allow us to playtest in our disparate locations. I love the future. We played regularly almost every Friday.

The first thing that became apparent was that the player who collected the most exhibits would more often than not go on to win the game. The exhibits simply scored triangularly the more of a single type you collected. We also realized that we could probably do more than just reduce the number of points they're worth. After all, the more exhibits you collected, the more they were worth, so once you reached a certain point it made sense to just collect as many as possible — and if you weren't collecting a certain type of exhibits, there wasn't much incentive to start (with the exception of denying your opponent, which isn't all that fun), which meant you were better off just trying to earn points from controlling areas.

Through lots of experimentation, we arrived at two huge breakthroughs. These would end up being two of the most mechanically important aspects of the game.

Breakthrough #2: The exhibits must be approved in order to score. In other words, you needed to control the area that the exhibit was associated with in order to make it worth anything. This was critical because it integrated what were previously disparate strategic avenues: area majority and set collection. With this change, the set collection didn't mean anything if you didn't also spend energy on area majority, and the area majority wouldn't earn you much if you didn't also have exhibits to approve.

Breakthrough #3: The exhibits should score for diverse sets. This rule is critical because of the one above. Because you must control areas to approve exhibits, and you must approve a diverse array of exhibits to score meaningful points, this means (does mental connecting of the dots) you must control different areas over the course of the game. I love this rule because it alleviates the problem of some area majority games in which you can accumulate an insurmountable lead in an area, then reap the benefits all game. The rule that you have to remove half of your supporters each turn helps with this, but even so, the game now makes you want to control different areas. The end of each round should feel like an accomplishment when you approve exhibits, but it also quickly changes your focus as you must re-evaluate which new areas you need to try to control next round. This (hopefully) keeps the game play from feeling repetitive, as the goals you're trying to accomplish continually evolve.

Speaking of scoring rounds, the game always had three scoring rounds, but they weren't always triggered the same way. The Midway tickets were originally just a way to score points. Instead there were separate "trigger" tiles, twelve of them, that when taken would be placed on a track; once certain thresholds were reached, a scoring round would be triggered. This worked okay, but the scoring rounds were highly variable, in that some rounds would be extremely short and others very long. We needed a way to decrease the variance of trigger tiles.

Enter Breakthrough #4. The Midway ticket cards are the triggers. It may not seem like a major change, but it had a twofold improvement on the game: First, it decreased the variance of the scoring rounds because there could be a ton more of them in the deck, and second, it gave the Midway ticket cards a more important role, mechanically and thematically. The Midway was what made money for the fair and was really the only part that was profitable. The Ferris wheel was the biggest attraction on the Midway and became the centerpiece of the fair, so it was fitting to make it also the centerpiece of the game.


Prototype at Gen Con 2015


Okay, one last thing. You may have noticed the game was once tiles, and now it's cards. I originally designed World's Fair 1893 as a tile-drafting game, mostly due to the inspiration of Ra. The game had a fixed number of tiles in the bag, which meant a fixed number of turns for each player. There were ten starting tiles and 108 in a draw bag. The first two rounds ended when players triggered them, but the third round ended when the tiles ran out. The timing of that third round felt quite different from the other two, flat and predictable by comparison.

Randy and I brainstormed solutions, and he pushed to have us try a deck of cards, rather than tiles. The deck could be shuffled, and the game could continue until the third scoring round is triggered just like the other two rounds. This worked only because of Breakthroughs #2 and #4. Actions were already being discarded when used, but now exhibits could be approved and discarded (#2) and Midways could be cashed in and discarded (#4) at the end of each round, making a discard pile that could be reshuffled into a deck when the draw pile ran out. This was a subtle change from a gameplay standpoint, but it allowed a lot of flexibility in terms of the flow of the game. There's also a broader point about game design there. The idea to use a draw deck made sense only after a couple of other subtle changes were made to the rules. (Those rules didn't originally change anything about the components, just how they were treated during the game.) It was a reminder to constantly assess a developing game in its current state as new improvements can open the door to even more improvements that wouldn't have made sense prior to the previous improvement.

That said, having a shuffled deck also provided a number of challenges. The timing of the reshuffle is critical. If the reshuffle happens too early before a scoring round, there can be a disproportionate number of action cards in the deck compared to Midways and exhibits. There were three variables we had to play with: the number of Ferris wheel spots in a scoring round (i.e., the length of the round), the size of the deck, and the number of Midway cards — and it had to work with two, three, and four players. It took a lot of math and a whole lot of testing, but we managed to figure it out, so (hopefully) everyone who plays the game can take it entirely for granted.

And that's the long, short story of the development of World's Fair 1893.

J. Alex Kevern

Final production game in play


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Tue May 31, 2016 1:00 pm
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Giochi Uniti Offers Guilds and Murderers for Your Entertainment

W. Eric Martin
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• Everywhere I look, I keep coming across games that I feel I should know about, but which were announced by their publishers months ago and about which I know nothing. Perhaps this is simply the result of an ever-increasing number of games coming onto the marketplace. You cannot possibly keep track of everything coming out, much less know the rules or (heaven forbid) play the darned things. That said, I do what I can to keep up and before the game has been released sometime in 2016, I still have time to present an overview of Guilds from designer Christian Giove and publishers Giochi Uniti and Stratelibri:

Quote:
The bloody War of the Seven Kingdoms has been over for more than thirty years, and the kingdom of Anderis is experiencing a period of great expansion, thanks in part to its central position which has quickly transformed it into an important commercial crossroads. New roads have been built in the kingdom, with a new city founded at their meeting point which has grown so much that the King has decided to move the capital there and build a new castle.

Numerous corporations of craftsmen were already present in the city, but now guilds are forming, which are larger and more wide-ranging, powerful and in competition with one another. With the goal of obtaining favor with the King, the guilds will gather together the most prestigious personages within them, not to mention those who can bring the largest influx of money or useful talent.

What better place than the central square to find new members? For this reason, each guild places its tents in the central square every week, inviting the persons it considers most interesting to sign up by incentivizing them with precious gifts. This is certainly not a low-cost operation considering that it can cost many pieces of silver to put together the most convincing gift.

At the same time, each guild must build its headquarters, spending large amounts of gold to enlarge it with a range of luxurious rooms suitable for its members; if this were not enough, the guilds must also take into account the King's current tastes on what is most important for a guild worthy of his approval.

Will you manage to make your guild stand out so that it becomes the most important in the city? Which means will you be willing to use in Guilds to win the King's favor?

• Another title from Giochi Uniti/Stratelibri that I probably should have covered earlier is Whitehall from designers Gabriele Mari and Gianluca Santopietro, with this title being a thematic sequel to their Letters from Whitechapel. Here's a short description:

Quote:
October 1888: During the construction of the Metropolitan Police headquarters near Whitehall, which would later be known as Scotland Yard, the remains of a body were found. In September, a severed arm had already been discovered in the muddy shore of the River Thames.

There is another murderer roaming the streets of London in Whitehall, amusing himself by spreading the pieces of a poor woman around Whitehall, like some kind of macabre treasure hunt. The identity of this monster and his unfortunate victim are a mystery, the Whitehall Mystery.
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Mon May 30, 2016 4:00 pm
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