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On the Diamant/Incan Gold Merge

W. Eric Martin
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In March 2017, I sent out a note to many BGG users indicating that I was going to merge the game pages for Diamant and Incan Gold. Anyone who had rated either game or who had either game listed as being in their collection should have received this note.

As I understand it, when Incan Gold was first added to the database in 2006, it was on the same game page as Diamant, then after the Eagle-Gryphon version of Incan Gold was released in 2009 the game was split into its own page due to it being "different enough" from Diamant thanks to five new artifact cards. IELLO released a new version of the game in 2016 that included the artifacts but reverted to the original Diamant name. Yay for the game being available again in a nice version, but boo for the confusion this new version caused, with English, French, German, and other versions of IELLO's edition being added to both the Diamant and Incan Gold pages.

Given that the two games were 95% the same, I decided to merge them together again, rewriting the game description on the Diamant page to cover all versions of the game. I sent a note explaining this decision to users, then a second note when folks asked about the status of their collection listings and logged plays:

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My apologies, but I wanted to send a follow-up to yesterday's note about the pending merge of Incan Gold into Diamant. Ideally this will be my last note to all who have this game in their collection in some manner!

Someone sent me the following note: "Eric, I've played and rated both games. What will happen to my ratings (2 of them, rating comments, and plays?) I assume one of each will go away; which?"

Thanks for asking something along these lines! Comments and ratings carry over and duplicate in the combined listing. After all, right now you can add multiple copies of a game to your collection and rate/comment on each one separately. That feature already exists on a single listing, and the merge preserves those distinctions.

To double-check this, I created three game listings from scratch, rated each differently, and put a different comment on each one. I linked only one of those ratings/comments (the third one) to a particular version of the game; the other two I just placed on the game itself. (Did you know that you link a rating/comment to a particular version of a game? This site has lots of hidden features like that.)

I then merged all of these game listings and initially I was worried as a click on the ratings page showed me this:




You can see my separate 9, 7 and 5 ratings, but the comment is from the game I rated a 5, while the rating was from the game I gave a 7. Not sure why the data is presented that way, but that's something I need to ask the tech guys about.

Seeing only one of my ratings/comments worried me initially — but then I noticed the "reset filters" link under the "Ratings & Comments" header. Clicking that link showed me this:




Apparently the system automatically hides multiple ratings/comments from the same user under the default setting. This keeps you from being overwhelmed with duplicates. (I looked at Fluxx Promo Cards, for example, and after resetting filters, I see that someone has rated this item a 10 more than thirty times. If you go from that page to another part of the site, then come back to the Fluxx Promo Card page, the filters are automatically applied again, hiding all but one of this person's 10 ratings.)

I created a fourth game listing to test play counts since I forgot that the first time, and play counts get merged together with no distinction between one version of the game and another. Play count data is preserved, so if you took notes on the location, other players, etc, then that data carries over into the combined listings, but you can't specify which version of a game you play other than to add a comment along those lines. (This isn't a failure of the merge as much as a lack of a feature in the "play count recording" set-up; you can add details to play counts if you want to preserve a distinction as to which version of a game you played.)

Hope this answers any lingering questions...

I know some folks care a lot about these types of details, so I wanted to make sure that everything would work right, and that indeed seemed to be the case.

Well...

After I sent my note, I did nothing related to this merger for months. I headed to one con after another, with preparations for each taking time and BGG News posts taking time and this merger not being at the top of my to-do list. I have lots of projects like this — things that would be great to have done, but not things that are urgent to do. Perhaps you have lots of projects like this as well. In any case, someone reminded me of the merge-that-wasn't in November 2017 ahead of BGG.CON, so I finally did it.

Now, something you might not know about merges is that in years past when you merged something, you clicked a button, then after a short bit received a message on the page that said "Merge complete". At some point, I stopped receiving that message and just saw a 504 message instead. I might have reported this error message to our programmers Scott and Dan, but knowing me, I probably didn't; after all, the things had indeed been merged, so everything must be working okay, right? This must be just a nonsense error message.

So I clicked merge on the Incan Gold page, with Diamant being the target. The description of the target game is what remains after a merge; that game's title remains the representative title, the cover image the representative image. All of the version information of the title being merged gets added to the versions that already exist. The images get added to the gallery of existing images.

After I received the 504 message, I went back to the Diamant page and discovered that it still had only twelve versions instead of the twenty or so I had been expecting. (I needed to merge versions as well following the game merge. Again, doing so would preserve user collection info.) Perhaps I was mistaken and I hadn't clicked "merge". Perhaps the page timed out. I waited a minute, reloaded, and still saw only twelve versions, so I merged Incan Gold again.

That was a mistake.

Most of the things that I merge are new or obscure. Admins approve two submissions for a new game, for example, not realizing what the other person is doing, so I merge the listings. A user realizes that this little-known German game from the 1980s is actually the same as this little-known French game from the 1980s, so I merge them.

Diamant and Incan Gold fall into the category of neither new nor obscure. Thousands of users had rated each game and had them listed in their collections. I thought the merge had failed, but it was still going on in the background despite me having received the now-customary 504 message. When I clicked merge again, we entered new ground in terms of what the software was trying to do, with simultaneous merges happening at the same time. This wasn't supposed to be possible, but hey, there we were, merging things simultaneously.

What seems to have happened is that while the first merge was in the process of happening, the second merge looked at the user data for Incan Gold and saw nothing (because it was being rewritten as Diamant data or whatever it is that happens inside those computing boxes), so it decided it was done with collection info, and it raced through the version data and *boom* the merge was finished — not complete, mind you, but finished.

Eventually I saw twenty-something versions on the Diamant page, so I merged all the identical ones, and things seemed to be okay. A couple of days later, I saw a post asking about a user's logged plays for Incan Gold since they were missing. Collection info was missing as well. Scott and Dan were already at BGG.CON, so I resolved to talk with them about the problem later. Now it's later, and after learning what I did they're (1) ensuring that it's impossible in the future to have two merges running simultaneously, (2) researching exactly what I broke, (3) figuring out how to recover user data on Incan Gold, although it seems like they'll have to reach back to May 2017 in order to do so (due to how back-ups are handled), and (4) placing me in an oubliette to prevent further database disruptions.

To those affected by this issue, I apologize for the trouble. Ideally Scott and Dan will be able to undo what needs undoing. As for me, I'll refrain from merging older, established items under threat of losing my hands. I've already seen one disaster, so I don't want to encounter a second one...
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Wed Nov 22, 2017 9:59 pm
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Game Preview: Decrypto, or Tricky Clues for the Clueless

W. Eric Martin
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Sometimes a game is more challenging to explain than it is to play. When learning such a game, you hear the explanation and all the words make sense, but you can't understand what you're supposed to do until you're staring at the components and the penny drops, which is a real challenge for publishers since they need to convince people to just throw themselves into the game before they fully comprehend what they're doing. Learning such games from experienced players would be ideal, of course, but that's often not possible.

I incorrectly conveyed the nature of such a game in April 2017 when I first wrote about Thomas Dagenais-Lespérance's Decrypto, which will be released by Le Scorpion Masqué in early 2018, with IELLO distributing the game in France and the U.S. and Asmodee distributing it in Germany.

Adam Kunsemiller, who demos games at Gen Con with the BGG crew, played a non-final version of Decrypto at a convention in early 2017, and he liked the game so much that he mocked up his own copy in order to teach others at BGG.CON 2017. I played the game three times at that show, and now I can right previous wrongs. While I correctly described Decrypto's gameplay, my description was off in one critical area, so let me give it another go now:

Quote:
Players compete in two teams in Decrypto, with each trying to correctly interpret the coded messages presented to them by their teammates while cracking the codes they intercept from the opposing team.

In more detail, each team has their own screen, and in this screen they tuck four cards in pockets numbered 1-4, letting everyone on the same team see the words on these cards while hiding the words from the opposing team. In the first round, each team does the following: One team member takes a code card that shows three of the digits 1-4 in some order, e.g., 4-2-1. They then give a coded message that their teammates must use to guess this code. For example, if my team's four words are "pig", "candy", "tent", and "son", then I might say "Sam-striped-pink" and hope that my teammates can correctly map those words to 4-2-1. If they guess correctly, great; if not, we receive a black mark of failure.

Starting in the second round, a member of each team must again give a clue about their words to match a numbered code. If I get 2-4-3, I might now say, "sucker-prince-stake". The other team then attempts to guess our numbered code. If they're correct, they receive a white mark of success; if not, then my team must guess the number correctly or take a black mark of failure. (Guessing correctly does nothing except avoid failure and give the opposing team information about what our hidden words might be.)

The rounds continue until a team collects either its second white mark (winning the game) or its second black mark (losing the game). Games typically last between 4-7 rounds. If neither team has won after eight rounds, then each team must attempt to guess the other team's words; whichever team guesses more words correctly wins.

My error in the first write-up was that I gave bad clues for the hidden words, specifically "finger" for "son". The clue "finger" won't work for the other three words, so the only correct choice is "son", but that clue works only by exclusion, not inclusion. As Adam commented in my initial write-up, "Our classic example was cluing 'broccoli' to get someone to pick 'chocolate' because it was the only food in the list of four keywords. It doesn't refer to chocolate nearly as much as it refers against the other three choices, which aren't food."

Adam elaborated on this description at BGG.CON, saying that once the game ends and the other team learns what your hidden words are and they look at your clues once again, you want them to nod and go "Oh!", not screw up their nose and go "Enh?" (A video of Adam doing this should be part of the publisher's game presentation.) I was still learning that lesson in our first game, when I gave "unicorn" as a clue for "cycle":


Mock-up components at BGG.CON 2017


Bad choice, Eric! I was thinking of how "unicorn" could lead Adam to imagine "unicycle" (and from there "cycle"), and he correctly guessed the code, but that was a bummer clue in retrospect. Thankfully I did not follow up that clue with "bifrost" and "tripod" as I had originally planned to do, but instead gave legit clues in later rounds.

The appeal of Decrypto is much the same as the appeal of Codenames, the components of which were raided for this mock-up: You are challenged to be clever when giving clues to your teammates. In Codenames, you can simply give a clue that allows your team to guess one of your hidden words, but that strategy isn't likely to win you the game. You need to think of a clue that ties together two or more of your hidden words; you're finding, exploiting, or creating connections between those words, then hoping your teammates can make the same leap that you did.

The clues in Decrypto need to work a bit differently since you're clueing each word on its own. In Codewords, you're linking words by a connection; in Decrypto, you're imagining the hidden word as a hub, with you trying to find multiple spokes off that hub that don't seem related to one another. Your teammates will be staring at the hub, so ideally those spokes will lead them to the correctly numbered hub, while the opposing team is left with a collection of disparate clues that lead them only in circles. I used "inch" as a clue for "grass" since that's how you measure the ideal height for a lawn. ("Inches" would have been better and more accurate.) Later clues for "grass" from me and Adam included "stained", "blunt", and "your ass". Individually those clues all got us to the correct number, while doing nothing for the opposing team.




An interesting element of Decrypto's gameplay is that you don't have to guess the other team's words exactly in order to figure out their code. For "cloak", we gave clues like "hooded" and "undercover"; the other team guessed (to themselves) that our word was "spy" or "secret agent" or something along those lines, and while they weren't correct, I think they always guessed #4 correctly in our code as our clues for "cloak" fell in the same trough as those that would work for "spy". In a later game, our team guessed that one of the opponent's words was "poker" or "Las Vegas"; the actual word was "casino", but that didn't matter since we were in the right ballpark and could associate a clue like "pit" or "blind" with the correct number.

The opposing team doesn't guess in the first round because they'd be swinging blindly. If they did randomly connect, they'd have a huge leg up on the way to victory. We saw something like this happen in the game depicted above, when the opponents guessed our code correctly in round 2, then did so again in round 3. Quickest victory possible! As we realized only after the fact, we goofed by having "heart" and "harp" both be clues for "organ". The opposing team connected them with the word "strings" and locked in on #1 while hitting #4 due to the spatial/mathematical terms and #3 by chance. If we had clued "lung" or "stomach" in round 2 or "trumpet" in round 3, then we might have been fine. Alas, we were not.

I have no idea what the word mix might be like in the published version of Decrypto, so please keep that in mind when reading this overview of the gameplay. As for the presentation of the final components, at SPIEL '17 the game featured fancy 100% authentic spy-like card holders that allow your team to see the hidden word underneath the red nonsense on the card. We'll figure out what the final published game has to offer in early 2018!


Demo game at SPIEL '17; original uncropped image by bwort110
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Mon Nov 20, 2017 6:02 pm
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Betrayal Legacy Coming from Rob Daviau and Avalon Hill in 2018

W. Eric Martin
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At PAX Unplugged today, designer Rob Daviau and Wizards of the Coast president Chris Cocks announced the forthcoming release of Betrayal Legacy from WotC's Avalon Hill brand.

As you might guess, Betrayal: Legacy is a new take on Betrayal at House on the Hill, a 2004 title that Daviau contributed to when he worked full-time for Hasbro. Avalon Hill released a second edition of that game in 2010, with an expansion for it — Widow's Walk — appearing in 2016 and a Dungeons & Dragons-themed standalone version — Betrayal at Baldur's Gate — being released in 2017.

Betrayal Legacy marries the concept of that first game — exploring a haunted mansion — with the permanency and multi-game storytelling exhibited by Daviau's Risk Legacy and other legacy games that followed. Betrayal Legacy, which will be released in Q4 2018, consists of a prologue and a thirteen-chapter story that takes place over decades. Players represent families, with specific members of a family participating in one story, then perhaps an older version of those characters (assuming they lived) or their descendants showing up in later stories.

Why would people keep exploring a haunted mansion for decade after decade, especially when horrible things happen there? Curiosity, I suppose, or perhaps an ignorant boldness that comes from the belief that we know better than those who have come before. Look at all that we've learned, marvel at the tools we have at hand! Surely we'll all exit safely this time...

As with other Betrayal titles, the game is narratively-driven, with elements that record the history of your specific games. The tools mentioned earlier, for example, become attached to specific families. This isn't just a bucket; it's my bucket, the Martin bucket, the one my grandpappy used to feed his family's pigs when he was a boy, and while you can certainly use that bucket, I know how to wield it best from the time he spent teaching me how to slop. Yes, it's an heirloom bucket, and when kept in the family, I get a bonus for using it.

Daviau served as lead designer on Betrayal Legacy, with others contributing elements, designing haunts, and developing the material. He says that while Betrayal at House on the Hill played with a lot of horror movie tropes, Betrayal Legacy is built more around horror stories, with players creating their own story over the course of the game as they encounter roughly one-third of the fifty haunts included. Once you close the final chapter, you'll have your own unique version of Betrayal Legacy that can be played again.
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Fri Nov 17, 2017 5:37 pm
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Designer Diary: Calimala

Fabio Lopiano
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Calimala is a Euro-style game in which players are members of the guild of merchants in foreign cloth, in Florence, around the 13th century.

The game has a few twists on the classic worker placement genre. The main idea is to have nine main actions in a three-by-three grid, randomly arranged at the beginning of the game. These spaces are connected by "streets", and players take turns placing one of their workers on a street and executing both actions. Since the actions are placed randomly, the possible pairs of actions available change from game to game.




These actions allow players to collect basic materials (wood, bricks and marble); use them to build workshops, ships and trade houses; produce cloth and deliver it to various cities; contribute materials for the construction and decoration of churches; etc.




Another aspect of the game is that workers (discs) are always added and never retrieved: Players have a fixed number of workers (15 with three players, 12 with four, 10 with five), and when placed on an action space, they stack on top of each other. Whenever one disc is placed on a stack, all discs in that stack perform the two actions in order from top to bottom (so extra actions can be triggered in other players' turns).

When the fourth disc is placed on a stack, only the top three discs are activated, while the bottom disc is "promoted" into the city council, triggering a scoring. The city council has 15 seats that are filled in order when workers are promoted (i.e., when stacks grow to more than three discs). Each seat has a scoring tile (assigned randomly at the beginning of the game) that determines which category to score (e.g., most contributions to a given church, most deliveries to a given city). Majority scoring is used for all categories, awarding 3, 2 and 1 victory points to the first, second, and third player respectively.

Where to place your early workers becomes an important decision because if well placed, they will be reactivated by other players two more times.

Seats in the city council also break ties, so when choosing an action space where to place a disc, players have to be careful about which scoring can trigger it and how the balance in the city council will change.




At the beginning of the game, each player receives two scoring cards and secretly picks one that will be revealed at the end of the game and that will score for 5/3/1 points. Each player thus knows of one city or building that will score again at the end (the card they picked), and one that will not score (the card that they discarded).

The game is very tight, and players have to choose what to focus on, especially since with more players it's not really possible to participate in all categories, and these scoring cards add tension, as well as the possibility of bluffing (with people trying to guess other players' scoring cards).




What follows is the story of how I designed this game.

Early Stages

Calimala is my first board game design, although I've been regularly playing board games for more than fifteen years.

When I moved to the UK in 2013, I joined London on Board, a board games club with a few thousand members, with daily meet-ups in various locations around the city. There I met a few game designers and somehow I got the design bug and I started thinking about making a board game of my own.

The basic concept was some variant on the worker placement mechanism in which the available action spaces would change from game to game. The players would then have to come up with a different strategy on each new game.

This is probably the only thing that survived from that inception to the published game.

The idea was to have the action spaces on eight cards in a three-by-three grid (with a hole in the middle). Players would then place a worker between two cards and take both actions. The optimal sequence of actions to achieve the various goals would therefore change from game to game.

The first prototype was just eight handwritten cards, some workers (gray cubes), and a bunch of colored discs.
On your turn, you could either place some cubes on a space between two cards (equal to how many cubes were already there) and take the actions on the cards, or collect all the cubes between two cards. This allowed a continuous flow of play (with no need to collect your workers at the end of a round). The actions on the card would provide discs or convert discs into other discs or into victory points.

It was very boring and uninteresting, but it showed some promise, so one evening I brought it to a Playtest UK meet-up where I played it with a few other designers and where it fell apart very quickly.

Some Promise

After more iterations, I started thinking about a theme and, maybe not too originally, I went for medieval Florence.

The game was still card-based then, with the eight basic cards providing materials like wood and clay or allowing you to hire specialists, along with a set of advanced buildings (more cards) in construction that required those materials.




Players would take actions to contribute materials to the advanced cards, e.g., by taking the "clay" action, I would put a cube of my player color to a clay slot in the building. Once a building was complete, players who contributed to it would score points and the complete building would go into play. (There was some kind of rotation mechanism in which action cards would move in and out, and each new building would enter that rotation.)

This still had several problems, but it's the origin of the buildings in Calimala (like the Cathedral and the other churches).

Historical Background

At this point I took a step back and started studying a bit more in detail the historical period when these buildings were built. There are several Eurogames set in medieval Florence, but none of them really tries to be historically accurate: There were no princes in Florence, and the Medici didn't really trade in spices...

I wondered who built these great churches and why, and I found out about the guild of Calimala.

In the Middle Ages, Florence was a mercantile republic, and the various trades were organized in guilds, whose elder members would take turns ruling the city. The most powerful among these guilds was the guild of Calimala. This was the guild of traders in foreign cloth; during the late middle ages, they were buying rough woolen cloth from all over Europe (England, France, the Flandres, etc.), bringing it back to Florence where they would refine and dye it, then selling it back for a much higher price.

They were producing very high quality cloth, in colors that were not otherwise available in other places. The members of this guild quickly became extremely wealthy, and moving all that gold across Europe and back to Florence was not practical, so they ended up establishing a more permanent presence in the major trading centers where they held their business, keeping the gold there and instead using letters of change to move money, giving birth to the first banks.

Incidentally they also started lending this money to various kings, financing the wars between England and France in that period. (The first bankruptcy happened when the king of England defaulted on his debts.) At home they would then use the money to build palaces and churches and sponsor art works (which would eventually lead to the Renaissance).

The Medici were among the most influential families within the Calimala guild, and within a couple of generations they managed to take full control of the city. (Lorenzo il Magnifico was never formally a prince or a ruler, but with his influence he controlled the majority of the city council.)

Back to the Drawing Board

This research provided some new ideas for elements to add to the game. I decided to focus on the cloth production and the trade network.

I started working on a proper board, with streets connecting thirteen different action spaces, each street with three spots for workers. I didn't come up with the idea of triggering previous players when stacking discs until quite late in the game development; players didn't even need discs in different colors at the time as each street had three slots and by placing in the second or third slot, players would get a better action. More specifically, placing the second or third disc you would do some actions two or three times, while some other actions would be more cost effective.

This allowed for doing more stuff with fewer discs. As the game proceeded, actions became more powerful so that four players with just twelve rounds could be able to complete buildings and fulfill cloth demands from cities.

I had one more building material (stone) and various actions that eventually went away. Each player had an artist meeple, for example, that would move around the city, with an action to move the artist and another action to make an artwork (with a certain number of slots for artwork in each neighborhood of the city).

A "recruiter" action would let you hire an employee (i.e., a card that could be used once at any time matching one of the twelve other basic actions), while a "prestige" action would let you draw a bonus card for endgame scoring.




The scoring was different at the time: Points were awarded right away when delivering a cube to a slot, and extra points were awarded on completions or at the end of the game.

Needless to say, all this was very complicated and playtests revealed many issues, especially with the random placement of action tiles. It was sometimes extremely tedious to do even simple things (collect one marble, then move the artist somewhere with a free slot, finally take the artwork action, etc.). Also, having an artist meeple on the board in addition to the actual workers confused players.

Streamline

I needed to streamline and simplify; I cut the number of actions down to nine (on a three-by-three grid), and various actions went in and out until I settled on the final ones.

I also simplified the scoring, using majority scoring everywhere. (When an area was completed, points were awarded to the players who contributed the most.) Even artworks were gone, although they eventually came back at a later stage; I instead kept the "recruiter" action that provided an action card to play at any time.

Majority scoring is tricky to get right. Two important design decisions are about when to trigger the scoring and how to handle ties. Some games do scoring at the end of specific turns, but that didn't really fit with the game. I wanted the scoring to happen in a more flexible way because depending on how the action tiles are set up at the beginning of play, some areas might fill up faster than others.

Another important decision is about how to handle ties (more on this later).

I also had another issue: Having fewer action spaces meant fewer slots available to place discs, so I had to revisit the idea of having at most three workers per pair of actions. Instead of having a fixed number of slots, I introduced the idea of placing workers in a stack; in order to keep the stack from growing too much, when the fourth disc was placed on a stack, the bottom disc was removed.

Initially I placed that disc as a "statue" in one of the four quarters of the board (to commemorate the career of the worker who just retired). Each quarter of the board would then trigger the scoring for one category: port cities, trade cities, buildings, and most artwork. Each category would score at most four times per game.




Another concept introduced around this time was that of triggering other players' actions when placing discs. In the initial iterations, when players placed their second or third disc on a slot, they would carry out both actions two or three times in a row. (This helped in maintaining a high number of total actions per game so that there would be enough to make progress on all fronts.) This had a drawback, though, as lots of things could change between one player's turn and their next turn (e.g., in a four-player game, the other three players towards the end of the game could take a total of 18 actions).

That's when I had the idea to invert the flow; now when a player placed a disc on a stack, each disc is activated in order from top to bottom and the owner of each disc performs the actions. The total number of actions per space doesn't change. What's more, the first player to place a disc on a spot will now benefit from three pairs of actions, spread over time. This greatly improved the flow of the game, and players were engaged on everyone's turn.

Playtest, Playtest, Playtest!

Something that came up with more playtests was that players tried to place their discs so that other players could benefit less from their moves, e.g., playing a build action when the owner of the previous discs didn't have enough building materials to benefit from it.

My first attempt to compensate for that was to introduce a "Feld" track, that is, a track used to break ties in scoring; whenever a player couldn't perform an action, they would advance on that track. This maybe overcompensated as players then tried to advance on that track by setting themselves up to not be able to take actions.

With more tweaks and lots of playtesting, I fixed a few problems at once:

I removed the recruiter action; instead players would gain an action card whenever their worker was not able to perform their action. (So that the total number of actions per player didn't change, the action card would let them do another action at any other time.)

I replaced the recruiter action with the "artwork" action (and the "stone" resource with "marble") and added extra slots for artwork in the buildings.

Then I introduced the city council. Now when the fourth disc is added to a slot, the eldest worker (at the bottom of the stack) is promoted to the city council and triggers a scoring. (Scoring tiles are randomly placed during setup in the city council.) In case of a tie, the city council decides the winner (the player with most seats). All this tied together very nicely and made thematic sense.

Playtesting was extremely useful, and every week I would come back home with a new problem and a deadline to solve it before the next playtest session. Slowly but surely, a few more tweaks were introduced over time, such as the white discs which when placed perform each action twice, but are not triggered again later and the scoring cards (which add some more uncertainty, provide a longer term goal during the game, and allow a player to keep contributing to areas that already scored, which was sometime an issue in the last rounds).




By the end of mid-2015, I was quite happy with the game: It played smoothly and within 75 minutes, even with five players. (The total number of discs doesn't change much between player counts: between 45 and 50.)

The game had undergone several playtest sessions, and I was now focusing on writing the rules, including going through a few "blind playtests" (where players learn the game from the rules and play without me, while I watch in silence and take notes). After a few iterations, the rules were clear enough.

Hippodice Competition

In October 2015, almost by chance, I heard about the Hippodice competition when another designer from my playtest group mentioned it in conversation.

I checked online, and I thought that it could be a good way to do some actual blind playtests: Hippodice is a board game club in Germany, and every year they organize a competition for new designers where they play some prototypes for a few months and at the end, in the summer, they provide feedback to the authors.

So I applied (that was just a couple of days before the deadline) and sent the rules, and after a few weeks they asked for a prototype.

The winner is decided by a jury made mostly by German publishers, and every year one or two games among the finalists get usually published. I didn't really think I had a chance, and I was mostly interested in the feedback from the players, so when in March 2016 I got a quick message from a German email address telling me that my game won the competition, I thought it was some kind of joke from one of my fellow designers, moreso because it said that six publishers were interested and they couldn't agree on who should take my prototype, so they asked if I had a preference.

In the following days, a few publishers contacted me directly, and only then was I assured that this was not an elaborate prank. I quickly made a couple of prototypes and mailed them.

SPIEL '17!

Eventually I signed a publishing contract with ADC Blackfire; Uli Blennemann (their main developer, who is also owner of Spielworxx) was very excited about the game and eager to publish it in time for SPIEL '17. Harald Lieske worked on the art, Uli kept me in the loop during the development, and I was able to provide input and feedback.

The game was well received at SPIEL. ADC Blackfire had a large booth with several tables, and Calimala was played constantly on at least six tables at a time during the whole fair. I had the chance to play it a few times with various people, and it was a lot of fun!

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New Game Round-up: Omens for Elder Signs, New Cases for Sherlock Holmes, and a Return Journey for Wrath of Demons

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Elder Sign, which debuted in 2011, has a new expansion due out in early 2018 from Fantasy Flight Games: Omens of the Pharaoh, which as you can tell from the cover are not good, but that shouldn't be surprising given that no one ever perceives omens that deliver ice cream or offer back massages. An overview of what you'll find:

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An eternal tyrant struggles to return to life from beneath the scorching sands of Egypt in Omens of the Pharaoh, the newest expansion for Elder Sign, a cooperative dice game that takes a team of investigators into the dark corners of H.P. Lovecraft's terrifying mythos. Based on the ''Dark Pharaoh'' expansion for the ''Elder Sign: Omens'' app, a team of investigators must travel to Cairo and join an expedition to stop the rise of the Dark Pharaoh Nephren-Ka. This dread ruler seeks to return from beyond the grave and continue his blood-soaked reign of terror. What otherworldly forces have preserved Nephren-Ka for all this time, and how can such a being be stopped?

• In 2013, then-new Hong Kong-based publisher Marrow Production ran a Kickstarter campaign for Journey: Wrath of Demons, shipping the base game in 2015 (a year after the previously announced release date) and posting somewhat monthly updates since that time about progress on two expansions that were part of the original crowdfunding campaign.

Now Edge Entertainment, which Asmodee acquired in early 2017, will release the base game anew in February 2018. Here's a description of the setting and gameplay:

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In a world overrun by demons, four pilgrims chosen by fate risk their lives to undertake an arduous journey across Terra to find the lair of the Bull Demon King. Each is driven by their own motives, but together they share the same goal: to banish the demons from this world.

Welcome to ''Journey: Wrath of Demons'', a cooperative game for 1 to 4 players. You play as the four pilgrims, while the game AI controls your enemies, the fearsome Bull Demons. You experience the pilgrims' misfortunes and victories as they battle the Bull Demon King and his Demon hordes on their journey across Terra.

Rooted deep in Chinese mysticism, the karma system allows for different playing styles, rewarding the virtuous, but corrupting the wicked. Will your pilgrims gain the skills, weapons and magic items they need to defeat the mighty Bull Demon King in Volcano City?

The sell sheet about the game from Edge mentions that "Upcoming expansions expand gameplay to include new characters, monsters, and adventures", so apparently those long-delayed expansions might finally see the light of day.

Space Cowboys will release a somewhat new Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective collection in early 2018: Carlton House & Queen's Park. I say "somewhat new" as some of the cases have appeared in print earlier, such as The Queen's Park Affair, which Ystari had revised and reprinted in French in 2014 but which had not appeared in English. The publisher notes that these cases have been "revised and updated".

• In March 2018, Devir will release Gretchinz! from the Captain Sonar design team of Roberto Fraga and Yohan Lemonnier, with this being a card game set in the Warhammer 40K universe. An overview from the publisher:

Quote:
Gretchinz! is a hilariously violent card-driven racing game in which the cards become the very track on which the Gretchins drive. In the game, players fill the shoes of crazy Gretchin drivers behind the wheels of insane contraptions that could barely pass as vehicles in a deadly race on a deserted alien planet.

At the start of play, players choose which Klan they belong to, each one granting a unique special ability. Each contestant has a vehicle and a bunch of tarot-sized cards in hand. One side of those cards — the side that the player holding them sees — indicates the type of attack card that they can play, while the other side — which everyone else can see — tells what sort of danger lies ahead in front of their racing devices.


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WizKids to Publish Magic: The Gathering Board Game and Miniatures

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WizKids has partnered with Wizards of the Coast to produce a handful of Dungeons & Dragons-related games, such as the D&D: Attack Wing miniatures game, the various D&D Dice Masters dice games, and the Temple of Elemental Evil, Tomb of Annihilation, and Assault of the Giants board games.

Now WizKids has announced a larger partnership with Wizards of the Coast in which it will release both a miniatures line and a board game set in the world of Wizards' Magic: The Gathering collectible card game. From the press release:

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The initial pre-painted sculpted miniatures will focus on token creature card favorites, adding a premium touch to the player's table top experience while the board game will pull from the original trading card lore. Players will play as Planeswalkers, exploring the landscape of Dominaria as they establish connections to their mana sources, gathering power before their opponents do and building their hand of spell cards.

"We're introducing a long-time, beloved brand to an all new medium," said Justin Ziran, president of WizKids. "Producing high-quality miniatures and bringing to market captivating board games is at the heart of WizKids. We could not be more excited to extend our relationship with Wizards of the Coast with Magic: The Gathering."

Both the miniatures line and the board game are currently scheduled for release in late 2018.

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New Game Round-up: Ants Invade Micropolis, Gangs Ravage Necromunda: Underhive, and Patience Rewards Agricola Fans

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• Designer buddies Bruno Cathala and Charles Chevallier (Abyss, Kanagawa) have a new title scheduled to debut in early 2018, most likely at the game festival in Cannes, France at the end of February. Micropolis from Matagot is a 2--6 player game in which you control ants in a shared anthill and dig new tunnels each turn to work toward whatever goals your antlike mind might perceive. An overview:

Quote:
The game board features a central location surrounded by ten tiles that are connected by a series of tunnels. Over ten rounds, players draft tiles that will adjust the contents of the shared anthill, then explore.

Each round, the player with the largest army goes first. They can take the first tile in line, or place an ant on each tile they want to pass to get to something better. The tiles have various roles on them: Queens who if alone can improve their space; Nannies who give you extra ant soldiers; Architects who let you take any tile for free; Warriors who attack the first player; Generals who manage the movement of your ant soldiers; and Fruit gatherers who collect fruits, whic score based on the variety you have.

Ants at the end of the game are worth one point each, and whoever has the largest army earns an additional 5 points.


Co-designer Bruno Cathala at SPIEL '17 (image from Matagot)


• On November 25, 2017, Games Workshop will release Necromunda: Underhive, a reworking of its 1995 title Necromunda, as well as Necromunda: Gang War, a supplemental volume that includes a campaign system for the game as well as details on how to incorporate 3D terrain into the game. As for the game itself, here's a rundown:

Quote:
Necromunda: Underhive is packed with content to get you started: a full board representing the sewers and confines of the underhive, a rulebook, character cards, templates, dice, and your gangs.

There are two full gangs in the box: one set of nimble warrior-women from House Escher and one set of gene-crafted brutes from House Goliath. Each of these miniatures is detailed, characterful, and true to the classic spirit of Necromunda — hairstyles and all! These gangs are multi-part kits, with an enormous level of customization. There are weapons for any situation, from classics like the stub gun to more esoteric choices like the repurposed industrial equipment of House Goliath or the chem-weapons of the Eschers.

The set's gaming tiles and simple bulkhead scenery allow you to play games quickly and easily. As well as the underhive style of play covered by the boxed set, there will also be ways to play Necromunda with the multi-level skirmishes that defined the classic version of the game.




• If you're unsure about whether the purchase the Agricola miniature+card expansions from WizKids as all you care about is the cards and not the figures, feel free to wait a couple of years as Lookout Games' Hanno Girke notes that the cards included in these six mini-expansions will be included in the C and D expansion decks to be released in 2019 and 2020. (The Artifex Deck, a.k.a. A-Deck, debuted at SPIEL '17 in October, and the B-Deck is due out in 2018.)

• Girke also notes that Farmers of the Moor for the revised edition of Agricola should be out in 2018.

• Designer Alexander Pfister notes in passing that if you want a heavier game from him, keep an eye out for Adelin, possibly in 2018. (Update: Or don't, as that's not the name of the game. See the first comment below for details.)

Flying Lemur Game Studio is a new publisher that will release a new edition of Peer Sylvester's North American Railways, first released by Spielworxx in 2016, in the North American market in Q1 2018.

Along the same lines, in 2018 Tasty Minstrel Games will release a new edition of the 2015 Spielworxx release Dilluvia Project from Alexandre Garcia, and a Spanish edition of Stefan Risthaus' Gentes will be released.


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Publishers Promote Plundering in Escape Plan, Raids, Ship of Treasures, and More

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Non-final cover by Ian O'Toole
• Designer Vital Lacerda has been wowing game fans since he arrived on the scene with Vinhos in 2010, and his next release with frequent publishing partner Eagle-Gryphon Games has been in the works since before that time. In Escape Plan, which will hit Kickstarter in 2018, 2-4 players have committed a heist together, but now it's every thief for themselves as the police start closing in. In more detail:

Quote:
After a successful bank heist, the robbers retreat to a quiet city to lay low and enjoy the good life. Having largely hidden the cash, they have invested the rest in locations throughout the city. All is going according to plan until the police get a break in the case. Accusations are made, fingers are pointed, and everyone is a suspect.

Chaos ensues as the police call in the SWAT team and close the city’s exits. Life is no longer easy for the thieves. The only choice now is to escape the city as soon as possible, but the robbers need a plan — a good route that allows them to escape the city while recovering the money they have invested and, if possible, all the money they have hidden.

Time is short, and with the police and SWAT at their heels, it will be necessary to pull some strings to calm the situation. To accomplish this, time and money must be spent to hire the city’s gangs to create diversions. Bribing the cops isn't cheap, either. Disguises may help, but they will not fool everyone. Setting the cops on the trail of the others will allow you a better chance of escape, but the other thieves are thinking the same. Which player will make the best plan to escape with the most money and be the winner? Or will the cops foil the robber's plans and lockdown the city before the thieves escape?

In Escape Plan, players are the thieves, but they may influence the cops' moves every turn. The robbers move on a modular board trying to reach the best spots to recover their loot and escape from the city with more money than the other thieves. The cops are trying to thwart their escape plan — by force if necessary. The players play cards to aid their escape and slow the other players down. The players take actions that allow them to move and to engage gangs, mules, and snitches.

As a tactical game with no direct conflict, it contains asymmetric roles set by missions that players may achieve during the game while avoiding the police. The players' roles as thieves are individual with every player for themselves. In the end, only the player who escapes with the most cash wins.

• Another game along similar lines — a gang of thieves theoretically working together while worrying only about themselves in the end — is Robin Hood and the Merry Men, a game from Krstevski, Krstevska, Matovska, Poole, Toshevski, and Final Frontier Games that will also come to Kickstarter in 2018.

• Stealing is also required in Professor Treasure's Secret Sky Castle from Jason D. Kingsley and Level 99 Games, with this being a two-player competitive puzzle game in which you're trying to take back precious items stolen and hidden by Professor Treasure. Level 99 Games had originally announced this title in April 2016 along with two other two-player games, and it's now moving toward release in February 2018.

• More thieving takes place in Ship of Treasures, which was designed by fourth-graders Olivia Wasilewski and Brynna Siewers and which won the 2016 Chicago Toy & Game Fair's annual Young Inventor Challenge. As part of their prize, Pressman has now published the game, which is being sold exclusively in the Target U.S. retail chain. Here's an overview:

Quote:
Grab a treasure map, hide your treasure chests, and start your search for hidden treasure in Ship of Treasures. Lift up trapdoors to reveal loot to plunder from the other pirates, but beware — you could end up with cannonballs instead of booty. You need a good strategy and some lucky rolls of the dice to be the first pirate to capture treasure chests from each of your fellow pirates and win the game!

Alessio Cavatore and River Horse Ltd., who released Jim Henson's Labyrinth: The Board Game in 2016, are back with a new title in a similar vein: Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal: Board Game. Description for this 2-4 player game due out in early 2018 is minimal: "Will Jen and Kira manage to find the Shard and heal the Dark Crystal?" To keep in line with the other games in this post, they will ideally pocket the Shard, then fence it for enough to retire in the Bahamas.

• To close out our special thieving edition of BGG News, in June 2018 IELLO will release Raids, a Viking-themed game from Brett J. Gilbert and Matthew Dunstan. I received an overview of the game at SPIEL '17 and offer this possibly accurate description, as well as pics of a mock-up copy that features final art, but not final graphic design:

Quote:
In Raids, players sail from island to island to collect vikings and viking-related paraphernalia, using them fight one another for good spaces and fight monsters for points.

In more detail, the game lasts four rounds, and at the start of each round tiles are laid out at the various locations on the path that all players must follow. On a turn, a player moves to either an empty spot on the path to claim one of the tiles located there or to an occupied spot. In the latter case, the attacking player must sacrifice a viking, then the defending player must sacrifice two vikings or vacate the space; if they sac two vikings, then the attacker must remove three or leave. Eventually, someone must leave.

You can collect runes with an eye toward having lots of the same type or collect goods to sell at the end of the round. You might gather axes to give you better odds against monsters. You can collect more vikings for your crew.

At the end of each round, players score majority bonuses depending on the tiles that were revealed before the round started. After four rounds, whoever has the most points wins!



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Crowdfunding Round-up: Battle Strike Slaughter for Afflicted Monster Demons

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Monster Slaughter from Henri Pym and Ankama might suffer from a bit of confusion given the title as the monsters are not being slaughtered but are the ones doing the slaughtering, with the victims being the teenagers that we've all seen in horror movies since the 1980s and with the players trying to off the teens in a certain order to score the most points. Gruesome stuff that's lightened somewhat by the 3D box bottom that functions like a child's dollhouse — except that all the slaughtering takes place within those walls, so the gruesomeness still abounds! (KS link)

For more details on the game, check out the game overview I recorded at the Cannes game festival in February 2017:




• I meant to check out Li Hsiao En's Dragon Canyon at SPIEL '17 as Sweet Lemon Publishing was working on a new version of this Chinese release from 2016, but as often happens at SPIEL, I didn't. Now it's being crowdfunded, so we can all learn about this skirmish game that requires temporary alliances on the path to long-term dominance of the kingdom. (KS link)

• Another battling game on KS right now is Shadow Strike: Melee from Benjamin, Buel, Muckell, and Pure Fun Games, with the game challenging you to knock out others while being able to see only the cards that they play and not your own. (KS link)

• Yet another battling game is Chris Faulkenberry's Battle for Biternia from Stone Circle Games, which marries the familiar 8-bit look of old video games with the battle arenas present in modern video games. (KS link)

Demons: The 9th Circle of Hell UNLEASHED from Aaron Antonich of Award Winning Games has not won any awards of which I am aware, and the description — a "card based, role playing, kingdom building, adventure game with dice" that has "Replay Value out the wazoo" — sounds overly optimistic, and the art isn't doing anything for me, but the game has cleared its low $5k bar, so I guess it will be coming to print in the future. How about that? (KS link)

• In the same spiritual realm as Demons, we have Sorcerer, a deck-building game that Peter Scholtz started designing in 2012 before eventually connecting with White Wizard Games, which is stepping out of its small box, Star Realms comfort zone to publish this larger game. The gist of the game is that you battle opponents to capture battlefields, but the hook is that before play you create your character RPG-style by combining three separate decks, which determine the spells you can cast, minions you can summon, and enchanted items you can use. (KS link)

We recorded an overview of Sorcerer at the 2017 GAMA Trade Show, but even before that we recorded a 16-minute overview with Scholtz and White Wizard's Rob Dougherty at SPIEL '16, a video that I have only just now found in our queue and published. (You wouldn't believe how much stuff I have in the hopper that's not published. Time is the enemy...)




• If you don't want to build decks, you can build dice with Kapow! from Bogucki, Hettrick, Van Ostrand, and L4 Studios, with this being a dice-building game along the lines of Rattlebones, except that you're a super-powered individual who wants to thrash another such person. (KS link)

• And if neither decks nor dice are your thing, you can build a bag instead in Chris Peach's Tabula Rasa from Kid Loves Tiger Games, an adventure game in which you customize your own bag of crystals to power actions or allow for specialized abilities as you attempt to reseal barriers to unstoppable evil. (KS link)

• Another adventure game is on its second KS go-round for a reprint, this being Folklore: The Affliction from Nick Blain, Will Donovan, and Greenbrier Games, which originally funded to the tune of $500k in 2015. (KS link)

• A game making a longer trip between printings is Medieval, a Richard H. Berg design from 2003 in which you attempt to control various parts of Europe that's been entirely retooled for its new edition from HGN Games. (KS link)

• At SPIEL '17 I received a quick rundown of Kai Herbertz's Albedo from his own Herbertz Entertainment UG, a sci-fi deck-builder that lets you flip cards around to use the side that works best for you in whatever situation you're currently confronting. (KS link)

• We'll close with something that isn't a game at all, but rather the raw materials of such: the Board Game Creative Kit from Polish publisher Games Factory. Should you feel like designing a game, yet don't want to get crafty or tear apart the games you own to scavenge them for parts, you can instead spring for this kit, then scavenge it. (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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Links: More Games of the Year, and Catan on Film?

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• The Toy Association, a non-profit association that represents manufacturers and distributors of toy and "youth entertainment" products, has announced its nominees for their "toy of the year" awards, and the nominees for the TOTY game of the year include Happy Salmon, Beasts of Balance, and ThinkFun's Roller Coaster Challenge (which isn't a game, but which is as excellent as most other ThinkFun solitaire puzzles). Four other titles are nominated as well, including Hearing Things, which is yet another Hasbro title based on viral video activity, specifically "The Whisper Challenge" on Jimmy Fallon's The Tonight Show.

Two other games show up in the "innovative toy of the year" category: Hasbro's DropMix and Competo's KLASK, which is distributed in the U.S. by Buffalo Games. Until January 5, 2018, you can vote for a nominee in these categories or any of the other categories, with the winners being revealed on Friday, February 16, 2018, the day before NY Toy Fair opens.

One interesting aspect of these awards is that in previous years The Toy Association had categories for "boy toy of the year" and "girl toy of the year", something I called out back in 2016:




I'm pleased to see that these categories no longer exist. We don't need to place fences around who can play with which toys (just as we shouldn't place such fences around which games are appropriate for which segments of the gaming audience), and kudos to The Toy Association for recognizing this.

• In mid-October 2017, Richard Gottlieb of Global Toy News profiled Thames & Kosmos, which began as an independent company in 2001 and which now serves as the English-language publisher of games from German company KOSMOS. An excerpt from the interview with T&K president Ted McGuire:

Quote:
Kosmos invested in and became the majority owner of TK in 2013. Along with this transaction, TK got access to most of Kosmos's board game and magic kit catalog. We have closely aligned our product portfolio and strategy with Kosmos (of course, with variations for difference in the markets). Kosmos has extraordinarily successful board game and magic lines, so it naturally makes sense to offer those in the North American market as well.

Beyond that, board games and magic kits are another way for us to teach kids important skills — in fact, entirely different sets of skills than what we can teach through science kits. So, with board games we can teach kids about strategic thinking, math, logic, and social skills, and with magic kits, we can teach kids presentation skills and eye-hand coordination skills, for example. Every product Thames & Kosmos puts out into the market has an educational aim behind it. At our core, we teach people how to learn and to be curious.

• In mid-October 2017, Variety reported that Sony Pictures was in negotiations to adapt Catan into a film, with Gail Katz — who acquired the film rights in 2015 — serving as producer. From the article: "We're excited to be working with Sony to bring the iconic world of Catan to life," Katz said. "As huge fans of the game, we're struck by the endless possibilities of stories that it could inspire. It's not every day that you have the opportunity to work in a world beloved by millions of people, and expand its story for the screen."
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