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Archive for Game Previews

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Game Preview: SPIEL 2016 — Garden of Minions, or Three Shall Be the Number Thou Shalt Count

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

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

Close to death, despite the lack of enemies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thu Sep 22, 2016 10:17 pm
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Game Preview: SPIEL 2016 — Master of Orion: The Board Game, or Belting Your Opponent in Space

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In January 2016, I tweeted the following from the Spielwarenmesse trade fair in Nürnberg, Germany:




Many people were thrilled by this announcement, but they jumped on the short playing time as cause for concern given the nature of the original video game that inspired the design of Master of Orion: The Board Game from Ekaterina Gorn and Igor Sklyuev. Me, I had never played the video game, so I had no idea what might be missing. (I sometimes feel like I should investigate what's happening in the video game industry, but I can't even keep up with everything related to board and card games, so why would I divide my time on something else? Give me all the info!)

Thankfully, in the run-up to the game's worldwide debut at SPIEL 2016 in October, publisher Hobby World offered to send me an advance copy of the game for previewing in this space, so now those who have already mastered Orion in other venues can see how this new game compares to the original. Let's lead with a component shot, followed by an overview video based on three playings of the game:




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Sat Sep 17, 2016 12:20 am
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Game Preview: SPIEL 2016 — Cottage Garden, or Cornering the Flower Market

W. Eric Martin
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Uwe Rosenberg's Patchwork debuted in 2014 to thunderous approval, with most players enjoying the challenge of managing their money and fitting together polyomino tiles to create an aesthetic (and high-scoring) cardboard quilt while denying their opponent the chance to do the same. (Here's my overview of Patchwork if you're not familiar with this excellent two-player game.)

When new German publisher Edition Spielwiese announced that it would debut at SPIEL 2016 with Rosenberg's Cottage Garden, at first glance — as shown in the "work in progress" image below — the game appeared like it would be the second coming of Patchwork, but now playable by up to four people.


Artwork in progress


While Cottage Garden indeed features polyomino tiles, the game otherwise has little in common with Patchwork. In the game, each player tries to complete flowerbeds in order to score points. Each flowerbed is a 5x5 grid with some arrangement of flower pots and plant covers (domes placed over plants to protect them from weather), and each player starts with two flowerbeds.


One of eighteen flowerbed designs


The game includes 36 flower tiles, with each tile having 1-6 squares in area; sixteen of these tiles, chosen at random, are placed on the 4x4 nursery board (with one side being for four players and the other for 1-3 players), while the remaining twenty are placed in a queue. A gardener die is placed next to the nursery. On a turn, a player selects either a flower tile from the row in front of the gardener (as shown in the image below) or a flower pot (with these being piled in a supply near the nursery), then adds the tile or pot to their flowerbed, then advances the gardener. (Shades of Kupferkessel Co. or Maori for those who recall those Günter Burkhardt designs.) If the row in front of the gardener is empty or nearly so at the start of your turn, you first add tiles to that row from the queue so that you'll have more choices.


Select a tile from this row or take a flower pot


Each player starts the game with two cat tokens (each only one square in area), and you can place a cat in a flowerbed at any time. (And no, you're not planting cats to raise pussy willows! You're merely encouraging them to sleep on the warm earth.) If after you place a tile, pot or cat your flowerbed has no visible dirt spaces, you then score that flowerbed; for each visible flowerpot, you advance one of your three orange scoring cubes one space on your flowerpot scoring path, and for each visible plant cover, you advance one of your three blue scoring cubes one space on your plant cover scoring path. Each space you advance on the flowerpot path is worth one point — except for the final space, which jumps from 15 to 20 points. Similarly, each plant cover is worth two points, except for the final one that moves you from 14 to 20 points.

Each time you score, you can move any cube of the appropriate color, but all movement must be applied to the same cube. If you cross the mouse line on a scoring path, i.e., have more than six points in either color, then you receive a free cat token.

After scoring your flowerbed, you discard it, lay the flower tiles used in it at the end of the queue, and start anew on another one so that you always have two flowerbeds in progress.

When the sixth round begins (or the fifth round with 1-2 players), you're nearing the end of the season, so you need to complete your remaining flowerbeds as quickly as possible. As long as you hold an unfilled flowerbed, you lose two points at the start of your turn — which could bump you off the 20-point endspace on the scoring track if you haven't moved other cubes along to give yourself a cushion as winter approaches. When everyone has completed their flowerbeds or the season has ended, everyone scores points based on the location of their scoring cubes and whoever has the highest score wins.

In Patchwork, you're trying to be as efficient as possible, leaving no holes behind as you lay down the cloth; in Cottage Garden, on the other hand, you want those holes because that's almost the only way you'll score points! You need to decide — over and over again as you stare at the nursery and look ahead to see which tiles might still be available for you on future turns — how quickly you want to fill those flowerbeds. Grab a huge tile now that covers a pot or plant cover, or take something small and hope to fill the gap later? Maybe you instead adopt the Colorado model and rely on a pot-centric approach that fills a flowerbed one square at a time until something perfect comes available in the nursery. Groovy, man!
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Mon Sep 12, 2016 8:00 pm
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Game Preview: SPIEL 2016 — What's Up, or Everybody Knows That The Bird Is The Word

W. Eric Martin
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Publishers send me a fair number of review copies, and while I understand the reason why — the possibility of publicity! — sometimes I appreciate receiving the game simply so that I can play it and write a better description than what was previously included on the BGG game page, as was the case with What's Up, a quick-playing game from Dennis Kirps, Jean-Claude Pellin, and Strawberry Studio that will be available at SPIEL 2016, if not earlier.

What's Up is another example of the minimalist game design style that has been flooding the market since the success of Love Letter, but the gameplay relates more to ye olde Memory game, with players needing to reveal things in order to collect stuff. Here's the revised, far more useful description, followed by a video overview in case you want to see the game in action:

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What's Up is a card-flipping game in which you race to collect sets of birds first.

To set up, shuffle the thirty double-sided cards, then lay them out on the table in a grid. Each card features 1-3 birds in one of four colors — red, green, yellow, purple — with the reverse of the card having either the same number of birds in a different color or the same color of birds in a different number. Thus, each number+color combination appears five times in the deck.

On a turn, choose a card in the grid, then flip it over. If you can add it to your collection, do so; if not, return the bird to the grid with the newly revealed side face up. Your goal is to collect sets of birds in a single color, with you needing to take the single bird first, then the pair, then the triplet. The first player to collect 2-4 sets wins, with the number being dependent on the number of players. Watch what others do, remember what was flipped where, and play the odds when deciding to flip the birds!


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Sun Sep 11, 2016 3:00 pm
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Game Preview: SPIEL 2016 — TimeBomb II, or Looking for Bombs in All the Wrong Places

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In August 2015, I presented an overview of Yusuke Sato's TimeBomb from New Board Game Party, a hidden role game of terrorists versus SWAT team members in which the latter need to defuse a bomb before time runs out. That game has now been licensed in English, French and German editions — with the subject of these new versions now being, respectively, Cthulhu, Sherlock Holmes, and explorers — while Sato has gone on to create a sequel to the original design: TimeBomb II.

Yes, the SWAT team and terrorists are at it once again, this time with the SWAT team racing to uncover all of the terrorist hideouts before time runs out — or before the building goes up in a blaze of fire, thereby causing tremendous damage to both the city and the SWAT team's reputation. Naturally trouble will ensue as the terrorists have infiltrated the SWAT team once again and will be attempting to delay and misdirect as much as possible within the short timespan of this game.




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Thu Sep 8, 2016 9:30 pm
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Game Preview: SPIEL 2016 — Pocket Madness, or Collecting The Great Old Cute Ones

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These days everyone needs to design a Cthulhu game, but for the ever-smiling Bruno Cathala and his frequent co-designer Ludovic Maublanc, a juicy slime-encrusted Cthulhu just wouldn't do. No, French publisher Funforge has dressed up their Pocket Madness with the most fetching (and not retching) elder gods ever courtesy of Mathieu Leyssenne, and the resulting tiny game will be available at SPIEL 2016, with Passport Game Studios distributing the title in North America.

We'll start with a description for those who prefer text, then follow it up with Cathala explaining the game at Gen Con 2016 for those who want to hear the presentation with a French accent:

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In Pocket Madness, you'll meet nice people like Shub-Niggurath, visit lovely places like Innsmouth, and cross the path of friendly creatures such as the Shoggoths.

Pocket Madness is a fast-paced card game inspired by the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, known worldwide for his short story "The Call of Cthulhu". In the game, you evoke the powers of the Ancient Ones to drive your fellow cultists mad while securing your path to victory. To play, you first deal each player two cards from a deck that contains cards numbered 6-12, then you count out 17 face-down cards, flip the remainder face up, shuffle the deck, then lay it out in a row so that all players can see the cards.

On a turn, you either take 1-3 cards, open a portal, or open an investigation. When you take card, you pick up the first 1-3 cards in the row, then add them to your hand. To open a portal, you lay down three or more cards of the same type, then take the portal matching the number on those cards. Each portal has a different power, and you can use any one portal power on your turn. If someone else claims a portal that you own, too bad! You just lost the portal! To open an investigation, discard cards numbered 6-12, after which every other player gains as many madness tokens as the number of investigations this round.

A round ends when one player runs out of cards or the card row runs out. In the latter case, everyone takes one final turn, then all players gain madness tokens equal to the number of different types of cards in their hand. If a player empties their hand, that player loses half of their madness tokens while everyone else gains one.

The game ends the round that a player has collected ten or more madness tokens.


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Tue Sep 6, 2016 9:30 pm
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Gen Con 2016: Video Round-Up IV — Thornwatch overview and playthrough

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We scheduled dozens of game overview demos in the BGG booth at Gen Con 2016, but I also scheduled some in other locations, including one with Lone Shark Games — and unbeknownst to me LSG had scheduled a full playthrough of Thornwatch with co-designers Mike Selinker, Chad Brown and Penny Arcade's Mike Krahulik, from whom the game idea had originated.

Thus, we ended up recording a 56-minute video that starts with an overview of the game's origin and ongoing development process — ongoing in that the game design isn't final and no publication date has been announced as of yet — then we play through a scenario. For those who prefer words, let's start with the game description in the database, after which we can move to our poorly-lit, recorded-on-site video:

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Thornwatch is an adventure-based card game for 2-4 players and a Game Master. Players are Icons of the Thornwatch: scarred veterans of the Eyrewood who now live as ghosts that are summoned by the ancient ritual of tying a knot of thorns around a birch tree. The Icons summoned to a particular tree do not necessarily know each other or the true nature of the problem they've been called to resolve; all they know is that they've answered the call, and they're bound to see it through.

In game terms, through the play of Attack, Ability, Tactic, and Synergy cards, the Icons engage foes to resolve the "knot" that summoned them, with the knot giving players clues as to what their mission might be. Each player represents a character who fits in one of four classes — Guard, Blade, Sage, Greenheart — and each character has a deck that features moves and abilities specific to your character.

During the game, which lasts 2-4 hours depending on whether you're playing a single adventure or a campaign, you'll move characters on a map specific to the adventure and (most likely) encounter others that you must defeat in combat. When you suffer damage, you shuffle wound cards into your deck. Those cards stay in your hand once you draw them, and if you hold more wounds than your character's wound threshold, you die. You're a ghost, though, so death isn't permanent; instead you add a random Scar card to your deck, with each Scar having some negative effect on you.


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Fri Aug 26, 2016 5:00 pm
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Origins Game Fair 2016 X: Killer Snails: Assassins of the Sea, Seikatsu, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Board Game, and Love Will Tear Us Apart

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• We featured many games on our 2016 Origins Game Fair livestream, and the one that excited me the most was Killer Snails: Assassins of the Sea from designer Nicholas Fortugno and publisher Killer Snails. I'm not saying this is the best game shown in our booth, but it was the most unexpected in both subject matter and the publisher's approach in bringing the game to market.



And whatever you think of the game, you really should watch the video of these killer snails. Amazing!





• Everything old comes back again, right? That's probably why zombies resonate so well in the public culture; you inherently understand the principle of zombies because you see someone wearing wide-flared bell bottoms or hear about a remake of some movie that struck you as ghastly even as an undiscriminating teenager and wonder, "Why is everyone into this stuff once again?"

Admittedly pop-culture zombieism is sometimes a plus, and the return of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to game tables after more than a decade's absence will likely excite some percentage of former and current fans. Here's an overview of this title, which Jasco Games will release on October 28, 2016.





• We had a fair amount of unscheduled time at Origins, but thankfully the hall is filled with exhibitors and designers, so we were often able to pull people on camera to talk about something other than the game release most immediately on their mind. Here, for example, Ryan Bruns of Mayday Games talks about his experience of game conventions as an exhibitor and how little of a show he actually sees, especially at Gen Con — which opens five weeks from today!





• We also found time to demo a few games that hadn't even been signed, such as the tile-laying game Seikatsu from Isaac Shalev and Matt Loomis — although from the whispering voices that I heard at Origins 2016, you'll probably be seeing this title on tables sooner rather than later.





• You might have noticed pummeling sounds in the background of our Origins 2016 videos. Directly across from the BGG booth was a fenced area in which people beat on one another with foam swords and other weapons. To explain the pummeling in more detail, Stephanie invited someone from the Belegarth Medieval Combat Society on camera to talk about what they do, both at Origins and at other events.





• We closed Origins 2016 with a mammoth conversation with designer/publisher Matt Fantastic of Prettiest Princess Games, who explained Love Will Tear Us Apart in the first couple of minutes of this 48-minute video (!) and I finally played the game on camera in the final few minutes when Stephanie Straw arrived back in the booth after touring the convention hall. Probably NSFW, but I will humbly suggest that this video is well worth your time.

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Thu Jun 30, 2016 11:00 pm
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