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New Game Round-up: Previews at Gen Con 2016 — New Doom, Tickets for Tots, and Inventing Bit By Bit

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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• The pre-Gen Con 2016 announcements continue, with Fantasy Flight Games announcing DOOM: The Board Game, an adaptation of the Bethesda Softworks and id Software, for demo at the convention ahead of a Q4 2016 release.

Now, FFG released Doom: The Boardgame by Kevin Wilson and company CEO Christian T. Petersen back in 2004, but the publisher notes that aside from the asymmetrical play and a customizable Invader deck, this new design from Jonathan Ying is almost completely new: "It is designed capture the feel of the video game's most recent incarnation, complete with fast-paced action, aggressive combat, relentless suspense, and even Glory Kills that allow marines to swiftly execute wounded demons and recover damage at the same time."

• Another pre-Gen Con 2016 (sort of) surprise comes from Days of Wonder, this being Alan R. Moon's Ticket to Ride: First Journey. I say "sort of" because this title is being released exclusively at the Target retail chain in the U.S., and Target initially had an embargo date for July 31, 2016 — the day that the game will go on sale (MSRP $35) — but a few Target stores released the game ahead of time, so now Days of Wonder has published details on the gameplay:

Ticket to Ride: First Journey takes the gameplay of the Ticket to Ride series and scales it down for a younger audience.

In general, players collect train cards, claim routes on the map, and try to connect the cities shown on their tickets. In more detail, the game board shows a map of the United States with certain cities being connect by colored paths. Each player starts with four colored train cards in hand and two tickets; each ticket shows two cities, and you're trying to connect those two cities with a contiguous path of your trains in order to complete the ticket.

On a turn, you either draw two train cards from the deck or discard train cards to claim a route between two cities; for this latter option, you must discard cards matching the color and number of spaces on that route (e.g., two yellow cards for a yellow route that's two spaces long). If you connect the two cities shown on a ticket with a path of your trains, reveal the ticket, place it face up in front of you, then draw a new ticket. (If you can't connect cities on either ticket because the paths are blocked, you can take your entire turn to discard those tickets and draw two new ones.)

If you connect one of the West Coast cities to one of the East Coast cities with a path of your turns, you immediately claim a Coast-to-Coast ticket.

The first player to complete six tickets wins! Alternatively, if someone has placed all twenty of their trains on the game board, then whoever has completed the most tickets wins!

My understanding is that Ticket to Ride: First Journey will be available for demo games at Gen Con 2016, but not sold there. We'll see!

• Finally (for now) is Legendary Inventors from Frédéric Henry and Bombyx, with this design sounding similar to Henry's The Builders in the way that players apply the skills of their workers, but now all players both compete and cooperate to finish building things. Here's an overview of Legendary Inventors, which will be available for demo at Gen Con 2016 ahead of its Q4 2016 release date:

Lead a team of history's greatest minds to glory in Legendary Inventors, a game in which 2-5 players each captain a group of four inventors working to bring their knowledge to life by creating useful objects to improve the world. Compete against rival teams to patent inventions and work to improve the knowledge of your inventors. The inventing team who has patented the most inventions or who has the smartest inventors wins.

In more detail, the game takes place over three ages, with each age representing a different period of technological advancement and those inventions becoming more complex in each subsequent age. On a turn, you either send one of your inventors to work on an invention or refresh your inventors to make all of them available again. When you send an inventor to work you apply that character's skills — Albert Einstein has a starting skill of four Physics, for example, while Johannes Gutenberg has a starting skill of two Mechanics — against the needs of the invention, marking off what you've done with colored cubes.

When an invention is complete, the three players who have contributed the most reap the rewards of its completion! Players can choose to acquire and patent the invention by placing the invention card face up in front of them, or they earn reward tokens to upgrade their inventors, gain extra victory points, and even add additional knowledge to an invention.

As soon as all but two inventions in an age are complete, that age ends and a new one begins. After the third age, the team of inventors with the most victory points wins!

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Thu Jul 28, 2016 10:09 pm
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Origins Game Fair 2016 — Part 2

Mary Prasad
United States
North Carolina
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[Ed. note: Head here for the first half of Mary Prasad's report from the 2016 Origins Game Fair. —WEM]


As usual, many trips were made to the North Market. Hot Chicken Takeover was as good this year as I remember from last. The chicken is always hot and fresh. They actually can sell out early (on a chalkboard they have a countdown for number of chicken pieces left) and there is usually a line, but it's worth the wait. I wasn't impressed with my Katzinger's Little Deli Ruben sandwich – too pricey for the little meat/too much bread I received. Market & Boar (Holy Smoke BBQ) has awesome BBQ. I can't resist their Loaded Barrel Chips. From memory (admittedly not my best feature), it has Barrel chips (seasoned, made potato chips), choice of smoked meat (I got pulled pork this time), cheese sauce, jalapeños, tomatoes, and chipotle sour cream! OH YUM! I ended with a double delectable treat: a trip to Taste of Belgium for a waffle to go, on which I put a couple scoops of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. Heaven! (I had to split with a friend so that I wouldn't burst.)

This is becoming an annual tradition as well – a trip or two to Moy's Chinese restaurant for some fresh, delicious food. The R&R guys (who are also foodies) introduced me to this wonderful establishment. Afterwards we stopped at Buckeye Donuts, right next door, where we had cronuts. The memory of it is making my mouth water; it was so freaking good!

Dinner at Moy's with (far left) Dan and Frank DiLorenzo, R&R Games, and (far right) Ken Hill and my husband, Snoozefest

Another fairly new favorite is Aab (introduced to us by Ken Hill, CABS and Rio Grande Games rep.). It's a little bit of a hike from the Columbus Convention Center, but they have excellent Indian food and it's right down the street from another Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams location!! I like to walk over from Aab to help burn off some of the guilt.

The Dice Tower Live

The Dice Tower podcast did a live taping at Origins. About 250 people showed up for the event. As somewhat typical at these events, a "gameshow" was held with funny and/or game related questions (and sometimes funny answers) where select audience members were able to win prizes for participating.

The Dice Tower Live, Origins Show

Exhibit Hall and Gaming Hall Publishers Part 2

Hill's Wholesale Gaming

They're back! After a four-year hiatus, Hill's is finally back selling many, many TCG and CCGs (among other things)! Unfortunately I bought two boxes I really didn't need (but WANTED!), and yet again I was stopped at airport security for having those dangerous foil cards.

Nathan Hill (R), Hill's Wholesale Gaming

North Star Games

Happy Salmon released in April, 2016. It's a fast-paced game for 3-6 players (with two decks you can play up to 12), which plays in about a minute. Each player starts with a deck of 12 cards held face up in their hands. The idea is to find a person with the matching card by shouting out the name of the action on the card. For example: fist bump and high five are two of the actions. Once this person has been found you both perform the action to discard the card, revealing the next card. The goal is to get rid of all your cards.

Evolution: the Beginning, releasing in August, is a standalone card game (i.e., it is not playable with the base game). This is a simplified (i.e. lighter, faster — about 30 mins) version of Evolution for family and casual gamers. It will be a Target store exclusive.

Fun Fact: Evolution was originally designed by Russian biologists to teach kids about evolution. (The original game was named Evolution: Origin of the Species.) The artwork for the game was done by Catherine Hamilton, a high-school friend of North Star founder Dominic Crapuchettes.

Tasty Minstrel Games

Guilds of London pre-release at Origins, to be released in August. They had one hundred copies available, which sold out in sixteen minutes. This is a card driven area majority game.

Orléans: Invasion will release in August/September. This is a modular expansion to Orléans with several scenarios that enhance the game.

Fun Fact: In Guilds of London, three of the coat of arms are actual historical representations of the real Guilds of London crests; you may see them on the shields on the tiles.

Arcane Wonders

Royals pre-relased at Origins, will release at the end of August. The art was updated for the U.S. market to give it a more medieval English look and add more vivid color. The distribution of cards was also slightly revised. The city in Britain now has two nobles instead of one.

Tony Gullotti, Arcane Wonders

Speechless will be a Gen Con pre-release, to be released soon after, and is designed Mike Elliott (designer of Quarriors, Dice Masters, etc.). This is his first party game and the fourth in the Dice Tower Essentials Line. Talking is not permitted during the game. Players take turns being the "presenter". The presenter has 90 seconds to act out six words (three cards with two words each), trying to get the other players to correctly guess each word. While the presenter is acting out the words, the other players are watching and trying to guess which word is being acted out. If they think they know the word, they write it down on their dry erase marker board. Players score up to 2 points for each correct answer: one person guessing the wrong answer scores 0, multiple people guessing the same wrong answer each get one point. The presenter gets the highest score in correctly guessed words that round. The game is for 3-8 players with two rounds for three players, or once around for four or more.

Fun Fact: Arcane Wonders sent the artist for Royals, Jason Engle, a photo of Kevin Burkhardsmeier (podcaster, Board Game Theatre) as a model, because he does cosplay as a king.

Kevin Burkhardsmeier was used as the model for the King in Royals

Calliope Games

Hive Mind, by Richard Garfield, will release in September. Each turn all players secretly answer a question, then answers are revealed. Players get one point for each answer plus one point for each answer matching another player. A die is rolled to determine how many people will move down the hive (printed on game board) for having the lowest score. Sometimes one player may also move up for having the highest score. There is a catch-up mechanism for players reaching the lower levels; a player can remove a barrier rather than moving down. Any players kicked out of the hive lose, then everyone else wins.

Running with the Bulls, by Paul Peterson, releases in September. Each player gets six runner dice at the top of the board. There are six bulls, also across the top of the board. Players try to get their runners to one of the destination cards at the bottom of the board (sort of like a Plinko, disk drop, game). Players get a hand of five cards per round to help them move to the bottom, four of which will be played. There are three (scoring) rounds to the game.

Fun Fact: Board artwork for Running with the Bulls includes Chris Leder, "Director of Fun" at Calliope Games (bottom right), above him and the big red die is the President of Calliope, Ray Wehrs (right), and Paul Peterson, designer (left). Artwork was done by Mike Bocianowski who signed his name on the toilet paper on Chris' foot. There are some puns/Easter eggs about bulls all over the board (e.g., bulldozer, bull horn).

Formal Ferret Games

The Networks released at Origins (U.S. debut). This is a tableau-building game using card drafting. Players each run a network. The goal of the game is to get the most viewers by developing shows, signing stars, and landing ads.

An expansion to The Networks is planned for 2017. Currently they plan on offering a modified set-up, new shows and stars set in the 1980s and 1990s, and individual player powers based on their network.

Fun Fact: Gil Hova, owner of Formal Ferret Games, has owned various ferrets for over the course of twenty years: seven in total so far, usually with two at a time.

Japanime Games

Naruto Shippuden: the Board Game released June 2016. This is a cooperative board game in which players are trying to stop a network of evil ninjas from taking over the world. Characters and locations are from the show Naruto Shippuden. Each player has their own character with powers, etc. as well as a specialized deck. Highly thematic.

Heart of Crown will be released in September. This is a deck-building card game in which players each take on the role of "campaign manager" for their princesses. Their job is to get their princess elected to the throne by using military tactics, bribery, and witchcraft. The game is split into two eras. During the first era players accumulate wealth in order to back a princess. Once they have a princess, money is not as important; succession points become important for the second era and winning the game.

Fun Fact: The art of Heart of Crown was done by Yuji Himukai, the same artist for the video game Etrian Odyssey.

Brotherwise Games

The Boss Monster: Paper & Pixels mini-expansion released in June 2016. (It was previously only available as a retailer incentive.) This is an expansion for the Boss Monster games (playable with both one or two). It has three new bosses, four new rooms, and one new spell.

The Boss Monster: Crash Landing mini expansion extends the base game, normally for 2-4 players, to 5-6 players. It introduces a new hero class as well as a new related treasure type. For the first time, this will add a sci-fi theme, with aliens landing in the fantasy world of Boss Monster.

Fun Fact: Almost every card in Boss Monster includes an "Easter egg" that parodies classic video games, fantasy and sci fi movies, and fantasy literature.

Fans of classic fantasy/sic-fi movies may recognize this iconic device, guaranteed to leave heroes "mostly dead"

Passport Game Studios

Salem was released at Origins. This is a social deduction game in which you play a family during the Salem witch trials. Three of the members are witches in each family. You are trying to determine who are the witches in the other families while being more accurate in your accusations than the other players. The game sold out at Origins.

Quartz was shown at Origins and will be released at Gen Con. This is a push-your-luck game in which you are a dwarf trying to create the most lucrative mine. As you are mining, you might turn up obsidian, which will make you crash, causing you to lose all the gems you just mined and knocking you out of the round.

Fun fact: In the game Salem, all the family members are historically accurate. A lot of research went into creating the game.

L4 Studios

Information provided by Keith Blume, President, L4 Studios.

WarQuest, co-published with Mr. B Games, was pre-released at Origins. WarQuest was designed by Glenn Drover (Age of Empires III: Age of Discovery, Railways of the World, among others) and developed by the same team behind Age of Empires III: Age of Discovery.

In WarQuest, you take on the role of a warlord; your goal is to reunite a fractured land. Achieve this goal by quest, conquest, and combat! The game is card driven — Quests and Conquests are cards in your hand, and every time you complete one, you get a new card — with variable start locations, hidden endgame victory conditions, and awesome miniatures for your armies (it does have war in the title after all) so each game will unfold with a different story. The world of WarQuest (Myrathia) also has a novel from Don Beyer (Swords of Mercy).

For Q4 Mr. B Games and L4 Studios plan to release the 30th anniversary edition of Liar's Dice. This will be in the mode of the classic Milton Bradley version (six players, with the star replacing the "1"). They are playing around with the cover (below), but this is one of the styles they're considering, with them probably doing some kind of polling on BGG or another media vehicle to get consumer feedback.

Fun Fact: Keith Blume: "My family and I played the Milton Bradley version of Liar's Dice non-stop at our family reunion 28 (or so) years ago and it has remained a family favorite. Thus getting to print the game is a full-circle dream come true."

Queen Games

Mighty Monsters will release in August. Players assume the roles of Trolls, Undead, Aquatic animals, Demons, Insects and Dragons with only one thing on their mind: the Gold in King Edgar's treasury. You have to cooperate to overcome the pesky guards, but the real monster in you still wants a bigger share than your fellow monsters! Have the most gold by the end to win in this fast paced monstrous card game.

World Monuments will release in August. In this game you and your fellow players choose one of four buildings and start constructing it from the ground up: the Capitol in Washington, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, San Pietro's Basilica in Rome, or the Taj Mahal in Agra. Once building has completed, only the most talented master builder among the players who gained the most points will win the game.

Fun Fact: World Monuments already has two more monuments in production. These will be offered only as Queenies (promos) at conventions and at the BoardGameGeek Store, early next year.

Chris Landon, Meeple Source, with prankster Dan DiLorenzo, R&R Games, behind him

IDW Games

The Godfather: A New Don releases in August. This is an area-control game in which players take control of one of the six crime families from The Godfather (books/movies). Players battle over the boroughs of 1950s NY. They claim territories by turning in sets of dice.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shadows of the Past releases in August. This is a scenario-driven campaign game featuring story content from the IDW TMNT comic. Players may take on the role of their favorite turtle or the ultimate villain Shredder through a series of 60-90 minute missions in which they develop their characters' strengths, fighting styles, and equipment creating a story arc. Favorite characters (e.g. Casey Jones, Alopex) appear throughout the missions as the Turtles call on their allies to help battle their deadliest foes.

Fun Fact: There is a secret Easter egg in The X-Files that no one has been able to figure out. Nate Murray, Product Manager for IDW Games, offers a bounty of any free IDW game if you can determine what it is.

Academy Games

Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal pre-released at Origins, to be released in July. This is the next standalone game in the Conflict of Heroes series. It includes the U.S. army expansion and incorporates the Japanese Bushido code ("saving face").

879: Viking Invasions of England will be on Kickstarter in July, released planned in October. This is a standalone game, next in the series with 1775 Rebellion. It will be an all miniatures historical game.

Fun Fact: Collaboration can be tricky sometimes. Academy Games' French partners complained that Academy Games was as overly picky as Germans, but as pushy as Americans (the worst of both worlds).

Renegade Game Studios

Brick Party released July 6th. In the game, teams of two work together to build a pattern on a card (worth 5 to 8 points, varying appropriately in difficulty) with interlocking blocks. The cards depict a silhouette of what will be built. One person is communicating what to build while the other player builds it. Each round there is a rule card making it more difficult to either communicate or build (e.g., no thumbs may be used this round, eyes closed, no talking, etc.). The first team finished gets extra points, then the other teams will have only 30 seconds more to complete building in order to score points. Teams get to decide which card to build after the rule card has been revealed. When a new round starts, there will be new partners, a new rule, and new shapes. Play continues until one player meets a point goal.

Covert will pre-release at Gen Con, to be released in August. This is a tactical game of dice placement and set collection in which players try to complete a designated number of mission cards. The first person to do so is the winner. Players roll a hand of dice each round and may use them in different ways, for example they may be used to select an action by playing in an action area in one of six spaces. A player may use any space if no one has yet played there otherwise the player must play numerically adjacent to another die. A player may use one die to help crack a code to try to match a code behind their player screen. A player also gets to swap two tiles of the code during the code-cracking phase. If a player matches their code, they get a resource and another code. Actions include things like moving on the board, getting more resources, and collecting mission cards.

Fun Fact: Kane Klenko, the designer of FUSE, loves to sneak little hints about his wife Carrie into his rules, including an image of her in the back of the Fuse rulebook: Carrie as the ship's computer in FUSE (hologram).

Wyrd Games

Darkness Comes Rattling was released September/October 2015. This is their first board game in a couple of years; they are mostly a miniatures company. In the game there is a spirit snake called Darkness who is jealous of the sun, so he swallows it, plunging fantasy world Tallil into darkness. This is a cooperative game in which 2-6 players play warriors from the tribes of man attempting to save the sun. Players travel to different regions of Tallil to find items and spirit weapons needed to defeat Darkness.

Fun Fact: When Through the Breach was developed, the lead designer immortalized one of the playtesters, Aaron Darland, as a non-player character (named Aaron Darlin!). His character is known as the mecha-tyrant of Virginia who burns down Richmond. Flash forward to today, Aaron now works for Wyrd Games on the design team; players sometimes think he wrote himself into the game.

Aaron Darland passage from Through the Breach

Custom Tables for Board Gaming

There were a couple of companies selling board game tables. Boardgametables.com has custom made to order tables; choose from five types of wood and six styles of table. Add-ons include card holders, cup holders, drawers, toppers. Carolina Game Tables had three tables in the Mayfair Games play area so that people could try out one of their tables while playing a game.

Carolina Game Tables, carolinagametables.com


Information provided by Stephanie Gelband, Marketing Manager.

Star Trek: Frontiers released on June 29. Designed by Andrew Parks, Star Trek: Frontiers puts a new spin on the bestselling board game, Mage Knight by Vlaada Chvátil. Command your ship, recruit new crew members, earn experience points, and use your skills to confront the challenges of the Star Trek Universe. Explore and face a variety of challenges on a randomly built Space Map using the Venture Tile System, first introduced in Mage Knight. The game is for 1-4 players with multiple competitive, cooperative and solo scenarios. Work together to defeat hostile ships or compete to explore and uncover hidden mysteries. Players will need to overcome obstacles to expand their knowledge and use their leadership in order to win.

Blank White Dice, designed by Jonathan Leistiko, is a thrilling new take on dice games. Roll the game dice to activate the icons on the dice, and gain enough points to win the game! But that's not all because if a player rolls a blank face, they need to get creative and show their artistic skills by drawing their own icons on the faces of their dice! Some icons will give players points, others may cause opponents to lose points, force competitors to re-roll, and much more! The first player to reach 13 points at the end of a round wins the game. Planned for a SPIEL 2016 release.

Fun Fact: Stephanie Gelband, Marketing Manager: "WizKids held both the 2016 U.S. National and World Championships for HeroClix, Dice Masters, and Attack Wing at Origins Game Fair. For the first time, WizKids gave a Fan Appreciation Presentation at the event. Attendance was so high that we had to change rooms, cut the presentation shorter, and run two sessions!"

Cryptozoic Entertainment

Mad Science Foundation pre-released at Origins, to be released in July/August. Each player is a mad scientist trying to build inventions to gain infamy (points). This is a card-driven game in which, each round, one player splits a number of cards into piles equal to the number of players, then the other players choose which pile they would like with the dividing player going last. Cards include resources and inventions. Inventions must be constructed using resources before points are gained. Minions are also in the resource deck; certain advantages may be gained by controlling a minion. Players also have a hidden goal card. The player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.

Attack on Titan Deck-Building Game is planned for September/October release. The game theme came from the Attack on Titan popular anime and manga series about monstrous Titans.
This fully cooperative game is based on the "Cerberus game system" but with added movement. Players are heroes trying to defeat all Titans in the deck before they destroy the wall that protects civilization (which is representated by five tokens in the middle of the table). There is a board with ten spaces and a wall in the middle, with player heroes moving from space to space. The location of your hero in the game area matters. If you are on a titan space (outside the wall), there will be a fight.

Fun Facts: Dekan Wheeler, Manager of Marketing: "We actually found the designers (Sharang Biswas, Max Seidman) at Gen Con 2015's developer speed-dating event. We loved their game Mad Science Foundation so much we decided to publish it. The Attack on Titan: Deck-Building Game is built using our Cerberus engine, but is the first of our deck-builders to be designed with co-operative play from the ground up."

Jasco Games

Mega Man: Battle for Power is planned to be released in August. This is a Universal Fighting System (UFS) CCG, compatible with some of their other titles such as Darkstalkers and forthcoming Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Cowboy Bebop. The game features the character Bass.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Board Game has a planned release for October. This is a cooperative horror game for 1-6 players. The goal of the game is to try to keep the Hell Mouth from opening and consuming the city of Sunnydale. Players try to protect the townies from various dangers (e.g. vampires, zombies, etc.) and defeat the monsters of the week (there are thee random mosters of the week in each game) to collect various clues to beat the big bad (boss).

Fun Fact: Jason Hawronsky, founder and CEO of Jasco Games, started in the boardgaming industry when he was really young. He owned a 3,000 sq. ft. retail game store in the Dallas Metroplex when he was 13. (Although he did all the management — working store hours around school hours — he had help from his parents until he could legally take over); he ran it for 11 years. He started publishing in January 2010 at the age of 24.

Capstone Games

Arkwright released at Origins. This is a heavy economic game with action selection and a stock market. Players produce and sell goods, build factories and machines, hire workers, etc.

Haspelknecht: The Story of Early Coal Mining will release in September. This is a mediumweight action selection game about discovering coal in 16th century Germany. Players extract coal and obtain unique developments (e.g., to more efficiently extract the coal). This will be part one of a trilogy of games spanning centuries. The complexity will increase across releases.

Fun Fact: It took three months to update and enhance the English version of the three rulebooks in Arkwright.

Cool Mini Or Not (CMON)

The Grizzled: At Your Orders! pre-released at Origins, released at the end of June. It adds a solo play mode (not in the original game), a new two-player mode, new missions that replace the original game's set-up difficulty level, character cutouts to help visualize who's on the mission, and Final Assault/Last Stand card (for desperation moves).

Potion Explosion will have an early release at Gen Con, to be released September/October. Player are student wizards and witches learning to brew potions. Each has two potions they are working on at a time. There is an ingredient dispenser, consisting of marbles in vertical lanes in a slightly sloped cardboard holder (so the marbles will slide together), from which players take one marble on their turn. This may trigger a "potion explosion" if two marbles of the same color connect, possibly causing a chain reaction. The player may take all marbles of the same color that touched to form the explosion. Potions are cardboard pieces with holes on which marbles may be placed, color coded for the potion. Once complete, potions may be "drunk" (turned upside down) to provide a one-time special ability. Potions are worth points. Players may gain skill tokens (also worth points) by collecting three of one type of potion or one of each potion (5 total). The game ends when the skill tokens are gone. The player with most points is the winner.

Fun Fact: Designer Eric Lang is obsessed with pandas. He tries to work a panda into each of his games: cover art, character in the game, etc. He even tried to sneak one into the Blood Rage rulebook, but editing found out and removed it before the final print.

Designer Eric Lang, obsessed with pandas

Smirk & Dagger Games

Dead Last pre-released at Origins, to be released in July. This is a party "social collusion game" that will appeal to gamers who enjoy casual games and social deduction games, although there are no hidden roles or traitors. Each player has a color identity, shown on a card displayed in a stand in front of them, as well as a hand of cards which includes every player color including their own as an "ambush" card (used if they suspect they will be a target). Targeted players are eliminated (unless they played an ambush card). Also, all players except those in the largest voting group will be eliminated. This forces players to form alliances... although you won't know if they are being truthful. Anything goes as far as communication, including glances, nods, pointing, flashing a card, etc. — just try not to tip off the target. The last player standing receives four gold bars with points ranging from 3 to 5 points. The game ends when one player gets to 24 points. The trick is trying to get others to vote with you without alerting the target. If there are two players left, there is a "final showdown".

J'accuse will be released at Gen Con. This is a blind-voting card game. Like a reverse version of Clue, all players conspired to kill the old miser. Each are trying to pass off the evidence onto the other players. In the end, there will be one loser and a table full of winners who got away with murder.

Fun Fact: Curt Covert, Smirk & Dagger Games: "Cutthroat Caverns was inspired by the transition from my high school D&D group (me and six women) who played very Lawful Good characters to my college group (all guys) who were anything but. I was horrified when I realized the other characters I was traveling with were far more dangerous than anything the DM could throw at me. That feeling of shock and horror was the feeling I wanted to be pervasive in Cutthroat."

Ninja Division Publishing

12 Realms released in June. This is a game in which players are adventurers trying to accumulate land, gain fame, etc. through questing, purchasing.

Raid & Trade will be released July. This is a post apocalyptic modular board game of negotiation and resource management. From the ashes of a third World War, a few golden cities emerge offering hope to those who struggle for survival in the wastelands. Using action points and a player specific skill, players explore the ruins of the modern world completing quests, honing their skills, and maneuvering for social status in order to claim a spot as a citizen in a Golden City.

The Broken Token

This company makes game boxes, inserts/organizers, and some game pieces. Their newest release, launched during Origins, the Biohazard Containment Unit for Pandemic is a custom box to replace the original box; it holds sleeved cards, the base game, plus all the expansions. See photo below. An "in box" organizer for Codenames will be released at Gen Con. A custom box for Splendor will be available after Gen Con.

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Wed Jul 27, 2016 3:38 pm
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New Game Round-up: New Mansions to Explore, Digital Cards to Purchase, and Tasty Cupcakes to Save

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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• Pre-Gen Con 2016 announcements continue from Fantasy Flight Games, with the revelation that Mansions of Madness: Second Edition from Nikki Valens, based on the original Corey Konieczka design, will be available for purchase both at that show and through other retail outlets.

The big news of this new edition is that the role of the Keeper — a player who would control monsters in the game and work against everyone else — has been replaced by an app, thereby allowing for fully cooperative play, in addition to solitaire play. To quote from the announcement: "Throughout every game, the app generates an entirely unique map, full of differing items to utilize, monsters to confront, and events to endure. Instead of the map being fully visible from the start of the game, however, the app obscures the majority of the board in shadows until you endeavor to explore further."

Stone Blade Entertainment has announced the August 1, 2016 launch of Ascension VR, which it describes as a virtual-reality deck-building experience. This experience can be demoed at Gen Con 2016, and here are more details from the press release:

Bringing the tabletop world into the digital sphere by connecting players from all over the world into one virtual space, Ascension VR uses 3D fully animated avatars and showcases social elements including spatialized voice chat, avatar lip sync and avatar animation triggered by real time player movement. Players can battle for supremacy regardless of what platform they're on, whether mobile or PC and from a variety of VR headsets.

For new gamers, learning to play is as easy as if they were sitting around a real table together. Ascension VR features a full single player tutorial, as well as single player AI modes. Fans can play with up to three AI opponents to build familiarity with the cards, or dive right into multiplayer to learn with friends.

More solitaire play!

• As it has done for the past two years with Red7 and One Deck Dungeon, at Gen Con 2016 Asmadi Games will debut an "instant game", this being Save the Cupcake by Asmadi owner Chris Cieslik. A description:

In Save the Cupcake, one of you has a cupcake, while the other one desires to crush the cupcake in the most epic way possible — by rolling a ball down a hill to run it over.

The Defender of Cupcakes will hide the cupcake in one of many possible locations at the bottom of the hill. The Crusher of Cupcakes will roll four balls down the hill, through an elaborate network of fruit-themed pathways. The Defender and Crusher must cleverly use these pathways to meet their ultimate cupcake goals!

• In non-Gen Con 2016 news, Gamelyn Games has revealed the cover art for Scott Almes' Tiny Epic Quest, a 2017 release that can be demoed at Gen Con 2016. Okay, nevermind — everything is about Gen Con these days!

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Tue Jul 26, 2016 5:15 pm
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Designer Diary: The Networks, or Plugging at MacGuffins

Gil Hova
United States
Jersey City
New Jersey
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What follows is the long, sordid design history of The Networks. It's been a wild journey over the past six years, starting with me fumbling around in the dark as a part-time hobbyist game designer and ending with me running my own publishing company.

Within, I'll reveal three shocking truths. I'm not very good at clickbait, so here are two right off the bat.

-----• I've heard a few reviewers guess that this game was theme-first. I can see why they feel that way, but it was actually mechanism-first.
-----• The mechanism on which this game is based is no longer in the game.

The third shocking truth is...well, you'll have to keep reading to the end of the article.

In the Beginning, There Was MacGuffin Market

Let's rewind ten years to 2006. I had a game called "Wag the Wolf" that the prestigious Hippodice game design competition put on its recommended list, but the game made it no further than that. It was rejected by several publishers, and after a good amount of playtesting, I realized that the whole was less than the sum of its parts.

I had a lot to learn as a designer. I thought that if I combined a cool theme and a cool mechanism, I'd end up with a cool game.

This cool mechanism was an auction in which players could bid slightly less than the high bid to stay in the auction. In a four-player game, there were two underbid slots, so one player would always be left out. That player could raise the high bid, though, which would make the previous high bid an underbid, and force a mad scramble to the new underbid slots.

An illustration of the auction from Wag the Wolf's rulebook;
maybe I'll get this game on the table someday to see how it holds up!

It really was a nifty mechanism. I wanted to salvage it, so I decided to design a new game around it. That game turned out to be Battle Merchants, which Minion Games eventually released in 2014.

If you've played Battle Merchants, you'll notice that it has no auction. That's because playtesters realized that the auction, while fun and interesting in its own right, didn't fit with all the stuff I built around the auction. Sure enough, when I removed the auction from Battle Merchants way back then, the game worked great.

Designers, never hesitate to kill your darlings. It might just make your game better.

So now it's 2010. I had this auction mechanism recently sliced out of Battle Merchants, and I still wanted to make another game around it. I didn't want to fall into the same trap as before, so I figured that I'd design the game completely around the auction. Stripped down, no theme.

The new game was called "MacGuffin Market". It had no theme — or more specifically, its theme was that it had no theme. The players were bidding money on a "Wag the Wolf"-style auction that would give them turn order and gems. They could spend gems or money on MacGuffins, pick up power cards, or end their rounds by getting income, with players who dropped early receiving more income.

MacGuffins were the big objects in the game that everyone wanted to get, named for the film trope of an object that every character wants, without its actual function ever being explained to the audience. It doesn't matter what the MacGuffin is or what it does; it just matters that everyone wants it.

Sample MacGuffins from MacGuffin Market, with each giving you money or gems & the A, B, and C being a set collection bonus, I think

So in this protoplasmic version of the game, you can already see the seeds of The Networks: Buy big things that give you points, pick up power cards, end your round by getting income.

If only it were that easy!

From MacGuffins to TV

My identity is just as important to this designer diary as the game, so keep in mind who I saw myself as when I began this process. I had a day job that was slowly transitioning into computer programming. I was putting a lot of time into my work, and my career came first. I saw myself as a hobbyist game designer. I'd heard of people who started their own game companies, and I knew with all my heart that I would never self-publish my games.

Ha. Haha. Hahahahahahaha.

Anyway. At the time, I was playtesting about twice a month, maybe three times if I was lucky. It was a decent amount of testing, although I envied my game designer friends who tested once per week. Progress on my game was rather slow.

Still, I'm lucky to playtest with some amazing designers. Eric Zimmerman gave one of the game's most vital early suggestions: the theme (or lack thereof) just wasn't working.

I realized he was right. Teaching the game wasn't easy. You had MacGuffins, gems, and money, but nothing really made intuitive sense because nothing mapped into anything a player would recognize.

It was a lesson that took me years to learn, but one I preach any time I can. It's not enough to have a cool theme. It's not enough to have cool mechanisms. Your game lives at the intersection of its theme and its mechanism. One is not more important than the other, and it's not more important to start with one over the other. You have to find the best possible way to join them, then make that join as tight as you can.

The problem with "Wag the Wolf", and now with "MacGuffin Market", was that there was no theme/mechanism join to speak of in either game. Nothing tied together. It wasn't even a matter of "pasted-on" because there was no paste. The theme and mechanism were like an estranged couple, sitting at opposite ends of the room and refusing to talk to each other.

Kill your darlings, again. The game needed a theme. We discussed possible candidates. Secret agents? City building? Making movies?

I thought about the last one. Making movies was done beautifully in Traumfabrik, but what about making television shows? No games about making TV shows were available at the time.

Three different covers, three different names, one fine game

We talked about the various ways we could reskin the game. MacGuffins would become the shows. Gems could become stars. Everything else would pretty much remain the same. Simple, huh?

Not Ready for Prime Time

I renamed the prototype "Prime Time" and started testing. Viewers were points; that was in from the start. When you got a show, you immediately got money or Viewers; that was grandfathered in from "MacGuffin Market".

A few new mechanisms quickly fell into place. First, you were limited to three time slots, so your fourth show would mean you'd have to cancel one of your existing shows and send it to reruns. The player with the most Rerun Viewers got a bonus.

Second, instead of always scoring a flat value like the MacGuffins, your shows would score you a different number of Viewers every round. They would constantly age. I have to give credit for this mechanism to the brilliant, underrated auction game BasketBoss, which deserves a lot more love than it got.

Seriously, play this game!

Third, the Gems became Stars. I felt they needed some differentiation, so I made Male and Female Stars and put requirements on the Shows for the different genders of Stars.

Nine shows from the first draft of Prime Time. Some shows took up to four stars. The shows with clapboards also require a director, which you had to get by winning an auction. These cards were from before I put in the aging mechanism, so they all scored a flat bonus when you picked them up.

Things seemed to be going well until BGG.CON 2011. I had a fateful playtest in Dallas that year. I thought the game was in great shape, but I got a bunch of feedback that pushed me right back down into the hole again. The feedback I got was familiar: The testers realized that the auction, while cool, didn't fit in with all the stuff I built around the auction. Just like what happened in Battle Merchants, it was time to drop the auction.

Kill your darlings.

I wasn't ready. I was going through a tough time. I had an abusive boss at work at the time, I was suffering through a move and the after-effects of a divorce, and I was working on getting Battle Merchants ready to pitch to publishers. (It would get picked up the following year.) So I shelved "Prime Time".

Yes, the board looked like this at one point. No, I'm not a graphic designer, why do you ask?

In the next twelve months, I brought the game out for testing only once. It was a halfhearted test, without any different Seasons. Just one continuous flow in which you chose a new Show, immediately scored it, then a new Show came out.

It was terrible. It was boring. Back on the shelf it went.

At some point in 2012, I realized that if I didn't replenish cards as they were taken, and if I split the game back into discrete Seasons, that might add much-needed tension. I finally tested it late that year and was stunned to find that it felt good. There was something there.

At some point, I set the game in the 1980s and 1990s, during the dawn of cable. I made up a bunch of silly show parody names and pasted in the pictures of various 1980s Stars. Sure enough, that became a great part of the experience. People loved putting, say, Ricardo Montalban on Knight Rider.

If only

I was heartened again. "Prime Time" was back on its feet!

80% Is Halfway Done

Let's fast-forward to 2014. This was a huge year for me and a huge year for the game.

I'd been testing the game steadily at my twice-a-month intervals. It was feeling close to done. I'd balanced the Male and Female Stars, I had a great set of Network Cards, and I had this brilliant mechanism where, at the start of each Season, you reached into a bag and pulled out these Drop and Budget chips. They varied in value from $2 to $20, and you pulled out only as many as the number of players. Some Seasons, you'd get a ton of money; other Seasons, you'd get almost nothing.

Another old rulebook excerpt. In a three-player game, you'd draw five chips, sort them, and remove the second and fourth. Why did I keep this fiddly mechanism so long? Some questions have no answers.

But things were beginning to change. Battle Merchants was close to coming out; I'd been hard at work on writing and editing the rulebook, helping guide the art and graphic design, and handling final playtesting. My day job was starting to feel distant from me. I was rebuilding my social life from my divorce. I tried my hand at sketch comedy and improv. This pulled me away from game design, but gave me some nice perspective, good times, and a few good friends.

Who was I? Was I a computer programmer? Was I a comic? Was I a game designer?

A newer board, with help from a graphic designer friend, who I had asked to make it look "Eighties"

About this time, lightning struck. I'd been trying to get into The Gathering of Friends, Alan Moon's invite-only convention, for a few years. Somehow, I lucked into an invite.

To say the convention changed everything is an understatement. First off, I ran 13.5 playtests of "Prime Time" in ten days. I did a lot of tinkering with the game's economy. One interesting phenomenon was when I once accidentally made the economy too loose. Playtesters didn't tell me that they had too much money; instead, they started suggesting adding all these mechanisms that would be ways they could spend their money.

A few years before, I would have listened to them. Thankfully, I'd learned enough as a designer by then to understand that they were trying to solve a problem that had a different root cause. I re-tightened the economy, and the players no longer suggested extra money sinks.

The old prototype in action!

I showed "Prime Time" to three different publishers: two rejected it, and one was intrigued, but wanted a different, more interactive scoring system.

I looked for more publishers to pitch to and realized just how many more designers there were in the room than publishers. I was fighting a losing battle, and none of these publishers had the passion for my game that I did.

I didn't know it then, but the seeds of change had been planted at that fateful convention, surrounded by people who made games for a living. A few weeks after I came back from the convention and after an especially troubling day at work, I thought to myself: How much better at game design would I be if I did it every day?

I backed away from comedy. I started pushing my playtest group to meet every week instead of every month. I had already had some experience with this through running my annual 4P challenge every January, but I was amazed at how much more progress my games made with more frequent playtesting.

An old show from when the game was set in the 1980s and 1990s

One day at work during a meeting, a co-worker criticized the job I'd done on a project and I realized I felt nothing inside. I spent a difficult month not telling anyone but family and friends, making sure my mind was set. It was.

In November 2014, I quit my full-time job to freelance part-time as a sound editor and open up more time for me to run Kickstarter campaigns and attend conventions as a game publisher.

My mind was made up. I was going to self-publish "Prime Time".

The Last Throes of Design

After The Gathering of Friends in 2014, I realized there was a lot I needed to change about the game. Having Male and Female Stars bugged me; why did gender matter? I had show genres on the cards, but they were just flavor, with no accompanying mechanisms. Players who started a Season with little money had to drop out early. I had that "brilliant" Drop and Budget mechanism. And most of the twenty-somethings I played with humored me with my 1980s and 1990s references, but really had no idea what any of the Shows and Stars were referring to.

These problems resolved with thunderous effect in the game. One tester was surprised there were no ads in the game, and I smacked my forehead. Of course! Get rid of the genders of Stars. Instead of Male Stars and Female Stars, you have Stars and Ads. It's incredible how late in the process the Ads entered, and how right they felt once they made it in.

At first, you paid for Ads, just like you paid for Stars. The always-clever Paul Incao, who develops Vital Lacerta's games, tried "Prime Time" and suggested that players should earn money from Ads instead. Not only was it thematic, it solved the problem of poor players dropping out too early. He also suggested the Attach Star/Ad action, which I fought because I didn't want to complicate the game, but the suggestion turned out to work perfectly if I made some Stars and Ads optional on Shows.

An old Ad with the same information as what's on the current ad cards, only more confusing!

I also reluctantly changed the time setting of the game. No more 1980s and 1990s references that confused millennials. Once I switched to modern shows and stars, everyone seemed to get a huge kick out of the experience, regardless of age.

It was about here that the "rotation" mechanism entered, which has become one of the most defining features of the game. I could finally play off of Show genres, with some Stars preferring to be on certain kinds of Shows, like Dramas or Sitcoms. They seemed to work with Ads to, although it took quite a few frustrating playtests to get income and upkeep working properly!

Finally, after months of begging from my playtesters, I relaxed my iron grip on my "brilliant" pet mechanism in the game: the variable chips that decided the Drop and Budget values. I went with a flat track of values instead, with a number of spaces equal to the number of players, and amazingly no one missed my weird, ingenious system.

Kill your darlings.

For a long time, I had separate Set-up Cards reminding you of how to set up each Season

That left two problems. First, the Genres still didn't feel like they were pulling their weight. Second, the game felt like a tactical grind. It lacked an arc. Each Season really didn't feel different from the next, and no one was working towards anything; it felt like a rinse, later, and repeat exercise.

Then came BGG.CON 2014, and the final huge piece in the puzzle. I had one test with three players, and I nervously introduced a new mechanism: If you got three Shows of the same Genre, you could draw Stars from the Star deck, or Ads from the Ad deck (along with some money).

I was flabbergasted to see what the change did. Suddenly, the game had strategy. You were working to a goal. You wanted to become Comedy Central, or Syfy, or ESPN. It was thematic, and it was strategic, and it worked perfectly.

Even better, it was no longer a grind. Getting the Genre Bonus injected your network with new resources, and you could jump right back into the thick of things without having to tediously pick up new Stars and Ads.

Up until then, testers had mildly enjoyed the game. They'd found it, y'know, fun, they liked it, it was good. From this point on, they loved the game — as in, they asked me when it was going on Kickstarter, and they enthusiastically signed up for my mailing list.

There was still some buttoning-up to do. The three-player game took a lot of massaging, but I realized that removing a Genre would make things much smoother. I made a solo version of the game that had a new mechanism of card burning, and after a bunch of boring two-player tests, I realized that the two-player game needed card burning as well. The solo game was logistically easiest to test, of course, and went from good to great once I figured out how to put in an immediate-loss condition and midgame feedback that let the player know if they were doing well or not, score-wise.

But it was time to put on the publisher hat.


There was a storm cloud on the horizon. I found out that there were two other games called "Prime Time" in development: One was a deckbuilder that unfortunately didn't fund on Kickstarter, while the other was a heavy strategy game from an established designer/publisher.

I didn't know Elad Goldsteen at the time, and I was pretty sure he would beat me to market. I hated the idea of changing my game's name. "Prime Time" was perfect! But I did what I had to do. I let Elad have "Prime Time", and I renamed my game The Networks.

My next order of business was to find a graphic designer. I thought of all the graphic designers I knew of and who would be a good match.

You've seen pictures of the prototype all throughout this post. It's a lot of cards with a lot of numbers. This game throws a huge amount of information at the players, and I needed a graphic designer who was amazing at distilling a large quantity of information into a streamlined form. I needed someone like Heiko Günther.

I am ashamed to say that I spent a measurable amount of time trying to figure out graphic designers who could a job similar to Heiko, until I realized that I could just, well, email Heiko myself and see what he thought.

Here's what I didn't know: A few years previously, Heiko and a very talented illustrator, Travis Kinchy, worked on Silver Screen, a Knizia-designed card game version of Traumfabrik. It was to be published by Cambridge Games Factory back when Heiko did most of their work. Sadly, CGF encountered financial difficulties and stopped releasing games before Silver Screen could be published.

Heiko and Travis were disappointed; they had come up with a unique visual style for the game, and for a long time, they thought it was just a dead project. But then there I was, with my TV network game. Couldn't they resurrect the visual approach?

I checked it out and realized that it was perfect. I wanted something that was light and funny but not cartoony, yet somehow didn't present itself as a simple take-that filler game. Travis' illustrations somehow perfectly walked the line, and were incredibly funny to boot.

Card images from Silver Screen, done in the same visual style that Travis would adopt for The Networks

Meanwhile, Heiko set about taking my confusing mess of a visual design and putting it in order. He figured out a way to push all the information for the cards to their edges and leave most of the card available for Travis' excellent art.

It still blows my mind that the thing on the left became the thing on the right

The boards became modular. My system would have been ugly and text-heavy; his system allowed for the clean, elegant presentation of information. Instead of having set-up cards to remind players of how many cards went out each Season, he printed it directly on the rightmost board and had players swap out different boards based on the number of players. This let us put just about everything onto punchboard, using only a single cutting pattern to boot.

Make no mistake, Heiko and Travis were essential to this game's success. There is no The Networks without them.

Heiko, on the right, is plotting trouble at Spiel 2015

I had to use my "publisher's hammer" only a couple of times; most notably, I insisted on a scoring track that wrapped at 100 Viewers instead of 50, only because I'd tried that in a previous prototype and my playtesters hated it. I also insisted on testing the graphic design, and I came back to Heiko with quite a few revisions when I saw players were confused by a given graphic design element.

Throughout this process, Heiko was his typical professional, brilliant, and often hilarious self. After a few iterations, we wound up with a graphic design that got raves from just about all my playtesters, especially as Travis' art started to spread across the game.

I started sending the game to reviewers and was heartened to see people like Rahdo and Undead Viking willing to try out the game. Your Moderator Chris from Flip the Table seemed very excited about the game, so I sent him a review copy, making sure he knew I didn't expect a review of my game on his show. I was relieved to see everyone give the game glowing reviews.

Then one beautiful Sunday I was about to go on a day trip with my girlfriend, when I got this email from Rahdo: "Also, I'm curious, since you're going to be directly competing with Prime Time, which is going to be on Kickstarter at almost the exact same time as you..." It turns out that Prime Time was going to launch two weeks before The Networks!

Of course, Elad had no ill intent. In fact, he had no idea my game existed, so Rahdo was kind enough to introduce us over email. I've had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with Elad a few times since then, and we've laughed about this crazy coincidence. I mean, we had both worked on our respective TV network games for six years each. We couldn't have timed this better if we tried!

And Kickstarter was kind to both of us; we both overfunded significantly, and we both got our games out. In fact, I picked up Prime Time from Elad at Essen 2015!

Elad and me at Spiel 2015; he's the taller guy on the right

Final Thoughts

So in the end, why did The Networks turn into a great game?

Obviously, there's the constant, relentless playtesting and iteration. After my turning point at The Gathering in 2014, I was playtesting at least once a week, usually twice. Iterations went fast and furious, and I was never afraid to try something for fear of failure. I got better at killing my darlings and wound up with a streamlined, well-developed game.

Also, this theme is really hard, and I think I backed into some fortuitous decisions. I've played friends' prototypes with TV themes, and they get hung up on a couple of things.

First, scoring in those designs is usually handled with an output randomness mechanism. For those of you who don't listen to the marvelous Ludology podcast (please start!), output randomness is any random event that happens after a player's decision. For example, when you attack the zombies, then roll a die to see whether you hit them, that's generally output randomness as the die roll dictates the outcome.

Input randomness, on the other hand, is when the random event happens before your turn begins. When you get dealt your hand of cards, that's input randomness; your play happens after the random event.

Most TV prototypes I played had viewer scoring as output randomness. This is understandable because it's realistic. No TV executive can predict how many people will watch their shows! That's just the business.

But it makes the game less fun. The whole interesting experience is in assembling the TV show. Having it be judged by a random mechanism devalues the experience of putting the show on the air. It feels meaningless.

One of my favorite stars

Second, remember that publisher who wanted my game to have more "interactive" scoring? That's how most TV games and prototypes I've played try to handle it; the player with the most viewers gets the best ratings, the player with the second most viewers gets the second-best ratings, and so on. Some games even split these into different demographics!

This makes scoring an opaque beast. Logistically, these games are a pain in the neck to score. Worse, it means that a player must evaluate each of their move's potential outcomes on each demographic. This makes for a huge outcome tree and is an invitation to mindbending analysis paralysis.

The Networks gets around both problems by having fixed, deterministic scoring for each show. This would normally be anathemic to the theme, but between the aging mechanism and the extra complexity of the rotate mechanism, there's enough variability in a player's possible score that it feels correct and thematic. Furthermore, if a player's show scores poorly in a given season, the player can easily track that to a specific decision they made. That feels much better than some arbitrary die roll!

Also, the deterministic scoring means that players don't have to study other players' boards and do a ton of math to determine what a good move is. Make no mistake — in The Networks, a player will have to study other players' boards, but what you're looking for is a lot simpler, logistically speaking. Do they need that 8:00 p.m. Drama? Or would they rather go for the 9:00 p.m. Sci-Fi? Or maybe a Star, or a Network Card? There are still decisions to be made and players to watch, but it's not hidden behind an opaque layer of scoring.

That is about it for the huge design history of The Networks. It's been an amazing ride, and it leaves us with one order of business. That is the third and final shocking truth about the game:

-----• I, Gil Hova, barely watch any TV. It's not a hipster I'm-better-than-you thing. It just doesn't fit in with my lifestyle.

I am deeply indebted to my playtesters and my girlfriend for helping me with all the references to modern shows. I couldn't have done it without all of you!

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Mon Jul 25, 2016 1:00 pm
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New Game Round-up: Cosmic Thrones Encounter Westeros, Invaders Arrive in Érin, and Thieves Invite Suspicion

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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• The sixth season of the Game of Thrones television series has ended, but before too long players will have a new way to re-enact all the struggles of that show thanks to Game of Thrones: The Iron Throne, a Q4 2016 release from Fantasy Flight Games credited to Bill Eberle, Peter Olotka, Greg Olotka, and Justin Kemppainen that takes the game systems from Cosmic Encounter and transports them to the world of Westeros.

FFG plans to demo Game of Thrones: The Iron Throne at Gen Con 2016, with the game scheduled for a Q4 2016 release. Here's a preview of how CE has been transformed:

In Game of Thrones: The Iron Throne, which uses the game systems from Cosmic Encounter, you and your friends each command one of the Great Houses of Westeros, pitting iconic characters against each other in epic battles and schemes. Negotiate, bluff, forge alliances, threaten your rivals — use every tool at your disposal to spread your influence, establish supremacy, and claim the ultimate prize: the Iron Throne!

In more detail, each turn centers around the resolution of an encounter between two players. These encounters can result in hostilities, startling conquests, and the spread of influence, or they can result in the formation of temporary alliances. And though only two players in any encounter will be the "active" players, your friends might offer you their support — or turn around and offer it to someone else.

Win enough of these encounters, though — and find the right ones to lose — and you might find yourself in position to seize the Iron Throne. The goal of the game is to spread five of your influence to your opponents' House cards and take the crown for yourself.

• I just highlighted the fab 1960s art of Ta-Da! in early July 2016, and here's another title bearing the same retro look: Suspicion from the design team of Forrest-Pruzan Creative and publisher Wonder Forge, with this title being available for demo games at Gen Con 2016. An overview:

You are a jewel thief, and you've been invited to the mansion of someone who doesn't know that you engage in such nefarious doings. While at that mansion, you're going to try to nick as many jewels as possible, but *gadzooks* the mansion turns out to be filled with jewel thieves who are all trying to do the same thing. Can you out them publicly, while staying unknown yourself and bagging a nice collection of gems?

In Suspicion, ten characters start on the perimeter of the game board, and each player is secretly one of these characters. On a turn, you roll two dice, then move the two characters shown (or characters of your choice if you roll a joker). After this, you play one of the two action cards in your hand, and carry out one of the actions on that card: stealing a type of gem in the space where your character is located, moving any character, asking someone else whether their character can be seen by someone on the board, and so on.

Gems come in three types, and when one of the piles is empty, the game ends. Everyone guesses who is which character, then all identities are revealed. For each player you've guessed correctly, you score 7 points; for each set of three different gems, you score 6 points; and for each individual gem aside from the sets, you score 1 point. Whoever has the most points wins!

• To continue with the theme of the past returning in new forms, I present The Arrival, which new German publisher Game's Up describes as a revamped version of Martin Wallace's Mordred, which was first released in 1999 by Wallace's Warfrog Games. (Note that the cover image shown is not final.) This title will debut at SPIEL 2016 in October, with rules in English and German. Here's an overview of the setting and gameplay:

In a time long forgotten, the cruel Fomori rule over Érin, the green island. They praise their king Balor, who reigns from his fortifications in the north with an iron fist. Old paths and ruins spread over the island's face, which will be called Ireland many generations from now. But new tribes arrive at the island striving for permanent presence. Who will control Érin's fate over the next centuries to come?

Each player in The Arrival represents a tribe leader who tries to gain predominance over the mythical island of Érin while pushing back the demon-like Fomori. But the players are facing a dilemma, for spreading too quickly means becoming more and more corrupt and strengthening the Fomori in their power...

Over 4-6 rounds, the players determine their resources by means of a unique game mechanism, which will be used later on profitably. During a first phase (Earning Phase), players draw four cards, each showing three sections of different resources. Two of these sections are gradually blocked by the player, thus leaving one section. The resources shown on this section are the ones the player gets. During this phase, they have to decide which section is the best one; while the upper section of the cards offers many resources, it also results in unwanted Corruption Points. The middle and the lower sections offer fewer resources, but also less Corruption.

After that, the Action Phase takes place and the players must use their resources wisely while having the choice from different kinds of actions in order to get Fame Points.

The game ends when a certain number of rounds have been played or somebody reaches the corruption limit.

The winner is either the one with the highest amount of Fame Points or the one with the fewest Corruption Points. This depends on the scene of the board at the end: Do the tribes (players) control more locations on Érin than the Fomori do — or is it the other way around?

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Sat Jul 23, 2016 9:09 pm
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Asmodee in Negotiations to Acquire F2Z Entertainment

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Following Asmodee's acquisitions of Days of Wonder (BGG News story) and Fantasy Flight Games (story) in 2014 and the worldwide English rights to Catan (story) in 2016, many people have wondered which domino in the hobby game industry would fall next.

The answer turns out to be F2Z Entertainment, the Canadian publisher/distributor that owns the Z-Man Games, Filosofia Éditions, Pretzel Games, and Plaid Hat Games studios. Asmodee and F2Z Entertainment aren't strangers, having worked with one another over the years, with Asmodee distributing F2Z titles in France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe, while F2Z has distributed Asmodee titles in Canada. (This is the basis for the "partnership" referred to in the quotes from the press release below.)

Asmodee has issued the following press release about the deal, and Asmodee North America VP of Marketing Aaron Elliott told me that it can give no other comment at this time since the discussions are still under way. (The "exclusiveness" referred to in the first line of the press release means only that no one else is competing with Asmodee to acquire this company.) Here's what has been made public to date:

The Asmodee Group has announced today that it has entered into exclusive discussions to acquire F2Z Entertainment Inc.

In line with the acquisitions of the worldwide rights to Dobble/Spot-It!, Days of Wonder, and Fantasy Flight Games publishers, and more recently the set-up of Catan Studio, these exclusive discussions with F2Z Entertainment Inc. emphasize Asmodee's strategy to strengthen its intellectual property portfolio and international presence. Closing of this acquisition is expected to take place in the coming months.

Created in Canada in 2002 by Sophie Gravel, F2Z Entertainment Inc. has become, over the years, one of the most worldwide renowned publisher & distributor of modern board games, with key owned brands such as Pandemic (over 1 million units sold), Dead of Winter, and also publishing rights for evergreen games (Carcassonne for French and English version, Catan for French version).

Stéphane Carville, CEO of Asmodee Group said: "I am delighted to enter into these exclusive discussions with F2Z Entertainment, which is, for us, the natural next step of a strong and long-lasting partnership built over the years with Sophie Gravel and her teams. Through this acquisition, we will continue expanding our IP portfolio with fantastic games and incredibly innovative studios such as Z-Man Games, Plaid Hat Games and Filosofia. This will also enable us to increase our presence on the global game market."

Sophie Gravel, CEO of F2Z Entertainment added: "As we are close to celebrating 15 years of success with F2Z, we are proud to announce these exclusive discussions with Asmodee Group, a key partner since the beginning of our adventure. This deal is in the direct continuation of our close business partnership and will provide the best environment for our iconic games to reach their full potential and help our studios to continue publishing amazing games."
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Fri Jul 22, 2016 8:00 am
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New Game Round-up: Crowing in Detroit, Building on Other Planets, and Drawing Like Lightning

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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• I've mostly been working on the Gen Con 2016 Preview the past couple of days — 340 game listings and counting! — and in the process of doing so, I've added a few new game listings to the BGG database, such as The Crow: Fire It Up!, which Upper Deck Entertainment will debut at Gen Con 2016 ahead of its retail release. Here's an overview of the gameplay:

In a world without justice, one man was chosen to protect the innocent! On Devil's Night in the Motor City, play as Eric Draven as he dishes out revenge against the gang that took his life and the life of his fiance, Shelly, in The Crow: Fire It Up!

As Eric Draven, the player uses the aid of Officer Albrecht, Sarah, and the mysterious Crow to track down the Motor City Gang and stave off their reign of terror, while the opposing players portray members of the vicious gang consisting of Tin-Tin, Funboy, T-Bird, Grange, Myca, and Top Dollar spreading fires and mayhem throughout the city as they seek to lure the undead avenger out of the shadows and take him out!

Victory Point Games plans to release the Reiner Knizia design Planet Rush in 2016, and while the game description is brief, the title is tagged as a reimplementation of Knizia's Tower of Babel, a 2005 release that I just happened to play again this year after a decade's absence from the gaming table. This design fits the Knizia model of seeming like not a lot is going on, while in fact everything is intricately linked. Here's the short description from VPG:

It's the age of the next great space race and you are competing to see who will control the newest earth-like planet. Can you build the greatest planet structures and prove you have technological mastery over the planet?

Planet Rush is a fun euro game of bidding and building. You take control of one of five corporate factions, each bidding to contribute the most to the colonization of the planet. The one who builds the most on the planet wins and gets to claim majority ownership of the world itself!

• On a related note, VPG announced in July 2016 that it will relocate from California sometime in 2017, and at that time it will cease in-house production of its print-on-demand titles, moving instead to full production in China and external warehousing. Some of its titles have already made the jump to full production, but not all of them will, so act now or risk having to scour for used copies later.

Wonder Forge will debut three new games at Gen Con 2016, with these titles being available exclusively from the Target retail chain in the U.S., and I have details on two of them for now, starting with Really Bad Art:

Really Bad Art is what you're making in this party game, but not because you're a terrible drawer, no — only because you have exactly six seconds to see what you're supposed to draw, then draw it!

Each round, each player secretly takes a card with two phrases like "lack of confidence", "quality of life", "constructive criticism", or "yikes!", then draws a representation of one of those phrases based on whichever color was chosen. Those cards are then shuffled with a dummy card and laid out next to the game board, after which everyone secretly votes on which piece of art corresponds to which card. Guess correctly, and you score two points; have others guess your phrase correctly, and you score one point.

Rounds continue until someone has scored thirty or more points and won the game!

Stick Stack from Brad Ross and Jim Winslow is another incarnation of players needing to place things on top of other things, which really should be the title of a GeekList, if it isn't already:

You don't want to be stuck with sticks in Stick Stack, so try to place them as carefully as you can on the wobble tower in the center of the playing area.

Each turn, you either draw a stick from the bag or choose one of the sticks in front of you (in case you had collected any on an earlier turn), then you place that stick onto the tower — but when you place it, the colors on that stack can touch only matching colors on the crow's nest or on other sticks that have already been placed. (If a stick slides onto other colors later as the tower tilts and wobbles, that's okay, but you need to match when placing!)

If any sticks fall off the tower on your turn, collect them and place them in front of you. When all the sticks have been placed onto the tower or when the tower falls over, the game ends immediately. If you caused the tower to fall, you don't collect any of the sticks, but you do score five points (which isn't good). Every player scores one point for each stick in front of them.

If anyone has eleven or more points, the game ends and the player with the lowest score wins. If not, play another round!

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Thu Jul 21, 2016 7:05 pm
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Codenames Wins the 2016 Spiel des Jahres; Isle of Skye Claims Kennerspiel

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Codenames from designer Vlaada Chvátil and publisher Czech Games Edition has won the 2016 Spiel des Jahres, Germany's game of the year award, which is intended to highlight an outstanding design that would be ideal for German families — and if you happen to belong to a family of some other nationality, there's a good chance that you'll enjoy the game as well.

The 2016 Kennerspiel des Jahres — an award aimed at game enthusiasts who are ready for something more challenging or involved — goes to Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King from designers Andreas Pelikan and Alexander Pfister and publishers Lookout Games and Mayfair Games.

Congratulations to both winners!
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Mon Jul 18, 2016 10:17 am
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New Game Round-up: Summoning a Genie Before Collecting Wood and Building a Habitat

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Following the release of The Pied Piper in Q2 2016, Purple Brain Creations will publish its next Tales & Games series in September 2016: Tiago Damey's Aladdin & The Magic Lamp, a 2-5 player game that IELLO will release in the U.S. Here's an overview:

The sorcerer has sent you, a street urchin like Aladdin, into a cave to look for a magic lamp that lets you call upon a genie's favors. However, the cave also encloses fabulous treasures sorted into three chests. If you're not too greedy, this could be your chance to become rich!

In Tales & Games: Aladdin & The Magic Lamp, a turn has three phases during which everyone plays simultaneously. First, choose how many chest cards you want to draw and from which chest. Then, call out to the genie by being the fastest. Finally, if you haven't been too greedy, draw chest cards while avoiding the scorpions.

The game ends when a player draws one of the three sorcerer cards and closes the cave.

• Harald Mücke of Mücke Spiele says that he's releasing another five hundred copies of Alexander Huemer's Lignum in July 2016 ahead of a new edition of the game that will be released in Q2 2017 in German and a language to be announced later by Mücke Spiele and in English by Capstone Games. This new edition will have "minor adaptions and rule optimizations", and an expansion will be available, with this item being sold separately for those who already own the original game.

Habitats is the next release from Cwali's Corné van Moorsel, and in this tile-laying game players each build their own wildlife park without cages and fences, with each animal wanting to have certain habitats around it, but with those habitats naturally having a tendency to conflict with the desires of other animals nearby. Van Moorsel has stated that he plans to Kickstart Habitats in July 2016.

• At UK Games Expo 2016, designer Peter Burley released a new edition of his long-lived, million-selling game Take it Easy! through his own Burley Games. This new "Daffodil" edition of one thousand copies includes double-sided game boards with the original Take it Easy! design on one side and a daffodil pattern on the other. For this side of the game board, each player has four additional tiles that include wild card stripes, allowing for (potentially) more matches when they're drawn during play.

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Sat Jul 16, 2016 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Goons of New York 1901

Robert Hewitt
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Picture a game jam. A month-long game jam. With three hundred designers. Under the age of 12.

That's what we do at Brooklyn Game Lab every day.

One of our endeavors in a recent semester was to homebrew an expansion for the hit game New York 1901. By the end, our kids — with the help of our friends at Blue Orange Games — had made their first foray into game publishing!

Each day in our after-school program (and summer camp), we guide students through something we call "lab". During this two-hour session, a group of fifty kids learn, play, and deconstruct a popular board game together.

After gameplay, each child provides structured notes on winning tactics, losing lessons, and ideas for new elements and mechanisms — then the students stand and present these thoughts, after which they vote for their favorites — all with the goal of reinventing the game.

In the case of New York 1901, after two weeks of work we had whittled five hundred submissions down to 98 distinct ideas for modifying the game. These included things like airports, day and night phases, taxes, eminent domain, and of course zombies. The heavy-hitting classics made the cut, too: Godzilla, King Kong, and a "gigantic worm".

At this point in the process, our stellar creative team stepped in to review, consider, and sort the top hundred ideas. After working to surface common threads, three leading visions emerged:

• The first proposal was "King of New York 1901" in which we co-opted the monsters from King of Tokyo/King of New York and added them as NPCs. These forces-of-nature were designed to stomp the city to bits as players built around them. I'll note that "monsters stomping things" is a permanent fixture on our mod shortlist.

• The second was "Into the 20th Century". In this version, the scoring track was treated as a literal timeline of the city of New York. The 1 spot on the scoring track signified the year 1901, while the 20 spot signified 1920 and the start of Prohibition! The Great Depression, World War I and II, The World's Fair of 1939 — all of these dates were given some in-game significance and tied to the timely progression of the game (as denoted by the leading-most player).

• The third was "Gangs of New York" or its softer-sounding cousin, "Rise of the Kingpins". In this model, dozens of PvP ideas were packaged together in a way that conveyed the feel of NYC in the 1920s and 1930s — grit and all. We loved designer Chénier La Salle's attention to historical detail in the original game, and this vision doubled down on his commitment to the time period.

As our creative team discussed more broadly how each of these visions might play, I sat turning one of the game's plastic "worker" tokens over and over in my hand, appreciating the detail. One of my only criticisms of the base game is that these fantastic pieces tended to spend as much time off the game board as they did on it. They commuted in and out of the city, but didn't live there.

We asked ourselves: What if the opposite were true? What if they cluttered the board with old-timey hustle and bustle? Oppressive! Territorial! For us, the idea of turning the workers into "goons" immediately changed the feel of the city, creating a downtown that felt alive, occupied, seedy, imposing — and we knew that we'd chosen the best direction.

The other core concept that emerged to round out this vision was the idea of more distinct districts in the city, something emblematic of NYC, such as Chinatown or Little Italy — a sense of turf. We wanted the districts to have not just color, but flavor.

And so idea #33 of our 98 top ideas was selected as the keystone submission! It was simple: "You hire gangs to take over other companies' buildings, destroy them, and get rid of the reserved buildings." We arranged dozens of ideas related to PvP interference, all spiraling out from this hub...

We researched mafia history and drew up generic gangs (long live "the blue barbers"), laying out all of the lab-generated mechanisms that allowed players to use worker tokens underhandedly.

With the overarching goal of changing the feel of the city, we introduced five "dives", including a casino, a prison, and of course a speakeasy. These pre-placed buildings fit nicely over the parks and other unused decorative spaces on the original board.

Ultimately, the mod's general framework was simple: Control the most turf in a district, and you control its gang. Each turn you could deploy one worker as a knuckle-dragging goon or detour a rival goon into one of your dives.

Over time, a colorful boss emerged as the patron saint of each of our gangs:

The dives also took on lives of their own as our kids included mini-games to make visiting them even more immersive:

As we prepared to go to print, many of our beloved elements were put on ice — but as we teach our young game designers, the most important part of your design is the part you love, but leave out.

As we handed this document off to the Blue Orange team, we wiped our collective brow. My staff, my kids, and myself — all proud to have our work recognized and taken seriously, and to give some little thing back to the world of gaming that has been so incredibly good to us.



Editor's note: Here's a little more detail about how Goons of New York 1901 works: Once all players in the game have reached the Silver Age, you look to see who controls the most territory of each color on the game board (with pink being excluded in two-player games).

Whoever controls the most of a color takes control of that boss, and at the start of each of your subsequent turns, you can use the "goon power" of one of your bosses to place a goon in a particular location, such as on a street or on a specific Bronze Age skyscraper. You'll score points for this goon based on certain conditions, but if someone ever controls more territory of this color than you, that player takes control of the boss and you have to say goodbye to those goons. —WEM

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Fri Jul 15, 2016 1:00 pm
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