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To submit news, a designer diary, outrageous rumors, or other material, please contact BGG News editor W. Eric Martin via email – wericmartin AT gmail.com

Archive for W. Eric Martin

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Game Preview: SPIEL 2016 — Sail Away, or Carry Me and My Coconuts on the Waves

W. Eric Martin
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Marc André nearly took home the Spiel des Jahres award in 2014 for Splendor, a quick-playing game in which players collect gem tokens to purchase cards and (eventually) impress nobles with their varied collection of cards. (Yes, it's possible to write about Splendor in a thematic manner, but I think this is about as far as most people take it.)

André's Barony, released in 2015, features gameplay similar to Splendor in that players take one tiny action each turn, with those actions eventually piling up into something measurable.

Now in 2016, the German branch of Mattel plans to release a new André design — Sail Away — at SPIEL 2016, and once again this game features tiny actions that slowly build to something bigger, with players this time trying to move resources off of tropical islands in order to fulfill contracts for ships, with each filled ship then providing a bonus of some sort. Be sure to watch for the trio of pirates that you can hire each round as if your opponents aren't careful, you can earn more money from them than from anything else...

Set-up for a four-player game


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Fri Sep 30, 2016 5:48 pm
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Game Preview: SPIEL 2016 — Sherlock 13, or What One Man Can Invent Another Can Discover

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

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



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Tue Sep 27, 2016 9:00 pm
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Game Preview: SPIEL 2016 — Goths Save the Queen, or Scatter Her Enemies and Make Them Fall

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

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


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


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Mon Sep 26, 2016 9:00 pm
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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

W. Eric Martin
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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thu Sep 22, 2016 5:31 am
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Game Preview: SPIEL 2016 — Master of Orion: The Board Game, or Belting Your Opponent in Space

W. Eric Martin
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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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Fragor Games' Title for SPIEL 2016 Is...

W. Eric Martin
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Non-existent, and no, that's not a game titled "Non-existent" but the actual lack of a game.

Each year since 2004 brothers Gordon and Fraser Lamont have released one title through their Fragor Games brand, each title seemingly larger and odder than the last. A Game of Gnomes from 2015, for example, included the self-described "most ludicrous piece in boardgaming history", and I think you'd be hard-pressed to come up with other contenders. People speculated that given the Lamontian desire to raise eyebrows ever further, you might need a hand trolley or perhaps even a miniature forklift for the Fragor 2016 release, but now everyone can claim to own it while requiring absolutely no luggage space to bring it home.

That said, the Lamonts do have something in the works, and I'll let Gordon take it from here:

Quote:
We got the opportunity in 2010 of working with a particular license. For reasons unrelated to us, it did not go further at that time. Now, with the advent of Kickstarting, the opportunity of using the license became possible again around last Essen. This makes a change for 2016 in how we will finance/sell the game. It means that our 2016 game will be Kickstarted rather than sold at Essen...

In the near future, we will make a major announcement regarding a license. We are absolutely thrilled to be involved with it.

Just to be clear, what we are planning for 2016 is a "true Kickstarter" project. Basically, it would not have happened but for the development of Kickstarting. This was demonstrated in 2010!

More news regarding the license follows soon. It's exciting. It fits. But the game will not be a traditional Essen release. Let the uninformed speculation begin…!
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Tue Sep 13, 2016 1:00 pm
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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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