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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

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New Game Round-up: Plaid Hat Welcomes Specter Ops, Mayday Games Plans for New Viceroy & Petersen Games Reveals Theomachy

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• As anyone who has ever attempted to design a game knows, games tend to change between their origin and their publication (should they get that far), and sometimes they change even after they've been announced to the public and seemingly immune from large-scale changes.

Witness the announcement of Specter Ops from Plaid Hat Games in mid-November 2014. This title, designed by Emerson Matsuuchi, entered the BGG database as a two-player-only design under the name Cipher Ops with Nazca Games as the publisher. Now the title will accommodate 2-5 players, although the heart of its design remains the same as in the original design. Here's an overview of the game's setting and how it plays:

Quote:
A secret agent of A.R.K. has infiltrated a top secret Raxxon facility, attempting to complete three mission objectives before they escape — but they are hunted by genetically modified Raxxon Hunters. Players can choose which side they wish to join.

Specter Ops is a sci-fi, stealth ops game of hidden movement that's similar to Scotland Yard. Players are trying to locate/capture a mysterious agent, who keeps track of their sneaking via a private map. The other players take control of unique characters who must use their wits, abilities and technology to help them hunt down this infiltrator. Items like flash grenades, scanners, and the like are at the disposal of this covert agent.

• Yuri Zhuravlev's Viceroy from Hobby World debuted in Russian in April 2014 and in English at Spiel 2014 in October, but the game will be more widely available in English come March or April 2015 thanks to a new edition from Mayday Games. Mayday is considering a new cover for the game as well as icons to aid color-blind players, but otherwise plans to make no changes to the design. Mayday also notes that the first printing of this new edition might be limited: "We are pushing up against a busy time of year for production anyway AND with Chinese New Year looming on the horizon we are printing this in Russia, too."

• Continuing in that same vein, I recently featured an overview video of Peter Burley's Kamisado Max in a Spiel 2014 round-up. Katrin Reil from German publisher HUCH! & friends now tells me that the game will also be released in the U.S., most likely in 2015, thanks to a deal with an as-yet-unannounced publisher.

• And with still more in that vein, Sandy Petersen of Petersen Games has noted that in conjunction with Polish publisher Fabryka Gier Historycznych he plans to release an English-language version of Theomachie from the design team of Bylina, Kwapiński and Wasilewski under the name Theomachy. What's more, in this new crowdfunded edition that will be targeted for a Spiel 2015 release, Lovecraftian pantheons will be added to the game, at FGH's suggestion according to Petersen. From an FGH press release:

Quote:
The design works on the game are still in progress, but what we can announce now for sure is the introduction of some novelties to the game, among others, three completely new mythologies – the Egyptian one and two pantheons related to the Cthulhu Mythos – Great Old Ones and Outer Gods. In the design of these factions our team is being helped by Sandy Petersen, the author of the legendary role-playing game Call of Cthulhu and the board game Cthulhu Wars.

Apparently this game was on display in prototype form at BGG.CON 2014, but I saw only the suitcase-sized Cthulhu Wars. Anyone want to chime in if they got a chance to check it out? As for the game itself, here's an overview:

Quote:
When gods fight, the blood of simpletons flows freely. Theomachy lets you become one of the ancient gods and spend one hour playing the lord of a group of devoted followers. You have one goal and one goal only: Annihilate your foe's believers and thereby move yourself one step closer to absolute power.

Drafting prayer cards and power cards allows you to slowly build your might. Using those cards, you send your followers into battles, build temples, and inflict terrible curses on the unfaithful. You face a tough decision in every single hand: Should you put your own power on the line to help your believers win their battles, or should you turn your back on them, sending them to a certain death? If no god yields, hurricanes will face off with deathly plagues, tempests will extinguish walls of fire, and the ranks of the faithful will grow smaller every second.

Once you get rid of your opponent's last prophet, it's time to rest and listen to the cheerful song of your people. You have won the clash of gods.
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Tue Dec 2, 2014 6:00 am
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Videos from Spiel 2014 XXVIII: Mangrovia, Beasty Bar, Zombie Mania, 5 Minutes, Magi Kitchen & Pinocchio: True or False

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• Let's kick out another half-dozen game demonstration videos from Spiel 2014, starting with a trio from Zoch Verlag and parent company Noris Spiele.

Zoch focuses on family games and designs for kids, but it typically has one bigger title each year, and for 2014 that title is Eilif Svensson's Mangrovia. One behind-the-scenes tidbit for this title is that copies delivered to Spiel initially had only one of each bowl instead of two, thus putting a kibosh on sales unless Zoch wanted to raid half the copies in order to make the other half complete. Instead it rang the manufacturer, who was able to spit out and deliver the missing bits the next day so that Zoch could carry on with sales as desired. Not an exciting tidbit, I agree, but those little fixes are commonplace with just-in-time delivery at Spiel.





Beasty Bar from designer Stefan Kloß and publisher Zoch spent a fair amount of time floating near the top of the Fairplay list for best games at Spiel 2014 — which is something of a surprise as the design is more akin to Paul Peterson's Guillotine than any of the heavy strategy games that normally head these lists.





• I included a zombie game in the most recent Spiel 2014 post, so let's drop a second one here: Zombie Mania, with this one coming from the unlikely sources of designer Reiner Knizia and publisher Noris Spiele, parent company of Zoch Verlag. A children's zombie game from Knizia?! Whodathunkit?





• Whoops! I forgot to include Ivan de Faveri's 5 Minutes in the HUCH! & friends block that ran in the previous Spiel 2014 post, but as you might be able to tell from the haphazard nature in which I've been posting these things for a month that I might not be the most organized person in the world.





• Edward Chan's Magi Kitchen from Capstone HK falls into the Jungle Speed, with players needing to exhibit fast pattern-recognition and object-grabbing skills. This video also exhibits what I believe is my first time behind the camera, due to my voice giving out during the show. Beth's a trooper, though, and stepped up to doing additional interviews outside the BGG booth.





Pinocchio: True or False is another design from Chan and Capstone HK, with this one being a combined storytelling and dexterity game in which players build Pinocchio's nose block by block as they fail to detect whether or not a fellow player told a tale.

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Mon Dec 1, 2014 4:59 am
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Videos from Spiel 2014 XXVII: World of Yo-Ho, Time Masters, Carnac, Terra, Kamisado Max & Pints of Blood

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• Didn't I finish posting all of these? No?! Okay, fine — here's another half-dozen game demonstration videos that BGG recorded at Spiel 2014, this time focusing on videos recorded outside of the BGG booth. Yes, even with us recording videos non-stop for five days, with a new game being presented every 10-15 minutes, we still didn't cover them all. Far from it, in fact, as we recorded another thirty or so videos at publishers' stands and had we another pair of individuals to take camera and mic we probably could have recorded dozens more. Of course I'd then be posting them into March 2015 and that would hardly be good.

In any case, at some point Beth and John wandered to the IELLO booth and shot an overview of World of Yo-Ho, being co-published by Volumique in 2015.




• Belgian publisher MushrooM Games released Pierre-Emmanuel Legrain's Time Masters in French in May 2014, and for Spiel 2014 it decided to publish a 400-copy English edition in order to test the game's reception with that market. Here's an overview of the game:





• German publisher HUCH! & friends seems to publish one sharp-looking abstract strategy game every six months, and for Spiel 2014 that slot on its publishing schedule fell to Emiliano Venturini's Carnac (with one sequel also being released, as explained below).





• As a traditional German publisher with a decade's experience in the business, HUCH! & friends has not published a zombie game to date, as far as I know, but that situation changed at Spiel 2014 with the release of Pints of Blood from the pseudonymous design duo Kinjiro, with more than one person describing this design as a board game version of the film Shaun of the Dead.





• I reviewed Peter Burley's abstract strategy game Kamisado in October 2008 on Boardgame News, the site I ran before coming to BGG, and here's part of what I said in that review:

Quote:
Here's a 25-word description of the game: Each turn you move your piece that matches the color onto which the opponent moved, trying to move any piece into the opponent's back row.

You can almost feel yourself getting better at the game the more that you play. Once you've played the game a few times, you can start to spot dangerous situations and potential traps, whether or not the opponent is aware of them. Multiple times I recognized at the end of a move that I had given my opponent the opportunity to win a few turns later; sometimes he picked up on those opportunities and other times the game continued without him realizing that he had missed out. I didn't draw his attention to those situations, but I did learn to avoid putting myself into them in future games. At last I think I did – only more games would prove the point.

HUCH! & friends, which picked up the title in 2009, has now released a larger version of the game — Kamisado Max — but unfortunately I was worrying about being infectious when it came time to speak with Katrin about the game, so I handed over the mic to Beth and scampered away, forgetting to pick up a copy of the new version in the process!

Ah, well, I'll be back in Germany in January 2015...





• For this post's final video, we'll talk about Friedemann Friese's Terra from HUCH!, with this design being a sequel of sorts to his Fauna, which debuted in 2008. Right now Terra is available only in German, but Fauna bloomed in other languages in subsequent years, so perhaps Terra will follow the same route.

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Sun Nov 30, 2014 4:31 am
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New Game Round-up: More for Mage Knight, Western Flicks from Z-Man & Coal, Vikings and Underwater Cities from Spielworxx

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• Another expansion for Vlaada Chvátil's Mage Knight Board Game is in the works, and developer Paul Grogan notes that the material has been handed off to publisher WizKids Games, it won't be out in 2014, and it contains new graveyard tokens. More from Grogan, who can't say what size they are, "but there will be lots of them. This expansion is somewhere in between the first two, but there will be quite a few new tokens, some of different sizes as they are different things and I'm trying to go for a different shape/size so that they can easily be distinguished."

• In March 2014, I posted about a disc-flicking, team-based, western-themed game that Filosofia had signed for release in French and English in 2015. That game from designer Jean-Yves Monpertuis has picked up a co-designer — Gaëtan Beaujannot, who has also co-designer Concept and Guilds of Cadwallon — as well as a final name: What the Flick?!, with Z-Man Games being the publisher of record.

• German publisher Spielworxx plans to release Haspelknecht — the third title in Thomas Spitzer's coal trilogy following Ruhrschifffahrt 1769-1890 and Kohle & Kolonie — in 2015. I know nothing about the game, but you can check out pics of the Haspelknecht prototype on the Spielworxx news page; scroll down to Oct. 11, 2014.

• Also due out in 2015 from Spielworxx is Haithabu from first-time designers Wolfgang Heidenheim and Andreas Molter. Here's an overview of the setting and a smidge of what you're doing in the game:

Quote:
Haithabu is named after an important trading settlement located at the southern end of the Jutland Peninsula (on what's today the border of Denmark and Germany) that the Vikings used from the 8th to the 11th centuries. Its location on the Baltic and North Seas and on the trade routes between Scandinavia and the Frankish Empire led to goods from around the known world — such as the Baltics, Baghdad, and Constantinople — being traded here.

The subject of constant wars and changes of power, as well as the progressive Christianization of those in the north, Haithabu — known as "Hedeby" in English — had a rich history that ended in 1050 when the Norwegian king sacked and burned the town in a conflict with Denmark.

As Vikings, players trade with all the known world while also living through the changes and dark days at the end of the Early Middle Ages.

• Also coming from Spielworxx, albeit not until 2016(!), is Alexandre Garcia's Dilluvia Project, which Spielworxx's Uli Blennemann announced signing in late October 2014. The subject matter of the game falls outside of what you might expect from Spielworxx, but the game itself sounds just as involved as some of its other publications:

Quote:
The population on Earth has grown beyond the productive soil capacity, and the ocean level is about to drown some of the major coastal towns along the planet. An emergency project is set to ensure the first city underwater as a pilot project for the coming future: the Dilluvia Project.

In Dilluvia Project, the players represent different companies operating on the construction of the first underwater city. Their purpose is not only to build the city in deep water, but to establish a population there. The estimated capacity of Dilluvia is about 5,000 persons, split among residents, service people and scientific personnel. The player with the most efficient procedures to bring population to Dilluvia will win the game. It's crucial to build competitive buildings, but it's also very important to increase the company prestige in order to capture the interest of new inhabitants.

The game lasts seven months (seven turns), during which the modular buildings will be implemented. Each turn consists of a buying phase (through an original system) followed by a worker placement phase. A special worker allows the first player to occupy the action spot to realize it with a bonus. The dome of Dilluvia is space limited, and all terrain must be bought and approved by the government (as there are some restrictions) before placing any building. Players will also struggle to occupy the preferable areas and try to achieve goals that bring them honorific titles and additional prestige.

After the worker placement phase, each player takes his income (prestige points, money and resources) according to his active buildings and the activated functions in them. (Each building has two different income proposals.) Each month, one event will happen, and the companies may also realize outside works to obtain prosperity.

Will the Dilluvia Project become the seed of a new world underwater, guaranteeing the mankind survival in a more and more scarce world?
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Fri Nov 28, 2014 6:00 am
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Game Preview at BGG.CON 2014: Elysium, or At Play in the Elysian Fields

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Throughout BGG.CON 2014 and shortly afterward, I had many people ask for my favorite game from the show, and as is often the case at cons my answer was not even on their radar because I tend to play prototypes of games due out in the near future. I'm the news guy, yes?, so I need to be looking ahead, eyes on the horizon, no longer concerned with those games freshly on the market that everyone else is playing and enjoying. I'd say it's a rough life, but I doubt that anyone would believe me.

In any case, my favorite game from BGG.CON 2014 was Elysium from designers Brett Gilbert and Matthew Dunstan, which should be out in February 2015 from Space Cowboys. At Gen Con 2014, Croc gave me an overview of the game and it sounded great, but he wanted to hold off on recording a video as Black Fleet was new on the market and he didn't want to steal that game's thunder. We then recorded a video of Elysium at Spiel 2014, but the sound was somewhat botched, making it hard to hear about the game. Let that deficit now be filled! Although you'll have to read the sections below out loud if you want to actually hear about it...

Central card layout after a few turns

The gist of Elysium is that you're trying to earn the favor of Olympians by building strong legends, with the legends being comprised of characters from Greek myth. In each of the five rounds of the game, you're going to claim three characters from the central playing area by using your colored tokens; each character card has one or more colored circles on it, and to claim the character you must give up one token matching one of those circles. With the fourth colored token, you take one of four turn order markers, with the marker giving you a set amount of gold, victory points (VPs) and transfers; more about the transfers later.

If you can't use a token to claim a character (because none of your tokens match the characters on display), then you take a citizen — that is, a face-down character card. Citizens have no abilities and can cost you VPs at the end of the game, but they can still be useful.

If you can't use a token to claim a turn order marker (again because none of your tokens match the markers still available), then you'll go last in turn order next round and receive only a pittance of gold and transfers. You want to avoid this, if possible, but you're torn in multiple directions each round with only four tokens available, so sometimes you just take the hit.

Blue and yellow — spent! Green and red to go...

Each character has different abilities, and you'll ideally combine these abilities in good ways to earn gold and victory points. My cards above, for example, might not seem ideal at first glance — the one on the left with the little snake icon can't be used unless I hold another snake card in my domain, and the one on the right relates to getting and using citizens, which is the failsafe option on a turn and not something you probably want to plan for — but it was the first turns of a game I had never played, so I was winging it and hoping for the best.

Some characters have an instant ability, some an ongoing one; some can be tapped once per round, some have a one-shot use whenever you deem it best; and some affect only the endgame scoring. If you've played a few games, then you'll probably be familiar with the types of options available on them.

To earn victory points, you need to give up your characters — that is, transfer them from your domain to your elysium, a.k.a. the Elysian Fields that served as a place for mortals deemed favorable by the gods to go after they died. The trick is that once you place a character in your elysium, you can't use its power any longer. Thus, you want to put together an awesome combo engine on the fly during the game while simultaneously dismantling that engine along the way.

My final elysian holdings

You can transfer a character to your elysium only at the end of a round or if a special power allows you to do so. As you do, you start a new legend or add to an existing legend, with each legend being cards of the same value or from the same faction. The larger the legend, the more points it's worth at the end of the game.

Cards are numbered 1-3 and come from eight factions (with only five used each game), and you need to pay 1-3 gold each time that you transfer a character. You can't repeat a character in a legend, so throughout the game you're trying to draft both characters that can prove useful in the early going while also allowing you to score them later. Once you have two characters in a legend, you can then transfer a citizen to it as a joker.

Bonus tiles are available for legends, with each value having a bonus token that works akin to Catan's longest road bonus; once you have two characters of the same value in a legend, you claim the token and you'll hold it until someone has more characters in a legend than you do. The bonus tokens for factions are first come, first served, with the player who first puts together two cards from the same faction earning five points and the next player earning two. As you can tell from the image above, I racked up a fair number of bonuses, but no one else seemed to be concentrating on faction legends, so I picked up three of them, in addition to one other bonus. Victory!

The side of the box that I stared at all game: dreamy...

As I mentioned above, Elysium includes characters that align with eight Olympian gods, with the characters for a particular god generally working well together — but only five groups of characters are used in a particular game, thus allowing you to change the nature of the game simply by swapping one group of characters out for another. Each faction repeats certain abilities — gain gold or VPs each time that you add a character from X faction to your domain or elysium — but each also seems to have its own identity. (The helmet icon on the personal player board relates to one of the factions we didn't use, so I'm not sure what that does in the game!)

Elysium combines lots of stuff that I love in games: drafting, card combos, a mini-game of "chicken" as you try to float a card for pick-up on your next turn, and the challenge of a new card layout each round that forces you to adapt on the fly.

This latter bit is perhaps the most enticing thing, something I dug in Colors of Kasane, too, for example: Over the course of the game you're going to have only fifteen characters. That's it! From the layout of 3n+1 characters each round, you get at most three of them, so at the start of the round you eyeball them all for powers you want and the mix of colors required to get them. Here's who I want first, but I'm going third in the round, so here's the back-up first choice. Ah, but you took that one, leaving only one other yellow character available in addition to the yellow turn order marker. One of us is going to lose out on yellow — but can I afford not to take that character now? Will it still be there for me? What is everyone else collecting, and so they have supporting characters to make that one matter to them?

Each round is a mini-game, with everything building up and being torn apart at the same time. You face off against your fellow citizens while also confronting the whim of the gods, who constantly challenge you anew. Looking forward to trying this again in 2015!
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Thu Nov 27, 2014 3:35 pm
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Game Preview at BGG.CON 2014: SeaFall, or Riding the Tides and Raiding the Towns

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Shortly before BGG.CON 2014 was due to take place, designer Rob Daviau of IronWall Games posted the following on Twitter:


Um, yes? I contacted Rob, arranged for two friends to join us, then picked up a fourth player on the way to our Friday afternoon playtest session. Three hours later, we all surfaced from an incredibly immersive game experience, eager for more yet unsure of when it might come.

SeaFall, for those who don't know, was the first project undertaken by Daviau after he left his position as a game designer at Hasbro in 2012 to start IronWall Games. Here's an overview of that title:

Quote:
SeaFall is a 4X game (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) set in an "age of sail" world reminiscent of our world.

In SeaFall, the world is starting to claw its way out of a dark age and has begun to rediscover seafaring technology. Players take on the role of a mainland empire that consults with a consortium of advisors to discover new islands, explore those islands, develop trade, send out raiding parties, take part in ship-to-ship combat, and more. As in Risk Legacy, co-designed by Daviau, SeaFall evolves as player plays the game, setting their grudges into the history of the game and building a different narrative at every table as players open up the world.

And for those who don't know Risk Legacy, let's take one further step back to explain that this release in 2011 took the decades-old, world domination game of Risk and set the game world on fire by requiring you to write on the map, add stickers with new rules to the rulebook, or, yes, set parts of the game on fire based on who won and what happened during that particular playing session.

Image: D Conklin

Risk Legacy mashed the idea of a role-playing campaign into ye olde board game, with the environment changing around you from game to game while still adhering to the "one winner" approach of boardgaming, with the winner writing himself into history so that everyone can be reminded of that victory in the future.

After Daviau left Hasbro to start IronWall Games, he decided to take this Legacy idea one step further and create an entire world that players could explore from scratch, a world not bound by the strictures of Risk, a world that could be as large and detailed as he liked.

While that sounded like a good plan, it turned out to be a bit more of a challenge than he first realized. After all, as he noted before the interview recorded below, when he started working on Risk Legacy, 70% of the work was already done because he was building on an engine that was familiar to nearly all gamers. He was tweaking the known, drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa as it were, instead of starting with a blank canvas — and once he took up that canvas, he didn't just paint the surface, but transformed it into a diorama, a mobile, a music box of moving parts that grew out of control. The design was a monster of a game that few would play because it started big, then blew up still further to engulf every moment of your playing time.

While some would obviously relish this level of immersion, Daviau was practical enough to realize that he had to rein in the design, both to bring the playing time down in the early games and to allow for him to better monitor how the SeaFall campaign played out over multiple games. He mentioned, for example, finding that things would go out of control in, say, game nine, which would require him to tweak things in game one so that the campaign wouldn't Hulk out later and kill everyone — but then he'd need to find players to run through the campaign again in order to make sure that game nine now played nicely. All of those changes and tests and re-tests take time.

Daviau, at upper right, welcomes us to his world

So what's the state of the game right now? Since SeaFall design is still underway, I'll avoid details and go for an overview, ideally providing enough for you to get a sense of the gameplay without contradicting what the game will actually be when released.

In general, each game of SeaFall lasts a number of years, with each year lasting a number of turns — how's that for avoiding details? — then concluding with a scoring phase based on how well each player is ranked in the four guilds of the game, with the guilds caring about how you well do things like explore and trade. Scoring is relative, so it doesn't matter how far you are ahead of everyone else — only that you are ahead of them — and doing well in one year gives you a boost in subsequent years.

Winning the game nets you a permanent advantage of some kind, while losing gives you a temporary hand-up for the next go-round; win or lose, though, everyone finds the world a bit different in the next game, both due to personal improvements and due to the world itself being both better known and more open to exploration.

In the first game, each player represents the leader of a seacoast town in the year 1501, and you're eager to explore the islands visible in nearby waters, buy and sell goods to fuel economic growth and construction in your town, raid other towns to take control of their stuff, and find the right people who can make all of this happen better for you than for other town leaders. As Daviau mentions in the video below, SeaFall is something of a gamer's soup, with everyone throwing their personal tastes into the pot. If everyone wants to attack one another, so be it; if some want to explore endlessly, they can make it happen (unless someone else gets there first; if you want to take a chance on stealing goods instead of paying for them, well, it's on your head if things go sour.

You have ships to sail and a bit of funds to fuel your actions; these actions are connected to the guilds, and some of them just advance your holdings or improve your ships or defenses while other actions give you standing with the associated guild, but you can't just take those actions, of course, because you need to put yourself in a position to take them and that takes time — just as Daviau's development efforts are all taking time. They're not scoring him anything in the gamer guild right now, but ideally he'll eventually be in the right position to land this vessel and let everyone else start exploring.

For now, though, you'll have to be content with this video shot at BGG.CON 2014 in which Daviau discusses SeaFall and other projects in the works from IronWall Games:

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Tue Nov 25, 2014 6:00 pm
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Game Previews at BGG.CON 2014: Love Letter Gets Rewritten with The Batman and The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

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• My goal at BGG.CON 2014 was to speak with a few publishers and designers about upcoming games, ideally on camera, while also trying out said games so that I could write about them in more detail.

One of my targets, strange as it might sound, was Love Letter: Batman from Seiji Kanai and Alderac Entertainment Group. Why Love Letter: Batman, you might ask yourself, given how well Love Letter is already known and how light the game itself is. That lightness, though, is precisely one of the reasons why I wanted to focus on this game. The number of Batman fans far outnumbers the people who know about Love Letter — or who even know about modern board games for that matter — and that fanaticism for Batman was on display at BGG.CON 2014 where several people passing by the table during our demo shouted "Yeah, Batman!" or something similar.

The low cost of Love Letter: Batman will undoubtedly encourage many of them to pick up the game, just as that cost has made comic book retailers excited to carry the game in the first place, and some percentage of those buyers will go on to discover a fine little game that they otherwise would have never encountered. That's one way that new game players are created, and since I'd love to see more people playing games, I'm excited by the prospect.

Gamers joke about Love Letter becoming like Munchkin — which, of course, it literally already has — but they say that as if it were a bad thing, as if giving people something fun to play or introducing new people to a world that you enjoy is somehow bad. Me, I'm all about hoping that people find something that they love to do, whether or not I'm doing the same thing as them. Sure, I might prefer that everyone like the same games that I do so that they sell well and ensure the designers and publishers a revenue stream that will support their future creative endeavors, but I'll be satisfied with more people gaming no matter what they play.

(Why do I care whether more people are playing games? Because I enjoy playing games and want to share that joy with others, because I want people to discover new concepts in games beyond what they've seen in toy stores for decades, and because I want the possibility of more players with whom to play games. I'm selfish that way. Also, job security.)

Anyway, I played a couple of rounds of Love Letter: Batman at BGG.CON 2014, and it does exactly what's promised: Put a twist on the original game that makes you play it just a little bit differently. You can read the game description on the BGG if you want to know details, or you watch the video below in which I talk with AEG's Todd Rowland about this version of the game, the origins of Love Letter, and other versions of the game coming down the pike, namely Love Letter: Adventure Time and Love Letter: Archer.


In the video above, Todd and I also cover the twists in Love Letter: The Hobbit – The Battle of the Five Armies, another version of the game that's also due out March 2015, but if you haven't watched that video you can catch it all in the shorter video below or read the description on the linked game page that's now live in the BGG database.

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Mon Nov 24, 2014 7:28 pm
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Videos from Spiel 2014 XXVI: Tash Kalar: Everfrost, Dungeon Lords Anniversary, Astro Jam, Kryptos & Family Bingo

W. Eric Martin
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• After a couple of off days (uh oh), it's time to continue with the game demonstrations recorded in the BGG booth during Spiel 2014.

At that convention, Czech Games Edition unveiled a new edition of Vlaada Chvátil's Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends — an edition that CGE will be handing off to distributors in the U.S. as it's now publishing English-language editions of its own titles instead of licensing them to others — and in addition it released a new faction for use with that game: Everfrost. Paul Grogan lets you know what you'll find inside the box:





• For the fifth anniversary of Vlaada Chvátil's Dungeon Lords, CGE stepped onto Kickstarter to offer a supersized edition complete with the expansion and other bits, and 2,300 people backed one version or another (or just the new bits) of Dungeon Lords: Happy Anniversary, which is something of a shelf hog in its final form.





• The basic description of Trefl's Astro Jam from designers Michal Kolos and Wojciech Rzadek will be reminiscent of Space Alert — you and your fellow players are on a damaged space station and must repair all the damaged systems before time runs out — but of course that's the nature of basic descriptions: You leave out all the details that make things not the same. That's what video game demonstrations are for...





• For the best Spiel experience, one should probably not wait until a month after the convention to read the descriptions of games being presented there, especially when the games are being presented by non-U.S. publishers that might be more difficult than usual to acquire (me being in the U.S., that is), but such is the case with Piotr Siłka's Kryptos from Trefl, this being a deduction game in which you're trying to figure out which cards the other players are holding based on color clues and some revealed information. Ah, well, given that we included Kryptos in our Spiel line-up, the BGG library should have a copy on hand that I can check out — although I'll remember to do that in December when it's also far, far too late.





• As a German-only or Polish-only family party game, I can see why Reiner Knizia's Family Bingo from Trefl has not made waves on BGG (other than the lone 1 hate rating), but the game itself seems fine for what it's trying to do: Mesh the victory condition of Bingo, i.e., make a line of chips on a grid, by accomplishing party game-type feats, such as guessing what image someone is creating out of sticks.

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Wed Nov 19, 2014 3:32 pm
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Crowdfunding Round-up: Snake Oil, Losers, Dead Family Members & Much More

W. Eric Martin
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As a personal challenge for this crowdfunding round-up, I'm going to see whether I can restrict my description for each game to a single sentence. Why? Just because.

• Conveniently enough, Out of the Box Publishing has launched its first Kickstarter project for the appropriately named Snake Oil: Elixir, a new version of its Snake Oil party game in which people put together randomly drawn words to pitch a new product to a customer. (KS link)

• In Andy Van Zandt's Zero Day from Jolly Roger Games, players are hackers trying to sneak exploits into the corrupt and oppressive Mainframe. (KS link)

• Another Jolly Roger game in the same KS project is Patrick Lysaght's Glory & Riches, which has players trying to earn a seat on the throne through either economic or military expansion. (KS link)

Don't Be a Loser is a betting party game (as if you couldn't tell) from Matthew Leitz and All Over the Board Games in which a playtester is quoted as almost peeing her pants, which seems like a positive thing even though the game itself is not pee-related and peeing does not help you win, at least as far as I can tell. (KS link)

• Ryan Laukat's Artifacts, Inc. through his own Red Raven Games is all about dealing in ancient goods (a.k.a. swag) to pick up reputation points (a.k.a. swag) faster than anyone else. (KS link)

Spell Saga is a one-player "tabletop novel" card game from Todd Michael Rogers that has far too many backer levels for me to make sense of it, but thankfully I'm sticking to single sentence descriptions here, so I can just stop at the period. (KS link)

• Shane Butler's Paper Toss has you tossing metaphorical papers in your role as newspaper delivery boy — so it's a fantasy game, yes? (KS link)

• The fantasy football (soccer) game Helvetia Cup from Crittin, Largey and Helvetia Games is doing far better in its second go on KS, which includes new expansion teams and a KS exclusive team and lots of other things that drive a project to Kickstarter success. (KS link)

• In contrast, the non-fantasy football game Soccer City from Lisandro Nembrini and Gonzalo Rodrigo, which debuted in Spain in 2013, goes for intense simulation and sweaty, ball-clutching realism as is evident on the cover — wait, that doesn't sound right, does it? (KS link)


Crop Cycle: The Game of Competitive Farming from Trevor Lehmann pretty much gives the gameplay away in the title, but I will note that the game features manipulated photographs of agriculture local to Manitoba and Lehmann has posted eleven designer diary segments to date on the Convergent Games website. (KS link)

• Rob Daviau of IronWall Games has launched a KS for his first release, a new version of Anthony Conta's Funemployed! in which players try to convince others that their oddball skills and possessions would make them the perfect choice for a job as, say, astronaut or priest. (KS link)

• You want to stuff your recently deceased family members in the most ideal plots in the cemetery in Arron Watts' Bring Out Yer Dead, but you're not actually stuffing them in, mind you, not physically stuffing them in; this isn't a dexterity game, after all, although now I'm curious to see what such a game would look like. (KS link)

• Every time I see Jamie Wallis' Lone Wolf: The Battle for Magnamund from Greywood Publishing, I'm thinking it's Lone Wolf and Cub because I'm not familiar with the choose-your-own-adventure style Lone Wolf books from Joe Dever, but the game is based on those and not the manga, so try not to make the same mistake as me, despite me now surreptitiously implanting that false idea. (KS link)

Robots Love Ice Cream: The Card Game is, duh, a card game that's based on a video game of the same name, but you're not one of the robots, no, you're in charge of a weaponized ice cream truck and must protect your precious creamy treat from those ever-clanking metallic maws. (KS link)

• IELLO's World of Yo-Ho has you use your smartphone as a pirate ship, sailing that phone through the waters while cannonballs fly across the screen, ideally destroying someone else and not you. (KS link)

• Toystorian Enterprises is running a KS campaign in which you can get your custom designs engraved in 16mm dice, and while I'm not sure why this is a KS campaign as opposed to just something you can purchase, I'm writing about the project in this BGGN post instead of ignoring it so that 10% commission to KS and Amazon might be money well spent! (KS link)

• Minion Miniatures has a "monsters of the underdeep" KS campaign, but I think it's just for minis, not a game — and what's an "underdeep" anyway? (KS link)

• Al Caynes is looking to self-publish El Luchador Fantastico Grande, his first design and one about dog-grooming, I think —no, macramé conventions? rare book hoarding? I forget... (KS link)

V-Commandos is a co-operative WWII game from Thibaud de la Touanne and Triton Noir in which players can run through pre-set missions or generate their own combining the included objective cards. (KS link)

• Myles O'Neill's Dragon Racer has you and up to three other players — or seven, if you combine two sets — doing just that, albeit with no Monstrous Nightmares in sight. (KS link)

Editor's note: Please don't post links to other Kickstarter projects in the comments section. Write to me via the email address in the header, and I'll consider them for inclusion in a future crowdfunding round-up. Thanks! —WEM
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Tue Nov 18, 2014 4:35 pm
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Asmodee to Acquire Fantasy Flight Games

W. Eric Martin
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Three months after the merger of Days of Wonder into the Asmodee Group, another big deal in the games industry is going down, namely the merging of U.S. publisher Fantasy Flight Games into that very same Asmodee Group.

As announced today by FFG, Asmodee and Fantasy Flight Games have a "pending merger of the two companies", and while the terms of the deal weren't disclosed in the announcement, the press release does mention that FFG CEO Christian T. Petersen "will continue as the CEO of Fantasy Flight Games while also becoming a significant shareholder of the combined entity". Petersen explained the nature of the merge in a bit more detail via email: "All existing shareholders of FFG will be selling their shares to the Asmodee Group. I will be reinvesting the majority of my personal proceeds into Asmodee, taking a significant position in the group."

While this announcement will undoubtedly come as a surprise to most in the games industry, FFG and Asmodee have been talking about this possibility on and off since 2010, according to Petersen. "It was very important to me that such an event be a win for FFG's shareholders, for our staff, for our partners, and for the customers — the gamers without whom FFG never would have been," he wrote. "Last February [2014], at the New York Toy Fair, Stéphane Carville (Asmodee's CEO) approached me with a very compelling vision for how to positively merge the two companies that achieved these goals."

That vision works along the same lines as the Asmodee/Days of Wonder deal, with Fantasy Flight Games operating as an independent brand and publishing entity within the Asmodee Group. According to Petersen, "None of FFG's product plans are affected by the merger, and we anticipate that none of our licensing partnerships will be affected. I'm hugely excited for customers to get their hands on games like Star Wars: Imperial Assault, XCOM: The Board Game, Star Wars: Armada, The Witcher, and Eldritch Horror: Mountains of Madness (not to speak of the future releases we're developing for X-Wing, our LCGs, etc.). We've worked hard on these games, and I'm really proud of the FFG teams and of the product."

"The merger will allow FFG's design and development staff to continue work on games that are true to FFG's unique vision for hobby games," Petersen continued. "In fact, it will allow us to dedicate more resources and focus on the 'large and ambitious' games that are the core of our DNA. Other companies in the Asmodee Group will explore games aimed at the mass [market] and other game categories (such as abstract games), allowing FFG to concentrate on what we do best. This is quite liberating."

As for what might be different under the FFG label in the future, Petersen noted, "You'll probably see a few suitable games from FFG's catalog find their way to other publishers in the Asmodee Group, and vice versa."

So if FFG is going to remain independent, aside from small changes like, say, Ingenious bearing the Asmodee label or Claustrophobia migrating to FFG — and I'm just gassing here, not identifying changes that will actually happen — why make the deal in the first place? What benefits will emerge from the merge?

The press release notes that the "Asmodee Group of game companies will gain access to Fantasy Flight Games' strong sales, operational, and marketing infrastructure in North America, as well Fantasy Flight Games' almost-20 years of expertise in game development and multi-language game manufacturing". What does that mean in more practical terms? "After the merger, I believe that FFG will be the largest, oldest, and most experienced game publisher in the Asmodee Group," Petersen explained. "FFG produces hundred of new SKUs every year, and we coordinate manufacturing and localization across dozens of languages. Over the years FFG has developed and invested in many processes, manufacturing techniques, and propriety software applications to handle and oversee operations unique to the business of global games publishing.  We hope to make many of these tools, processes, and know-how available to the other companies in the group, which in turn should enable them to pass more value along to gamers."

And speaking of other languages, the press release notes that FFG will benefit from Asmodee's "distribution and marketing reach in Europe, greatly improving its product placement and organized play initiatives across the Continent." As Petersen explained, "We are able to do a great deal of support in English for our games (especially our LCGs). This merger will allow us to invest more in European organized play (OP) so there's more, and faster, tournament support (via localized tournament and game night kits), judges, and special events. Our hope is, sometime in the future, to have dedicated Asmodee staff in Europe that can provide great OP experiences for players across the Continent."

But what about FFG's products in other languages? Right now Fantasy Flight Games licenses titles to Edge Entertainment for release in French and Spanish; to Heidelberger Entertainment for release in German; and to Wargames Club, Game Harbor and Swan Panasia for release in Chinese. The Asmodee Group has multiple subsidiaries around the world — Asmodee GmbH in Germany, Asmodee France, Asmodee China, Asmodee Ibérica in Spain, Asmodee US, etc. — with those subsidiaries releasing titles in those very languages, so what's the future of those existing relationships? Petersen says that Heidelberger and Edge Entertainment "will continue to localize and represent FFG" for those markets and "will work with the respective Asmodee divisions to increase marketing and organized play support for those countries". Heidelberger, for example, will "work hand-in-hand with Asmodee to increase FFG's marketing presence in Germany, such as greatly expanding FFG's visibility at shows like Spiel in Essen". (Asmodee had already enlarged its presence at Spiel 2014 to occupy approximately one-quarter of Hall 3, thanks in part to the Days of Wonder acquisition, so perhaps it'll have one-third in 2015 — or, why not, all of Hall 1?)

Petersen added this note about these publishing companies: "The questions regarding partners like Edge and Heidelberger are actually very pertinent. FFG could not have been the company we are today without the work, support, collaboration, and friendship of people like Harald, Heiko, Gilles, and Jose. It was vital to me that those partners find a positive place and future in the context of this merger. I believe we've achieved this." (My translation: Don't be surprised should Asmodee acquire Edge and Heidelberger in the near future. Again, speculation, but I will point to this line in a January 2014 Reuters article about Eurazeo's acquisition of Asmodee at that time: "The acquisition debt was provided by European Capital and Tikehau, which have also made a dedicated debt facility available to the company to finance its external growth." That said, I put the question to Asmodee and company rep Kevin Brown reported the following answer: "For the foreseeable future, it is anticipated that current and upcoming FFG products will continue to be localized and sold by FFG's existing international partners. Asmodee intends to work with those same distributors to broaden product availability, marketing presence, and organized play support where possible.")

As for China, Petersen wrote, "Only a few of our products are available in Chinese — legally anyway." While FFG will continue to partner with Wargames Club, Game Harbor and Swan Panasia "on those products that make sense for them", wrote Petersen, "Asmodee's China offices will allow significantly more FFG games to be localized and available in China which will be a great thing."

What's more, added Petersen, "other than publishing, Asmodee's China office should allow us to do an even better job in our compliance monitoring of product and workplace safety/ethics of factories, a point that is very important to FFG and its licensing partners, and increasingly to gamers."

Asked for closing thoughts on the deal — why this partner, why now — Petersen wrote: "From time to time over the last twenty years, we have experienced interest from outside parties — some very cursory, and some serious. None have balanced all the considerations as carefully and positively as Asmodee's offer. I believe the merger will be a tremendous positive for our staff, our partners, and most importantly, the players who want to see FFG's brand of game products prosper into the future."
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Mon Nov 17, 2014 6:00 pm
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