• Among what is surely a long list of games I missed seeing demoed at SPIEL '18 is Greenville 1989, a Florian Fay design due out in Q1 2019 from publisher Sorry We Are French, which remains the greatest publisher name ever placed on a box. Here's what little I know about the game right now:
Greenville 1989 is a co-operative narrative game in which each player represents a character who has experienced or witnessed supernatural events. They must describe these events to their fellow players, who must then locate this character and save them. This lead role changes each round, giving everyone the chance to be lost or found — and you want to be found or else the group is pulled closer to the void engulfing the town that threatens to consume you all.
• In other news from SWAF, Hope S. Hwang's Ganymede — which debuted in mid-2018 in France — will be released in North America in Q1 2019 by Lucky Duck Games. I'm not sure whether LDG is distributing the existing edition of this tableau-building game or releasing a version of their own, but that's an issue for the BGG database later as either way the game will be available in a location where it currently is not.
I've yet to play, but at BGG.CON 2018 someone I trust described the game to me as "Splendor, but with more things you can actually do", so I borrowed a copy from the BGG Library to find out more for myself..
• Finally, SWAF is working on a new version of Gary Kim's majorities card game Koryŏ — dubbed "Koryŏ 2.0" for now — that will be set in its Immortal 8 universe and released at SPIEL '19.
• Ludicorn is a new French publisher staffed with people who are not new to the game industry: Cédric and Anne-Cécile Lefebvre from Ludonaute, K.J. Lee from Happy Baobab, and Hicham from Matagot. As Bruno Chevalier, business manager at Ludonaute and the final Ludicorn partner told me, they started seeing several kids games that they wanted to add to the Ludonaute portfolio, but since Ludonaute had never released children's games, creating a new brand for such titles on the French and North American markets seemed to be a better approach. Says Chevalier, "I am probably interested in kids games because I have two daughters, six and nine years old, with whom I would like to play interesting games, not only for them but for me, too. I'm fed up with poo games."
The first two titles from Ludicorn originated from Happy Baobab, and they'll reach the French and North American markets in January 2019. In Manu Palau's Sunny Day, players start with a 5x6 grid of tiles — each of which features four half-images along their edges — and a hand of two tiles. On a turn, a player places one of their tiles so that it creates a matching image with at least one tile in the grid. They remove all the matching tiles (leaving the tile they put down), then arrange these tiles to create a personal grid with matching images. When the tile supply runs out, players score one point per tile they've collected, one point per complete image in their personal grid, and some number of bonus points for completing images of the sun and ice cream.
Korean edition of Sunny Day
• Layers from Dave Choi and Yohan Goh debuted from Happy Baobab at SPIEL '18. In the game, each player has a set of five double-sided tiles, with each tile having cutouts and different graphics on the two faces.
At the start of a round, a target card is revealed that uses three, four or five tiles, and all players race to reproduce the image by stacking their tiles in the correct order and orientation. Players score points in the order they finish, and whoever has the most points at the end of six rounds wins.
• Chevalier shared info on two other titles coming from Ludicorn, with Gary Kim's Team Team being a game for, you guessed it, players pairing into teams. More on this Q1 2019 release:
Each team consists of a speaker and a builder. The builder must place five tiles into a pattern known only by the speaker, with the pattern being the same for all teams. The only way for the speaker to communicate with their builder, however, is to shout that round's silly word once, twice, or thrice in a row, with the meaning of the word or phrase possibly being lost on that person given that all speakers are shouting at the same time. Can you find meaning in madness?
• The final title from Ludicorn for now is What's Missing?, a SPIEL '19 release from Florian Sirieix that possibly needs a demonstration video to really get what's going on. Ideally we can record something like this at FIJ, the game fair in Cannes in February 2019, but here's what I know for now:
What's Missing? is a drawing game that contains 240 cards with line drawings, sorted by difficulty. In a round, each player takes a card, hides it behind a cardboard screen, and tries to draw another picture on transparent paper placed on top of that card, with the goal being that the drawer wants other players to guess what's on the card.
After finishing the drawing, the drawer shows only the transparent paper to others, and the other players have to guess what's missing on the transparent paper. The player who guesses correctly earns 1 point, with the drawer losing 1 point if no one guesses.
To win, being clever is more important than being a good artist. Young drawers can give other players a clue based on what kind of things are on the card.
Shifting Realms, our flagship game from Soaring Rhino, is a game of colliding realms. Five realms are included — elf realm, dwarf realm, orc realm, goblin pirate realm, and priest realm — each unique in their board layout, structures, story cards, tasks, and end conditions. To set up the game, players select three realms at random, then they take turns until two out of the three realms' end conditions are met, at which point the game ends.
During the game, players send out scouts to collect resources, recruit soldiers to protect their scouts, build structures to gain powers, and earn victory points. Story cards and individual tasks add intrigue and complexity to gameplay.
Shifting Realms introduces the "Realm Engine", which features a number of interchangeable realms, each with their own components, strategies, and story. The realms are designed to have synergistic elements.
One of the games I designed with Alan Roach while at Hasbro was Star Wars: The Queen's Gambit. That game is about four different mini-battles going on all at once. You cannot concentrate on only one of the battles; instead you decide which battle to focus on now while keeping an eye on everything and judging when to shift your attention to another battle.
With Shifting Realms, we wanted to make an expandable Euro-style game that was all about the feel of different realms and the different strategies in each of these realms. Players have to decide which realms to focus on and what realm strategies to go after. They also have to be aware of the many synergistic strategies that exist in the combinations of the realms. The game engine that drives this idea is called the Realm Engine.
Growth and Improvement
Throughout this diary, I will discuss process elements, game tools, and evaluations we used to make sure we were delivering the game we wanted to deliver. We have found that analyzing the game in different ways at various stages throughout the design process was very helpful.
One process element we use is called "Quick First Game". When we have an idea, like an expandable Euro-style game, we try to get to a prototype as quickly as we can. This helps improve our overall effectiveness in total design time, largely due to the early feedback loop we create with playtesters. It also helps us quickly identify games that just are not there yet.
When designing the first prototype for Shifting Realms, we were not concerned about the graphics. Here are some images of the early elf board, card, and structure tile:
The first prototype had three realms, but we quickly designed five more because we wanted to prove out the engine.
One way to constantly improve while developing a game is to get a group or groups of playtesters and play the game over and over. After each game, we evaluate for changes. One evaluation we use is called "Likes, Dislikes, Wishes, and Solutions". We would spend time listing likes, dislikes, and wishes, then we would try to find solutions for the dislikes and the wishes while maintaining what we liked.
For example, in one of the first gameplays, the dragon destroyed everything in one space: both units and the structure. This was too random and too powerful, a definite dislike — but we liked the dragon as a cool piece that added to the story of the dwarf realm. We wished there was a way to make the dragon less powerful. That's when we came up with the solution of having the dragon move up to four spaces and destroy any one unit in each of those spaces.
Another evaluation we use is called "Strategy and Luck". Before we even designed Shifting Realms, we knew about how much strategy and how much luck we wanted. We were looking for a game with 8-9 strategy and 1-2 luck, based on a rating from one to ten with ten being the highest. Listing the parts of our gameplay that cause chance helps us know exactly where our luck elements are coming from. The final version of Shifting Realms contains few luck elements:
• Picking three random boards and placing them. • Determining turn order at random when players tie in their bidding. • Drawing story cards. • Receiving random task cards.
For many gameplays at the beginning, there were no task cards. The game was fun and replayable, but the end game was bogging down a bit. Because players collectively have control over the game endings, we would have players figuring out everything before ending the game. There was too much strategy, too many calculations. By adding the task cards, we added an element of the unknown, which much improved the endgame calculations because you had to take a chance and you didn't have all the information.
Another game tool we use is called a synergy chart. Here's the chart for Shifting Realms:
This chart is only for the base game. When I was working on a game called Heroscape, one of the fans from the website Heroscapers.com created synergy charts for Heroscape, a visual representation of every combination for all the army cards. At Soaring Rhino, we use synergy charts all the time as they help us focus on making more and more combinations, especially when we are developing the expansions.
Here are some other game evaluations we use:
• See the Math • What's New • Game Mechanisms Awareness • Identify Decisions • List Interaction Points • Digital AI
We liked the genre-mixing element of Heroscape and wanted to come up with a story for Shifting Realms that let us do a similar clashing of fantasy and history.
The story behind the game revolves around a secret society known as the Keepers. This group was tasked to guard the Pranankh, the keystone for all of Earth's realities. The Pranankh kept the different versions of Earth from interacting and mixing. The energy generated by the keystone kept those versions of Earth full of mythological and fantastical creatures from mixing with the primary historical iteration. Over the years, factions developed within the Keepers, with the main four being the Neru, the Kesk, the Biru, and the Sarkans. These factions started to fight among themselves. The ritual maintenance of the massive energy of the Pranankh was ignored leading to its shattering.
When the Pranankh shattered, new versions of Earth were created in which elements of various dimensions and realities were mashed together. The different realms seemed to be full of creatures of fantasy such as dragons, dwarfs, goblins, orcs, elves, and trolls but placed in a seemingly 18th-century Earth setting.
In the game, players take charge of one of the four factions of Keepers and go into these shifting realms to try to bring order to the chaos. The players gather resources, complete designated tasks, and create structures and developments in the realms. The most successful faction takes leadership of the Keepers as they strive to continue their task of maintaining order among the dimensions of Earth, perhaps one day even restoring the Pranakh.
Simple Turns, Timing, and Growth
When designing an expandable game, we felt the need to keep the basic rule structure simple, making it easy to learn and get into. We wanted the complexity to grow as you collect the additional expansions.
It was important to get this game's playing time at or around sixty minutes, and we went through many changes to make this work. Juggling five different endings that are player controlled was a challenge. Some realms were ending too quickly while others were lasting too long.
Many resource-collecting Euro games are about what you do with your limited resources. Often those decisions are painful, but we wanted a feeling of abundance and joy, not pain. In Shifting Realms, it is easy to get your resource engine going, especially if players are not fighting right away. We wanted to create a game that ramped up quickly. The smart players know exactly when to shift their scouts onto another resource. What really matters in Shifting Realms is what you do with your actions.
We are very proud of our first game, Shifting Realms, and we hope you enjoy playing it! Keep a lookout for Darkness Revealed, the first expansion, which will be out in 2019...
• In March 2018, I posted a few details about the "20th Anniversary Jumbo Edition" of Franz-Benno Delonge's Big City that Mercury Games planned to release in Q4 2018. That project was delayed a bit, but now Mercury has gone live with a Kickstarter project to fund this game (KS link) ahead of an August 2019 release, and this version indeed matches the "jumbo" description in its name, with buildings one-third larger than those in the initial Goldsieber edition of the game from 1999.
The heart of the game remains the same as the original release — players acquire cards in eight different neighborhoods, then use them to lay out buildings either one, two, or three spaces large, with those buildings scoring a certain amount of points, with possible bonuses based on surrounding buildings — but Mercury has updated the game to include a redevelopment phase each round in which players must add one or two cards to a draft, thereby allowing for more interactivity and fewer player stand-offs.
The KS also includes an Urban Upgrade expansion that allows for play with up to five players and that adds four new types of buildings to gameplay. (Mercury claims that Delonge, who died in 2007, thought the original upper player count of five was too much, so the revised base game now allows for 2-4 players, with the fifth player coming to the table only thanks to the expansion that allows more room to grow for everyone.)
Mercury Games stresses that this edition of the game will probably not be reprinted due to the cost of materials, similar to how it's said that it won't reprint Container: 10th Anniversary Jumbo Edition!, so this project is another example of the one-and-done nature of many large-scale crowdfunding projects, such as those for Claustrophobia 1643 and Batman: Gotham City Chronicles, which are not going into distribution but instead being delivered solely to project backers.
• Tasty Minstrel Games will release a "Deluxified" version of Stefan Feld's Luna in September 2019, and while the Kickstarter campaign for this title (KS link) mentions "BRAND NEW content, created by [editor] Ralph Bruhn and Stefan Feld, specifically made for this NEW, Deluxified™ version", I see only metal coins and silkscreened meeples being added to the game, not content in the way that I would think of content, that is, something meaningful to gameplay. Either I'm missing something, or TMG defines "content" differently than I do.
• At SPIEL '18, new German publisher LuPri released a new version of Lutz Stepponat's 2006 card game Ruse & Bruise under the name Kabale und Hiebe: Setzt dem Ganzen die Krone auf. Now Rio Grande Games, which released an English version of the original game, has stated that it will release this new version under the title Gambit Royale. Gameplay is the same as in the original game, except for the inclusion of five new cards and some modifications to existing cards. Here's an overview of how to play:
Magicians and dragons, kings and princesses populate the land and want only one thing: the greatest fame. The players try to use their royal household to cause problems for their opponents and trick them with underhanded chess moves.
In more detail, the game lasts six rounds, and at the start of each round, each player reveals a random goal card worth 1-5 victory points (VPs), each with one of six symbols printed on it. Each player has a deck of influence cards and starts with a hand of three cards. On a turn, a player plays a card face down in front of a goal card, then draws a replacement card; if a face-down card is already present at this goal, the player reveals in and executes the action on it, if any. As soon as all goals have as many cards below them as their VP value, the round ends. Reveal the face-down cards without executing their actions, then carry out the actions of any mercenaries, wizards, witches, and princes/squires in play. Whichever player then has the most influence on a goal (as determined by the values on their played cards) claims that goal, with ties being broken in favor of whichever tied player played on that goal first.
After six rounds, players tally their goal cards to determine their final score; alternatively, if they have a set of six goal symbols, they can sum those six cards, double that value, then subtract 1 VP from that total for each goal card they have that's not part of that set. Whoever has the most points wins!
Over the course of the four-day event, at least six small companies were targeted in various ways and suffered losses of cash, product and personal effects. One individual was apprehended in connection with a particular event, but the cash had been taken by an accomplice and there was no recovery. Although security at the show and the Essen police were notified, there was not much recourse to take and to these companies, often run by families, friends or even individually, these are heavy costs to bear.
In total, these six companies listed below lost more than $20,000, although totals are not final. These are small to medium sized companies, run by a handful of individuals, often just family and friends in some cases. SPIEL is a year-long preparation process, and the profits from this show are sometimes the life's blood for the company, allowing them to continue creating and publishing the games their customers love.
Recovery efforts are underway. All the companies agree that the largest concern is bringing to light the need for changes and improvements in SPIEL's security, but recouping these losses follows closely behind.
To make up from its loss, Japanime Games is running a "Robbery Recovery" effort in which supporters can donate funds to the company in exchange for "thank you" gift packages. Artipia Games, which had its entire cash register stolen, is running a special Kickstarter campaign — "A Fair, a Robbery and a Promo Pack" — that contains six theft-related promos for six of its titles and that ends on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018.
• Old news, but in July 2018 Steve Jackson Games CEO Phil Reed noted that the company was "evolving" and "adapting" in response to the current marketplace for mainstream and hobby games, and Reed's statement about that marketplace will likely feel familiar to all publishers, designers, retailers, and distributors throughout the world:
From the gamer's standpoint, we are in a Golden Age. The combination of crowdfunding and low minimum order requirements at factories means that more and more new creators are releasing their own games. And some are very good, no mistake about it! Others, not so much. Some Kickstarter projects vanish after funding, and some produce a pretty product with no play value. But customers and retailers can't tell which is which until it's too late.
This has led to a situation over the last year or so in which the "New Releases" shelf is swept clean every week or two to make way for yet newer material. Unsold inventory increases at the retail and distribution level, and that expense inevitably rolls back on the publisher.
This has affected the market in two noticeable ways: many older games are selling fewer copies, and publishers have to print smaller numbers of new games because of how quickly they become "old." This leads to a treadmill effect in which a publisher tries to release more and more games while spending less and less on each one. That's bad for both the publisher and the gamers.
Rather than join this treadmill publishing model, we are choosing to strategically adapt by putting more focus and support on our core franchises/titles while limiting new title releases until the correct market environment presents itself. Unfortunately, this also means reducing staff, cutting down overhead expenses, and limiting our presence at conventions, so we can focus on what we do best — create the games our fans have enjoyed for decades.
Some of the staff left go by SJG have already found positions elsewhere in the game industry: marketing director Rhea Friesen joined CMON Limited as Director of Marketing in August 2018, Hunter Shelburne is now with Pandasaurus Games as of September 2018, and press and retail liaison Ariel Barkhurst is now Marketing Manager at White Wizard Games as of October 2018.
For other changes in how SJG operates, you can compare its introductory project on Kickstarter in 2012 — a giant new version of OGRE that netted more than $900,000 and launched all kinds of spin-off projects — to its 2018 slate of eight Kickstarter projects. The board game Triplanetary, which had its first new edition in 35 years, had 866 backers, with the remaining stock of the game pushed out to distributors. SJG has no more stock in reserve, so once retailers sell through, the game will be unavailable once again, an exemplar of the modern game market in which, as Reed describes, "publishers have to print smaller numbers of new games because of how quickly they become 'old'". Better to apologize to people for being out of stock than to stare at a warehouse full of boxes because banks don't accept apologies for payment!
The problem was that while [CGF's Ed] Carter may have known something about retail, he knew next to nothing about the logistics of game printing, shipping, and customs. "Ed wanted to do something that was completely different," [CGF's former general counsel Christopher] Rao added. "He said that all games will come with worldwide free shipping. I don't know if it's immediately obvious how big of a headache that is. We were sending games to Singapore and to small eastern European countries and stuff like that. So it's tricky. There's different import export laws in all of those countries."
To tie back to the previous item, Steve Jackson Games is currently running a Kickstarter project for Munchkin Steampunk: Girl Genius, with one of the achieved stretch goals being a Munchkin coin that features Phil Foglio's artwork. Multiple people have complained in the comments of that KS that the coin doesn't feature Girl Genius lead character Agatha Clay:
Furthermore, I for one, would happily wait another year to get a coin with Agatha on it to tie it to this kickstarter. Would it be rude to ask for it to be put to a vote? Delay the coin, to have a Girl Genius themed image on the coin that we got with our Girl Genius Munchkin set?
...it's not out of the realm of possibility that you could ship the rest of the project, then stick the correct coin in an envelope and mail it out a year later. I think most of us would be quite satisfied with that.
SJG CEO Phil Reed has had to quash such requests repeatedly: "This would balloon costs. Shipping, as we've made no secret, is an expensive nightmare these days. And simply mailing a coin sounds easy, until you find yourself mailing them and running into postal headaches."
What's the easiest way to throw money away for no gain whatsoever? Doubling the number of mailings required to complete a project. Thankfully some companies do know "the logistics of game printing, shipping, and customs"...
Sometime in 2018, KS backer Zach contacted the Washington State Attorney General's Office about this campaign — the Washington State AG having had some success with suing Kickstarter campaign creators for not delivering on promises — and on Nov. 11, 2018 Zach noted that in October 2018 he had received a response from Soda Pop Miniatures to his complaint. He posted this response publicly (PDF), and here's the most relevant section for KS backers:
Initial Funding was able to cover initial development as well as the company's annual overhead for the end of 2015 and all of 2016. However, the project changes and additional development required (as outlined above) required us to use remaining funds towards our annual overhead for 2017, essentially exhausting the funds earned from Kickstarter. While also not being able to bring the product to market for 2017 retail sales.
With a significant amount of the project's development complete, the majority of production was expected to begin in November 2017, which we communicated with backers via an update.  The products that we were able to complete development of during 2016 - 2017 were shown in an update to backers in early 2018.  Unfortunately, the funds we anticipated to have in place in order to begin manufacturing did not materialize.
Required Funds to Complete Project
With the Kickstarter funds expended it was upon us to be able to self fund the necessary cash needed to complete the project. The remaining estimates for completion of the project are shown below.
For five days at SPIEL '18 in late October, the BGG crew interviewed designers and publishers for more than eight hours a day, with a new game or expansion featured roughly every ten minutes. In case you missed our livestream on the BGG Twitch channel — or don't feel the need to watch every item covered — we've now started to post the individual game demo videos on the BGG YouTube channel, with each of those videos also appearing on the appropriate game or publisher page in the BGG database.
More specifically, you can head to the SPIEL '18 playlist to see the fifteen videos posted so far — most recently an overview of Dice Settlers — and I plan to post a new video each hour from 8:00 to 20:00 EST (GMT-5) each weekday until the video spigot runs dry. (That schedule depends on others doing the actual editing, and BGG.CON 2018 might interrupt that timing, but right now even with only the videos from day 1, I'm set through Friday, Nov. 16 at 9:00. Fifty-four videos just from day 1 coverage! And if the timing works out, we'll be done with SPIEL '18 coverage in five weeks. We'll see...
Aside from the videos shot in the BGG booth, this playlist will include those I recorded elsewhere during SPIEL '18, such as this overview of the forthcoming Vampire: The Masquerade – Heritage from Babis Giannios and Nice Game Publishing.
I didn't record too many videos on my own as I was also taking pics in the press room, recording notes about upcoming games in 2019 (such as those from Portal Games [link], Lookout Games [link], and IELLO [link] that I've posted about already), and running around like a maniac for a wide variety of reasons. I vow to do whatever it takes to get through all of this material before the pressure of the 2019 Spielwarenmesse and FIJ conventions starts building — although I have started assembling that preview, along with ones for Gen Con 2019 and SPIEL '19. No time to waste!
As the saying goes, Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was the game that went on to become The Great City of Rome.
I had been tinkering with city-building games at many different points over the past seven years, always trying to emulate that familiarity and fun associated with games like SimCity.
There were many prototypes hastily built, then abandoned after one play (not a recommended strategy for actually finishing a game), and while on holiday in Snowdonia in 2015 I even went so far as to hand-make 150 cards for an entire city-building game that was never actually played — an act of lunacy that stands out in my memory even today.
Matt's ability to "just do it" and make something is miraculous. I am reminded of a period during which he would regularly arrive each week at our Tuesday playtest meet-up with a brand-new, completely realized Eurogame, brimming with multiple, interconnected mechanisms and replete with boards, tokens, cards — and perfectly playable! —Brett
I guess you could say that I hadn't found the right starting point — or more accurately that I didn't have enough patience. It was lucky then that in the days after SPIEL in November 2015 that I would come up with an idea that worked on the first time!
Trawling back over the files in my computer and emails with Brett like a forensic accountant reveals a now-familiar process about how we go about co-designing.
I have an idea and hastily put together a hand-drawn prototype. The reason I know this happened for The Great City of Rome is that the versions of the prototype I have on my computer actually start with B, the A version being only a half-finished Excel file which I'm sure I gave up on in favor of actually getting the game to the table in time!
In this case, my idea centered around a classic trade-off between better choice and better actions during a player's turn (a trope we explored previously in Pyramids), with players playing their pieces on an action strip in order.
While we're here, let board game historians record that The Great City of Rome and Pyramids are both part of a single thread of tableau-building games we've developed, each based on a different geometry, with Pyramids being a triangle and City of Rome a square. Keep your eyes peeled for a new game with two lines of parallel cards ("walls"), and — maybe! and even then not till 2020 at the earliest! — one that stacks cards vertically ("towers").
The position of each player's piece on the action strip would determine not only the order that they get to pick new buildings, but also the actions they would have available to them as they would receive the actions printed on their space and everything ahead of them. Do you place early, ensuring a good pick but few actions, or do you place near the end, being able to do a bunch of actions but having the worst choice of new cards?
These cards would all be built in a 4-by-4 grid and would score for various things being adjacent to them, such as having different amenities close to different apartment blocks. I was able to finally meld that city-building vibe with a simple enough shell that could be played!
Playtest with Brett at the Cambridge meet-up. I even know the exact date — Tuesday, November 3, 2015 — and player count (five). Having a weekly meet-up always provides a good motivation to actually get a playable version ready and onto the table (which is probably why I abandoned a more time-consuming option for Step 1).
I don't recall that first playtest — it was three years ago! — but I do recall one I ran in January 2016, which I mention here not for the details of the game itself, but for the calibre of the players. I was joined around a cramped pub table on that particular chilly Tuesday evening in Cambridge by two other designers: Alan Paull (entrepreneur, wargamer, raconteur) and Wolfgang Warsch. (Such a nice guy! I wonder what happened to him?)
Some of Matt's early prototype cards
Wait for Brett to email me, usually the day immediately following the playtest. He will most likely have a number of extremely useful insights into the playtest, with precise suggestions for improvement. In this case, it is spooky to see how many of these suggestions (made after the first play of the first prototype) were right on the money and feature in the final game:
* Game perhaps shouldn't play up to five — too much downtime. (In the end, we settled on a 2–4 player game.) Change the starting factory (now production buildings) to give money, not more cards, as this ensures players can more readily buy more symbols that they need.
* Players need some starting money so that they also have more freedom early to be able to buy symbols they need.
* The final tourism card (now influence cards) should work like the others and be awarded only to the player with the most influence rather than an alternate majority scoring. Also, the cards don't all have to be worth the same number of points as the game progresses, so there can be more to play for later in the game.
* Players should receive 1 point for each $1 remaining at the end of the game.
* Transport cards (now aqueducts) should be simpler; perhaps they can be placed only in a row or column that doesn't already have one.
Right here is the core of why Brett and I can get games finished so often. I am quite adept at pinning down a new idea into a playable prototype quickly so that we can see what it plays like (and often I'm the one quite down after the first test that doesn't work out quite how I'd hoped). Then Brett turns his developer brain on and quickly points out the key places for improvement, all the while assuring me that the game is, in fact, not terrible!
Matt's being uncharacteristically complimentary, but this combination of skills really is at the heart of why we've made so many games. This basic efficacy is certainly necessary, but hardly sufficient to ensure we make *good* games, but that's not the point. Do, or do not...as a man operating a diminutive plastic puppet once observed in the 1970s. And I personally think The Great City of Rome is an exemplar of how effective and immediate that collaboration can be at its best.
Iterate! With a good core and suggestions for specific improvements, I make new versions, we test, we analyze, and so on. The last version on my computer is dated Dec. 10, 2015, beyond which Brett took over designing a much prettier looking prototype. (Another one of his valuable skills!)
A work-in-progress overview of all of the cards; we designed the game to be only cards (and only 110 cards at that)
so this scheme includes cards that were later rendered as other components during development
Getting stuck in making a "pretty" prototype often reveals structure in a design that was otherwise hidden — but simply making something look nicer is vastly less important than making it mean more: color, layout, iconography, typography can all be put to work. And when I really get into this, I very often begin to see the game in different terms, which can often bring details to light that feed directly back into the game design process.
Pitch. We were lucky that "City Cards" — we're not that inventive with naming our prototypes — came together quickly, so quickly that we were ready to pitch it to potential publishers at the Spielwarenmesse Toy Fair in Nürnberg, Germany in February 2016.
Amongst these meetings was one with Matthias Wagner at ABACUSSPIELE. We'd been meeting with Matthias regularly at SPIEL since 2012 but hadn't yet presented the right project to pique his interest. He took a copy of "City Cards" away with him, and in April 2016, he offered us a contract to publish the game. Success!
Reflecting on this timeline now, it's remarkable. I don't do German board game publishers any disservice by observing that they are deliberate in their decisions. Generally speaking, that means those careful choices take time — and quite right, too! We did a good job as designers and made something good and made it well. We were thrilled to finally hit the target for Matthias, and his and his colleagues' enthusiasm and passion for the design shines out of the final product.
Wait. Matthias was quietly developing the game in the background and also revealed the new theme for the game: building Rome!
The only downside of this thematic shift was that our powerful building "Statue of Taylor Swift"* would have to change its name. Darn.
* Surely a monument that any self-respecting city would be proud to erect?
A bit more waiting.
But we busied ourselves designing more games! And patience, in any case, is a virtue. Some things should simply not be hurried.
Profit! "City Cards" had become The Great City of Rome, co-published by ABACUSSPIELE and Z-Man Games, and was released at SPIEL '18, amazingly finishing at the top of the Fairplay rankings.
The appearance of the game in the Fairplay rankings was a complete surprise to us, but a fantastic endorsement of the work done by ABACUSSPIELE. They were very pleased indeed with the game's reception, and I was very pleased for them. Bravo!
I've been happy (and surprised as always) with the positive reception the game has received, and kudos must go to Matthias (and Steve Kimball from Z-Man Games) for making such a wonderful product.
Turns out you can build (The Great) City of Rome in around three years, and we can't wait to share it with the world!
• Monster Fight Club is a new game publisher launched in October 2018 by game designer John Kovaleski following his departure from Gale Force Nine, the company that he founded and ran for twenty years. Kovaleski is joined by fellow veteran GF9 game designer Aaron Dill (co-credited with the game design of most of the GF9 gaming range) and former GF9 operations expert Peter Przekop, who has been in the hobby game industry for over twenty years. Asked why they've split from GF9, Przekop (who serves as spokesperson for MFC) said, "Our departure from Battlefront/Gale Force Nine was completely amicable. There were some factors regarding our office space in Virginia that required some action, and we felt it would be a good time to split off from the company and focus on our own projects and ideas."
In addition to developing its own hobby game products, Monster Fight Club is forming an in-house digital design studio and a master-class resin casting facility and is partnering with other hobby game and entertainment companies to provide creative and manufacturing services.
As for previously announced titles from GF9, Przekop said, "I can no longer officially speak for Gale Force Nine, but I know that they have a robust schedule of games and game expansions to release and future plans for other games. Our Virginia-based design team has long completed work on crew expansions for Firefly Adventures and the new board game, D&DVault of Dragons. Before we left the company, we completed designs for two player expansions for Star Trek: Ascendancy as well as work on a small expansion for another GF9 board game. (I don't know what they have announced, so I don't want say what it is.) Work on the Doctor Who expansions and the Aliens game [Aliens: Another Glorious Day in the Corps!] was being handled by another team within the company, so our departure should have no effect on those projects. We're excited to see all of those projects on the tabletop upon their eventual release."
The intention of the Foundation is to promote education through scholarship endowments, funds to schools for purchasing alternative materials for education, and hopefully in the near-future, funds for teachers/school administrators to go to conferences to learn how to use games, group projects, etc. in new ways — because the world is constantly changing.
I want to do that through producing games and books — just like a normal publisher. The difference is that the profits aren't going into my pocket — they are going back out there to do good.
• On September 19, 2018, investment firm Mason Wells completed its purchase of jigsaw puzzle and board game manufacturer Buffalo Games for an undisclosed amount. From the press release:
Mason Wells, along with Nagendra Raina, Chief Executive Officer of Buffalo Games, and other members of the management team, acquired the business from the founders, Paul and Eden Dedrick...
Founded in 1986, Buffalo Games is the largest manufacturer of jigsaw puzzles in the U.S. and a leading provider of party and board games for adults, children, and families. The Company designs and manufactures millions of puzzles each year at its Buffalo, New York headquarters...
"The last few years we have seen Buffalo Games achieve rapid success in both the board game and jigsaw puzzle categories across the retail landscape and, in particular, with mass market and online retailers. Buffalo Games' biggest asset is our team and innovative culture that nurtures creativity and consumer engagement in a fast-paced and fun environment," said Raina. "This partnership with Mason Wells will continue to accelerate growth and open up new opportunities for us. Importantly, it will allow us to extend our strong innovation and growth platform, and further strengthen our deep relationships with our retailers, licensors & inventors. This is an exciting time to be a Buffalo Gamer."
• Goliath Games has acquired MacDue Toys & Games, which was founded in 1980 (the same year as Goliath) and which the press release describes as "one of the top ten companies in the Italian toy market". An excerpt from the press release:
Goliath and MacDue are pleased to announce their cooperation for the Italian market. Goliath, global leader in the toy and game industry, has decided to invest strategically on the Italian market, relying on the distribution expertise of MacDue Spa, a company with a history of toy & game distribution for over 40 years.
"We are delighted to welcome MacDue's team to the Goliath family. Having done business together already for many years, they are an excellent fit for us, similar family business principles and with already many products that we also sell in the rest of the world. With our recent acquisitions and European success, it made perfect sense to take this step", said Adi Golad, founder of Goliath. MacDue, currently the exclusive distributor for Italy of the Maisto, Bburago, Polistil and Rubik's brands, will support the launching of Goliath Italy in the distribution of the vast Goliath portfolio — including Otto il Maialotto, Mr Ficcanaso, Acchiappa il Coniglio, Triominos, Sequence, Rubik's Cube and "Essere o non Essere".
• Panda Game Manufacturing has job openings for an account manager, a project manager, and a pre-press specialist. For details on what qualifications you'd need to apply for these positions, head to the PandaGM website.
• In mid-September 2018, UK publisher Games Workshopannounced that it had signed a lease for its five hundredth "Warhammer and Games Workshop" store. From the announcement:
It's been a busy few years for our stores, with dozens of new shops popping up across the globe, in Europe, Asia and America, including the much-anticipated opening of the Warhammer Citadel in Texas.
This new 500th Warhammer store will be located in Hong Kong, China, situated in the Amoy Plaza shopping centre.
As in 2017, the annual SPIEL convention in Essen, Germany took place on the final weekend of October and the Lucca Comics & Games fair in Lucca, Italy started only three days after SPIEL ended, so I made the short hop from Düsseldorf to northern Italy to take in this fair once again.
The experience differed greatly from what I encountered in 2017 — covered in three reports here, here, and here — partly because I had already encountered the show once and knew what to expect (reminiscent of why I think it's so important to play games more than once prior to reviewing them!) and mostly because rain on the first three days of the fair kept me and my family saying, "We'll go the next day" repeatedly until we finally did attend on Saturday, and hoo boy, was the show ever crowded!
I believe this chart shows ticket sales each day of the show
The train from Florence was jam-packed before we even left the station, with me harassing people to move their bags from the seat so that my mother- and father-in-law could sit. Did you pay for a ticket for your bag? I don't think so, signore, so move it and make way for Nana!
My son Traver and I found seats after the third stop when some folks departed, but from that point on the train got only more crowded, filled with jedi, anime heroes, alien creatures, and Hogwarts students from every house. If J.K. Rowling gets a cut of every wand, scarf, and robe sold, then the HP books could disappear from store shelves and she'd still be set for life. When I attended Lucca in 2017, I went on my own, so I didn't recognize many of the anime characters around me, but now my son could point out everyone from Naruto, One Piece, Fairy Tale, and many other manga and anime series. As he said later, he didn't care about missing Halloween in the U.S. because it was way more fun watching adults dress up in far better costumes at Lucca.
The view ahead and behind while climbing over the railroad tracks into Lucca
Once off the train, you shuffled through the streets following the cosplay crowd, several people wearing costume-style onesies, and many more people wearing "normal" clothes to the fair's main entrance. You didn't have to buy a ticket to enter the Lucca Comics & Games fair because the event takes place across the entire city center of Lucca, which is surrounded by the remnants of walls from Renaissance times. If you wish, you can walk the city for free people-watching, but to enter the fenced-off locations of the fair that contain Japantown, the games hall, and the other specialized exhibits, you needed to buy a ticket (€19-21 for those ten and over, free for younger attendees).
Bare bones map that doesn't highlight all the fenced-off areas
Inside the game hall, I found a layout reminiscent of what I saw in 2017: game publishers occupying roughly three-fifths of the hall, with role-playing publishers, fantasy artists, retailers, video game publishers, and tchotchke sellers splitting the rest of the space.
Two new booths stood out from everything else: Z-Man Games was hosting the 2018 Pandemic Survival World Championship during the Lucca fair, and game designer Matt Leacock was on hand to observe. (Leacock noted that the challenges during these events are designed in-house by Z-Man and not by him as they used to be, mostly because Z-Man wants to give him the opportunity to focus on designing new games instead of one-off scenarios.)
I was on hand for the start of the third round of play, with eight teams of two being introduced to applause from the crowd (with cheers on behalf of the Italian home team). One interesting holdover from the previous ownership of Z-Man Games by Canadian Sophie Gravel is that Canada holds separate events for English speakers and French speakers — and the winners of each of those events were still in competition for the grand prize at this stage of the tournament. Perhaps someday the tournament will end with an all-Canada finalé, leading players from other countries to protest for an equal shot at winning, but in 2018 the Dutch team prevailed, following near disaster in the second round as Leacock watched them on the verge of elimination for turn after turn after turn until they turned things around.
Roles now revealed, teams prepare to squash a few diseases while facing six epidemics
The other new booth that proved to be a huge draw was an area reserved for artists to create new works in front of an audience, with those works then scheduled to be auctioned for charity. I walked by the booth several times, and at least a half-dozen artists seemed to be at work each time, a crowd around them admiring the work. Plenty of artists had separate booths where they sold prints and books of their work, but this booth stood out as a way to watch someone exhibit their skill in real time — which is not something that game designers could do in a similar way.
As for the new games being sold and demoed at Lucca, many of them had just debuted at SPIEL '18 the week beforehand, but now they were being sold in Italian by Italian publishers who had far larger stands at Lucca than they had at SPIEL. In Essen, for example, Giochi Uniti had two new games — Gnomeland and Monstrite — that were a focal point of their booth, but in Lucca they had those two titles, along with Italian versions of many other new games, not to mention an extensive back catalog of games as well as a separate shed filled with games at clearance prices.
In Essen, dV Giochi is always located within the ABACUSSPIELE booth and practically invisible if you aren't looking for it, whereas in Lucca dV Giochi had an enormous stand with many more titles than the Catalyst and new Deckscape game seen in Essen. You want new SPIEL '18 releases Forum Trajanum, Cuzco, U.S. Telegraph, and more in Italian? Then you'll find them waiting in the dV Giochi booth.
In terms of announcements of forthcoming games, I didn't see much that was new to me. CMON Limited, for example, was promoting several titles hitting the Italian market in late 2018 and throughout 2019, but I had already seen these games — Narcos, Wacky Races, Trudvang Legends, Sugar Blast — at the press event during Gen Con 2018 and some titles, such as Kick-Ass: The Board Game, were being touted as future releases despite being out in the U.S. While some parts of the international game market have moved toward simultaneous release, as with the dV Giochi titles mentioned above, other companies still roll out games in bits and pieces based on the specific demands of each potential marketplace.
One interesting aspect of the CMON booth is that it wasn't a CMON booth at all, but rather an Asmodee booth that featured titles from CMON Limited. In the U.S., CMON delivers its own games to a variety of distributors, whereas everywhere else (to the best of my knowledge) CMON partners with Asmodee for distribution, possibly due to Asmodee having purchased the main distributors in locations such as the UK, Germany, Italy, and the Scandinavian countries. Gamers in the U.S. might think of Asmodee and CMON as adversaries for market share and mindshare among gamers, but elsewhere the two work hand-in-hand as increasing sales of CMON titles outside the U.S. benefits Asmodee through the distribution side of its business.
This new version will feature artwork by Miguel Coimbra, and instead of using the box top for the base of the palace, players will build a 3D palace over the course of the game, adding elements to it to make it more complete. Creative director of uplay.it Giovanni Messina says that Cathala and Maublanc have been redesigning parts of the game based upon more than a decade's worth of feedback and additional design experience, and the company will start talking about the game in more detail at the Spielwarenmesse and FIJ conventions in early 2019 ahead of a mid-2019 Kickstarter campaign.
In the old west of The Long Road, players have the difficult task of leading large herds of beef through prairies and highlands to the livestock markets. In the course of the journey, players try to guide the long caravan according to the most favorable route. Once they finally get to the destination, they split the proceeds from the sale. This division, however, doesn't happen fairly, but according to the rules of the far west: The best armed (or the smartest) takes most of the booty.
A player's turn takes place as follows:
• You MAY change your caravan cards. • You MUST play one caravan card on a destination. • You MAY play a character card if you didn't before on this destination. • You MAY apply the effect of the caravan card. • You MAY buy one weapon. • You MAY assign weapons to one character. • You MUST draw cards to refill your hand of three caravan cards.
When a destination is full, the sale takes place and the players get proceeds from the caravan cards based on the effects and values of the characters they've played, a value that could be increased by weapons. Then character cards are split as well.
The game continues until the fourth sale triggers the end. At that point, the richest player wins.
Messina told me that uplay.it has been in contact with multiple possible publishing partners for an English-language edition of The Long Road, but for now the game is available only in Italian. I'm taking a copy home with me from the show and hope to get a translation from the publisher in order to play at BGG.CON or elsewhere...
The other item from uplay.it edizioni is a new edition of Kramer and Ulrich's The Princes of Florence that appeared only in Italian at the end of 2017 with new art from Mirco Paganessi, metal coins, and a new look with the graphic design.
I have more to post about the games and publishers at Lucca 2018, but let's save that for the next post and wrap this report with a tiny sampling of the cosplay on display during the fair. The most audacious costume by perhaps only one was this:
Why do I label this the most audacious cosplay? Because this woman had an entire bed as part of her costume, and she was rolling it with her down the street!
There's a weird dissonance with many of these cosplayers, though, and that's the reaction of those who admire the work and want to post with the person. Here's the uncropped image of what's shown above:
Dude, you look awful happy to be posing with a demon-possessed little girl. What gives? This experience is repeated over and over again during Lucca as with these women who also posed with the faux-Regan. Note also the anime character behind the priest, the other anime character with green hair across the canal, the costumed man tending to his companion's sore feet behind the first anime character, and the woman with a dog in the stroller. That's the spirit of Lucca in one shot!
These two had a nice set-up, but I'm baffled by the heads floating above the hands instead of laying in them or in the crook of the arm. Am I missing a pop culture reference here?
I saw fewer Game of Thrones characters than I would have expected, but perhaps that's my fault since I've actually watched GoT and seen barely any anime relative to what's been released. Saw a few other Daenerys Targaryens around, including in line at the Il Trono di Spade booth, but no pics of them, alas.
My son seems indifferent to being turned by the Night King. Oh well.
The best way to attend such a fair in cosplay seems to be as part of a group. These folks memorialized their experience in Japantown prior to walking the streets.
• While at SPIEL '18, Robin Houpier from IELLO ran me through some of the titles they plan to release in 2019. Note that many of the games shown in this post do not have final graphics, and in many cases I'm giving only a sampling of the gameplay. BGG plans to be at the Festival International des Jeux in Cannes in February 2019, and by that time IELLO will be releasing some of these titles and have final or nearly-final versions of others that we can preview in more detail.
For now, though, we have overviews, as with this new version of Shun's Little Town Builders, first released in Japan in 2017 by Studio GG. The Little Town Builder, as this version is tentatively titled, features the same gameplay as the original release:
In Little Town Builders, you lead a team of architects and must dispatch workers to the town, collect resources and money, build buildings, and develop this little town.
In the game, which lasts four rounds, you can acquire resources such as wood, stones, fish, and wheat from the surrounding squares by putting workers on the board, with three workers being placed each round. When you place a worker, you acquire the resources available in all eight surrounding spaces. You can build buildings by using these resources, and you — or any other player — can gain the effect of the building when place a worker next to it; if you place next to a building owned by another, however, you must pay them a coin before you can collect those resources.
Players collect victory points by using the powers of buildings, by constructing buildings, and by achieving goals dealt to them at the beginning of the game. After four rounds, whoever has the most victory points wins.
Legendary Forests is another JP design being reworked by IELLO for a new edition, with the original release having been Toshiki Sato's 8bit MockUp from his own Sato Familie brand in 2017. This design won a "Best Game" award from voters at Tokyo Game Market in December 2017. My description below is for the original game, but it's applicable to Legendary Forests as well if you replace "monument" with "tree" and make other word replacements
8bit MockUp is a multiplayer solitaire game akin to Take it Easy! or Karuba as each player has an identical set of tiles and plays the same tile at the same time to their own tableau — but where each player places each tile may differ...
In more detail, each player creates their own world by 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!
• Richard Garfield's Bunny Kingdom will expand to new realms in February 2019 with the release of the Cloud Kingdom expansion, which includes new cards, new types of resources, a set of playing pieces that allow five bunnies to play in the same game, a larger type of building that increases your influence in that area by a factor of five, and a new game board to the world of Bunny Kingdom that allows you to link fiefs in the sky with those on land.
• Another expansion in the works is Kanagawa: Air for Bruno Cathala and Charles Chevallier's Kanagawa from 2016. This expansion includes cards and scoring elements for three new elements — kites, parasols, and paper lanterns — and to use them, you replace any two elements in the Kanagawa base game with two new elements.
Some of the cards in this expansion include a yokaï symbol that is visible whether you place the card in your painting or in your studio. When you place such a card, you take a yokaï marker from the reserve or from another player, and if you collect all three such markers, you receive a reward. You hope that someone else will claim them later, though, because players with yokaï markers at the end of the game lose points.
• Polyominoes were in vogue at SPIEL '18, with polyomino roll-and-writes being at peak trendiness, so IELLO was on point with its Topa Topa prototype, which puts its own twist on the genre by having players draft cards that they draw on their individual player board. The game lasts three rounds, and in each round you score for completing levels, using different shapes in your area, and doing other things as well. Coins allow you to break the rules for drafting and drawing.
• At SPIEL '18, IELLO debuted its video game simulation system 8Bit Box, and in its press area it showed off 8Bit Box: Double Rumble, an expansion in development meant to simulate the fighting arcade games of old. In the game, players need to confront the bad guys facing them, either in a solitaire game or playing co-operatively with one other player, in order to defeat the boss at the final stage of the game.
• High Risk, a 2-4 player game from Trevor Benjamin and Brett J. Gilbert, wasn't on display in the IELLO press room, but the game was included in its catalog and press file, so here's the little that I know about it:
In the press-your-luck game High Risk, you want to move your climbers up the mountain at the right pace without getting greedy and risking a fall...
• The final title on the IELLO docket is actually a title from its kids' game line LOKI, with Monsieur Carrousel being a Sara Zaria design (or perhaps a Sara Faria design depending on how you read the typeface) that will debut at the FIJ 2019 in Cannes in February. Here's what happens when you take the game for a spin:
Each turn in Monsieur Carrousel, the active player rolls the colored die. If a space of this color is open, you place a child disc in this space, with everyone trying to remember which object is under which child.
You then spin the carousel. If the child ends up on the yellow half of the game board, you pick up a yellow stick — representing a ray of sunshine — and place it in a trough on the board; most troughs need two sticks to fill, and if the stick doesn't fit the space exactly, then you place it back in the reserve, so pick carefully! If the child ends up in the gray half of the game board, then you instead add a raindrop to the board.
If you roll a color that has children in both spaces on the wheel, then you spin the carousel. If the clown on the game board is now pointing at a child, then you must successfully state what's under this disc. If you do, place a sun stick; otherwise place a raindrop. The game ends when either the sun comes out fully or rain covers the sky!
Monsieur Carrousel includes multiple image wheels for variety in gameplay.