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W. Eric Martin
• What's Your Game? has announced that new editions of Madeira (a 2013 title from Nuno Bizarro Sentieiro and Paulo Soledade) and ZhanGuo (a 2014 title from Marco Canetta and Stefania Niccolini) will be launched on Kickstarter "very soon", with these new editions featuring "upgraded components, new variants and expansions". The KS projects will have pledges that allow those with first editions to update their existing games.
• WYG also notes that the Kickstarter for Brasil, another Sentieiro and Soledade design, will now take place in late 2018 for release in 2019.
• Speaking of Sentieiro and Soledade, I now have details of another design of theirs: Arraial from MEBO Games, which was mentioned in passing in a Feb. 2018 post and which should be available by the end of Q2 2018, if not sooner. As for what the game is about:
"Arraial" is the name given to traditional Portuguese summer celebrations during which people take to the streets eating, drinking, and having fun in the old neighborhoods that are bedecked with arches, colorful balloons, popular music, and the aroma of sweet basil.
In the game Arraial, players try to make their neighborhood traditional event the most popular by attracting visitors to their celebration. Grab the most beautiful decorations, hire the most inspired performers, serve the most traditional delicacies, take to the streets, and host the party of the year! Arraial is a fast-paced game in which players take turns spending action points to get the best tiles (decorations, artists...) and place them on their player boards to form the perfect match and attract visitors to their party. In the end, whoever attracts the most visitors in their neighborhood wins.
• Asmodee North America has announced a huge number of expansions on its July 2018 release calendar from several of its brands and distribution partners. Leaf Clan and Feather Clan are two new expansion decks for Crystal Clans from Plaid Hat Games, with the former allowing you to sow losses on other units to strengthen them while the latter can have an army of airborne units.
• The Spirits of Memoria and The Demons of Darmas introduce two new Phoenixborn in these expansion decks for Isaac Vega's Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn from PHG, which you can use on their own or take apart to combine cards with other decks.
• Race to the New Found Land, which has been released in Germany by Hans im Glück, now has a July 2018 release date for the English-language edition from Z-Man Games.
• Fantasy Flight Games has five new expansions coming for Star Wars: Imperial Assault: two ally packs, two villain packs, and Tyrants of Lothal, which contains "heroes, enemies, allies, map tiles and a six-part mini-campaign" that can be played on its own or used inside another campaign.
• FFG also plans to release eight introductory decks for the second edition of A Game of Thrones: The Card Game, with each deck containing 69 cards in a pre-constructed deck that highlight that faction's unique features. It's not clear from the sell sheets whether these decks contain new cards or a mix of previously released cards from different chapter packs, but whatever the case, they're aimed at allowing new players to jump into the game with a focus for what to do.
W. Eric Martin
• Let's run through more game preview videos that BGG recorded at the 2018 GAMA Trade Show, starting with the timely Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger from Prospero Hall and Z-Man Games, and I say "timely" because 1980s nostalgia seems all the rage these days, so why not transform the hugely popular 1980s CYOA book series into a $25 MSRP tabletop game?
Funny thing I just discovered while looking into the history of this book series is that the first CYOA book was actually released in 1979, not the 1980s, but what's more, author Edward Packard wrote the first title based on this idea — "The Adventures of You on Sugar Cane Island" — in 1970, only to see it rejected by several publishers. He shelved the manuscript for five years, after which he finally convinced someone to publish it, after which that publisher licensed the series to Bantam Books, after which editor Dinah Stevenson came up with the CYOA title to market the series, after which it became a hugely popular line.
You might conclude from this story that publishers are dumb and don't know a good idea when they see it, but I'm sure publishers could pull out a thousand terrible suggestions that show they were right not to waste their time trying to turn dreck into best-seller material. In the end, no lessons have been learned.
• Speaking of 1980s nostalgia, Robotech: Attack on the SDF-1 from Strange Machine Games is a huge tower-defense-style game for 1-6 players, with multiple scenarios in the box based on the episodes in the anime series.
• Feudal Japan in space — that's the basic concept behind Starship Samurai, coming out from designer Isaac Vega and publisher Plaid Hat Games in mid-2018. The giant mechs that give you influence on the game board? Perhaps those resulted from Vega watching Robotech in the 1980s. I have no idea, but this game seems to have that nostalgic hook, while also being a thoroughly modern game in its presentation.
• Daniele Tascini was co-designer of the hit games Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar and The Voyages of Marco Polo, so folks are going to pay attention to what he does next, which in this case is Teotihuacan: City of Gods, an involved worker placement game with a cocoa-based economy due out in late 2018 from NSKN Games.
• Phil Walker-Harding's Imhotep: A New Dynasty debuted in Germany at the end of 2017, and now Thames & Kosmos expects to have the English version of this expansion to the Spiel des Jahres-nominated Imhotep out in August 2018. Find out which new challenge boards await:
Coal Country is the second prototype I developed, starting work on it immediately after the 2012 Origins Game Fair and first showing it at Gen Con 2012.
The first prototype I developed, the one before Coal Country, was intended to be my one and only game design, which I had worked on sporadically over the span of a couple years as a personal project. At the time, I was running our campus's gaming research group, which developed from an overwhelming number of students being interested in video game research in my popular culture classes. Upon forming the group, I made the decision to also open it up to board games as I was primarily a board gamer.
What we found was that the students interested in board games were primarily interested in designing board games, whereas students interested in video games were primarily interested in writing about video games. These two interests did not work with one another for a single meeting. As such, we made the decision to spin off a board game design subgroup where we would play prototypes. At some point, this first prototype of mine made an appearance and received a strong reception, which encouraged me to pick up the pace on its design and take it more seriously.
Eventually, I considered this design "finished", but didn't know what to do with it. It was very large, and I came to the realization that if I ever wanted to send it to a publisher, it would have to be broken up and pitched as a core game with a number of expansions. With that in mind, I remembered reading a post by Donald X. Vaccarino on BGG about his prototype for Dominion and decided to revisit the post for ideas. What really struck me upon revisiting the post was the process of showing a game to Rio Grande Games, specifically Jay Tummelson.
At the time, I did not understand how games were pitched and how meetings worked, but I really connected with the description of the face-to-face process; I felt as a first-time designer I could best explain my prototype and how it worked in that setting, as opposed to sending it somewhere unsolicited and not being able to salvage a decision with a properly explained answer. I was also a humongous Rio Grande Games fan and figured my sensibilities, which were largely shaped by their games anyhow, would jive with theirs. After some back and forth with myself, I decided to take the plunge and emailed Rio Grande about setting up a submission meeting at a future convention. Within an hour, which I eventually learned is par for the course with Jay's communication, I had a response and after a couple of more emails, a meeting was set for Origins 2012.
Why am I telling you about a game other than Coal Country? Well, one of the takeaways I hope readers get from this post is about the benefits of working with a publisher, or at the very least, taking meetings with publishers. For instance, the idea for Coal Country was born out of my first Rio Grande meeting. For that meeting, I knew I had thirty minutes, which at the time seemed incredibly tight. I worked out a much-rehearsed twenty-minute presentation and left ten minutes for questions and comments.
While waiting for my meeting, Walter Hunt (designer of Rails of New England) came over, chatted with me for a bit, and offered some pointers for meeting with Jay. First, he said that if the meeting was going well, Jay would interrupt and ask a slew of questions. I was particularly excited about this, as with all my prototypes I write a personal-use version of the rules that includes justification or support for every single inclusion and rule in the game. Second, he said that even if Jay was not interested in signing the game at the convention, I should ask him whether he would be willing to see the game again pending revisions in relation to his suggestions and comments.
Well, that thirty-minute meeting ended up going over two hours, with Jay asking his slew of questions and me responding with why X was this way or why Y was that way, and so on. Jay also pitched a series of ideas aimed at increasing player interaction and breaking up the certainty of results that the game's economy could possibly lead to amongst experienced players. All told, I filled half a Moleskine with notes from the meeting. Jay was interested in the design and wanted to see it again. Feeling particularly invigorated, and wanting to get to work on the game as quickly as possible, I set up a second meeting for Gen Con 2012, which gave me only two-and-a-half months to alter and test the game. After the RGG meeting and with encouragement from Jay to do so, I went about trying to show the game to other publishers at the convention, with a few taking me up on it, which produced even more notes.
That night in the hotel, I began going over the notes from these meetings, classifying them into what was useful for the prototype, what was not, and what was a great idea that did not work with the prototype, but was intriguing nonetheless. As it would turn out, that final category gave me enough material to flesh out a whole new game, which is now Coal Country.
I found that the third category could be broken down into two larger trends. First, there was some concern amongst publishers about worker placement games in general and how their sales had fallen off the cliff. I heard this at multiple stops. Oddly, I thought of my prototype as an area control game, not a worker placement game. Also, I was still purchasing a lot of worker placement games, so I was intrigued by this seemingly incongruent statement. Jay had mentioned that he, personally, was growing disinterested in games in which you simply put a worker in a certain area to perform a certain function, with nothing innovative beyond that aside from slight variations in goals and theme.
Second, there was some concern about my initial game's economy being too static, with everything costing a specific amount and taking a specific number of turns to build, and that experienced players would know the probable outcome too soon in the course of a game. (A very popular worker placement game at the time was used as an example of this issue by different publishers.)
The next morning I got up and started my very long drive back to Lincoln, Nebraska from Columbus, Ohio. With the notes still clear in my head, and with lots of thinking time ahead of me, I put a notebook on the passenger seat and would pull over to take notes whenever I had what I thought was a good idea.
It ended up being an incredibly long drive. I was particularly intrigued by the economic comments as I was growing increasingly bored with that first prototype's economy. The core of its mechanisms, I felt, were fresh and fun, but the economy was probably chosen because, well, that is just how the games I had been playing worked. I figured that was just what companies were looking for.
I felt that games are chiefly about social interaction, and we know that social interaction disrupts traditional social scientific notions of economic practices, so I had kind of told myself that if things went well and I could make a second game, I would want to make one that reflected a more humanistic approach to economics. I wanted to make a game that would embrace concepts that I, myself, found fascinating, such as Austrian economics, roundaboutness, dissolution of supply-and-demand relationships, etc.
I had also just come off the mountain of testing and spreadsheet work needed to accurately determine cost and build lengths of various building types, and I was mostly burnt out on it. For example, that first prototype's pitch binder contained over 75 pages of spreadsheets, charts, and visualizations of the balance data alone, which was the product of a pile of testing and modeling to determine the range of turn value against player interaction against game length. I am glad I did the work as I learned a good deal about game design and testing from doing so, but, man, it was certainly an endeavor for me at that stage of my design "career".
Being interested in developing a game that was about the manipulation of traditional supply-and-demand relationships, I started by thinking about real world influences on said relationships and their disruption. Growing up in Chicagoland, I always found the role that corruption played in infrastructure to be fairly fascinating. I decided that a good way of bringing this to life in a game would be to assign your actions differing levels of "influence", which would then disrupt pricing to varying degrees. I felt this idea worked best if the institutions charging you a price were also in on the corruption, with what they are charging being based on what they know you have. In this way, the corruption was a negotiation, not a one-sided affair.
Additionally, this pricing-based-on-earnings mechanism provided a natural comeback mechanism, which helped alleviate issues I was hearing about a game's economy inherently producing certainty of results. In regards to theme, the two that immediately came to mind were mafia and mining, two areas that we know utilized corruption to achieve various ends. Having had experience writing about the rhetoric of mine unionization in Harlan County, Kentucky, I went with mining.
The second obstacle to tackle was the whole "worker placements are dead" trend I was hearing. As a player, I was unwilling to accept the suggestion, so I set about thinking about ways to do something about the whole "put worker here, do this action" concern. I had already decided to make an economy that was tied more directly to player interaction and I wanted to allow players to interact with the economy, so I simply tied the degree of influence per action to the placement of workers. In this way, worker placement achieves two things: completes an action and disrupts the economy. I achieved this by assigning each worker a different strength, so you had to manage a workforce that was both limited and varied. The placement gave you the ability to act, and the influence level of the worker determined both the acting order and the degree to which you acted.
To up the ante on player interaction, I decided to make the influence level of a player's work force secret, with their influence number placed face down, only to be revealed upon action. Thematically, I rationalized this as, "Sure, you know where your competition is sending its workers, but you don't know the degree to which they are going to act until you get there". To fit with the mining theme, I converted "workers" into "foremen" and gave players the task of building and expanding a mine. Foremen could be placed on mineshaft tiles to mine an amount of coal tied to their influence level, on the brokers to sell their mined coal, or at the market to purchase mine expansions, utilities to increase the production of your mine, or buildings to provide special action opportunities.
By combining my solutions to these two trends that I was hearing at the convention, I was left with a worker placement mechanism that layered multiple workforce management concerns while also allowing me to include principles of humanistic economics in a board game. Furthermore, I had a game idea that reflected things a publisher — one I very much wanted to work with — told me he wanted to see in a game.
On top of these agendas, I also set myself a final criteria: The game needed to be played in under an hour. This came about as a result of three things. First, the previous prototype played at two hours, which was a concern for many publishers. Second, I knew I would be working a tight schedule if I were to get this new game ready for Gen Con, so a game that was shorter would get far more testing than one that was two hours long. Third, my favorite games are all generally under an hour long as they get on our table more.
Upon arriving back in Lincoln, I had almost the entire game and the game's general value pyramids journaled out. I spent the next day at the university library looking up 20th century coal-pricing data and its degrees of variation to help firm up the backbone of the game's economy.
A couple of days later, I had a playable prototype, and it was off to the testing races. Now, if you recall, I previously mentioned that my original intention was to have only the one game and be done with design depending on the results of that Origins convention. I certainly pitched it that way to my wife. So when I returned saying that I wanted to go back to a convention to show the game in a couple months, she was a little confused. My justification for that second convention was that, in addition to having a revised version of my first prototype, I would have a totally new prototype to show as well. That way, I could take even more meetings and make the cost of a second convention more justifiable. Since I was not teaching that summer, it was agreed that this was a generally safe way of keeping myself busy, and my "career" as a game designer (instead of "a designer of a game") had officially begun.
The initial Coal Country prototype focused primarily on the marketplace, with the only actions available to everyone every turn being selling coal and mining your mineshaft tiles. Everything else — from mine expansion, to utility acquisition, to special action building construction — was all achieved from a combination of a blind market tile draw every turn and the manufactured scarcity produced by outmaneuvering your opposition. In that configuration, the game played almost purely tactical as your best laid plans could be dashed from a poor draw or a singular misread of your opponents' goals. It was a game about making the best out of bad situations, which seemed to me to be a great fit for a coal mining game.
The second thing the Coal Country prototype did was it took its theme perhaps a bit too lightly. Listen, corruption in coal mining can be pretty bleak stuff. Moreover, while we know corruption existed, and we mostly know exactly where it existed, there are still very real people living in those areas that, perhaps, would not want to be painted with that brush today.
As such, I developed a fictional game world set in the Black Lung Mountains, which was sort of a compression of various moments of 20th century coal mining. The game initially relied on a heavy degree of dark humor to lighten the theme. I named the game "Black Lung", and pitched it as such. Unfortunately, both publishers I showed the prototype to did not care for the name. When the game went to art, RGG suggested changing the name and, perhaps, tightening up the location. Since mid-century Appalachian coal mining was always my personal mental touchpoint during design, and also an area of personal interest, we landed on that for a theme, while still keeping the exact location vague for the aforementioned reason. The name Coal Country was a natural fit and came about almost immediately.
At my Gen Con 2012 follow-up meeting with Jay on my first prototype, we wrapped up relatively quickly and he saw that I had another box with me. He asked me a question, one which I have come to regard as one of my favorite recurring Jay-isms: "What else do you got?" I showed him the prototype for "Black Lung". To my pleasant surprise, he immediately got what was going on, compared the game to a former "big deal" title, which I regarded as a huge compliment, while also commenting that it solved that game's "problems". I was over the moon — he liked BOTH my games!
Then he added, "I have bad news for you. I'm off this game (first prototype) and I'm now on this one (Black Lung)." He immediately followed that up by mentioning that the 30- to 45-minute playing time as a big plus as the marketplace was short of complex economic games that could be played in a relatively short period of time.
Since Jay had some time in his production schedule before he could get to the game, we started spitballing ways of firming up the mechanisms. During this back and forth, Jay wound up asking a question that totally reinvented the way it was played: "If I own a mine, why can't I just do whatever I want?" It was a fascinating question and was asked earnestly. What would happen if we just let people do whatever they wanted?
The conversation flowed from there, and it ended up with me flipping the script on the game. Why don't we make this about the mines instead of the market? Everyone could do everything; you were no longer simply cut off from a desired action by the game's mechanisms, as before. Whereas the original marketplace was largely metaphorical, we could now create direct marketplaces by shifting the focus to the mines. As such, foremen would now go to the construction company to build, to the utility companies for utilities, to the permit office to expand, etc. Everyone could do everything as long as they could pay for it and (in some cases) as long as supply remained.
This idea also reverberated with my interest in human irrationality disrupting economies. For example, what if someone overpays to expand their mine in some way and it negatively impacts their chances of winning? Oh well, it was their decision to do this. And you know what? Perhaps they got a feeling of satisfaction or completion from building their mine in that way. It is essentially impulse buying, but in game form. In this new configuration, the game did not govern those behaviors; the players playing the game did. Not only did this seemingly simple question change this game, but it changed the way I evaluate games that I play and design today. It was simply brilliant.
This suggestion also produced a couple of additional changes, both for the better. First, it placed a higher degree of emphasis on properly managing shifts in economic pricing. If I can do anything, I need to make sure I am managing affordable prices for those actions. This also placed more weight on the relationship of your company earnings to supplier pricing. Since players were no longer fighting primarily over individual tiles, the order of purchasing became even more tied to company earnings. In the initial prototype, company earnings were used to break ties. In the new prototype, ties became rarer, which gave earnings-tied pricing more influence in the game as it established the entire purchasing order, not just the overall purchasing winner and the price they would pay.
Second, the game developed a more even balance of tactics and strategy. You can plan long-term strategies now, but there will be turn-by-turn disruptions that require tactical navigation. Conversely, you can still play the game completely tactically and have a fair shot of winning. This grants a wider range of players, whether experienced and inexperienced, the ability to win a game of Coal Country.
After talking through this suggestion, Jay and I set a time frame for revisions. The revisions ended up getting postponed until the 2013 Origins Game Fair due to shifting production schedules. At that time, Jay took the game and the decision to publish was made shortly thereafter.
Now, you are probably saying to yourself, "Man, that was a long time ago!" or "What kind of problems came up in the game that delayed it so much?" There is a funny story about that. At Origins 2013, Jay and I had wrapped up our meeting and were chatting about this and that. Jay started telling me about a movie he had just watched and how he thought the theme might make a good board game as it had never been done. He wondered whether I had any games, perhaps even "Black Lung", that could use that theme. I spent that night researching the theme, but came to the conclusion that I could not fit it onto my then-current slate of games.
However, once again, I had an idea for a game that was a direct reflection of a publisher's stated interests. As such, I set about making a game based on that theme, which I showed Jay at Origins 2014. He liked that game and took it. Because the theme was new and unused, the decision was made to flip the publishing order of the two games and to get the new one to market before someone else used the theme. After some time passed, and after Jay had discussed this new game with his partners, the decision was made that it was "too controversial to publish". Now, think about all the games out there and how many have questionable themes or inclusions. I had somehow managed to make one that was more unpublishable than all of those!
As much of a bummer as it was to have the game dropped, I took solace in having achieved something so unique. Since then I have told a few people in the industry about this game and its theme, which I will not state here because it is still unused, and it produces the largest eyerolls ever. It is an extremely underwhelming answer to the question "What is too controversial to publish?" Still, everyone agrees they themselves would not touch it. So, after some delay, that game was dropped and "Black Lung"/Coal Country got put back on the schedule.
I hope in reading this diary that not only will players get a better understanding of what Coal Country is attempting to achieve, but also what confluence of events produced the attempt. It is a sophisticated economic game, in my opinion. It is a totally separate post, one that I may write someday, but the game is deeply steeped in economic and cultural theory at its core. It is also a product of a fair degree of historical research, even if we decentralized the final product. For instance, coal pricing shifts in-game in a manner that is generally historically accurate, while also fully embracing players' ability to influence and disrupt pricing. This is the product of some good, old-fashioned, dusty book research.
Furthermore, I hope readers who have themselves developed a household game will find the process of pitching games to publishers more approachable and, quite honestly, fun. By preparing myself, listening, and engaging with publishers, I have developed a number of games beyond what I originally intended to achieve. Coal Country is my first game on the shelves, but more are coming soon.
Current players may be interested in a set of supplemental variant rules we have posted on the Rio Grande Games website and on BGG. The game's boxed rules include two variants, one set in a world where mining is more highly regulated, and one in which mining is less regulated. Beyond those, there are number of individual rules that players can basically toggle on and off to adjust the game to their interests. These are listed in the online rule variants, and they have been arranged according to whether they add or subtract time from the game as we know for a lot of families and groups that playing time is a big concern when choosing games.
One variation I strongly encourage players to implement is the ability to store coal between turns. This adds money shortages into the game and empowers the village buildings. Coal Country's economy is fairly unique, so the boxed rules are presented in a fashion to help players dive right into the game, without too much added adversity. However, experienced players may enjoy the added intrigue and strategy that money shortages add into the game. For intermediate players, I recommend holding five coal; for advanced players, ten coal; for expert players, fifteen coal. I recommend it highly.
On a final note, I want to thank Jay Tummelson for, more or less, developing me as a game designer. The meetings described in this post came at a time in my life when I had deep reservations about the career that was basically chosen for me, and I had lost faith in my ability to perform in it while maintaining a balanced life. I was concerned with how I wanted to support my family, and with what kind of husband and father I wanted to be. I wanted to do something that I, myself, had chosen, something that made me a happier person. I would not have kept making games if that first meeting with Jay had simply been a ten-minute blow off session. I have had those since, and they hurt. Instead, Jay took the time to ask questions, learn about my game, learn about me, and learn about how I thought about games. He has made time for me at every convention and has responded to every email.
So while Jay and I are not close and I am probably just another designer to him — there are 500+ RGG titles before mine, after all — he has had a profound impact on me. This game has made a difference in my life. I hope you enjoy it.
Kane M. Click
Thirty pounds of Coal Country
W. Eric Martin
In May 2018, the BGG crew will be at Tokyo Game Market to record game overviews with designers and publishers and to gawk at the huge number of new and unfamiliar games on display.
In preparation for that trip, I've been doing my best to keep an eye out for titles of interest, but it's hard to survey the Game Market website when (1) you don't speak Japanese and (2) dozens of updates are posted daily as people and design groups announce games, open preorders, link to rules, and otherwise attempt to gain attention for their creations. I've created a Tokyo Game Market preview for May 2018, but at this moment only thirteen titles are on it, whereas hundreds of new games will be at TGM. I have my work cut out for me! Here are a few titles I've spotted, not all of which are new as the first one debuted at TGM in December 2017. Still, if you haven't seen it before, it's as new to you as it is to me.
• Sengoku Domino is a 2-4 player game from Kenichi Kabuki of Game Nowa that uses dominoes to represent army troops, with each player competing in the same region of the playing area to dominate it — domino-ate it? — before moving on to the next region. Here's my understanding of how the game works:
At the start of the game, each player shuffles their colored domino army tiles face down, then draws a hand of five tiles, keeping them behind their screen. On a turn, each player reveals one domino, with the strength of a domino equalling the summed numbers on it. Whoever played the weakest domino places it into the region first, then the player of the next weakest domino places that, etc. In the case of a tie, the tied dominos are placed after all other dominoes that turn.
The region under question is a 5x5 space on the playing area, with the central square being occupied by a castle. No domino can be placed over the castle. The first domino placed in a region must be placed adjacent to a castle, and each subsequent domino placed can be placed adjacent to the castle or next to any other domino as long as they have the same number in at least one adjacent edge. For example, a 2|5 tile could be placed next to a 4|5 tile, or the tiles could be placed perpendicular to one another as long as the 5s are adjacent.
Once all the dominoes are placed, the next turn begins with players refilling their hands, then playing another domino. A player cannot play outside the 5x5 area unless it's impossible to play all of the domino inside it.
Once the region is filled, you consider the total strength of each player in each row and column in the region, using colored markers to indicate who has the highest total. If two colors are tied for highest, then they're ignored and the next highest color wins the row or column. If the totals are completely tied, then no one wins that row or column. Whoever wins the most rows and columns wins the region, placing a marker of their color on the castle. Again, in the case of a tie, they're ignored and the next highest color wins the region!
Whoever first wins two regions wins the game. If in a four-player game each player wins one region, then the tie is broken by whoever won the most rows and columns.
Image courtesy of Smoox; used with permission
• In The Marching Cats (ネコのマーチ), Team SAIEN has reimplemented its game The Waltzing Cat into a card-based memory game. This title was actually released at the Osaka Game Market in April 2018 and will not be at TGM, but here's info anyway for those who are interested:
In this memory game, you start the game by playing out the cards face down on the table. The deck consists of black, green, and gray cats (six each), blue and red cats (three each), golden cats (four), and eight music notes.
On a turn, you reveal a card, then stop and collect that card or reveal another card. If you reveal a type of card that's already been shown, then your turn ends, you collect nothing, and all revealed cards are laid face-down again. If you stop before this, you collect the revealed cards except for a revealed note card, which is turned face down again. If you collect a blue and red cat, thereby reuniting the lovecats, you score 2 points; if you collect a pair of matching cats, you score 1 point. Golden cats are wild and can be paired with any color. You cannot use the same blue cat to score for both lovecats and a pair.
The first player to score 8 points wins. You can do this solely by collecting cats, but another possibility is to start your turn by saying "Note atsume" ("Collecting notes), then reveal only note cards — which are worth 1 point each — until you have a total of 8 points between cats and notes, thereby winning the game; if you flip anything other than a music note, your turn ends and you must hide those cards once again.
• Coffee Roaster designer Saashi of Saashi & Saashi has a new release in the brand new category of "flip-and-write" games, that being akin to roll-and-write games, but with cards replacing the dice, as with Benoit Turpin's Welcome To... from Blue Cocker Games. In Let's Make a Bus Route (バスルートをつくろう), you and your fellow players each control a bus company in Kyoto and are creating new bus lines to satisfy the needs of local students, the elderly, and tourists and commuters visiting the city, while also trying to avoid traffic jams. In more detail:
The game includes a large shared map board, along with five individual player boards. All players draw their routes on the shared board, while taking note of their passengers, sights, and other elements on their individual boards.
To start a round, you reveal a colored bus route at random from the deck. Each player's board has a different combination of colors and required moves, so blue on one board might be go straight one block, while someone else goes two blocks and a third player must make a turn. Players make their moves in turn on the shared map board, then mark the icons of what they've seen at various intersections on their player board. Different types of riders all score differently, and placing checks on your personal board for passengers and areas (sight-seeing spots, stations, universities) before other players do can earn you extra bonus points, so strategically planning your route while keeping in mind your main destinations is very important. Sharing the road with someone else causes traffic, which might lead to penalties. Meet the conditions on public demand cards to score bonus points!
• I included Satoru Nakamura's DICE WIDE SHUT from March Hare Games in an earlier round-up, but I had nothing to go on other than the cover at that time. Now the publisher has posted English rules for the game, so here we go:
DICE WIDE SHUT is a roll-and-write game that includes erasable markers and game boards. Try to fill the columns with checkmarks to score without bursting any rows!
In this game for 2-5 players, you'll use 3-6 red dice and 3-6 blue dice along with a single purple die no matter the player count. Each player has their own erasable game board with a red grid of dice faces at the top of it (with the red faces reading 1-5 as you go across a row) and a blue grid of dice faces at the bottom (with the blue faces reading 1-5 as you go down a column). On the right-hand side of each grid is a column of 6s; the 6s are grayed out and not considered to be part of the red or blue grid.
To start a round, one player rolls the dice. The starting player then chooses either red or blue, then chooses two dice numbered 1-5 or a single die numbered six in the named color. The purple die can be picked up whether you choose red or blue. After you take the die or dice, you check off empty die faces in that half of your player board that match the numbers taken. One exception: When you take a 6, you can check off a 6 in either the top or bottom of your board.
If you create a row of five horizontal checkmarks in the red or blue grid, then you must place a line through all of these checked die faces. Boom! Bad news! If, however, you have a checked 6 in that same row, you can choose to cross out the checkmark instead of placing the final check in the row and blowing it up.
Once all the dice have been claimed, then the next player in clockwise order from the starting player becomes the new starting player and begins a new round. As soon as one player has three filled columns in either the red or the blue grid, each other player takes one final turn (assuming enough dice remain), then the game ends. Players then score points for each column depending on the number of continuous check marks in that column; three separate checkmarks in a column in the red grid is worth 3 points (1 point for each check) while three continuous checkmarks is worth 6 points. An empty space or a crossed-out line breaks the continuity. Whoever has the highest total wins.
I often like to compare the creation of a game to that of a living thing:
First, the mind of the game designer is inseminated by an idea, a feeling, a need; then, the idea gestates in the designer's head, and slowly but surely it's possible to discern a theme, a mechanism; eventually, provided there were no major problems during pregnancy, the designer gives birth to their idea as a prototype, not always beautiful but full of promise; much later, if the game survives childhood (the infant mortality rate of games is extremely high), it can finally be published and become an adult; finally, after some time, though unfortunately not that much in most cases, it dies, killed by neglect or lack of interest, and is buried in the stores' liquidation bins.
To continue the analogy, Decrypto's birthdate is pretty easy to determine: January 5, 2016. The final structure of the game suddenly materialized in my head as I walked on Jean-Talon Street, coming back from work, and an hour later the first prototype of the game was ready, the rules written. The game has changed relatively little since then.
As for the moment of conception, that I'm not so sure. The gestation of game concepts is often done over a long period of time in my head, and often unconsciously. It feels to me a bit like a watermill wheel that I would place over an invisible river. Sometimes I take control of the wheel, put it down in the water, and develop an idea consciously. However, when I take the wheel off the current and it leaves my consciousness, it continues nonetheless to spin for some time; each idea has its own inertia, which influences the persistence with which its wheel turns in the unconscious, and Decrypto's idea was particularly heavy.
Something like this...
I've always loved hidden messages and secret codes. My grandmother is a bridge enthusiast (the game, not the structure obviously), and I've always been fascinated by the stories of her games, especially when she spoke about the codes that could be sent between each partner during the auction phase. The basis for Decrypto's idea was the will to recreate part of that experience: to send coded messages to an ally without being intercepted.
There was at times the desire to do a more thematic game, with messages sent during a war of some kind, with a player who would attack regions on a board and another player who would try to relay information on the attacks to a third. I imagined different ways of communicating information — gestures, Dixit-like images, improv — but none of them satisfied me completely (at least in my mind, because I admit never having tried them). I even thought for a moment that players could send codes in the form of letters to their lovers.
And then the idea of the game's structure came gradually: We share a "key" with our teammates, allowing us to decode our messages, but the more we send messages, the more the opponent is informed on the nature of our key, until comes a time when they can intercept our codes. What made it all click in January 2016 was the simple realization that the key had to be words, and everything else fell into place quickly after that.
Your teammates may not always interpret codes as you do, even if they share your key...
As an aside, a game design element that I really appreciate, and that I tried to put in Decrypto, is what I call the presence of "natural" tensions, or "player" tensions. Players have a lot of freedom in Decrypto in terms of what they are allowed to communicate. They can say almost anything. However, in practice their communication is quite limited, not by the game, but by the other players because of the conflicting goals created by the scoring system. We want our teammates to understand us, but we do not want to be intercepted. It is the same kind of tension you'll find in games like Spyfall or Dixit, or in games with an auction mechanism (in the sense that auctions tend naturally towards an equilibrium that depends on the players).
First test of the game in January 2016 with my parents and my girlfriend;
at the time there were only three keywords but the digits on the code cards could be repeated, giving 27 combinations
Anyway, following the creation of the prototype, I quickly began to test the game with my family, my friends, and random people in board game cafés. Around mid-January 2016 — yes, less than two weeks after the creation of the first prototype as I was maybe a little too eager — I submitted my game by email to Christian Lemay of The Masked Scorpion. He refused, claiming that the game was too similar to Codenames. I decided to continue testing the game and presented it to other players, but also to other authors and other publishers.
Towards the end of February 2016, La Récréation, a board game café in Montreal, organized a prototype competition, which Decrypto won. The same weekend, during the Montreal Joue festival, I had the chance to present my prototype to a wider audience. Forgive me for erring into cheesiness (and for my wonky formulation), but I think that's when I understood what it looks like when people are genuinely excited by one of my games. I created three games before Decrypto, and although I think they were okay, it is clear, in retrospect, they did not produce the same "caliber" of feelings in players. During the first Decrypto tests, there was still a part of me that attributed the strong positive reactions of the testers to the fact that they were people I knew, that perhaps they were exaggerating their enthusiasm to please me.
But during the festival, observing the reactions of complete strangers, I realized that people were really interested in the game, that there was no room for doubt. This complete absence of doubt about the value of one of my creations, it's a feeling I think I had never experienced until then, and that had a great impact on me at the time.
Prototype, March 2016
Finally, in early March 2016, I contacted Christian Lemay to ask him to give a second chance to the game. I argued that the game had been very successful during the Montreal Joue festival and the Recreation's prototype contest (it was true), and that I had made several changes to the rules (mea culpa: it was mostly false). He agreed to reconsider and took a copy of the prototype to test.
During the month that followed, through countless email exchanges, we tried to find ways to improve the game. Christian had the great idea to go from three to four keywords and not have any repeating digits in the codes. This change slightly reduced the time to find clues (players theoretically need to prepare only four potential clues rather than nine), it improved the distribution of clues, and it added a bit of variety. The publishing contract was signed at the beginning of April 2016, and since then small additional improvements were brought by the Masked Scorpion team, particularly regarding the optimization of the action sequence, but also the components and the rules surrounding clues.
Final version of the game
So, that's pretty much everything. Well, at least the portion that may be put into words. Christian would obviously be able to add many lines to this text since he spent more time with the game than I did during the past year and would certainly have his own story to tell. I hope you enjoy the work that we did, and please let us know what you think!
Editor's note: For those not familiar with Decrypto, check out this rules video from Scorpion Masqué, which is possibly the best rules video I've ever seen. In just over three minutes, you get a good feel for the game and are pretty much set to open the box and play. —WEM
W. Eric Martin
• As happens all too often, I am stunned by both the quantity of board game projects active on Kickstarter and the support that they have received. Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar from Restoration Games has netted nearly $1.4 million in pledges, so apparently people weren't kidding when they said that Fireball Island was the #1 game that they wanted to see Restoration bring back to market. Nostalgia's making that register ring! (KS link)
• Another new edition on KS right now is The Estates, this being a (slightly?) changed version of Klaus Zoch's bidding and stock game Neue Heimat, which was released in 2007. Publisher Capstone Games, which is releasing the game through its Simply Complex brand, is taking heat for having colorblind accessibility be one of the stretch goals — since the colored blocks will have patterns silkscreened on them only if the project nets at least $80,000 — so let that be a lesson for publishers considering something similar in the future. (KS link) Update, April 12: Capstone Games has now updated its project to include a sticker sheet with color-specific patterns that can be applied to the floor blocks to make them colorblind-friendly. The silkscreening of the sides of the blocks remains as a stretch goal since it would make them snazzier.
We already had a similar lesson in 2018 with Werewords Deluxe about not having "more female representation" be a stretch goal, and it would behoove publishers to think of diversity, representation, and accessibility beforehand instead of making such issues seem like afterthoughts.
• The Bark Side is a trick-taking game of sorts from Kotaro Kanda and Korea Boardgames, with players trying not to win the final trick. In many ways the gameplay is similar to Five Cucumbers, which is itself based on a public domain game, but it differs in several ways, such as players passing cards at the start of each round, which allows some hand customization, and players being able to play sets of cards (pairs, triples, etc.) once someone has been forced to play under the round's current high card. What's more, the loser of the round has to keep three cards from the final trick, and the game ends when someone has collected seven different cards, with the player who has the fewest cards winning. (KS link)
I've played The Bark Side four times now, and the shrinking deck size due to cards being pulled out of it provides some interesting a-ha moments when you realize that certain numbers are out of play, so a pair suddenly becomes more valuable as it's less likely to be beaten or low cards become more precious for avoiding the final trick due to others being sidelined. My one real complaint, to continue this post's running commentary on KS projects, is that the cards are indexed on only one corner. What kind of monster does that?!
• Now we enter the miniature portion of this round-up, starting with Arena: The Contest from Dragori Games, which has a huge number of people rating the game highly and Camel Caps all over the Description to emphasize that Players represent Heroes and will use Artifacts and Scrolls to engage in Dragon Boss Fights because none of us can understand those words when they're written with standard capitalization. On the KS project, the game description starts halfway down the long page following a half-million add-ons to buy and stretch goals to dream about, and it explains that you'll be competing in contests in an arena. (KS link)
• We also beat creatures up in Godtear from Alex Hall and Steamforged Games Ltd.. More specifically, you take your warband of champion and followers and cull, conquer, claim, carbonate, capture, and crush your enemies within one of the game's scenarios as you work your way toward having five victory points. (KS link)
• Beating people up is also the goal in Street Fighter: The Miniatures Game from Alex Tune, Joe Vargas and Jasco Games, which is a Kickstarter exclusive project. Guess that's becoming a regular thing these days, which makes sense from a publishing perspective as you don't have to bother with the tedium and actual work of distribution and retail sales. You collect all the money in one go (aside from convention sales), then push everything out the door months later, and hang up the "Closed for business" sign. (KS link)
• Terminator Genisys: Rise of the Resistance from River Horse Ltd. lets you relive the movie that nobody wanted, except that the action all takes place in 2029 and Sarah Connor doesn't even appear in the 1984 crossover pack that includes alternate sculpts of Kyle Reese and the "Guardian". That's right — alternate sculpts for the dudes and not even one sculpt of the most important character in the movie series. (KS link)
• We shot an overview of Daniel Alves's Galaxy Hunters from IDW Games at the 2018 GAMA Trade Show, so the best way to check out this space exploration game that starts with you drafting pilots and mechs might be to watch that video — except that the project was cancelled within a day of its launch, so never mind. (KS link)
• A totally different type of mini awaits in Rescue Polar Bears: Data & Temperature from Jog Kung, Huang Yi Ming, and Mayday Games, with 1-4 players attempting to complete missions in the Arctic Ocean and prevent polar bears from sinking into the water, which is a little strange since polar bears can swim dozens of miles in extremely cold water, but maybe they're felon polar bears wearing balls-and-chains, which inhibits their swimming ability. (KS link)
• Crisis from Pantelis Bouboulis, Sotirios Tsantilas, and LudiCreations funded on KS in mid-2016 ahead of a release at SPIEL '16 (where we recorded a game overview), and now LudiCreations is funding a reprint of the game along with a Crisis: The New Economy mini-expansion. (KS link)
• Philip duBarry's Rice Dice from APE Games is a streamlined version of his Spirits of the Rice Paddy from 2015 with players once again needing to plant, drain, weed, and harvest rice — but now with dice. (KS link)
• Tramways Engineer's Workbook is a laminated book from Alban Viard and AVStudioGames that allows two people to play a pick-up-and-deliver game by writing on the pages, with 33 different set-ups included. The book also has 38 set-ups for solo play, which challenge you to best the high score of the current CEO of Tramways Company, the mysterious Nabla Draiv, whose name sounds like he could be a James Bond villain from the 1980s or perhaps even a French game designer from the 21st century. (KS link)
• Heart of Crown: Fairy Garden is a standalone expansion for ginkgo's Heart of Crown deck-building game from Japanime Games, with players once again trying to place their princess of choice on the throne. Why she won't just stay there I don't know. Maybe she has other things she'd like to do, but you're insistent upon her taking a seat and ruling. (KS link)
• Nestor Tyr's Tour Operator from Keep Exploring Games puts you in charge of a travel agency, managing employees to get tourists where they want to go to make them happy and make you money. (KS link)
• Star Crossed: The Two-Player Game of Forbidden Love is an odd design from Alex Roberts and Bully Pulpit Games that overlays a role-playing set-up on Jenga-style gameplay in a way that's not entirely clear from the introductory video. Maybe this is a game you need to experience first-hand to get. (KS link) An excerpt from the KS project:
In Star Crossed, you and your fellow player will craft characters who are powerfully attracted to each other, but have a compelling reason not to act on their feelings. You'll watch the attraction between them grow as you play out scenes, taking turns describing what your character says and does. Some of the things you'll want your character to do are going to increase that attraction — and when that happens, you are going to pull a brick out from an increasingly shaky tower and place it on the top.
If the tower falls, your characters act on their feelings! You decide what happens; the rules will tell you what that means. How many bricks you've pulled will help determine if your love is doomed, triumphant, or something in-between.
Of course, that tower may never fall. If you make it through the final scene and the tower is still standing, the character never act on their feelings. Sometimes that's the right thing to do.
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
W. Eric Martin
• Time for another batch of games previewed at the 2018 GAMA Trade Show, starting with the Gen Con 2018 release Nyctophobia from Catherine Stippell and Pandasaurus Games. This title needs to be experienced to get the full effect of what's going on, with all but one players being unable to see and trying to feel their way through the landscape to safety before the hunter catches any of them, but at least this video can give you a taste of what's coming:
• Senshi is a 2-4 player majorities game coming from Dan Manfredini and Arcane Wonders at the end of May 2018, and I play a complete game on camera with AW's Tony Gullotti so you can see how it works and imagine how you would have played to beat both of us.
• Looney Labs will debut two new flavors of Fluxx at Gen Con 2018 in August: Star Trek Fluxx and Star Trek: The Next Generation Fluxx. Both games are playable on their own, but they'll have some overlap as well. At GAMA, designer Andy Looney didn't have artwork to show as that's still going through the approval process, but he did talk a bit about the design of these sets:
• For International Tabletop Day, which takes place April 28, 2018, Renegade Game Studios has a special item available only through brick-and-mortar stores and only on a one-shot basis, that is, no reorders will be possible beyond a store's initial allocations. Sounds like an odd thing to do, yes? Create a product, then limit access to it? Still I'm talking about it here, so I guess the gimmick has worked to some degree.
Wonderland is a tiny two-player-only game from Daniel Solis in which each player has a deck of only seven cards. With these cards, they both create the values of rows and columns in a 3x3 playing area and compete to score those points by having majorities in those rows and columns. Steph Hodge and I explain the game and play it in just over four minutes.
• WizKids is releasing at least one new game per month throughout 2018, so with limited time available at GAMA 2018, we ran through this quartet of games — Endless Pass, Fungeon Party, Doppelgänger, and Star Trek: Galactic Enterprises — in a very short time. Come Origins in June 2018, we'll have five days to fill with demos and more time to show off each of these games, but for now here's the WizKids Whitman sampler:
W. Eric Martin
• Time to look at new editions of old games in this round-up, starting with Tom Kruszewski's Chase, which is more than thirty years old. The title was first released by Blue Dolphin Games in 1985, then in an edition from TSR (pictured at right) in 1986 as part of a line of abstract strategy games. Now nestorgames has released a new edition of this two-player game, which plays as follows:
Each player starts the game with a row of nine dice on their side of the hexagonal game board, with the faces of those d6s adding up to 25. On a turn, a player moves a die as many spaces in a straight line as the value showing on the die's face. A die can't move through another piece, but it can wrap around the side of the board and it can bounce off the front or back wall at an angle to move its full distance.
If you land a die on an opponent's die, that second die is removed and the value of that die added to the lowest die on the opponent's team, keeping their pip count at 25. (If a die reaches 6, you add any remaining speed to what is now the lowest die.) If you land on one of your own dice, you bump that die one space in the same direction, possibly leading to another bump or a capture.
Instead of moving, if you have two dice next to one another, you can spend the turn adjusting their values while keeping their sum the same. If, for example, you have a 2 and 5 adjacent to one another, you can change them to 1 & 6, 3 & 4, 4 & 3, 5 & 2, or 6 & 1.
The center of the board has a chamber on it. You cannot move a die through the chamber. If you land a die on the chamber, you split the value of that die on two dice as evenly as possible. (You start the game with one spare.) Those dice emerge from the chamber on spaces adjacent to it, possibly resulting in bumps or captures.
If you knock an opponent down to only four dice, then they have a pip count below 25 and they lose the game.
I've played Chase a few times and find it fascinating. You have dozens of options to start the game, and everything is out in the open, so you're trying to set up moves or series of moves while your opponent is doing the same. The chamber is prized because it puts more dice on the board, with those dice being at lower values, which are somewhat better than high values since a high-value die can be jammed and unable to move (similar to how large stacks in DVONN can become marooned because they can jump in fewer and fewer directions).
• Reiner Knizia's Taj Mahal is not quite as old as Chase, having first appeared from alea in 2000, but a new edition announced by Z-Man Games for release sometime in the second half of 2018 will be the first time this game is on the market in more than a decade.
At heart, Taj Mahal is a simple game. Over twelve rounds, players use cards in their hand to bid for control of six symbols (which represent aspects of the Indian government and culture in the 18th century). On a turn, you either increase your bid — playing cards of only a single color during a round — or you withdraw from the auction and take rewards for any symbol in which you have a majority.
That might sound easy, with the game being a series of press-your-luck-ish auctions, but almost all of the cards that people acquire can be seen, so you could try to track the holdings of each player throughout the game. What's more, each round corresponds to one of the twelve areas on the game board, and you generally place a palace in one of the available spaces in the current area for each majority that you have when you withdraw. You want to claim spaces to take the reward tokens on them or to create a chain of palaces that will score you bonus points at game's end. You want to collect trade goods, but you score more points by collecting goods of the same types. You want to win majorities for some of the symbols because then you collect a token of that symbol, and with two identical tokens you claim a special card that you'll have only until someone else collects a second token and takes it from you.
All of these considerations are boiling in the same pot, and you often never know exactly when to exit an auction because you feel like if you just play one more card, surely the other players will leave and let you win multiple majorities, but then they don't, and now all of you have spent additional cards to be in exactly the same position as last turn, and cards are precious because you typically receive only two new cards each turn and there's a bonus at the end of the game if you hold the most cards in a color, and your thoughts while playing Taj Mahal become very much like this sentence, in that they never stop swirling and you feel somewhat paralyzed by every thing being presented to you, and in the end you're possibly just making what feels like the least wrong decision and you withdraw.
Then you do it again for eleven more rounds.
• Toshiki Sato's 8bit MockUp, first released by the designer's own さとーふぁみりあ (Sato Familie) brand in 2017, has been picked up for publication by IELLO under the name Les Forêts Légendaires, a.k.a. Legendary Forests. Here's an overview of the gameplay, which can accommodate any number of players as long as you have enough copies of the game on hand:
In 8bit MockUp, each player has an identical set of tiles and plays the same tile at the same time to their own tableau, connecting the landscapes on their tiles. Each player starts the game with the same starting tile in play. One player, the "Leader", shuffles their tiles face down, then removes five tiles from play without looking at them. On a turn, the Leader reveals the next tile, calls out the number on it, then everyone places that same tile somewhere in their landscape, with the adjacent edges of each pair of tiles needing to match.
When the Leader draws a tile with a red number, everyone places their piece, then starting with the player who holds the God piece (initially the Leader), everyone draws a monument tile from the center of the playing area and places it on an area in their landscape. Monuments come in three colors (while the landscapes have areas in four colors), and you use only two monuments of a color for each player in the game. After placing monuments, pass the God piece clockwise to the next player.
The game ends after everyone has placed their twenty tiles, then players score points based on the areas where they have monuments. Each non-purple edge of a tile has a half-circle on it; when two such edges are placed together, the owner of those tiles has created a "cookie" in that area. To score, you look at each area where you have a monument. If you have no half-circles in this area — that is, the area is completely enclosed — then you score 2 points for each cookie in that area. If you have any unconnected half-circles in this area, you instead score 1 point per cookie. Whoever has the most points wins!
• This last item doesn't really qualify as a new edition, but let's run with it all the same since in spirit it's a familiar game made new. In August 2018, Cheapass Games will release The Island of Doctor Lucky, a standalone game from James Ernest for 2-8 players that recreates the spirit of Kill Doctor Lucky in a warmer and exterior environment:
The hunter becomes the hunted in The Island of Doctor Lucky. In this game, you're still competing to kill the old man, but this time you picked a dangerous place to do it. Dodge hazards like the fire pit, the hunting snare, and the hammerhead crabs as you navigate the perilous regions of Isla Fortuna. Find the old man alone, and kill him with whatever you can find: the shark tooth, the elephant gun, the bad dates, or (if you must) your bare hands. Every murder attempt makes you stronger, and if you play your cards right, you can kill Doctor Lucky!
W. Eric Martin
• Ares Games has announced that at Gen Con 2018 it will demo Battlestar Galactica: Starship Battles, a new game from Sails of Glory designers Andrea Angiolino and Andrea Mainini that at present has no release date set. Here's a short take on the game from the publisher:
Battlestar Galactica: Starship Battles is a starship combat miniature game that includes ready-to-play, painted and assembled miniatures, with a special base to support its unique game mechanisms.
In the game, players take control of one or more Colonial and Cylon ships and face each other in furious dogfights and many other different kinds of missions. The game features innovative mechanisms allowing players to simulate space combat using simple and intuitive rules to imitate the unique dynamics of the battles in the TV show.
Battlestar Galactica: Starship Battles includes both "Classical and "Reimagined" settings as the publisher's license with Universal Brand Development includes both the classic series, created by Glen A. Larson in the late 1970s, and the re-imagined series developed by Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, which aired until 2010.
• At the Play game festival that took place in Modena, Italy in early April 2018, publisher Post Scriptum showed the following item that's labeled only "Preview 2019 prototype". I don't know what game this might be, and I recognize nothing beyond it being set in Japan, but I thought I'd leave this bread crumb for myself in the future while also sharing it with you:
• It feels like Martin Wallace's name has been popping up with publishers all over the place, and here's a forthcoming two-player-only game titled Lincoln that's being Kickstarted by publishers PSC Games and Worthington Games ahead of a release in late 2018:
Lincoln is a fast-paced, light, two-player, card-driven strategy wargame set in the American Civil War that allows you to re-fight the entire American Civil War at a strategic level in under two hours.
Game play uses point-to-point movement and area control, hidden army strengths, and decks of cards providing the command choices and luck; there are no dice. The Union and Confederate players each have their own card decks, reflecting the relative strengths and weaknesses of both sides. The Union player must do all the running to win the game by the time they have cycled through the Union card deck for the third time, having accumulated the required amount of victory points by capturing Confederate controlled areas, as well as squeezing the Confederate player with a naval blockade. The Confederate player must hold on and thwart the North's victory ambitions to win!
Each time the decks are cycled, the Union player adds some better quality cards, becoming stronger as the game progresses, where as the Confederate player adds lower quality cards, becoming weaker. The underlying game mechanism is one of "deck destruction" rather than the more normal deck-building.
Cards have multiple uses and can be recycled if used one way but during the course of the game you have to decide which cards are going to be permanently sacrificed from your deck cycle to allow you to build units.
• IELLO has revealed that the next monster pack for King of Tokyo and King of New York will feature Anubis. No clues yet on this monster's release date or evolutionary powers beyond the ability to have a really wide stance.
• Trade on the Tigris is a design by Geoff Engelstein and Ryan Sturm for 3-6 players that Tasty Minstrel Games plans to release before the end of 2018. What will you find in this 60-90-minute game?
The Tigris river winds through the cradle of civilization, providing food, water, and a means of transportation for trade and dissemination of ideas between the various cities and towns along the way.
In Trade on the Tigris, you are one of these cities. Each round, you gain development cards that provide new abilities, produce resources (in the form of cards), trade them with the other players, and turn in sets of these for profit (points). An inevitable side effect of this interaction with others is the sharing of philosophies. The primary religion and government of your city may be shaken to its very core as a result, and the ways in which you can develop the abilities of your city will change along with them.
• Designer Justin Oh posted a note on Facebook that he's developing ten new games for Gemblo, Inc. this year in addition to producing one game of his own, with some of the titles being educational games and "only" four or five of those games heading to SPIEL '18.
As with the Post Scriptum item above, this is partly a note to myself for the future, while also serving as a way to highlight what might be missing from the BGG database should any Korean gamer be interested in submitting titles for Geekgold!
Some game designs come together easily, while others do not. For every back-of-a-cigarette-packet mechanism that just goes from theory to ironing out the details, many, many more are years in the making. Rather fittingly, I guess, Pioneer Days — a game about the long, hard struggle of winning out against adversity — falls into the latter category.
Fact junkies: Add two hundred years to the dates below for a more accurate reading...
We first set out, from Australia and England, on a journey quite unlike the one that would shape our fate: to design a game about dwarves brewing beer. As with so many grand designs, our plans were dashed on the rocks and the expedition a failure. Over-complexity and ideas that didn't quite hang together saw us walk away from yet another promising adventure, but those initial dreams did bear fruit: a crumb of an idea in which dice were rolled, but no matter whether they were 6s or 1s, you'd have an advantage of one kind or another. Here, we had individuals rolling their own three dice, then using them to draft cards, each representing a worker dwarf: low rolls would get the first choice of cards, while higher rolls would use the cards they drafted more effectively. I still held some hope for the idea, but at the time it had too many issues. Hate-drafting was rife on low numbers, choices limited on high ones, and all 'round it was unsatisfying.
Undeterred by our earlier failure, we set out with a new destination in mind. America! Matt laid out his plans thusly: Players still draft three cards each with their dice (lowest first), but now the cards bear a number of profession symbols (traveller, miner, farmer, etc.), and the dice give only a one-time bonus to the players, with the highest collection of each profession giving that player a bonus for the round — which meant that the drafting was also about long-term strategy with the professions rather than just short-term tactical play.
Actions saw players move caravans across the plains, mine the hills, build in new territories, fight off hostiles, and of course feed their hardy pioneers — but something still wasn't right. While we were now firmly on dry land and resolved to discover a new destiny, the dice mechanism still didn't sit well with us. Low rollers were still denying others the actions they wanted, and the compensation for the high numbers wasn't strong enough. Were we simply doomed to repeat our earlier failures?
A breakthrough! Dysentery and terrible weather had laid us low, but the skies cleared and we could clearly make out the way ahead. Instead of having different colored dice for each player, the dice colors represent disasters that may befall all our pioneers. Players draw one more die from a bag each round than there are players, then draft one die each, with the leftover die moving that disaster one step closer to befalling those brave souls. Colors represent illness (medicine required!), raids (there goes your money!), heat (your cattle will suffer!), and terrain (say b-bye to your wagons, which were holding all your stuff!) — with the dreaded black dice seeing all four disasters moving ever closer.
The game has five turns, with each player taking five dice each turn, for a total of 25 actions in the game. Each die can be used either for money (where high is better, with the money being spent on wagons, specialist workers, etc.) or for an action (with better actions being tied to lower numbers). As an added twist, your final set of five collected dice creates a Yahtzee/poker-style "hand" that gives bonuses at the end of the round. We feel confident in our new-found mechanism — but will it be another false dawn?
We spent the previous few months on the trail with a more singular purpose, and it finally bore fruit! The answer wasn't poker; it was people! While we fine-tuned the mechanical side of the game, we realized what it needed were the personalities that made the original idea so compelling — the people themselves, now transformed into pioneers. These hardy folk have added a whole host of interesting abilities into the mix, adding more interaction between players and making the base actions far more varied and complex.
In addition to adding color, these pioneers have brought two levels of mechanical progression that have sealed the game's structure. The poker idea is gone; instead, your pioneers offer a new option to think about when choosing a die, regardless of what the number is. More specifically, each die now has a person randomly drawn next to it each round, and by choosing that die you can add the person to your wagon train. Better still, the pioneers each have a way of scoring endgame points, which helps you choose a particular path to follow — assuming you can keep them alive to the end of the trail…
An investor! Our very own Oregon Trail seems to have ended, in fact, in Utah — via Essen, Germany. In October 1814, we met with a character named Seth Jaffee who represented a company called Tasty Minstrel Games, a publisher we trusted to do the right thing by us and our game, then called "Frontiers". He took the game away to show it to his partners — and low and behold, we have ourselves a deal!
The difference between publishers is truly astonishing. Sometimes you can hand a game over and out it pops into the shops a year later with nary a detail changed, while with others you can be all but cut out of the development process. The game we gave them back then was rough around the edges, yet mechanically sound, and we'd spent the last few months going back and forth with them smoothing the edges — but if we thought we'd be able to hang our spurs up and relax this time, we were in for a shock! We were consulted every step of the way, with not a week going by without discussions of a particular pioneer's ability or the relative strength of a particular action. It's a long process, but worth every second because each week you know the game is getting better.
While the trail was long and winding, and we often felt the end was in sight only to find another fork in the path, we continued to persevere. I was worried we may have taken too many rough edges away — this is the Wild West, after all — but in hindsight I can see the wisdom behind Seth removing some of the more trouble-making townsfolk. Who knows, maybe they can return one day?
Elsewhere, wagons now take damage rather than being destroyed by storms, which means you won't lose as many valuable resources! And as fun as some of the "take that" elements were, some of them were a little too crass for this style of Eurogame, especially when the key focus should be on the disaster track. You should be worrying whether bandits will take your gold if you let a disaster happen rather than worrying about another player sniping it from you. If I've learned one thing from all the game design blogs I've read and podcasts I've listened to, it's this: Find where the game is. For us, it is on that disaster board with the tension that it brings — that shouldn't be upstaged.
The end of the trail cannot be far away now! Many months of further small iterations have seen us create themed decks of townsfolk, while working on individual player board abilities. The game is now called Pioneer Days, and artist Sergi Marcet has been brought on board to bring the game to life. He's done an amazing job, even bringing some of our family members and playtesters to life on some of the townsfolk cards. You may even recognize a few of our fellow Cambridge, UK-based designers. The different decks of townsfolk help make each game feel different as you can mix and match them, with some adding a bit of randomness, others interactivity, etc. The varied player board characters encourage different types of play style. You get two to choose from at the start of the game, but each also has a standard pioneer on the back (always a solid choice), so you can still opt for a balanced game if that's what floats your boat.
A limited supply of final copies arrived at SPIEL '17 via an aeroplane. Opening the first copy to find a beautiful game — but no dice — was a little terrifying! Especially after we opened the next and the next to find the same thing...
A few phone calls later, and we knew (prayed) they'd arrive the next day. They did — and the few available copies soon sold out, leaving us waiting on the rest to arrive by boat, perhaps even in time for Christmas?
Once again, in a fitting nod to those hardy pioneers of old, transportation of the game across the seas hit rough waters. Despite what clearly must have been a succession of black-dice-level disasters, we never lost hope — and in April 1818 Pioneer Days finally completed its troubled journey to the USA. We hope you like it! (Much love to co-designer Matt Dunstan, who also wrote the original draft of this diary.)
[Editor's note: Pioneer Days has a U.S. street date of April 11, 2018. —WEM]
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