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W. Eric Martin
• You can tell that Zev Shlasinger is indeed now Director of Board Games at U.S. publisher WizKids because the company feels like the Z-Man Games of old, releasing a ridiculous number of games in a short period of time with many more still to come before the year ends and with those titles ranging all over the map in terms of setting, style, and gameplay.
Who Should We Eat? by newcomers Mike Harrison-Wood and Chris MacLennan is a 4-10 player semi-cooperative game due out in 2017 in which you're all trying to survive on a desert island while also being fully aware that you might have to resort to cannibalism at some point in order to both survive and keep yourself off the table. From the game description: "You know that not all of you will make it off the island, which means that only the strong will survive, but deep down you also feel something supernatural about this place — that the veil between the spirit world and this mortal existence is paper thin. If you succumb to the hunger and are forced to eat another survivor, you will be driven deeper into madness and awake to find a new, vengeful, ghostly presence intent on ensuring that you never, ever leave the island."
• Another future WizKids release, this one for October 2017, is Time Barons, which designers Jon Perry and Derek Yu first self-published in 2014 via the Game Crafter under the brand Quibble Games. I played the game once or twice that year on a demo copy sent to me by the designers and loved it, meaning to play more so that I could do a proper overview video, then it was buried under a bunch of other games. Bad Eric. Here's a game summary:
You are one of the time barons, shadowy figures who have shaped mankind's destiny since the dawn of time. People are simply pawns in your quest to defeat the other barons and become the ruler of a unified human race. War, religion, technology - all will be used in this ultimate battle.
Time Barons is a fast-paced card game that pits two players in a struggle across the ages. "Freedom" is the operating word here! Each turn you can spend your actions however you see fit: to draw and play cards, gain followers, and advance your civilization through four distinct time periods: medieval, industrial, modern, and futuristic. Do you want to rush through the ages, hoping to obtain that technological edge, or punish such a folly with primitive weapons and fanatical attacks? Will you be relentless in your aggression or build an economic advantage? A variety of strategies are available to you at every turn.
The unique blend of actions, followers, and cards offers quick games where turns can be simple, like drawing three cards, or complex, involving every option available to you. And in the process, you'll find yourself doing things like putting a Plague on your opponent's Robotics Lab to slowly kill off the workers there, or attaching a Computer Network to a Church to automate the conversion of new followers. Or what about Martyring a follower you just sacrificed on your Temple so that you can draw a Doomsday Laser and fire it on the same turn? Whew!
• While passing along info about titles that WizKids would have at Gen Con 2017, Shlasinger included a brand new one, the 2-4 player game Dungeon Hustle from Tim and Ben Eisner. Here's an overview:
Players are archetypal fantasy characters running through a dungeon picking up swords, keys, shields, scrolls and potions. Each item comes in different colors, and to pick them up, you must hustle through a path of dungeon tiles of matching color; once you step on a new color (or a corner space), you pick up the tiles that you had stepped on. If, for example, you start on a red key and move on a path that consists of a red sword, another red key, a red shield, and finally a white sword, you stop on the white sword, then pick up all of the red items, including the one where you started movement. You use these items to fight monsters, fulfill quests, and purchase other items.
Dungeon Hustle includes a few semi-cooperative elements. A character can help give a power to another character, for example, and is then rewarded for doing so. More importantly, you must all work together to stop monsters from escaping the dungeon. After a certain number of monsters escapes, the game ends, and whoever has the most victory points at that time wins.
• Still another title forthcoming from WizKids, also debuting at Gen Con 2017, is WarTime: The Battle of Valyance Vale by Brad Lackey and Joshua Tempkin, a ten-minute, two-player game in which sand timers determine the limits of what you can do when. In more detail:
When a unit moves, attacks, cast spells, or uses a special ability in Wartime, a sand timer is flipped. The unit cannot be used again until the sand timer is drained, then that sand timer (or another one) can be used to activate the unit again. Manage your sand timers, as well as your unit actions, wisely. Sand timers come in different times: 30 seconds, 60 seconds, 90 seconds. Scenarios use other timers in time-sensitive missions.
Wartime features scenario-based play, with branching missions depending on the outcome of the previous mission. Configure your own units to fight in player-designed missions or mix up the unit configurations when playing the game's missions.
W. Eric Martin
• As many people know, Mystic Vale introduced John D. Clair's "card-crafting system" — in which plastic cards with bits of information on them are overlaid in card sleeves to craft unique new cards — but that game was not what Clair first showed publisher Alderac Entertainment Group when he approached them. Instead he first showed them Edge of Darkness, a sprawling design in which the card-crafting was just one part of a larger whole.
At the 2017 Origins Game Fair, AEG's CEO John Zinser showed up with a copy of Edge of Darkness in public for the first time, noting that he's bringing the game to multiple conventions over the next several months to both test the design among new players and show off something different from what AEG normally releases. For those waiting for more info about the game, I think this is finally giving you what you want to know.
• Rob Dougherty of White Wizard Games dropped info on Star Realms: Frontiers, a standalone game in the publisher's wildly successful Star Realms line with eighty new cards that accommodates up to four players. This title hits Kickstarter on July 11, 2017.
• Dougherty also went into detail about Hero Realms: The Ruin of Thandar Campaign Deck, which takes the tiny Hero Realms game and spins it into something far larger.
• I played the 4X card game Alien Artifacts from Marcin Senior Ropka and Viola Kijowska at BGG.CON 2016 and wrote up the experience on BGG News — or did I? The game as it exists today is not the game that I played six months ago, and it's likely not exactly what will appear in print from Portal Games before the end of 2017, but this overview can still give you the basics of the gameplay and we'll worry about the details once the final rulebook is released.
• One of the odd things about the 2017 Origins Game Fair is how much time we have to fill. I can schedule game demos with more cushion time around them so that we don't have to hustle people on and off camera so quickly — but that means that when someone doesn't show, we have a lot of time to fill. Thankfully Origins has lots of designers walking around, so we grabbed Rob Daviau from the aisle (for the second time as we had him on camera on Wednesday as well) to talk with him. JR Honeycutt, who develops some of Daviau's designs, snuck onto camera as well. Maybe this will be interesting for you...
W. Eric Martin
• We will know that "roll and write" games — designs in which players roll dice, then write something in response — have made it big when a character emerges from the mists to don the name and claim it as their own, and that day has come with the announcement of a "new line of premium roll and write games" from Chris Handy of Perplext. This line of games is based on Roland Wright, "a fictional game designer who is obsessed with making great roll and write games in his 'old time' workshop", says Handy. "He's like a Willy Wonka meets Reiner Knizia."
The series will launch with 3-4 games in 2018, with the first title being Roland Wright: A Pursuit of the Perfect Dice Game. In the game, players select dice each turn to complete game design modules and earn equipment in order to create the "perfect dice game".
• Z-Man Games has finally officially announced Pandemic Legacy: Season 2, a standalone game from Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau that throws you seventy years into the future past the events of Season 1. Here's a summary of the game's setting:
Humanity has been brought to its knees. A network of the last known cities persists, supplied by the "havens", isolated stations floating in the ocean far from the plague. Three generations of survivors have called the havens home. Most of them have never set foot on the mainland. But now supplies are running low and the people have turned to you to lead. It is up to you to save what remaining cities you can and stop the world from ending for good.
The main twist in the game is that instead of removing disease cubes from the board, you're now delivering supplies to the few cities that you can reach, trying to expand that network of locations over time, but limited in your travel to movement by ships or what you can reach over land as air travel is no longer possible. Check the post for more details, with the game due out in Q4 2017 and available for a sneak peek at Gen Con 2017 in August.
• Uli Blennemann of Spielworxx has opened preorders for Stefan Risthaus' Gentes, with the game shipping in July 2017. Gentes is a civilization game in which you can't get everything you need as the more that you focus on one type of worker, the fewer you can have of another. Full rules can be downloaded in English and German from the Spielworxx website, or you watch an overview video that BGG recorded at the Spielwarenmesse toy fair in early 2017. As is usual with Spielworxx titles, only one thousand copies are being produced.
• French publisher Bombyx has renamed their SPIEL 2017 release from Bruno Cathala and Florian Sirieix yet again, with the one-time Curiosity and later named Steamers now bearing the name of Imaginarium. We recorded an overview of this game in early 2017, and the gameplay remains the same, as far as I know.)
Here's a shot of prototype copies made for the Paris Est Ludique game fair in mid-June 2017:
• Belgian publisher Pearl Games has posted a teaser video on Facebook for The Carnies, an expansion for Nicolas Robert's The Bloody Inn that will be released at SPIEL 2017 in October.
In addition to this expansion, at SPIEL 2017 Pearl Games will release Claude Lucchini's Otys (a co-publication with Libellud for which we shot an overview video while at the Cannes game fair in February 2017). In 2018, possibly by the game fair in Cannes at the end of February, Pearl Games will release the space game Black Angel, for which there's an overview video of the prototype in French and this image of the prototype.
W. Eric Martin
Thanks to the efficient editing efforts of Nikki Pontius of BGG's own GameNight!, I can start posting game demonstrations and overviews recorded in the BGG booth during the 2017 Origins Game Fair less than week after that show ended. Kudos, Nikki!
• We'll start with a trio of titles coming from Czech Games Edition, with the first two of those titles — Codenames Duet and That's a Question! — scheduled to debut at Gen Con 2017 in August.
Codenames Duet is, as far as I can tell, the second title that lists Vlaada Chvátil as a co-designer (with Star Trek: Frontiers being the first). My understanding is that Scot Eaton approached CGE with the basic design for this two-player take on the Spiel des Jahres-winning Codenames, and CGE has been developing it non-stop ever since. The version of the game that I played at PAX East in mid-March 2017 differed from the original submission, and that version differed from what I saw one week later at the GAMA Trade Show, and that differed from what I saw at the Gathering in April, and so on. CGE has a great reputation for its designs, and seeing that development work in action helps you understand why they have the reputation that they do.
• That's a Question! is another party game from Chvátil, his take on the well-known "guess how someone will answer a question" genre. In this design players get to create their own questions using the hexagonal topic cards in hand, with the goal of trying to split the party in their answers.
I had asked someone at CGE about Chvátil's most recent designs all being party games, and they mentioned that he has children now, so he's been leaning toward shorter games that allow for quicker iteration and development. That isn't to say that Chvátil is done with larger and longer games, but given the strength of Codenames and how much fun this game has been to observe (as all I've done is observe it so far), this change of focus isn't necessarily a loss.
• The final title previewed by CGE is Pulsar 2849, a dice-drafting, space exploration game from designer Vladimír Suchý (Last Will) that will debut at SPIEL 2017 in October. The design is still in development right now, but Josh Githens demonstrates the basics of game, the basics of the tech trees (plural, with each player having an individual tree and all players sharing a different tree), how you explore the stars, and more.
W. Eric Martin
• Admittedly with Gen Con 2017 being the next major convention in the offing, much of the gaming news popping up relates to that show, but SPIEL 2017 looms even larger ahead of its October 26 opening, and publishers are popping out announcements for that show as well, such as Matagot's opening teaser for Okanagan: Valley of the Lakes, a 2-4 player game from Emanuele Ornella that bears this short description:
Canada's wealth is waiting for you!
The Okanagan Valley, with its huge lakes and fertile meadows, awaits anyone willing to exploit it. Shape the land and store your wealth in the gathering and territory-building game Okanagan: Valley of the Lakes. In the game, players arrange tiles to design the landscape along with its natural resources — and it's your job to place one of the three buildings to obtain and secure these resources so that you can complete your objectives.
• A second title coming from Matagot at SPIEL 2017 is Cédric Millet's Meeple Circus, which was first announced in early 2016. The description gives you enough details to start imagining how it might play:
You have only one goal in Meeple Circus: Entertain the audience. The competition is tough, but you can create the most amazing circus by proposing incredible acts! Acrobats, horses, and many accessories are at your disposal. Be sure to undertake a good rehearsal, then with your remarkable dexterity, you can give them the show of their lifetime. Once the circus music starts, all eyes will be upon you!
In short, Meeple Circus is a dexterity game in which you do what all gamers do when setting up a game: Pile up your meeples!
• Dutch publisher Quined Games has a new title coming in Q4 2017 from Michael Keller of La Granja fame with Agra being a 90-120-minute game for 2-4 players. Quined has included a decent amount of background in its description to put the game in context:
Agra, India: The year is 1572; this year marks the 30th birthday of Abu'l-Fath Jalal-ud-din Muhammad, popularly known as Akbar the Great. Akbar is the third ruler of India's Mughal dynasty, having succeeded his father, Humayun. With the guidance of his regent, Bairam Khan, Akbar has expanded and consolidated India's Mughal domains. Using his strong personality and skill as a general, Akbar has enlarged his Empire to include nearly all of the Indian subcontinent north of the Godavari River; his presence is felt across the entire country due to the Mughals' military, political, cultural, and economic dominance.
To unify the vast Mughal state, Akbar has established a centralized system of administration; conquered rulers are conciliated through marriage and diplomacy. Akbar has preserved peace and Order throughout his empire by passing laws that have won him the support of his non-Muslim subjects. Eschewing tribal bonds and Islamic state-identity, Akbar has striven to unite his lands. The Mughals' Persian-ized culture has afforded Akbar near-divine status.
Notables and emissaries from all over the country are on their way for Akbar's birthday celebration. As an ambitious landowner, you cannot let this pass; the festivities are a golden opportunity for you to rise in stature and wealth.
On your land in Agra, you cultivate and harvest cotton and turmeric. You possess a forest from which you produce wood, as well as a small, but very profitable sandstone quarry. By trading and processing your wares, you can obtain more luxurious goods, which you will then use to woo notables as they make their way into the capital. Of course, your rivals have the same plan; you must use your wits to outsmart them as Akbar's birthday draws near...
• Designer Phil Walker-Harding and German publisher KOSMOS have an expansion shipping in October for their Spiel des Jahres-nominated Imhotep with Imhotep: Eine neue Dynastie consisting of five new places, fourteen market cards, seven god cards, four chariots, and 56 tiles. One detail about what's new in this expansion: "God cards let players predict the progress of different buildings, with them being rewarded at the end of the game if they're correct and otherwise being punished."
• Adellos is a self-published game from newcomer Till Engel that he's currently funding on German crowdfunding site Startnext for an anticipated debut at SPIEL 2017. Here's a description from the designer:
Adellos is a turn-based tactical strategy board game for 2-4 players. Each player controls a medieval nobleman, who hires various units (soldiers, riders, thugs, etc.) and tries to overcome the other players. The players have twelve different units with unique skills to choose and control. They also have to manage their gold income and the flow of action cards that each player can use on their turn for effects that influence the game. Everything takes place on a symmetric battle map. Every nobleman has a specific and unique skill that can influence the game from the start.
Turns are played in two phases. During the first phase, players gain the resources their units provide. In the second phase, players hire units, move, attack, or play action cards. Every action costs a specific number of action points. The players start with three action points and an amount of gold, depending on their position. Players can increase their action points throughout the game to build up huge turns.
W. Eric Martin
• After a week of the 2017 Origins Game Fair plus a few extra sick days, I have a lot to catch up on, starting with the revelation that Legendary: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a deck-building game from Travis R. Chance and Nick Little that will debut from Upper Deck Entertainment at Gen Con 2017, will use photographic images from the television show and not original artwork — at least that's what I think is happening as the solicitation for the game from UDE features the cards depicted below, despite touting that the game features "All Original Art". Checking on this...
Update, June 23: The "All Original Art" phrase was possibly a holdover from an earlier solicitation, according to UDE gaming sales manager Richard Dracass, who confirmed that Legendary: Buffy "and future TV properties" will "use screen grabs from the show as this is how fans relate to those brands".
• At SPIEL 2016, Korean publisher Happy Baobab released Fold-it by Yohan Goh, a real-time, pattern-creation game in which each player has a double-sided cloth and races to fold that cloth in a particular way to reveal only the dishes shown on that round's menu card. The game is a tricky take on the Spot it genre because spotting the images that you need to feature isn't enough; you need to also figure out how to make all the other images disappear within the folds of the cloth.
Two things have happened since that release: First, publisher ThinkFun has licensed the game for release in the U.S., with a listed street date of July 21, 2017. (Hong Kong-based Broadway Toys has also licensed the game for a Chinese-language edition.)
Second, at SPIEL 2017 Happy Baobab will release Battlefold, a new take on the system with co-designer Dave Choi and art by Vincent Dutrait. Says publisher representative Kevin Kim, "Originally, we had planned to make a Fold-it series of games with different artwork and puzzles, but the same game rules. However, after the successful launch in Essen, we changed the main direction of the project. We found the potential of the 'folding handkerchief' system and decided to make very different games while keeping only the folding handkerchief to show certain icons." Here's an overview of this new game:
In Battlefold, each player takes on the role of a warrior, assassin, magician, or archer. The player takes the handkerchief matching their character, with each handkerchief providing different fighting powers. The warrior, for example, has a cross-shaped attack range and is more powerful when staying in the same position, while the archer has a long-distance attack and more movement.
As in the earlier game Fold-it, once a mission card is revealed, players must fold their handkerchief to leave visible only the right combination of symbols. After successfully making a combination, the player takes the lowest remaining turn order token. Starting with the first player, each player controls their character on the arena board, moving and fighting with the goal of being the last one standing. If a player defeats all other opponents, they win!
Battlefold is a player-elimination game, but eliminated players can still participate via the "ghost" rule. When a player's character dies, the character becomes a ghost. Flip the character board to the ghost side and keep playing. A ghost player can gain spiritual energy by successfully attacking living characters, and if a ghost collects full spiritual energy before only one living character remains in the arena, then the ghost wins the game.
• IELLO has released an overview of Sentai Cats, the details of which sound as ridiculous as the name. The design, which hits brick-and-mortar stores on September 28, 2017, is credited to "Tokyo Boys", probably because they didn't want to fit all the designer names (Antoine Bauza, Corentin Lebrat, Ludovic Maublanc, Nicolas Oury, Théo Rivière) on their miniature box. Here's the setting:
You were living the easy life as a kitten, enjoying the best food in the town. Out of the blue, Meka Dog arrived and threatened to destroy the catnip factory — but no one messes with a kitty's food bowl! Train your cats and be the fastest one to transform them into Sentai Cats. Only the best team of Sentai Cats will have the honor of facing Meka Dog in the ultimate combat.
Sentai Cats is a fast-paced and quirky game in which you train your cute little kitties into world-saving heroes...wearing latex suits!
W. Eric Martin
My apologies for the quietness in this space since the end of the 2017 Origins Game Fair, which corresponded with the launching of the Gen Con 2017 Preview, but in the past three days I've eaten only a banana, a piece of toast, a handful of cereal, a can of soup (over two days), a handful of chips, and two bowls of blueberries — this after ending my Origins with the eating, followed by the rapid uneating, of a turkey BLT (botulism-laden-terrorwich).
I had hoped to jump immediately into Gen Con preview updates once Origins ended as I knew that my inbox would be flooded with messages from publishers who having now cleared the hurdles in Columbus could set their sights on the next obstacle ahead in Indianapolis, and lo, that flood did miraculously appear to test the gates of my Gmail dam, but I couldn't manage to do more than sit upright every so often and admire the light reflecting on the surface on my unusually untouched laptop. Now that I'm finally up again, I'll start draining the backlog, but let's start with something simpler: a recap of my Origins 2017 experience:
There you go. Word Slam. Origins recapped!
BGG's Scott Alden and Lincoln Damerst had raved about Inka and Markus Brand's Word Slam after seeing it demonstrated on camera in the BGG booth at SPIEL 2016, and when Thames & Kosmos donated an English-language copy to the BGG library for BGG.CON 2017 Spring in late May, Scott started playing it obsessively — yet somehow I caught only his simultaneously active Kreus obsession during that show. (More on that game another day.)
At Origins 2017, Scott asked, "You haven't played Word Slam yet? Oh, man, you have to." So we played the game on air once we finished the scheduled game demonstrations on Wednesday. Then he brought it to the Nerd Nighters fundraising event on Thursday, and I joined in after it had already been on the table an hour to play for three more hours, with people coming and going constantly as they often do with Codenames and Concept. We played again on camera on Friday; we talked about the game on Lone Shark Live: Origins by Night, a three-night podcast from Origins hosted by Mike Selinker, Paul Peterson, and James Ernest; we played on dinky tables on Saturday night with people once again coming and going; and we played yet again on Sunday night, with me leaving the table only because my sandwich has different plans for its future than I had intended.
Erin Dontknowherlastname, Paul Grogan, Mike Selinker, Scott Alden, Josh Githens, Chad Krizan
For those who don't know the game, Word Slam is played in teams, with the members of each team trying to guess the same hidden noun phrase. One member on each team knows this noun phrase — which can be anything from butterfly to mountain to the Golden Gate Bridge to Forrest Gump — and to get their teammates to guess it, they can use only a set of one hundred words that is provided to each team. Words are color-coded as nouns, adjectives, verbs, and other, and you can place words on your rack, point at words on your rack, move words around on your rack, take words off the rack, and otherwise do some combination of "word" VERB "rack" as long as you don't animate the cards to give clues. Those guessing must yell out answers so that their guesses can be heard by the other team, which is a secondary form of clue and something that your cluegiver might be able to take advantage of.
I think the rules specify that you keep the words in piles, but we often played otherwise, spreading them out in order to view everything at once, with word combinations popping out at me like strands of the Matrix being read by Neo. (New players can find this approach overwhelming and should be presented with stacks of cards as recommended so that they're not hit in the eyes with one hundred words at once. Even experienced players might prefer this approach if they don't like scanning the way that most of us did.)
As with the previously mentioned Concept, the beauty of Word Slam is the (restricted) openness available to players when trying to convey some idea to others. You don't have the freedom to do anything, but you have the freedom to do hundreds of different things. You have tools spread out on the table, and you try to make them work as well as you can. Sometimes you find a magic tool that unlocks understanding in a second — as when someone put up the single word "run" and someone else answered "Forrest Gump" — sometimes you create a word poem that does the trick (with "big" "up" "place" being correctly interpreted as "mountain"), and sometimes you labor at something forever, the clarity of the concept in your mind somehow not transmitting itself across the aether into theirs. I tend to tell stories with my clues, and my concept for "lawyer" took a while, with me moving around cards constantly, but finally getting across the notion of an event happening, then someone speaking the opposite of what happened.
Yes, that's a stereotype, but Word Slam invites you to take advantage of those stereotypes while also frustrating you with them at the same time. The game doesn't include a card for "person", for example — only cards for "man", "woman", and "child" — so any time you use "man" or "woman" in a clue, you risk misleading the guessers who might think that gender plays a role in the answer when it doesn't.
The frustration comes in many flavors: Sometimes you remove words from the rack because it turns out they were misleading, but sometimes you want to remove words from the rack because you needed them only to get guessers thinking along a certain line. Scott, for example, struggled with a word for a while until he finally had us guess Italy by clueing "country" "red" "food", after which he removed those words to work on the actual answer, which was something that originated in Italy. Will guessers understand why you removed those words? Maybe! Play with someone for a few hours, though, and you get a real sense of their clue-giving style.
Cheating comes into play because it's hard to fight human nature. You're not supposed to point to guessers when they say something close or dismiss a guess by waving your hand, but sometimes you can't help yourself. I was clueing "Golden Gate Bridge" with something like "vehicle on long red object" and circling "long red object" with my fingers to indicate that was the vital part of the clue when someone on my team shouted out "San Francisco". I jerked in response because those two things are so closely associated (and I lived in SF years ago, so something triggered there, too, I think), and while that answer wasn't correct, my response indicated that the person was close and they got "Golden Gate Bridge" almost immediately. Whoops. Thankfully we were not in the world finals of the Word Slam competition and were content to just move on to the next game.
An interlude: In many ways, Word Slam
is identical to Geoff Girouard's self-published game Word Blur
from 2007: Two people race to get their teammates to guess a hidden noun phrase using only combinations of single words. Where the games differ are relevant to how fun they are. In Word Slam
, everything is on a card, and you move them around freely to express your ideas; Word Blur
includes a modifier strip
for each team that includes things like "er", "opposite/not", "ing", and "sounds like", but in practice using this strip prohibits you from arranging the words the way that you want while also stripping away some of the difficulty.
The bigger issue is that each team in Word Slam
has the same one hundred words. That's it! If you know Mark Rosewater's credo — "restrictions breed creativity" — this game embodies that spirit. All the words are basic and require your input (and the input of your guessers) to make something of them. Word Blur
presents you with nine hundred individual words on pieces of cardstock that resemble refrigerator magnets. To play, you dump everything in the middle of the table, then the cluegivers start sifting through the rubble to find things they can use. This is not fun. To quote from a 2008 review by Neil Edge that I had published on BoardgameNews.com, "If a person isn't totally on board with the idea of this game, he can bring the game to a halt or slow it down to a snail's pace as he just slowly sifts and sifts and sifts and sifts through the tile pile, never finding words that make connections to the clue that he's trying to give, never looking for alternatives."
I played Word Blur
three times between 2007 and 2010, when the game went out of print, and our group referred to it as "The Game of Sifting" because that's all it felt like you were doing. Sifting through tons of useless options with an increasingly desperate feeling that surely you can find something
that works. Word Slam
has none of that boredom because you have few options and everything is at hand to both parties. Me finding "water" doesn't prevent you from playing "water" as well, and the game is all about speed and creativity instead of who found the perfect word. I can't just find the word "Spain" (as shown in the image above) to lead you to bullfighter, but rather I'd have to first figure out how to get your mind to Spain — or just do something else. Those multiple steps, as described above for Italy, contribute to the escalating tension in Word Slam
, with you feeling a little victory when your teammates guess something like that and you can build on it to something else.
In short, Word Slam
seems like what Word Blur
could have been if it had gone through a strong development process to bring forward the best elements of the idea.
Where Word Slam differs from Concept, and what gives it a leg up on that design, is that you compete against another team, so instead of simply being a fun activity that continues for hours, you do have a sense of winning and losing — even if you don't keep score, which we never did. One team wins, yay!, then the cluegivers give up their spots to someone else (or they don't), and you go again. The game includes easy, medium, hard, and ridiculously hard noun phrases to guess, with six noun phrases on each card. Over time you will run into repeats; Scott had already cycled through the cards enough that he encountered repeats, and if he was guessing, he could sometimes jump to the answer because he had heard it before. If he was giving the clues, he might reject one noun phrase and suggest that the other cluegiver choose another number from 1 to 6 since he would have an advantage on how to clue it. (If you know the one hundred words well, you'll still have an advantage on newcomers, but no sense compounding those advantages!)
I played one or two other games during the 2017 Origins Game Fair, but given that I played Word Slam for 7-8 hours and would have played it even more if possible, it's easy to see what my game of the show is!
Oh, and I also saw this lady at Origins: Best costume ev-AR!
Beauty and the Beast
W. Eric Martin
The 2017 Origins Game Fair is over, so it's time to look ahead to Gen Con 2017, which takes place August 17-20 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
I'd say more about one or both of these shows, or the rate at which titles will be added to the Gen Con 2017 Preview over the next two months (which starts at 146 titles while the previous two years had about 550 on them), but I got sick at the end of Origins — bad sandwich, I think — and can barely think straight, so just have at it!
W. Eric Martin
I'm in Columbus, Ohio to cover the 2017 Origins Game Fair, with five days of live game demos and interviews starting Wednesday, June 14, but before we get to that, let's round up a few announcements that I've possibly tweeted in passing but not posted here.
• To start with, Renegade Game Studios has signed a deal with Shem Phillips of Garphill Games to make his 2017 Kennerspiel des Jahres-nominated title Raiders of the North Sea and its expansions available in English on a more widespread basis. Renegade expects to have the base game available in Q3 2017 with the expansions to follow in Q4.
• In other Renegade news, the publisher is creating a "Play Renegade" kit for Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure to encourage game store owners to run events to demo the game, with participants taking home an as-yet-undisclosed promo card and the winner of the event getting a special version of this card. These promos will also be available at conventions in mid-2017, with "a unique, handcrafted dragon trophy" for the overall player with the highest score.
• Dutch publisher Splotter Spellen is reprinting its 2004 title Antiquity that has gone in and out of print multiple times over the years, and it's taking preorders on its website with this new edition due out for SPIEL 2017 in October. This new edition has a few small changes to it — deeper box, shaped wooden tokens that aren't only cubes — but gameplay remains the same.
• Designer Joseph Fatula has started taking preorders for the Sept. 1, 2017 release of Leaving Earth: Stations, an expansion for his Leaving Earth game from The Lumenaris Group, Inc. that adds the Space Shuttle, various space station modules, and new missions to this game.
• The expandable card game Doomtown: Reloaded, which was born from the collectible card game Deadlands: Doomtown in 2014 and which publisher Alderac Entertainment Group cancelled in 2016, is being born again courtesy of Pine Box Entertainment, which is partnering with Pinnacle Entertainment Group to release the "Epitaph Series", a series of tournaments that will coincide with the release of Tales from the Epitaph, a new expansion for the game.
• At SPIEL 2017, Cranio Creations will release Houses of Renaissance, an expansion for Lorenzo il Magnifico in which each player becomes the head of a house, with each of the ten houses having a unique power. Components for a fifth player are included, as well as new development and leader cards.
Grand Rapids Area Boardgamers
Some things are far more obvious in retrospect. Such is the design of Stroop, a speedy perception card game with simple rules.
I can't remember exactly when I first saw a Stroop test. I feel like it was the kind of thing I would have encountered in a GAMES Magazine issue pilfered from my mom's bedside stand. I do recall being delighted by the idea and making flashcards with markers and note cards to test myself and my friends. Throughout the following years I saw it referenced time and again, most notably in the briefly-popular Brain Age game for the Nintendo DS.
The Stroop test is simple. A subject is presented with a series of words, each printed in a different color. The subject is then asked to quickly speak aloud the names of the colors in which the words are printed, and they are timed during this task.
Next, the subject repeats this task, but this time the words are the names of colors, instead of being random words.
This causes the subject to stumble and take longer to complete the task. The experiment demonstrates the Stroop effect, named after psychologist John Ridley Stroop, and shows that the interference between different systems in the brain — in this case, language and color recognition — can slow down both systems.
From Experiment to Game
Flash forward to 2013 when I was in the midst of brainstorming ideas for new tabletop games to develop, and I randomly stumbled across the Wikipedia page for the Stroop effect. This led to the immediate question: Could this be a game?
Now Brain Age had used the Stroop effect in its simplest and most obvious form. It was not really a game, but rather an activity at which you could improve; you were timed on how quickly you responded to the colors and given a score that you tried to improve upon the next time.
The clear way to transform this into a card game was to do exactly the same, but with multiple players. I would print the names of colors onto cards, with ink colors that didn't match. Then players would run through the deck like flashcards, saying the colors out loud and being timed on their effort.
Even before physically prototyping this, it was instantly an unsatisfying implementation. For one thing, a speed contest such as this is usually uninteresting. It is a solo experience that people happen to compare their efforts on, which is something I can enjoy at times but rarely gravitate toward.
But the bigger problem is that the Stroop test can be defeated. Once a subject knows what they are being asked to do, they can use techniques, like squinting, that make the words harder to read, which makes saying the names of the colors much easier. I certainly didn't want players to be able to circumvent the challenge in this way, or worse, to have to make rules against squinting!
Chain, Chain, Chain
The key to cracking this problem was, as is usually the case in design, to come up with the correct incentives for the behaviors I wanted. Need players to read the text and not just squint at blurry colors? Don't make a rule telling them to do read it. Instead, force them to use the text for something.
What purpose could reading the color name serve, then? The clear choice was to link the name of this color up to the color of another word. This forms a nice chain of words, each of which describes the next one.
For the first Stroop prototype, I lifted wholesale the rules of 7 Ate 9, a speed game involving simple arithmetic. Players would race to get rid of their cards by playing onto a central pile, and legal plays consisted of any card that was described by the center one.
In broad strokes, this worked as a game, but it had some issues. The biggest one was the number of potential legal plays on a given card; with eight colors, as in my first prototype, one in eight cards are legal to play. This turned out to be far too small. Iteration revealed that anything smaller than about one in five cards being legal made the game grind to a halt. Shrinking the color space this much, though, made the deck homogeneous and uninteresting.
The solution to this was to introduce additional axes for card descriptors. Aside from color, what else could be used to describe these words? The original Stroop psychology experiments included some other ideas, such as the position of words, but these did not tend to lend themselves to card designs. Instead, I experimented with typography and decided I could easily distinguish the case of a word and could outline it or not.
This was an improvement, but one more axis was needed to flesh out the deck. Some brainstorming surfaced the idea of counting the letters in the words themselves. To make this work, I needed to finesse my color choices, and settled on the following word list:
RED • BLUE • GREEN • YELLOW
BIG • LITTLE
HOLLOW • SOLID
THREE • FOUR • FIVE • SIX
The final list had the very nice property that each word has 3, 4, 5, or 6 letters, and there are three words of each of those lengths. This meant that, at minimum, one in four cards were legal plays on a given center card.
The Round 2 Head Trip
The 2013 prototype was workable, but the game came into its own in the run-up to Protospiel Michigan in 2014. As my testers began getting very fast with the existing rules, I began looking for ways to provide variants and new challenges. The winner was to reverse the legal play rule: Instead of playing a card that is described by the card in the middle, players now had to read the words on the cards in their hands, and play one that describes the middle card.
The fun of the game is in players getting confused, and how better to confuse people than to switch up the rules midstream? The variant became codified as round two: After the first round is over, scores are recorded and players began anew, with the altered rule for legal plays.
The rules were then simplified to reduce the need for a scoring mechanism. Instead of keeping score, I realized that performance in round one could be used to handicap round two. After round one, players keep their unplayed cards, and the played cards are redistributed evenly, so the better a player performs in round one, the fewer cards they have to get rid of in round two. This neatly determines an overall winner without the need for scorekeeping.
The possible combinations of attributes could yield a total of 192 cards: 12 words x 4 colors x 2 sizes x 2 patterns. This deck was clearly overkill, so for my working prototype I used half of these combinations, chosen so that exactly half of the cards were big, exactly half solid, exactly one-fourth red, and so on.
I went to some lengths to retain this balance throughout development. When green letters turned out to be difficult to distinguish from blue and yellow in some lighting (and as I endeavored to serve colorblind players as well as possible), I moved to black letters mostly because "black" and "green" both have five letters.
My insistence on a balanced subset of cards turned out to be a bit superstitious; once the card distribution was defined, it could be altered a bit from perfect symmetry without anyone noticing. The final deck has 65 cards, enough for a four-player game, and is slightly uneven without an effect on gameplay.
One improvement in the composition was removing as many "self-describers" as possible. It turned out that players had a reduced challenge in dealing with cards that happened to describe themselves, e.g., a blue card that reads "blue". The final deck has no cards of this type, with the notable exception of the word "four" which inherently describes itself. Now the "run of fours" that can happen in a game just gives a bit of fun texture to the proceedings.
Experiments Along Further Axes
The twelve-word list is enough for most players for quite some time, but I also put some effort into ideas for further expansion to keep the game fresh for as long as possible. Heather Newton gets credit for the seed of the idea for the expansion included in the game box, which features cards with backwards text:
Some other experiments have proved less successful, but fun nonetheless. Never will a typographer squirm so much as if you show them the following card:
And now Stroop is in print! The journey isn't over for me, though, as I'm actively working on variant rules for less stressful games and figuring out what it means to translate this game into a foreign language when word lengths are such an integral aspect of play.
I hope you'll enjoy this tiny brain-twister of a game!
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