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SPIEL '17 Preview: Bandido, or Close That Loop

W. Eric Martin
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Game designer, escape room expert, and director of the Brantford Games Network Scott Nicholson recently tweeted the following:



How true! Rare is the game that includes rules like "The player who just opened the box has won." or "Whoever has the largest hands wins." (Exception: Start Player) After all, a game that doesn't push you around is hardly a game at all. The rules of the game constitute an artificial environment, and when you undertake the playing of a game, you submit yourself to those arbitrary, yet ideally internally consistent rules that comprise that world. You lay down cards that punish you, move into spaces that deny you, and contemplate choices that discomfort you — all in the service of trying to come out ahead of your fellow travelers.

Almost every game presents you with choices, and your willingness to engage those choices is what it means to play a game. Even the simplest games — in this case Bandido, by Martin Nedergaard Andersen and Swiss publisher Helvetiq — are driven by a designer's choice to make your life more difficult. An (apparently invisible) bandit is attempting to tunnel out of jail, and you and your fellow players need to stop him.


"Hi there."


Why would you do this? This bandit doesn't even exist, and even if he did, you're probably not employed by a law enforcement agency and have no responsibility for maintaining this person's incarceration. On the off-chance that you do belong to a fictitious police agency, you'd probably gas the tunnels with a sleeping agent or tear gas to render the bandit unable to attempt any further tunneling.

But no, that's not your way. Instead you will each take three cards in hand — cards that represent both the tunnels being created and the dead ends that prevent further movement — and you'll take turns laying down a card to extend (or stymie) this tunnel network. You might not want to play one of the cards, but you must. You have engaged this game, perhaps even on your own since solitaire play is possible, and now you must follow through.


Initial choices


Naturally as you take turns, the tunnels must observe some minimal level of verisimilitude. You can't abut a tunnel with a wall of dirt. If you could do that, you could negate play by stacking the deck of cards on top of the bandit and asphyxiating him. Follow the paths, narrow the routes to freedom, and hope to plug the holes.


Don't do this


As the game progresses, you realize that in some ways you're simply counting holes. How many ways can this guy reach freedom? Five? Can I make a play to cut that number down to four? Can I keep the holes close to one another so that someone else can bring that number down to three?

Bandido is a simple game, marketed for players aged six and up, and I've now played the game on a purchased copy a half-dozen times, with players counts from 1-4 and with players as young as five. You might think about figuring out the odds of making this play or that, but I've hardly memorized the deck after six plays, and you're just playing the odds over and over again anyway. Maybe the next player has a card perfect for the situation and maybe they don't.


"What now, brown cow?"


The rules are silent on whether you should talk about what's in your hand or indicate where someone might want to play, and while that absence will surely annoy some, I figure that each group will do whatever it prefers, which might be what they would have done anyway. I've played with adults in silence and with kids in total cooperation with face-up hands. It doesn't matter. You do what you want to do, and as long as all the players agree, then you're taking on the burden of those difficult lives together, each suffering the same burdens and part of the same world.

The number of tunnels shrinks and grows. You might see the net closing, then someone shrugs — perhaps you — and says, "Oh, well" as they triple the number of tunnels in play. Sometimes you benefit by narrowing the bandit's options. If everything becomes gnarled underground, you might be unable to play at all, in which case you can place your hand of cards on the bottom of the deck and draw three anew. Will you find better choices or a tunnel you'd never want to play, but must?


Caught!


If your life wasn't difficult enough previously, you can give the bandit six starting tunnels instead of five. Why didn't he dig six starting tunnels in the first place? I don't know; why'd you lock him in a jail surrounded by loose dirt? I suppose you just wanted to make things difficult for yourself...


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Sat Sep 23, 2017 1:05 pm
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Designer Diary: Dragon Island, or From Wyvern to Dragon Island, a Very Short 23 Years

Mike Fitzgerald
United States
Lafayette
Colorado
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In 1994, my first game, Wyvern, was published. It was a trading card game with a mythological dragon theme. I loved doing the research for that game and told myself I would revisit this theme sometime.

All of a sudden it is twenty years and sixty published games later when I finally decide to get back to that dragon theme. I wanted to design a game in which all players are focused on the same thing rather than multiplayer solitaire with individual boards or hands of cards for players. This led me to do my first game that is not card driven: Dragon Island. I wanted to create a game state that changed with every player's turn and in which every player's strategies would be altered by each play. To do this, I chose tile-laying as the mechanism. The tiles are double-sided and players start each turn by adding a tile to the island.

Each player is a wizard involved in discovering Dragon Island. Players get energy from the island to help them build things and capture dragons, and they tame some of the dragons to help them explore the island. They also discover treasure maps that can lead them to hidden treasures on the island.

In my first version, I had a movement system I really loved. Each wizard had one terrain as their native terrain, and they could move through these tiles for free. Then I made a wizard pay a gold piece to get through a tile that was not their native terrain. It is an important lesson in game design that sometimes you have to give up on something you like a lot to help the real "fun" in the game come to the fore. Figuring out where a player could move on their turn became a tactical chore. Players would want to do some of the fun things in the game without having to brain burn to figure out the movement. It was the playtesters who showed me that the game had plenty of things to ponder without adding the movement complexity. I went through a period with no movement restrictions at all. I knew I would come up with some movement restrictions eventually, but I wanted them to come from the theme of the game and not just a mechanism.

Gold led me to the answer. After all, dragons love gold. This love was at the center of the Wyvern design, and I wanted to make sure it was in Dragon Island as well. I came up with a way that wizards can maneuver the dragons around the island by tempting them with gold. You pay 1 gold piece and can move a dragon from one tile to any other tile. The only thing you can do with gold is influence dragons.

Then it hit me: What if you could make a dragon your pet? Then the dragon could fly you to its own native terrain from anywhere on the board. This became the key to movement. If you do not have a pet dragon, you can move only one tile on a turn. (This was later amended to allow you to teleport to the Wizards Keep starting tile and stay there or move one tile from there.) To tame a dragon to be your pet, you must be on a tile with only one dragon and offer the dragon three gold pieces. They will always become your pet for the gold. You place the three gold on the pet card and put the dragon on the card. Each pet offers the flying service to its native terrain as well as an ability to help you in one of the strategic areas of the game. At the end of the game, each gold on your pets is a game point, and there are ways gold pieces can be removed from your pets. I am happy with how the movement in the game turned out and very glad I listened to my playtesters.

All the tiles have actions you can do when you are on them. The problem is that first you must deal with any dragons that are on the tile. In addition to making them your pets, you can capture them, spending 10 active energy in order to capture all the dragons on that space. You get fame and remove the dragons from the board. Once you are on a tile with no dragons, you can now do the action the tile allows you to do. Then, you still can discover treasure there if a treasure map you hold shows that treasure is located there. I was inspired by Takenoko when coming up with how you would know where to find a treasure. It is not the same idea but comes from loving that game.

As you can tell, there are a lot of things you can do on a tile. The fun comes from the fact that you can do them all on one turn. You will find yourself trying to set up a few big turns in the game by maneuvering dragons around so that you can deal with them to get fame, do the action on a tile, and discover treasure all at the same time.




The one part of the game that never changed during the design process was how you get your energy. I did not want a separate system of gaining resources; I wanted it to come out of one of the basic actions in the game. I did this by making it part of your tile placement, which is the first thing you do on a turn. You place a tile on the board and gain one energy of the tile you placed and every tile that is touching it. This makes where you place tiles critical because every time you are doing something in the game that requires energy, you can pay only energy of the tile on which you are doing the action or every tile touching that tile. This is what "active energy" means. This creates lots of interesting decision space in where you place tiles and where you travel on the board to take actions.

I have not told you everything that happens in the game, so some surprises still await you. At its heart, Dragon Island is a midweight Eurogame that gives you an adventure theme and treats dragons with the respect I believe they deserve.

Mike Fitzgerald
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Fri Sep 22, 2017 1:05 pm
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Designer Diary: Bios: Megafauna 2

Andrew Doull
Australia
Kirrawee
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I've never designed a game, and I don't consider myself a game designer. The closest term I'd agree to is game developer, but what I do to games isn't really developing them in the traditionally understood way as much as modding them.

So when Phil Eklund approached me about doing a design for an intermediate game between his Bios: Genesis and Bios: Megafauna series — called at various points during the design process "Bios: Paleozoic", "Bios: Pangaea", "Bios: Fauna" and "Bios: XX" — I was initially cautious. For a start, I had already designed a "Bios: Paleozoic" which was a mod to Bios: Megafauna that allow you to start the game earlier in the Paleozoic era. More importantly, I didn't have the confidence to build a design from scratch.

However, I do have some previous experience with procedural map generation, so I decided to concentrate on building a game which procedurally generates the map by using craton movement instead of tile-laying. Jon Manker also came on board the project with the offer of mentoring me and acting as a co-designer, but our actual contributions would evolve substantially throughout the course of the project so that Jon ended up in a developer as well as designer role.

My initial proposal to Phil was as follows:

Quote:
... I've figured out a non-climax based tableau. I'm going to attempt to model plate tectonics instead
The idea will be cards consisting of super continents (spanning two cards), mountains, landmasses (reverse side is ice), archipelagos (reverse side is ocean). Each card will have a drift number and direction and represent a plate. Colliding plates will either subduct or form mountains or super continents. Rules to be determined.

My reasoning for eliminating climaxes was to cut down on the recognition factor of having to read climax numbers off the map. This part of the original Bios: Megafauna makes creeples (Megafauna's creature meeples) on the lowest climax location significantly more vulnerable to elimination by a new biome being introduced. Improving game state legibility became a central tenet of the new Bios: Megafauna game, and we eliminated DNA, acculturation, roadrunner genes, and a separate size chart for very similar reasons.

Phil insisted very early on that we were going to model skeletal types rather than dentition, and that there be six named cratons. This meant I was working with 2x2 cratons to keep to approximately the same playing area size as Megafauna. I built an event-driven craton movement model that allowed for the formation and separation of a Pangaea supercontinent by giving cratons a direction and using rotation and advance actions to move them on an underlying tile map.




This system was ultimately abandoned as it was prone to have the cratons fly off in any direction and never collide. To fix this required carefully stacking the event deck so that cratons would move in similar directions with a bias to collide and that any variation in movement order was tightly controlled.

But stacking the deck made getting the events work in such a way that Jon and Phil never completely understood it. (Knowledge transfer over the internet is a hard thing to do.) Phil recommended that we go with a horizontal collision model with some vertical movement, and the craton movement has been much more robust and largely unchanged since that suggestion.

Going to a horizontal collision model was driven by another Phil requirement to use hex instead of square cratons, and that requirement was driven by something that had become more and more obvious as development for Bios: Genesis wound down and we began working on the new game in earnest: There wasn't enough design space for a Bios: Genesis that ended up with terrestrial creatures, Bios: Pangaea which did something with those creatures, and a planned Bios: Megafauna 2 that allowed those creatures to grow to enormous sizes.

We made the call to fold Pangaea and Megafauna into a single game. This decision effectively meant that we would be redesigning Megafauna almost from the ground up instead of keeping it largely unchanged. Adopting hexes allowed us to dynamically generate the hex-based Bios: Origins map by using craton movement in Bios: Megafauna 2.

Being a direct sequel to Bios: Genesis meant we could do a lot of the simplification by simply adopting the decisions that had been made in Bios: Genesis and extending them into the new game. This meant organs instead of DNA, with Phil deciding to introduce a fifth organ type to represent cold resistance, and promotable mutation cards, although we innovated by having the promoted side in one of two possible origins to represent specialization of base organ types in various ways (with a large amount of latitude in how this occurs in practice).

One mechanism that survived a long way into the game design process but which was ultimately cut was the intended replacement for BMF 1's acculturation abilities which were called ecomorphs. These would have allowed for everything from the development of various tools (now subsumed into the emotion system) to acting as a keystone species such as a beaver or prairie dog as well as a variety of hunting methods. But a third row of cards in the market made ecomorphs problematic to begin with, and they were completely eliminated when we realized that putting special rule text on the cards ran counter to the improving the legibility of the game state.


Oxygen, clouds and trapped carbon


Contrast the elimination of ecomorphs about midway through the design process with the carbon cycle tracking. As a part of the craton movement, I had suggested that we eliminate event-based CO₂ modeling and go with a counter-based system with CO₂ reservoirs being placed on the map by outcomes such as continents colliding to form mountains. Phil expressed cautious interest in the idea, then ruled it out, preferring a more conservative event-based CO₂ system that was recognizably similar to the first edition of Bios: Megafauna. But in one of many redesigns of the event system (no other system had more changes to it), Phil adopted my initial suggestion, adding the tracking of O₂ (which I had abstracted out) and water, which could fill up the atmosphere (representing greenhouse gases) or clouds (causing precipitation).

Given I am in the most junior of the designers involved in the creation of Bios: Megafauna 2, it is remarkable how many of the systems I initially proposed survived in the final game. However, Phil has definitely owned the design in this instance, which he should do given that he ultimately lives by the success of his games. And he would often pose me a challenge, such as coming up with a way of defining emotions or horror plants in the game, then take a seed of my initial suggestion and take the design in the direction he wanted to go. The tempo of development largely seems to have been that I would build version 1 of something, Phil would flesh out and build the final version, and Jon would ensure that the fun has been put in the game.

I am quietly optimistic that we've been successful in ensuring that Bios: Megafauna 2 is more fun and more of a game than its predecessors. The collision of species expanding on the map is incredibly enjoyable, and lends a "knife fight in a phone booth" feel to the whole proceedings. The climate and tectonic engine lends enough randomness and arbitrariness to feel like a Sierra Madre game, and the personification of Medea as player controlled means that the microscopic world of Bios: Genesis never feels too far away. There are simulationist elements that were in Bios: Megafauna 1 that are missing in the successor game; the climax and biome interactions are simplified and abstracted and that is the loss I feel most keenly, but the games of Bios: Megafauna 1 I played during the development of Bios: Megafauna 2 just highlighted how little direct control players had in the first version.

The art by Johanna Pettersson is beautiful and evocative, and Phil's collaboration with Karim Chakroun continues to pay off in information design and display. I hope you will enjoy playing Bios: Megafauna 2 as much as I have enjoyed making it.

Andrew Doull


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Wed Sep 20, 2017 1:05 pm
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SPIEL '17 Preview: Venice Connection, or Close That Loop

W. Eric Martin
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When we think about minimalist game design, we often point to Seiji Kanai's Love Letter as the source from which a thousand envelope-sized games were delivered. While to some degree that's true, if we want to honor the grandfather of game design minimalism, we need to look to the works of Alex Randolph.

I've played only two handfuls of Randolph's games, but each of those games can be described by at most four words:

Big Shot — use ties to attack
Mahé, a.k.a. Die heisse Schlacht am kalten Buffet — hop on opponents
Die Osterinsel — count the rocks
Raj — bid without tieing
Ricochet Robots — move efficiently
Schachjagd — race with chess moves
Square Off — build a path
Twixt — build paths with horses
Worm Up! — block other worms
Xe Queo!, a.k.a. Museum Heist — dupe or be duped

The secret to Randolph's design principles is no secret at all, as he explained to Bruce Whitehill in a 1999 interview:

Quote:
I asked him what a game needs to have in order to be good. "It must be easy to enter into the game immediately…(it must) offer surprises…(it must have) a clear objective, (clear enough so there is) no arguing or questioning…(it must be) endlessly repeatable, always different."

For some of the games above, the action described is both how to play and what will win you the game: If you move robots most efficiently, you will win. If you hop on opponents, you will win. If you build a path first, you will win. Whereas some designers take the skeleton of an idea, then dress it up before presenting it to players, Randolph offers the skeleton directly.

My latest experience with one of these atomic Randolph designs — Venice Connection — mimicked my earlier experiences with his games. Venice Connection was released in an earlier edition in 1996 by Drei Magier Spiele, winning a special Spiel des Jahres award for being a beautiful game, and now new Korean publisher OPEN'N PLAY has brought this two-player game back to market while keeping the graphic design of that Drei Magier edition.

As with the other titles mentioned above, Venice Connection has a short description: Make a loop. The first player to do this wins. If you make a move such that a loop is impossible, you lose.

Venice Connection consists of only 16 tiles, each of which features a straight canal on one side and a canal with a 90º turn on the other. On a turn, a player takes 1-3 tiles, places them in a straight line with canals not intersecting buildings, then places this line of tiles adjacent to at least one tile already in play (again, with the canals not intersecting buildings). On the first turn, you simply place the tiles on the table since you have nothing else to place next to. Possible starting positions include the following:




Some of these positions are better than others. The position second from the left is terrible since the opposing player can win instantly by mirroring these tiles and completing a canal loop:




So let's not start with a C-shape; start with something else:




If your opponent were to make the following move, you could then respond in a way that would guarantee your victory. Can you see it?




Your opponent is no fool, however, so they have actually made this move:




So what do you do now?

In case you haven't recognized it, Venice Connection uses the same style of play as Nim: You want to make moves that force the opponent to respond in a particular way. You want your hand up their back so that you control what they do and force them to make moves that are advantageous to you. Nim is an interesting game to learn because it presents this system in so skeletal a style: Have three or more heaps of objects, and take turns removing any number of objects from one heap; whoever removes the last object wins.

Unfortunately, once you learn more about Nim, the game becomes less interesting. Based on the number of heaps and objects in those heaps, a winning strategy exists for one of the two players, and it's (relatively) easy to see how if you start from the winning condition and work backwards. If only one heap exists, the active player wins, so don't make a move that leads to only one heap. If two heaps exist, the second player can mirror my moves to force me to remove one heap before they have to, which means that I want to be the second player when the third heap is removed. And so on. All the moves in Nim lead to an empty table, so the goal is fixed, and everything else is working backwards from that goal to see whether you have a winning strategy or not.

Venice Connection lacks this fixed endpoint because any closed loop wins the game for the player who made it, whether it's made from four tiles, six tiles, eight, etc. on up to sixteen tiles. If an opponent makes a move that would require more than sixteen tiles to close that loop, then you say "Impossible!" and wait for them to fail to make the loop to claim your victory.

I've played Venice Connection seven times so far on a review copy from OPEN'N PLAY, and that probably constitutes no more than twenty minutes of playing time. The game isn't something you'll do for an evening, but it does fit on an airplane tray or fill time while waiting at a restaurant. Even with its more flexible endzone, I would imagine that if you apply yourself, you can work out all the possible tile configurations and find Venice Connection as dead as Nim. Randolph did aspire for designs to be "endlessly repeatable", but with only sixteen tiles, clearly you have limits in what you can place where.

I have no idea where I might be on the scale of full knowledge of Venice Connection, but if I ever get there, I can just ship the game to someone else....


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Tue Sep 19, 2017 1:05 pm
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Designer Diary: Five Fable Games, or What Was I Thinking? I Am a Stupid Idiot — So Much Work!

Friedemann Friese
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I am used to being involved in time-consuming and exhausting projects (and even to finishing them): I did 504, for example, and I had a five-year project called "Freitag", but...

After finishing Fabled Fruit, which already was more work than expected (because it is "only" a 25-minute game, but needed 59 different card actions to be designed), I was ready for the three games I had in the pipeline for SPIEL '17. But Fabled Fruit became a big success and the fable concept cried for more, so I moved the planned projects to 2018 and had the idea for the "Fast Forward" line: Fable games without a rulebook that can be learned while playing.

But this concept needed to be started as a series with at least three games at once. (IMO)

The main problem with fable games: Testing is more difficult. You have to play the same game several times in a row with the same group, and you cannot recreate the effect of a surprising change with the same group. You need a lot more different gaming groups.

Classical games you can test a few times, make some changes, test again, and so on. With fable games, it is difficult to see how a small change in the first game might influence the game five games later. You have to test this change a lot more — and I do not want to lose all my testing players (a.k.a. friends).

But "Fast Forward" is awesome!!!

The inspiration came to me one evening while playing Dead Man's Draw. I was a bit exhausted from the day and just wanted to start to play. I said to my gaming group, "Just start this one, it is easy enough to be learned while playing. Starting player, please turn the top card face up." Without realizing it, we were suddenly in the middle of a game. Afterwards I was thinking that games should be designed that way — and having the fable concept, I could start with a very simplistic idea and from game to game add more "game" to that idea.

Starting was kind of easy. I designed a mixture of Dead Man's Draw and Diamant. The first test was amazing: My gamers played the game nine times in a row and did not want to stop playing (but had to because of some minor changes I needed to do). But I needed to promise them that they could continue to play it during the next game session exactly where they stopped.

So after that start, I needed two more "Fast Forward" games to have the series of three titles I wanted to release. The first of these two new games became FEAR, and the other did not progress any further than being an idea in my computer; it was never tested. But I already had two games in the pipeline! I then had an inspiration to make a game about "capturing the flag" and this turned out to become FORTRESS, which is not about capturing a flag anymore, but if you know where it came from, you can still see that connection.

Thus, three "Fast Forward" games were developed. I was happy.

But there was a problem with the three games: One of them was weak. The first one and FEAR were creating very similar experiences of the three, but FEAR was better. I managed to look at it as objectively as possible and accepted that I needed to not publish the first one. There are too many press-your-luck games, and the game was not better than Dead Man's Draw, so it was removed from the line. It was early in 2017 and once more I had only two "Fast Forward" games. I was about to accept releasing only two games when I got the idea for FLEE, which is completely different from the other two and very appealing. It had to be done.




Now, I am happy to have three very different "Fast Forward" games, all three connected by one great concept. The easy game FEAR is very good to learn the "Fast Forward" concept, and a great game to play with the complete family and casual gamers. And FORTRESS is the next step, more complex without being complicated, a game with a lot of great surprises. And finally FLEE, a game in which you really have to focus to solve the cooperative puzzle. This game feels a bit like an escape room — a really difficult escape room!

But I said five fable games, not only three...

The series of three fable "Fast Forward" games seemed not to be enough, three games to be tested hundreds of times in ever-changing game groups. But the game starting it all was still successful, so I needed to expand Fabled Fruit. One gamer in our group played it a lot with his daughter and after finishing, they demanded more. Why not? Let‘s make an expansion!

In theory, Fabled Fruit is easy to expand; you need only to add more locations, but I already designed 59 different locations and I ran a bit out of ideas — and the end game of Fabled Fruit was designed to be a real end game, with no chance to "open" that again to continue with more locations. That said, giving gamers only twenty new locations to play a separate set of games of Fabled Fruit was boring.

Adding limes to the game was the central idea. Green fruits, very good. Now every fabled juice card must be paid for with at least one lime. At the start of each game, limes are not shuffled with the other fruit cards and must be acquired differently. Adding these new location cards after the second half of the normal Fabled Fruit locations was the connection to the base game.

Twenty new locations meant that you could play 8-10 consecutive games to finish this new campaign. Thus, this has the same problem as with all fable games: A single game itself is short, about half an hour, but the campaign is loooong. You need about three hours to play it once.

Keep smiling, it could be worse!

I smiled and it got worse. The annual question came up: How to expand Power Grid this year. Easy, just make a fable campaign for Power Grid, a campaign with only three consecutive games (with fifteen cards to be revealed during the three games) could not be too difficult, right?

But the Power Grid base games each have two maps (classic or deluxe both use similar regions of the world: Europe (or Germany) or North America (or USA)), so why not develop three games per map with two separate sets of fifteen cards? Let's see: 3 games per map and 2 maps = 6 games to play. A single game of Power Grid in this campaign is played in two hours (a bit longer than normal because you're changing the rules while playing), so I needed to test two new prototypes with six hours of playing time each...

At least I was happy that our sixth release for 2017, the solitaire game Finished!, was already finished as of April 2016. No further testing of that game!

Finished! is a game in the vein of a classic "patience" game like Klondike, just a game about sorting a deck of 48 cards with a twist, played with a cycling deck. Discarded cards are placed under the deck to be drawn again later. After seven cycles, you need to have sorted the complete deck. The name of the prototype was "Bubblesort: The Game". It is not an implementation of the well-known bubblesort algorithm, but you sort cards in bubbles of at least three cards.

Now, all six titles are in print, so new topics on my schedule include work on the new games for 2018 and some plans to be realized for the 25th anniversary of my company, 2F-Spiele.

The most important thing for now: I like the resulting games and expansions, and whoever wants to play them all needs only 25 hours net playing time.

-> It's your turn now.

Friedemann Friese
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Mon Sep 18, 2017 1:05 pm
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Crowdfunding Round-up: Consenting to Board Vasty Rockets

W. Eric Martin
United States
Apex
North Carolina
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I haven't posted a crowdfunding round-up in weeks, perhaps even months although I'm not going to check.

Let's press forward! Time to dump the inbox filled with hopeful messages from designers and publishers who wanted to tell me about something that might or might not have succeeded — messages that I shooed aside in the run-up to Gen Con 50 and the subsequent frantic buzzing of SPIEL '17 that's been expanding to fill every centimeter between my ears. Sorry, folks! You missed out on hearing about the "Lycans vs Vampires" fantasy backgammon collection, but perhaps you'll have another chance to back this game of the future in the future.

At least you can still back Fog Monster, a miniature fog machine that makes "continuous real fog that creeps and crawls across your game terrain". Every playing of Kingdomino can benefit from that!

• In any case, let's kick this off with Tim Fowers' Now Boarding, which features the damn coolest logo I've seen in recent days. Beyond that, the graphic design of the box itself is a winner, copping a movie poster look that's selling an aesthetic and not merely a game. I've seen more than my share of game covers over the years, and at this point I'm most excited by game covers that don't look like game covers. Graphic designers should take a wider variety of approaches to their work. After all, we know that something is a book because it has pages that you can flip through; you don't need every book to adopt the same style of graphic design so that you know at a glance that it's a book. Game publishers should take a similar approach. (KS link)

As for the game itself, here's an overview:

Quote:
Now Boarding is a real-time cooperative game in which you work together to fly a fleet of airplanes. You must to deliver all the passengers to their destinations before they get too angry — and new passengers are constantly arriving! Upgrade your plane to fly faster and carry more passengers to handle the load. The twist: All players take all their turns at the same time! This allows for clever hand-offs of passengers. It's a whole new level of pick-up-and-deliver game.

• And even should you not care about Now Boarding, you might want to check out that project since Fowers is also funding a third edition of Wok Star, another real-time cooperative game that he first released on his own in 2010 and is now bringing back to print through his Fowers Games brand.

• Chuck Stover's Vasty Wilds from his own Made by Wombat has one of the gentler post-apocalyptic settings out there. Humans have faded away from Earth, and now tiny woodland creatures compete for space with their neighbors, apparently having learned nothing from the misfortune of man. So it goes. (KS link)

• And why might humanity disappear? You might find that subject discussed in Steve Jackson's Conspiracy Theory from his own Steve Jackson Games. This game mimics the black card/white card format of Cards Against Humanity and its endless sludgepump of copycats, but with a PG-friendly approach so that kids can also suggest reasons that Bigfoot has never been captured. (Answer: Ninja training.) (KS link)

• Our obligatory miniatures game in this round-up is Champions of Hara from Walter Barber, Ian VanNest, Andrew Zimmermann, and Greenbrier Games, with this game having both competitive (arena-style combat) and cooperative modes of play, with the latter challenging you to defeat monsters to contain destructive energy so that the world doesn't die. (KS link)

• Another competitive/cooperative creation on Kickstarter is Ragnar Brothers' Darien Apocalypse, with this being the second "Quantum" game from Dicken, Kendall, and Kendall, a Quantum game being one in which you're meant to relive multiple versions of actual history events, affecting them along the way with your actions. The history in this case is the Kingdom of Scotland's ill-conceived efforts to found a colony on the Isthmus of Panama. (KS link)

• I wrote about Flatlined Games' new edition of Mark Gerrits' SteamRollers in July 2017, noting that Flatlined is adopting a unique approach to its crowdfunding efforts. If a project succeeds, that game will not be available to retail outlets — other than those that back the KS campaign — for at least one year after the end of the campaign. Flatlined's Eric Hanuise is essentially saying that you can get it now or you can lament your reluctance to do so, although the game will be available from Flatlined directly or at conventions. Will this matter to backers? Is this a negative approach meant to spur a supporter's FOMO? A positive approach to reward those who do support the game's existence with something unavailable on the general market?

As for the game, SteamRollers is a dice-based, network-building, pick-up-and-deliver game that originated from Gerritts' attempt to make something that would resemble a dice version of Age of Steam. (KS link)

• Babis Giannios' Alexandria from LudiCreations has a great premise: The Great Library in Alexandria has been set ablaze, and you must try to save as many works as possible. (KS link) BGG shot an overview video of the game at SPIEL '16, at which time it looked far different than it does today:




Gil Hova of Formal Ferret Games is funding The Networks: Executives, an expansion for his well-received game The Networks in which you attempt to land new programming for your television network. Now, in addition to two other modules, you'll get to have a unique executive on your team with advantages and disadvantages specific to this individual. (KS link)

Grail Games has released several titles new and old from Reiner Knizia, most notably a fabulous looking version of Medici, and currently the publisher is funding a new version of Knizia's excellent rail-and-stock game Stephenson's Rocket, a game that will likely be new to 95% of the people reading this post. It's amazing sometimes to think of how many people have entered the hobby since this game first debuted in 1999. Heck, I didn't enter it with gusto until 2003! What's old is new again... (KS link)

• I've written to designer Naomi Clark several times to ask whether Consentacle, a two-player game "that represents consensual sexual encounter between a curious human and a tentacled alien", will ever be available again and have yet to receive a response. Imagine my surprise when I discover that Consentacle is on Kickstarter now, and if you pledge high enough, you can receive two tentacles from the game's debut exhibition in 2014. Few games offer such treats. (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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Assistant Designer Diary: Sidereal Confluence, or TauCeti's Shadow

Jacob Davenport
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Editor's note: This story serves as an addendum to or parallel retelling of the events in TauCeti Deichmann's Sidereal Confluence designer diary on BGG News. —WEM

Introduction

I walked over to see what game Kristin Matherly was playing at the Gathering of Friends. She said, "Sit down, you need to play this." She introduced me to TauCeti and Doug, and TauCeti taught me this negotiation game called "Trade Empires". Wait, did you say "negotiation game"?

Like many gamers, my first non-kid board game was Monopoly. Monopoly is a terrible game in which the first thirty minutes are spent rolling the dice and buying every property you land on. Then you have five minutes of negotiating to get color sets that you can build on, and then two hours of rolling the dice to see who wins. I loved the five minutes of negotiating, and if I could get a game which was all negotiating, I was there. Kristin knew this.

Kristin wisely gave me the bankers (Eni Et) on my first game. I took to it immediately and saw the essence of the game, even if it wasn't perfectly presented. In that first game, I noted two rules I didn't like and I subverted them immediately. TauCeti had this rule that you could not negotiate with a player you were not "connected" to, and sometimes I was the connection between two players. I could have demanded tribute on each deal they made through me, but I didn't like the connection rule and suspected I'd want to avoid a tariff on myself in this game or others, so I imposed no tariff at all.

TauCeti also had combat in the game, and when Doug decided to attack me to steal a colony, I told him I'd not make any deals at all with him for the rest of the game if he did attack.

"You're just saying that. You'll make deals with me later", hoped Doug.

"No, he's not bluffing", said Kristin.

Thus, no combat. Even in this first game, I was focused on what I wanted from "Trade Empires": constant negotiation with all players.

I think I won that game. It was awesomely fun.

Second Game

Kristin and Doug and TauCeti had just finished playing "Trade Empires" when I spotted them. I was disappointed that I had missed it, but they were willing to play again. I think we started at 11:00 p.m. and finished at 3:00 a.m. Nobody was tired.

This time I asked for a race completely different from the bankers and was given the mob (Zeth Anocracy). I didn't need to be told that I was to bully and intimidate the players into giving me free stuff to avoid my attacks. I think I won that game, by a lot.

The next day, TauCeti was headed home, and I went over to talk to him. I was prepared to ask for files so that I could print my own copy of his game, but secretly hoped he'd give me his prototype. He did the latter, and I was very pleased.

Playing in Maryland

After lots of emails with TauCeti about rules questions, I finally put together a group of people to play this game. I'm well aware that negotiating games are not everyone's favorite, but people were willing to humor me. They were fun games, which led to more rules questions and suggestions, but I was worried that the nine races you could play were not balanced. I mean, I lost my third game — to a 14-year-old. Can you imagine me losing?

What quickly became apparent to me was that TauCeti was a game designer willing to try out my outlandish suggestions. That is startling. Most game designers don't want to mess with their baby and are not really interested in suggestions from playtesters, and many game designers realize that playtester suggestions usually point to a problem, but the suggestion itself is terrible. But TauCeti was open-minded and enjoyed talking game design as much as I did, so hundreds of emails went back and forth between us about "Trade Empires".

Simulation

I decided to figure out whether the races were actually balanced, but with nine races and so many combinations of three to seven players, it would not be possible to play enough games to know. Thus, I wrote a computer program to play the game for me. To simulate trades, my program would randomly generate thousands of possible trades, and each race would evaluate whether it liked the trade or not. If both sides agreed, the trade happened. This well simulated human players. Simulating combat was important, and decisions about which research to go after or which colonies to take were easier. My program could play a complete game in about one-tenth of a second.




For several weeks, I'd set the computer to simulate all possible games a hundred times. It would take all day, and when I got home from work, I'd load the results into a spreadsheet to see which race was doing too well and which was getting crushed. Sometimes I'd just change my program to play better, and often I'd make a tiny change to a race to bring it back in line, then I'd set the program to run overnight and I'd wake up in the morning to check it again. Checking twice each day to see how the simulations went, I had all the data I needed.

Every time TauCeti updated his rules, I updated my program and ran it over and over. I sent him many spreadsheets with long discussions about the tiny tweaks I made.

Massive Changes

After a six-player game with some friends, all of whom are good game designers, we made some radical suggestions.

We officially came out against combat. Players did not use it to go after the winner; they just went for targets of opportunity. That was officially No Fun™ and we wanted it out. We suggested instead that some ships be for colonizing, others for research.

We suggested that each race not have a board, but instead a small deck of factories, and that factories can be flipped over to the improved side with some inventions. We suggested those factories can be traded, but must be returned after each turn.

And TauCeti listened to us and seriously considered all our changes. Unheard of! He essentially accepted all those changes, and adjusted the rest of the game to fit. This man is open-minded in a way I can only hope to be.

Simulation, Again

These changes required rewriting my simulation software from scratch. Every few days I'd send TauCeti a new spreadsheet and lengthy commentary about how to change the cards to work. It's amazing that I managed to squeeze in work, sleep, and eating with all the effort I was putting into "Trade Empires".

I even wrote a separate program that would take the set of cards and create PDF documents with them, ready to be sent to a professional printer. I had at least four full sets of the game printed, which at several hundred cards was a lot of printing.




Less is More

Time and again in game design, the best final product takes the good original idea of a game and strips out everything that gets in the way or is unnecessary. The final game: no hand limit of pieces, all players can trade with any other player from the beginning, one kind of ship, no two-way factories, no multi-choice factories, no points for colonies, only two kinds of factories at all (white for economic engine and purple for upgrades), and no damn combat. Just two hours or so of glorious negotiation.

How I Play

I have a confession. I love games because I love systems. I want to see systems work well, and while I also enjoy pitting my wits against others, in "Trade Empires" — now called Sidereal Confluence — I have a different goal. I want all the systems to work brilliantly. I don't want any resources to sit idle; I want them to be used as efficiently as possible, including those resources owned by opponents. My scores are regularly over 60 points, but I feel great if I can get everyone else's scores just as high. As Doug says, "Trade Empires" rewards the player who cooperates the most. If I play poker with you, I'm going to con you out of your money. If I play Sidereal Confluence with you, I'm going to offer you a fair deal, and I'm going to work with a third player to get just a bit more out of that cool factory that a fourth player has, giving us all a tiny bit more resources to work with.

Unless I'm playing the Zeth Anocracy. Then you are screwed.

Jacob Davenport
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Sat Sep 16, 2017 7:30 pm
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Z-Man Games Invites You to Save the Netherlands in Pandemic: Rising Tide, Then Relive the History of the World

W. Eric Martin
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In a post earlier today, I mentioned the second edition of Kingsburg coming from Z-Man Games before the end of 2017. Turns out that's only one of many new releases on their schedule for the next three months.

• The highlight of the Z-Man Games release calendar might be Pandemic: Rising Tide, a new standalone Pandemic game from original designer Matt Leacock and Splotter Spellen's Jeroen Doumen. Let's learn something about the setting and gameplay:

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It is the dawn of the Industrial Age in the Netherlands. For centuries, the country has relied upon a series of dikes and wind-powered pumps to keep it safe from the constant threat of flooding from the North Sea, but this system is no longer enough.

In Pandemic: Rising Tide, it is your goal to avert tragedy by constructing four modern hydraulic structures in strategic locations that will help you defend the country from being reclaimed by the ocean. Storms are brewing and the seas are restless. It will take all your guile to control the flow of water long enough to usher in the future of the Netherlands. It's time to get to work.

Containing the water that threatens to consume the countryside is your greatest challenge. Water levels in a region are represented by cubes, and as the water containment systems currently in place begin to fail, more water cubes are added to the board. With water levels constantly on the rise, failure to maintain the containment system could quickly lead to water spilling across the board.

To successfully build the four hydraulic structures needed to win a game of Pandemic: Rising Tide, you must first learn to predict and manipulate the flow of water. Failing to maintain safe water levels throughout the country can bring you perilously close to failing your mission. Fortunately, water can be corralled by a strategically placed dike or slowed by pumping water out of a region. Correctly identifying and intervening in at-risk areas can get you one step closer to victory.

Why this game and this co-designer in this country? In 2016, Leacock partnered with Spanish designer Jesús Torres Castro for Pandemic: Iberia, a limited edition release set on the Iberian peninsula to coincide with the location and timing of the Pandemic Survival: World Championship in Barcelona. For 2017, the tournament has moved to the Netherlands, so Leacock and Doumen have created a "pandemic" that's more thematically appropriate for that country.

• The other big news from Z-Man HQ is the impending release of a new edition of History of the World from designers Gary Dicken, Steve Kendall, and Phil Kendall. These designers first published History of the World under their own Ragnar Brothers brand in 1991, with Avalon Hill subsequently picking up the game for editions in 1993 and 2001. Here's the summarized description of this new edition from Z-Man Games:

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Take a ride through humankind's history with History of the World, a game of conquest and cunning for three to six players. Expand your empire as you command mighty empires at the height of their power from the dawn of civilization to the twentieth century. Each game offers an epic experience as great minds work toward technological advances, ambitious leaders inspire their citizens, and unpredictable calamities occur while empires rise and fall.

This remastered edition of History of the World contains a beautifully illustrated board, revised rules to streamline the experience, and everything you need to etch your name in the annals of history.

Given the mention of "revised rules" in this "remastered edition", I've created a separate listing for this new release, figuring that we can merge them later should history turn out to be 98.3% the same no matter you look at it.

This cover art is glorious:




• Z-Man Games also announced a late 2017 release for Marco Teubner's My First Stone Age: The Card Game, an English language version of what originating publisher Hans im Glück will release at SPIEL '17 in October as Stone Age Junior: Das Kartenspiel. This is a standalone expansion for the 2016 Kinderspiel des Jahres winner My First Stone Age — standalone expansions being the rage these days — and here's a barebones description of how it works:

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My First Stone Age: The Card Game is a card game version of My First Stone Age. The players try to fix their houses with three different resources. These resources are hidden in grass, and the players try to find them with Martin the mammoth. The first player who builds three houses wins.
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New Game Round-up: Fight the DEA in Breaking Bad: The Board Game, Fight for Honor in Battle for Rokugan, and Fight a Familiar Enemy in Specter Ops: Broken Covenant

W. Eric Martin
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Now that SPIEL '17 info is mostly somewhat vaguely under control, let's run through another batch of game announcements that might be new to you and might be something I've overlooked in the past few weeks.

• At Gen Con 50, Edge Entertainment — which is part of Asmodee — had a space cordoned off for Breaking Bad: The Board Game, a space barely occupied during the show. We didn't film an overview of the game as part of our coverage, so I can offer only this overview now of the Antoine Morfan and Thomas Rofidal design due out in December 2017:

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Based on the critically-acclaimed TV series, Breaking Bad: The Board Game propels you into the treacherous underbelly of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Will you play as a member of one of the criminal factions (Heisenberg, Los Pollos Hermanos, or the Juarez Cartel), trying to amass a fortune by manufacturing the biggest stash of Blue Sky while eliminating your rivals? Or will you join the ranks of the Drug Enforcement Administration, ready to slap the cuffs on the lawbreakers who would dare peddle their poison in your city?

In more detail, when playing a criminal faction, your goal is to produce Blue Sky, then sell the quantity needed to win before your opponents can. You can also win the game by taking out all of your opponents by using cards to bomb, shoot, or otherwise eliminate them. As the DEA agent, your goal is to seize the criminal factions' labs (by playing DEA Raid cards). You can also win the game by taking out all of your opponents, either by killing them or putting them in jail.

Fantasy Flight Games plans to make good use of its purchase of Legend of the Five Rings, announcing in late August 2017 a standalone game by Tom Jolly and Molly Glover called Battle for Rokugan, the short take of which is this:

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Conquer the realm and bring honor to your clan in Battle for Rokugan! This turn-based strategy game of conquest and mayhem puts players in the role of Rokugan daimyō struggling for control over the rich land of the Emerald Empire. Leaders must balance their resources, plan their attacks, and outwit their enemies to ensure their clan's victory. The land is there for the taking. The most honorable daimyō will win the day!

For the long take, click on that FFG announcement linked to above.

Z-Man Games will release the second edition of Andrea Chiarvesio and Luca Iennaco's Kingsburg in the U.S. in late 2017. This game was first released in 2007, and the new edition includes all the modules previously released as expansions as well as a new sixth expansion module. BGG recorded an overview of this new edition with originating publisher Giochi Uniti:



• Also due out in late 2017 is Specter Ops: Broken Covenant, a standalone game by Emerson Matsuuchi and Plaid Hat Games that's set in the same universe as the original Specter Ops, but it's not clear from the publisher's offered description how this differs from the original game:

Quote:
Specter Ops: Broken Covenant puts two to five players in the middle of a war that's fought in the shadows.

Corporate secrets linger within the corridors of Raxxon's abandoned headquarters and, even though the base is empty, it is not forgotten. In this tense cat-and-mouse showdown, a lone A.R.K. agent stalks the shadows of the facility, attempting to complete secret objectives while hunters from Raxxon's Experimental Security Division try to pinpoint their location and destroy them. On one side, the agent must use all their skills and equipment to succeed. On the other, the hunters rely on teamwork and superhuman skills to locate their prey. No matter who you play, you must use strategy, deduction, and stealth to win.
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Designer Diary: Claim, or To Claim a Kingdom and Honor Thy Trick-Takers

Scott Almes
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The inspiration for Claim started with a love of trick-taking games and a sadness that there are very, very few for two players. My family traditionally has played a lot of card games, and trick-taking games are my personal favorite of the classic card game genre. Oh Hell! is my personal favorite because I love the bidding, but Euchre is also a family staple. Sadly, neither of these are functional for two players without clumsy variants.

Thus, the quest to make Claim was born, driven by a want of a two-player trick-taking game — but there was something else underneath that. Creating a new trick-taking game is almost a rite of passage for a game designer. It is a design space that has centuries of development behind it. A trick-taking game offers a unique challenge that differs from most other designs because when you design a trick-taking game it's not only a new design, but it is also an homage to the genre and its history.

Like any modern trick-taking game, Claim was inspired in part by another trick-taking game. Classics like Wizard and Sluff Off! are rooted in Oh Hell! and other bidding games. Clubs and Diamonds were developed to fill the spiritual gaps between Spades and Hearts. Haggis and Tichu derive from climbing games like Big 2. (You may direct your arguments on whether climbing games are trick-taking games in the comments below.) Trick-taking games are designed to be a heartfelt love letter to the genre, all while trying to make your own mark in the busy design space. I wanted to do the same: Give homage to trick-takers past (and in this case, mostly forgotten) while bringing an update to the modern age.

For Claim, the mechanical inspiration was the Whist series of games, specifically German Whist, which has a unique twist in that the game is played in two phases: 1) You play "tricks" to draft a hand of cards for the second phase, then 2) you play your drafted cards, with the player who collected the most tricks winning. This is a cool mechanism, but has its flaws. The first phase can feel a bit boring. You aren't playing to win tricks, but rather cards, and you get no immediate excitement from doing so. In the second phase, it's possible to know who the winner is before the round starts based on which cards were collected in the first phase. These two problems meant the game could be very hit or miss.

I wanted more from this game. It was clever, but not robust enough for a satisfying play every time. From playing this game, and my journey through trick-taking games in general, I wanted to take what I thought was fun and build a whole new game around it.

The theme came first. The original name of the game was "King of the Kingdom", which was later switched to Claim by publisher White Goblin Games. The idea was that the King had died, so now you were trying to win the throne. I pictured two candidates vying for control and influence for the throne. The game would be played in two phases: First, you draft followers from one of the five different factions in order to fight for you. Then, in the second phase, you go head-to-head with the other player with the followers you've acquired.

That had a nice flow, giving a thematic anchor to the game on which I could build. This theme led to a unique winning condition. Most trick-taking games require you to win a certain number of tricks, or simply the most. I wanted which cards you won to matter; the game wasn't just about winning tricks, but which tricks.

From that idea, I decided that the game would have five factions. At the end of the game, each player would have a pile of cards that they'd won in tricks, but the total number of tricks wouldn't matter; what would matter are the factions themselves, specifically the number of cards you have in each faction. If you have the most, you win that faction's influence. Win the influence of three of the five factions, and you have won the quest to claim that throne.




Those parts of the game came together quickly. The theme felt right, and the win condition felt unique. One of the issues with the original game of German Whist is that the best strategy tended to be to dominate in a single suit, then run with it. That was no longer the case in Claim. You needed to do well in several suits to win. It was a lovely twist that bucked the norm of trick-takers.

The game was pretty fun at this point. The fact that you needed to have majority in three out of five factions was already cool, giving an almost "area control" feel over the game. It felt like you were doing more than just collecting cards. But I wanted these five factions to feel unique, so I decided to play around with special powers and that's when things would really get turned on their head — and the most development time came into the process.

I wanted just five powers. I didn't want a lot of card text. I didn't want cards within each faction functioning differently. I wanted each faction to play differently, but be easy to learn and play. Having fun the first game is important. I didn't want a bunch of different exceptions for each card. I wanted this to be a game that any lover of card games, whether they enjoyed modern games or not, could step into and learn quickly — but unique powers are tricky like that and are hard to master.

There was a core concept for these factions, and that was related to the end game condition. You win by gaining influence in three factions. Thus, I wanted each faction to have a unique strategy to win it, almost as if each suit had a unique mind game to collect them. This is how Claim turned into something special.




The Goblins and the Knights came first. They were fun to play off one another. Knights could instantly beat Goblins, which was simple to learn but tricky in practice. Since you have to follow suit, your opponent can pull Knights out of your hand early before you can use them to capture tons of goblins.

With the Knights having a distinct advantage over Goblins, the Goblin ability was tricky. I didn't want a circular rock-paper-scissors concept in which each faction had a priority as I find that's hard to track. In the end, I went thematic: Goblins aren't special, but there are a lot of them. This was balanced by putting in fewer Knights. So you have lots of Goblins and few Knights, but Knights instantly beat Goblins. This had a great flow and gave an extra twist to you needing to win a majority of the factions. A few Knights can win you a faction, but Goblins take a lot of work and planning.




The Undead were next. I wanted a faction that played around with the first phase of the game. The first phase is when you play tricks in order to win your cards for the second phase. Those cards are typically discarded — fodder for the drafting phase — but not the Undead. The Undead are the only ones you are able to collect for the end game scoring in the first round. This is super fun and added more meaning to the first phase. Now, if you want to win the Undead, you have to start thinking early, or else you'll start phase two already behind your opponent!




The Dwarves were a slightly evil twist since you can collect them when you lose. Thus, if your opponent is running away with a suit, you can play Dwarf cards and collect them for the endgame scoring. The winner of the hand still gets any non-Dwarf cards, and this adds a way to collect cards even when you are losing. Winning the Dwarf faction is something challenging but fun.




Last were the Doppelgangers. These are wild cards, so they match the suit played. This keeps all the other factions on their toes, and these cards are a hot commodity. You can use a Doppelganger to get a match in a faction you need during play, but they count as their own faction at the end of the game. Once again, a very tricky faction to get hold of.

With those developments, the end result was this lovely little two-player trick-taking game called Claim. It’s rooted in traditional trick-taking games, but it creates a fun little niche all its own. What I'm most proud of is how the winning condition of needing to gain majority in three of the five factions plays out. It's not as simple as trying to gain a bunch of hearts or spades in play. You have to start thinking during the drafting phase, and each faction has its own little puzzle to solve in order to win it, yet these puzzles conflict with each other. If you think you can win Dwarves, you need to lose tricks — but you need to win tricks to beat other factions. And, how many Knights can you spend to ensure you win Knights, while also holding some back to defeat Goblins? Do you want to use your Doppelgangers to boost a faction you already have, or do you want to lead with them to ensure they are on your side at the end of the game? These five abilities added to a streamlined ruleset make for a fun and quick game, and one I am proud of and still enjoy playing. I hope it's a game you'll all enjoy playing, too!

Scott Almes
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Thu Sep 14, 2017 5:05 pm
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