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Gaming for a living

When one designs and published board games for a living, one tends to rant a lot about it. This is where we do that, the folks involved with NSKN Games and our special friends and supporters. We'll post here our ideas about gaming, about life, about gaming more often than not, about the specific challenges of making a business out of a hobby and... did we mention games?

Archive for Andrei Novac

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Post Essen board games party, 2016 edition

Andrei Novac
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Spiel Essen is once again behind us. It’s been crazier than ever, but this is not the reason you’re reading these lines. We’re gamers at heart and even though our daily effort is allocated mostly to publishing, we like to take time off and enjoy opening games, punching our tokens and inhale the smell of freshly printed cardboard. It is also becoming a tradition to have a weekend long gathering of friends and play as many Essen titles as we can.

This year, our board games party coincided with a local bank holiday, so instead of some mean 48 hours of non-stop gaming, we were able to extend the event to four full days and expand our range from strategy to kids games, enjoying, talking about and criticizing a whole trunk full of games, out of which a few were absolutely amazing. To top this, the setting – a wooden house in the middle of the lake district of Poland, surrounded by trees and serenity, made it into an unforgettable experience.

Without any chronological order, here’s what I played and what I am left with…

Terraforming Mars was by far the most hyped game over the summer and the first autumn months, so I was obviously very curious about it, especially since my friends advertised it as “better than Through the Ages” which is one of my favorite all-time games. I played a Polish copy which got me a bit worried at first, but the symbols on the cards made the game almost language independent. The game play is rock solid, the decisions are right where they should be, there’s fierce competition for prime spots on Mars as well as for the best or rather most suitable cards. The artwork blends perfectly with the theme, giving this game the epic feel I was expecting. For me this is the first straight 10 of the year and by far the best game of 2016!

Another game which came with high hopes was The Colonists. The price point, heavy box and the promise of a very solid euro, bordering a civilization game made me want to play it almost as badly as the aforementioned Terraforming Mars. The game plays through four ages, taking 5+ hours and huge space on the table. Sadly, that’s about all it does. By the end of age I it seemed like a very cool game, with meaningful decisions and a strong preparation for age II. In age II we were all able to create combos, little working ‘industries’ of resources and points, but the game started feeling samey. Age III was the last we played as we were approaching the 6-hour mark and the game felt already stripped of meaningful decisions. A good game creates complexity through smart mechanisms, while this one does it by adding more and more components. It’s not a bad game, but it does not live up to its promise.

Then came Islebound, a game we managed to get at Gen Con but did not have time to play until last weekend. It is an excellent game, walking well in the footsteps of Above and Below, with the same thematic feel and sharing some game mechanics, yet fresh and immersive. The fact that a 10-year old was able to play and be competitive made an even stronger impression. All I can add is that I enjoyed every minute of the game and I am very happy that it made it into our collection.

Stefan Feld’s The Oracle of Delphi also came with great expectations. Unlike many of my friends, I am not a Feld fan and while I usually enjoy his games, I do not find them unique or special enough to make into my top ten. I am happy to report that in this case the game play exceeded the already high expectations. The Oracle of Delphi is an excellent dice + racing game. The luck factor is limited by mitigating factors, the player powers are small but meaningful, encouraging diverse strategies, the iconography is good and for a race game I cannot see how it could be better. The dice manipulation is implemented in a smart way, so the point to point movement and the pick-up-and-delivery is complex enough to generate a wide range of approaches. The game offers an epic feeling and the satisfaction to have raced, whether you win or not.

Ice Cool is a completely different dish. First, I must complement the publisher for making a smart and ergonomic game box/board. The box-in-a-box-in-a-box is very effective, the game is easy to set up and even easier to play. It’s a flicking game, so you’d think not my cup of tea… yet I enjoyed it enough to play it several times, with a mixed group of kids and self-respecting adults, having loads of fun. I must admit that I would not play it again and again as my fingers hurt and I find it a bit repetitive, but it’s a challenge to defeat a bunch of 10-year old kids at a game they have been ‘built’ to play.

So, how about some Adrenaline? In my opinion, this is a Euro disguised under a shoot-em-up coat, ready to entertain players who enjoy a healthy victory point competition as well as Doom/Quake/Counterstrike nostalgics. I must admit that when I was a kid I was pretty terrible at first person shooters, so I had the chance tp redeem myself and kill a bunch of misfits in Adrenaline. Even though I did not win, I came close enough. The cool part of the game is the presence of the negative interaction (shooting at and killing other characters) which does not bother anyone at all. It is a game about shooting in the end, but as you die and re-spawn immediately, you’re totally OK with this, sometime even asking players “shoot me, shoot me!”. Overall, Adrenaline offers a fresh playing experience and it should soon find a place in our collection.

Eurogames are the most popular in our group, so we could not go through a long playing weekend without at least a few proper euros. Ulm was the first on the list and it is a solid game. We played with the full array of components for the expert variant and it was worth it. The game play flows well, with very little down time, it allows different strategies, there is even a race component to the game which makes it more attractive and the worker placement mechanism is replaced by a push mechanic which adds an element of randomness to manage.

In the break from mind twisters, we focused a little on race and party games. Chariot Race is a good racing game, spoiled by the quality of components and the lack of artwork. It is still fun to roll the dice, race and deal a bit of damage to the other competitors, while leaving behind traps… even if you’re the one falling in them. HOP! is the opposite side of the spectrum, with amazing components, but lacking in game play. The game look gorgeous and if it were just a toy I would happily rate it a 9, but for a game – even a children game – it is underwhelming to say the least. The beautiful minis could be simple wooden cubes, the 3D board could be a single card scoring track and the game play would be exactly the same.

The last game worth mentioning is Bohemian Villages. It’s a small and rather simple dice game, which promises very little and delivers so much more! You roll your dice and assign your subjects to various buildings in several towns. Every building scores differently and you can make as many dice combinations as you can imagine. A low roll is not a bad roll and the designers have clearly done their research, because the most probable rolls are assigned to building which score throughout the game, while the least probable outcomes for those to be scored at the end, giving everyone a chance to get back in the game even after a slow start.
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Fri Nov 4, 2016 2:32 pm
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The next best thing or how Essen never fails to disappoint

Andrei Novac
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Is there any real innovation in board games lately? I've heard opinions in both directions and the truth lies somewhere in the middle... or does it?

Let's start with a bit of background, and take a look at the truly innovative board games which were also commercially successful. First on the list is Catan, the father of modern German-style board gaming, still a best seller after more than a decade, a game with player interaction, light enough to entice casual players and strategic enough to attract a more demanding community. Carcassonne followed introducing tile-laying as a core mechanism, Ticket to Ride was another huge hit which still sells well today and the last two I can think of are Dominion, famous for establishing deck building as a genre of its own, and 7 Wonders for making card drafting a relevant and wide spread core mechanic and shortening the length of a complex game to 30 minutes.

Although this isn't necessarily my personal opinion, most gamers I spoke to acknowledge these titles as innovative and trend making in the board games industry. But 7 Wonders was published in 2010 and we're now at the end of 2015 and most people I asked failed to see any other big title as a candidate for trendsetting and eternal fame. More than this, every year upon returning from Spiel Essen, people I talk to are saying the same thing over and over again: this Essen was not as good as last year, we found some interesting titles but none I couldn't live without. So, more often than not, frequent Essen attendees tend to come back rather disappointed.

So, what are the big hits of last years and why have they failed to become "the new Catan"?

2011 - the biggest hit I remember was Eclipse. The game is brilliant, it gather a lot of fans and it revived the 4x genre, but as far as I know it did not come close to selling 100,000 copies, thus it cannot qualify as a great commercial success, although from the innovation stand point it ... something.

2012 - Terra Mystica is now on the second place on Board Game Geek with a (small) chance of gaining the crown. In my opinion it is one of the best games I've ever played and yet I fail to see how Terra Mystica is an innovative game. There is no new mechanic and all it does is bind together a bunch of existing ideas in an almost perfect way. Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar is only innovative in the way it displays its concepts, while the latter are still the same, worker placement and action selection.

2013 - Caverna: The Cave Farmers made it highest in the BGG rankings from all 2013 releases and yet it is still the same old worker placement game (Agricola) made a bit better , Eldritch Horror is a new and better Arkham Horror and Russian Railroads is a solid yet in no way innovative title.

2014 - Star Wars: Imperial Assault sold very well but with a Star Wars license behind almost anything sells well and it's not too different from Descent to call this game innovative, Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game is seen as quite innovative by many, yet I fail to see this as a trendsetting game and Five Tribes or Istanbul are very solid designs without reaching that critical mass to make them huge. Alchemists had the innovation element is introducing successfully a mobile app in a board game, but the game itself was simply not good enough to be placed in the same category as Dominion or 7 Wonders.

Is 2015 the same? Full of solid games which will be easily forgotten is 3-5 years? I hope not. Codenames has already impressed me through its simplicity which makes it a great game for casual players, yet attractive enough for my gaming group which is quite demanding. 7 Wonders Duel is also a jewel, it makes a 2-player draft not only possible, but interesting and demanding, making it my option for this year's top hit. But will they make the bif step into history? I surely hope so, because back in my home country, Romania, the sales are still driven by Catan, Carcassone, Dominion or Ticket to Ride and I would love to see people going to game stores for something new.
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Thu Nov 5, 2015 2:21 pm
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Post-Essen board games party

Andrei Novac
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With Essen fading slowly from memory, it was high-time to switch off the publishing/designing mind for a weekend and simply play games. So we did! We happily accepted the invitation to join the board games party organized by the amazing people behind BoardGameGirl.pl and drove 2 hours north of Warsaw to an idyllic region, set camp in a gorgeous wooden house and... stayed in for the next 48 hours playing games almost non-stop.

It's hard to put the games we played in chronological order, so let's just go through them as I remember them, leaving the best for last:



New York 1901 is a city building, tile-laying gateway game. Most of us liked it, but it is not one of my favorites of this year, perhaps a bit too light for my taste.



Skyliners (in the back) is load of fun, quick and innovative, also a bit too light for my taste, but I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Every time people played it they had fun and their laughter was disturbing our "serious" quest to become a Food Chain Magnate. The game from Splotter Spellen which generated huge queues at Spiel does not disappoint. After 3 hours of playing, I must admit that I came last by a long shot and yet this is one of the games I enjoyed the most. Neatly constructed game mechanisms combine euro mechanics with a race element making this game cutthroat in a very good way.




Grand Austria Hotel and Porta Nigra are other euro games fresh from Essen which left me high and dry. They are both very solid designs, with perfectly constructed game mechanisms, but they lack the wow factor. With two players they would probably feel more engaging because the down time between turns would be shorter.



Nippon on the other hand is one of the best euros of 2015. At first we were a bit overwhelmed by the iconography, thus my expectations were lowered. But with the quick and thorough explanations of Błażej Kubacki, we powered through the game and it suddenly felt a lot more fun. And the compliments won't stop here. This worker placement game which gave me the impression that it will be completely dry and disconnected from its theme managed to surprise us all once again. It actually felt like we're trying to industrialize the early 20th century Japan and our efforts were rewarded by plenty of victory points (that was only half true in my case, I would have to leave the word plenty aside).

In the back side My Village was just being set up and in the end felt like a solid game, nothing less than we had expected.



Curse of the Black Dice stirred quite a controversy. A semi-cooperative game in which players lose together or win alone made a split impression. Love by a few and hated by others, it gave the overall feeling that it could be more than it is, which the production quality is on par with more established titles.

2-player games had a special place in our weekend getaway. The series was opened by Kune v. Lakia, a small cutthroat head-to-head between a princess and a duke splitting bunny possessions in a royal divorce. The princess seems to always emerge victorious. And after the yelling and screaming of a divorce, what can be better than to hold hands? ...and then, we held hands. was quite a controversial title as two player games are usually war games, not mind twisting cooperative games.



But the jewel of the crown was 7 Wonders Duel, by far the best game of this event in the opinion of the majority of the participants. I must admit my initial skepticism - I was simply not sold on the idea of a 2-player drafting game and I could simply not see how a best seller like 7 Wonders can be perfectly adapted to be played with less than 3 players. I am happy to admit that I was wrong. The game is great, if not perfect, highly competitive and still quite short, with several paths to victory and huge replay value - basically everything a gamer could wish for.

Not to make anyone jealous, but I simply have to add that all of the above took place in the middle of the nature, surrounded by lakes and forest, in the amazing company of friends, children and cute medium-sized dogs. What more can one wish for?


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Tue Oct 27, 2015 1:13 pm
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A Dragon's Tale: Part II

Andrei Novac
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On Wednesday I started telling you the story of how Simurgh became I game we wanted to publish. It's time I tell you the rest - as we are nerely days before the game officially launches.



In 2013, with a cool name, dragons and a designer on the rise, Simurgh seemed ready to “go to Essen”, and have its first encounter with the general public. But before we present a game to such a demanding audience, we usually take the game through a stress test – those of you working in the banking system should know exactly what it means.

So, just a month before Spiel 2013 we organize a large play-testing session of Simurgh with heavy gamers hellbent on breaking the game. Let me alleviate your concerns: the game almost came out on top. It was not broken in any way, it was simply too long even for experienced players. And what do you do when you have some great design concepts, a theme you believe in, consistent rules and yet a game isn’t quite ready for the market? The simple answer is: you develop.

Simurgh as you see it today (or you will see very soon in Essen) is the same game it used to be two years ago – but with a few tweaks. The biggest change was the elimination of elements generating the most Analysis Paralysis, which reduced the game length from over 2 hours (sometimes even 3 hours) to 45-75 minutes.

The first step was the reworking of the dragons. Dragons in Simurgh are represented by tiles with special abilities ranging from simply gaining resources to interrupt abilities able to create quite intricate combos. This part was taken care of by the designer himself, who brought us a lighter, faster version of the dragons roughly one year ago. The abilities became easier to understand, combo-making became really straightforward.

Simurgh was originally structured to play out in 5-7 turns, each of them consisting of players taking 4 to 9 actions. While the first two turns were short and somewhat scripted, with players collecting and stockpiling resources, the last two turns were lasting around 45 minutes each, as everyone was trying to gain the most victory points in the very last moment. This made the ending so prolonged that really made us want to rethink the whole system. And so we did!

The core mechanisms of board building and worker placement are still parts of the game, but the turn system has since been radically altered. Simurgh is now played over a variable number of turns, until a game end condition is triggered, and each turn a player takes exactly one action, making the game streamlined and leaving each other player just enough time between turns to plan their next move.

Our first play with the new system made us go “wow” because the time to set up, play, and then remove Simurgh from the table was just a little over one hour. The next plays simply confirmed our assumption that Simurgh had evolved past its prototype stage and became a finished board game.

The story does not really end here, although the rest is not something I can simply relay to you in writing. It's something you need to experience as you sit down to play a game.

So, are you ready to follow in the footsteps of the Dragonlord?
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Fri Oct 2, 2015 8:46 am
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A Dragon's Tale: Part I

Andrei Novac
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Simurgh was the first game ever picked up by NSKN Games after a pitch, and it is the first ever project in which we had to work with a designer who was not part of NSKN Games.



It all started at the Nurnberg Toy Fair back in 2013. It was our first appearance at a large fair besides Spiel and it was as surprising as our first presence in Essen. A lot of famous designers come to Nurnberg to present their new ideas because unlike Essen, which offers some incredibly busy four days, Nurnberg is 6 days long and quite relaxed, with fewer visitors and time to catch a breath.

That’s where we met Pierluca Zizzi, a charming Italian game designer who pitched a “board building game with some awesome worker placement mechanisms and… dinosaurs”, and we were intrigued. The game was sharing some game design principles with one of Pierluca’s other designs, so we had to wait for another five months to actually play the game.

Our first game of Simurgh(which back then was called Mu) took place in GobCob later that year. We said yes to the game the very same day and we brought along the prototype for further testing, but we already knew that we had found a gem.

You need to know a few things about the earliest prototype we’d seen. It did not feature dragons, but dinosaurs. Everyone, including the designer, knew that dinosaurs are not there to stay, nevertheless we had lots of fun imagining dragon… pardon me… dinosaur raiders foraging through some ancient forest. Dinos are not a bad thing – take a look at Evolution or Dominant Species – they were just totally out of place, not fitting at all with the game mechanics. But the game itself was so good that we decided on the spot to publish it - we only needed to find the perfect theme.

It wasn’t long until Simurgh found its name and theme. It took some 12-hour car ride, a ridiculous amount of emails (if you have not tried brain storming by email, do not miss out on this unique opportunity), and a few months later we were ready to dress the game into some beautiful artwork, and present it in Essen. That was still back in 2013.

A legitimate question at this point is “Why dragons?” and what does the name of the game mean. We must admit that we were somehow conditioned by the original dinosaur theme and we were not able to shift our thinking into a completely different plane, so we gravitated around “stuff which can fly, stuff which can be ridden” and “a mythical universe”, “of man and… (add word here)”. Add to this mix another key ingredient – we like dragons – and we had the cocktail ready for a dragon themed game. The truth is that all the game mechanisms fit perfectly with the theme we chose and we were very happy to see the metamorphosis of Mu into Simurgh.

Our dragons were never meant to be evil. Scary – yes, by all means, but never evil. The legends of many peoples are filled with dragons, from Asia to South America and from Europe to Africa. We search the mythology for a perfect match and the Persian Simurgh came as the obvious choice. Now, we knew what to do...

Say tuned for the second part of the story, coming up on Friday.
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Wed Sep 30, 2015 11:12 am
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Pros and cons of standardizing in board games (II) - Cards

Andrei Novac
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Last week I talked about standardizing components in board games, covering the box, the rules and the game board. There's yet another type of components which come in various sizes, thicknesses and sometimes even shapes, and while we all think we know all about them, they still hold many secrets.

I am talking about playing cards, of course.


Image source: ebay.com


Size

At some point in our lives we've all touched or, at least, seen playing cards. We're mostly used to the standard poker size or bridge size cards, but we are aware that there are more common types of sizes out there. Us gamers would probably have no problem with any size of cards if we didn't care so much about our game pieces that we want to sleeve them.

The most common types of cards used to be:
- standard poker size: 3,5 x 2.5 in / 88 x 63 mm
- standard bridge size: 3.5 x 2.25 in / 88 x 57 mm
- tarot size: 4.75 x 2.75 in / 120 x 70 mm

But with the rise of the board gaming phenomenon, we are now accustomed to:
- "7 Wonders" cards - roughly 100 x 65 mm
- "Corey" cards - roughly 62 x 41 mm
- square cards - 70 x 70 mm
and many more.

Luckily, sleeve manufacturers have upped their game and they're now offering a lot more sizes. To have an idea what your options are, have a look here. But does having access to all these sleeves should grant game designers and publishers infinite freedom to make their own special cards?

We have discovered that any non-standard (bridge / poker size) cards come with an extra cost, other that the material. This cost covers custom die-cuts and it can be as high as a few thousand dollars. Overall, 5 decks of cards in a game printed in 5000 copies will cost roughly 50% more if they are a non-standard size compared to their price if they are a standard size.

I prefer standard poker size cards, they're easy to sleeve with old sleeves from Magic: The Gathering, without passing by a hobby store. These cards also usually come with better quality material than "special" cards and... I got used to them.

What are your preferred sizes of cards? Does this aspect of a game make a difference when you decide to buy a board game?

Material

This is when things get really technical, at least when you talk to a manufacturer ready to impress. Do you know the difference between Blue Core, Grey Core, Chinese Ivory Core, French Ivory Core, Casino Black Core, French Black Core and so on? I don't, and I've been dealing with these terms for the past 5 years. I have a booklet somewhere where I wrote down all the specs for each of them and when I have to make an informed decision I check it out.

But I was intrigued by the price difference and the multitude of options, so I asked for samples and compared them from a gamer's perspective: I bent them, look "through" them using powerful light sources, shuffled them about 250 times to check wear and tear and I am probably missing some other tests.

The truth is that I am still not able to distinguish between Blue and Ivory Core if the weight of them is the same. In my opinion, putting casino quality core (light doesn't pass through, therefore it is impossible to cheat by seeing through the cards) into board game cards is a waste of money which is supported in the end by gamers - the final customers.

The industry standard for producing cards is a 290 gsm (grams per square meter) Grey Core. I have noticed that upgrading the cards to 320 gsm requires an increase in price of 30%, which of course, reflects in the MSRP. Upgrading to a 345 gsm cardboard is even up to 60% more expensive!

I was temped to think that thicker cards would deal a lot better with wear and tear and their life span would be a few years longer (without sleeves). I was wrong. The biggest difference is the finishing and the core only affects marginally the durability of the cards.

Did you notice differences in core quality of the cards between various games? Do you have and tips?

The part which does make a difference, both visually and when we look at the resistance of the cards in time is made by the finishing. I personally love the FFG linen finish, it gives a great feeling but I like even more the matte varnish on borderless cards.

I must admit that I am no expert when it comes to the type of finishing and I don't even have a strong preference between matte and linen paper. Most manufacturers I've talking to have failed to explain to me what is the advantage of a certain type of finishing. For example, we asked what the best type of finishing for cards which require shuffling all the time is - this has happened with Mistfall(our next release). The answers were:

- linen finishing (3 out of 9)
- matte AQ varnish (3)
- upgrading from Blue core to Casino Ivory core (1)
- upgrading from 295 gms to 320 gms (1)
- our quality is the best (seriously!) (1)

So, it looks like there is no consensus among the manufacturers on the best possible way to make more durable cards for an acceptable price.

What was your experience? Do you have a favorite finishing type? Or perhaps a publisher whose quality you admire?
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Thu Mar 5, 2015 2:19 pm
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Pros and cons of standardizing in board games

Andrei Novac
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Standardizing - yay or nay?

To even begin the discussion about standardizing game components, we need to ask ourselves if this is an actual improvement.

Having lately dedicated more than a fair share of my time to publishing rather than designing, I realized that there is a downside of standardizing - it sacrifices some of the creativity of designers (myself included) on the altar of delivering a marketable, user-friendly, industry standard product. The designer in me is trying to fight the other side of my board gaming personality (the publisher) screaming for more freedom and less standard components.

I - the designer - wish to have a giant board in one of my upcoming titles depicting a detailed map of the world, something which would make the War of the Ring giant board seem average, but I - the publisher - will most likely deny this request on grounds of being unreasonable, too expensive and almost impossible to manufacture.

And that's not all... I - the gamer - had the pleasure of opening 46 game boxes brought from Essen, and some of them gave me great joy of discovering clever assembly mechanisms and cute little tweaks which made some games special right of the box, while some others had some of the most twisted annoying components that went straight to the "I am not emotionally equipped to deal with this" shelf.

So, perhaps there's a middle ground and an agreement can be sought by the dreamy designer, the pragmatic publisher and the exigent gamer.

Almost two years ago when NSKN Games was even younger than today, we decided to approach board game publishing with a specific set of mind - making each game component as functional as possible and packing everything in the least possible amount of space.

Same size boxes


In a post on the NSKN Games website called "Less is more" we described this "discovery" and its core principles. We adhere to these principles fully and Exodus: Proxima Centauri (revised edition), Praetor, Progress: Evolution of Technology and Versailles - board games published by NSKN Games since then - are all built accordingly. Our two upcoming titles for the first half of 2015 - Exodus: Edge of Extinction and Mistfall - are following the trend and will have the same ergonomic design. But is this all we can do?

The short answer is no, there's definitely room for improvement and this is what I want to explore together with you today.

Game components one by one - standard or not?

1. Game box - it's the first thing you and I see and 90% of the times the box is the decisive factor in our interest and later buying the game or not.

My first few games were of various sizes and shapes, from the standard square Ticket to Ride box, to the monstrous Twilight Imperium "coffin" and the tiny Catan Card Game. Through the years I have become pickier and the box of Dungeon Fighter caused me head aches because it's just marginally larger than the standard square and yet it does not fit on my very standard IKEA shelves... so I had to let it go.

My plea now is for standard boxes which save shelf space. Fantasy Flight Games - one of the trend setters in the hobby industry - has given up the iconic "coffin" boxes and switched to square boxes of various heights. I do not know the actual reason behind this move but I can speculate that they are standardizing and making their products gamer-friendly. Think only of Imperial Assault or Descent 2.0.

What is your opinion, do you prefer standard boxes or are you a fan of unlimited creativity and prefer cubical or cylindrical boxes?

2. Rules

Squares, rectangles, A5, A4, letter... the rules in modern boatd games are all over the place. We at NSKN tried our own standard, 285x285mm booklets which are roughly the size of the box. It was our choice for the past 2 years because it allows large graphic examples, the page can be divided into 2 or 3 columns according to needs and it is cost effective.

Cost effective is one of the keys for small publishers like us to succeed. Once we evolved past the point of mere survival (as a company) we had the luxury of rethinking our publishing paradigm and looking again for better solutions.

I have been advocating for "our size of the rules" for quite a while until I have recently made an experiment of my own: I took the rules of a random game, put them in both the large square format and A4 (which is almost the same as letter size) and read through them timing myself. Reading the same amount of rules text in A4 format took me about 25% less time. Therefore, the rules of our next game are coming in A4 format, even if that adds a few cents to our production costs.

Which is your preferred rules format? Do you even have one? Is this a key aspect for you when it comes to buying or even playing a game?

EDIT: Added a poll to ask about your favorite support for gaming rules.

Poll
How do you usually read rules of board games?
On paper, from the game box
Electronic format on a table or smart phone
Electronic format on a PC or laptop
      88 answers
Poll created by anovac


3. Boards

This is the point where the discussion gets complicated.

Having analyzed 50 games with non-modular boards published after 2012, I found the following distribution: more than 50% are a 4-fold square or rectangle, 30% are 6-fold rectangles and the rest are... all over the place. When it comes to modular boards, the most common shapes are rectangles, hexagons and starred hexagons, but the distribution here is too difficult to assess because of the wide range of options.

Furthermore, less and less of modern board games have an actual board, with German style games sticking more to the original conservative model with an actual board.

I mentioned before that the designer in me wants a giant game board. I have spoken to a few manufacturers and the largest single piece board they can make is 100 x 70 cm and this is not really what I had in mind. Anything beyond that would require all kinds of non-standard "stuff" (I was afraid to ask) and the price would increase five to ten fold for a board just 1.5 times as large.

Comparing boards with the same total area, a 4-fold cut is 30% cheaper in average than a 6-fold cut, thus the industry preference for the former. Even when it comes to ergonomics and table space, a square 4-fold cut seems preferable. And yet in Versailles we went with a larger 6-fold board very close to the manufacturer's upper limit because it suited better the game's needs. My inner fight between the designer and the publisher was a clear victory for the designer, while the publisher saw the margins decreasing under his eyes.

Using any standard game board will also save significant costs with the cutting knives when manufacturing with an established large board game factory. For small publishers saving this kind of money may very well make a big difference.

Modular boards offer a greater flexibility and sometime much greater replay value. They do not necessarily increase the manufacturing costs, but they usually do. Yet more and more designers and publishers walk this road, because creativity is no longer limited by a rectangle.

So... what is you view on game boards? With or without? Modular or classic? Does this aspect even matter when it comes to your liking and buying games?


Conclusions?

Writing for quite a while now, I have only covered about half of the topics I had in mind. So. I'd love to see your opinions and I'll resume my train of thought next week.
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Thu Feb 26, 2015 3:44 pm
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A sad day for all of us

Andrei Novac
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Today I will not talk about board games. I usually try to stay away from topics unrelated to board gaming, but the events which took place yesterday in France are too important to be overlooked. It was a sad day for all of us who saw, heard or read the news about the terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris.

There is no excuse for such an attack, no justification. Only compassion.

This blog, just like any other blog, magazine, radio or TV station, podcast, videocast, etc is a living proof of the freedom of expression, a fundamental right which many of us sometimes take for granted.

Very few of you reading these lines were born in a country where the freedom of speech is something you have to fight for, but a small minority, including myself were born in a place where this basic right did not exist. I was too young to remember much about the Romanian revolution of 1989, but what I do remember that one thing changed over night - our right to state our opinions out loud without the fear of the political police or any other kind of police. The price of this freedom was paid in blood.

source: Twitter @jean_julien

Yesterday, people from Charlie Hedbo magazine, from writers to policemen, lost their lives in a mindless attack against themselves and their core beliefs - the liberty of expression. Besides mourning for them, there is one thing that any of us can do - no matter how far away we are - to prevent this from ever happening again. Whether in a public gathering, talking to our friends or on our social networks, we can use our words to defend our freedom of speech - not only ours alone but also of those who are the public message carriers, who put themselves in the spot light so that we can speak freely whenever and wherever we want.

We should all be aware that someone, somewhere is fighting not for a cause, but against all of us who choose to live in a free world. Yesterday's events have nothing to do with religion or politics. We should not condemn a belief system, a nation or an ethnicity for the horror which took place in Paris, Fighting back with the same weapons, stigmatizing an entire group of people for the madness of few would not make us any better than them.

Our weapons are much more sophisticated and a lot less deadly. We can remember those who fought with their pen and paper for their (and inherently our) freedom of speech and defend this basic right which will always make our countries part of the free world. We can speak against racism, religious and political intolerance and fight with words for our freedom.
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Fri Jan 9, 2015 1:01 am
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An expansion for Exodus - X. Blackwater

Andrei Novac
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Warszawa
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Happy New Year everyone!

After well-deserved holidays we have returned to work and gaming with renewed strength preparing the last details of our upcoming Kickstarter project for Exodus: Edge of Extinction.

With that in mind we are presenting today the sixth and final faction of the expansion, the warmongers of Blackwater.



Blackwater is the most conflicted oriented faction in Exodus: Edge of Extinction. Their whole existence revolves around a single goal - their total domination over mankind. To implement this philosophy, they have developed powerful weapons, such as EMP Cannons, investing massively in offensive space combat technologies. The leaders of Blackwater are not naive and they acknowledge the threats posed by other warring factions, thus they did not neglect the development of defensive research, leaving almost no aspect of space conflict uncovered.



Precision and reliability – these are the concepts that made us into what we are today. But make no mistake, although we draw from the past, we are the future of mankind, whatever others might want you to believe. In the old days we were able to adapt, displaying power in all kinds of conflicts and proving that we will always exist and remain in a prestigious position of power and influence. Now comes the time when we take the gloves off, and swap our obscure influences for open and total domination.

Blackwater is more of a corporation than a faction, changing and adapting with time, but still holding on to what made it economically strong before leaving Old Earth. Although much had to change in the faction’s structure, the basic ideas remained immutable, serving as obvious proof that some of humanity’s flaws prove to be an infinite resource to be properly exploited.

Built around a vast economical power, Blackwater believes itself to be the true heir of humanity: a faction stemming from an organization that had existed on the top of the world’s food chain for decades before the Exodus. Now, through intensive development of space weapons, Blackwater is gathering strength to strike at its enemies with the cold precision and the dauntlessness that had forged its name in the old days.

Blackwater is a goal oriented faction – perhaps even the single most objective-focused one in this new world – and the goal is to make the final transition from an almost all powerful organization to a truly omnipotent one. After all, the laws and regulations that had curbed the corporation time and time again back on Earth no longer apply, with almost no obstacles standing in the way of total domination.

Now everything Blackwater does is means to an end, with no humanitarian laws putting a damper on what the faction’s specialists are able to achieve. And soon, very soon in fact, all those who want to win will find out they are playing a game not only invented but also arbitrated by one of the opponents. The one that is invading their borders, destroying their fleets and holding their assets, before their own aggression can finally be stopped.

If you're curious about the other factions in Exodus: Edge of Extinction, check them out:
Titan Diarchy
Arctic Dominion
Han-Xia Dynasty
Sirius Theocracy
Confederation of Sol
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Wed Jan 7, 2015 9:37 pm
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Gaming with children - should we let them win?

Andrei Novac
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I must confess that I do not have children yet, but like every other self-respecting adult I have been a child once - some friends claim that I still am - and I also know quite a few families with children. Parents play games with their children - a very good endeavor - but some also let their kids win to protect the little ones' self esteem. Is that good practice?

When I was about 5 years old I saw this TV show about people playing chess and since communist Romania had exactly one TV channel at the time, I watched and became intrigued. I was also a lucky child because my parents always believed in me, so they taught me how to play chess. One lovely summer day after claiming that I understood the rules of chess and my father agreeing with this conclusion, my father and I played a competitive game of chess - my first chess game ever. I lost. I was a competitive man ever since I can remember, but so was my father.

That day a tradition started. Over the next many months, almost every Sunday morning my father was making time to beat his 7-year old son in a game of chess. I don't recall single duels with details, but I do remember a faint feeling of frustration. After every game which inevitably ended in my defeat, my father would explain how I could have played better. My father was no Kasparov, but his adult mind could easily devise the right strategy to defeat me.

I heard my mom on several occasions scolding my dad for not letting me win even once and my father saying "that's how he'll learn" and not giving in at all. It was even more frustrating to know in advance that things would not change, but I was still looking forward to my next Sunday morning.

What my father did not know back then is that I kept count of the games we played and he was the proud winner of 41 consecutive games of chess against his son. But all that was about to change. I don't exactly remember how - I suspect that my mother had something to do with it - but I got my hands on a chess book which I read religiously several times. Since I am not a great chess player today, I probably did not understand much, but I had a very good memory and so I learned by heart as many opening as I could.

On our 42nd chess morning my father's winning streak was over. I took the time to think about my every move and after a few long hours, I could finally lift my fist up and scream "Victory!". My parents were surprised. After having seen 41 defeats in a row, I knew that my father had not let me win, but I still had to ask, hoping for a confirmation of my legitimate victory. He confirmed, and it made me feel so proud that I can still remember this story almost 30 years later.

It's been a while since I last thought of this story, but with my adult mind I realized that it was one of my most relevant childhood experiences and one that shaped my life. I learned not to give in to anything and anyone and I also learned that with a lot of hard work and persistence there is no mountain too high. But as a child, the one thing I took (without even knowing it) from my chess weekends with my dad was self confidence. I had found out that adults are not invincible and if they find their ways to deal with grown-up stuff and I can beat them, then I will also be able to handle anything life throws at me. Sadly my 42nd chess game against my father was also the last due to some family issues which are beyond the scope of this story. I was lucky enough to have just enough time to learn my very valuable life lesson. I still remember the frustration of more than a year of chess loses, but the feeling of victory and the lesson learned are the most vivid and sweet ones.

Fast forward 26 years into the future. A few weeks ago I was playing Galaxy Trucker with my 10-year old nephew. In the second round, his space ship was heavily damaged by evil aliens and asteroids, he realized that he could not win anymore and thus got upset and flipped the board. The game ended right there, with the adults explaining why that was not the right behavior and the child crying from anger.

Another awkward experience was with an adult friend who dislikes every game she cannot win, blaming the game for being "stupid". In theory, dealing with adults should be easier, we are all supposed to have the ability to listen to reason. After three consecutive sessions of Ticket to Ride all in the same weekend, the friend qualified the game as "illogical" (defeat), "absolutely great" (win) and "stupid" (defeat). I believe that this kind of behavior is as a result of not having the relevant childhood gaming experiences. I am not referring only to board games, but to all childhood games. If adults offer their children a false sense of security and shield them from any kind of defeats, they shape the reality of their kids into a dangerously long streak of fake successes. As soon as children grow into young adults, they simply cannot be shielded anymore and the fresh adults stand to get heavily hurt.

Two years ago during the UK Games Expo I noticed a family with two children not older than 12 sitting at our demo table with Exodus: Proxima Centauri. At first I had doubts that they would understand or enjoy an empire building game focused on combat, but their father looked confident and reassured us that their kids play anything up to Agricola or Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization. So, after a very brief explanation, I saw a kid getting his ships blown up by his father, without tears in his eyes, without even a word of protest, eager to keep fighting and relentless in his pursuit of victory. In the end, he won.

Dear Parents, the holidays season is upon us and thus you have more time to spend with your children. I am not a parent and thus my experience is incomplete, so let me ask you a few questions. How do you play with your kids? How protective should one be with the young ones? How important are the lessons learned and what is the right balance between teaching and creating joy?
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Tue Dec 16, 2014 4:42 pm
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