Canadian publisher Pretzel Games has a low-key release strategy: Once a year, publish a huge dexterity game with dozens of wooden bits.
This release pattern started in 2015 with Flick 'em Up, and has continued with Junk Art in 2016, Flick 'em Up!: Dead of Winter in 2017, and now in 2018 Men At Work, a 2-4 player game from first-time designer Rita Modl, who also serves as supervisor during gameplay. Well, not her exactly, but a ludic representation of her.
Men At Work is due out in Q4 2018, and Pretzel Games will have copies available for purchase at SPIEL '18, with German publisher Pegasus Spiele also having copies as well. As for the gameplay, here's the overview we have for now:
Higher and higher, the construction grows. Before long, the steel girders reach dizzying heights. Fearlessly, the workers carry on, with nothing more than hardhats to protect them. The danger of collapse hangs over everything — so just make sure that nothing happens! You also have to impress Rita, the boss, if you want to be Employee of the Month. There's a lot to do, so let's get going!
Men At Work is a stacking and balancing game in which players compete as workers on a job site who are carefully constructing a tower to avoid accidents and, maybe, earn Employee of the Month. The game includes three gaming modules to add loads of replayability, as well as wooden components housed within a well-designed insert for easy set up.
I already have my background music picked out for when this game is on the table:
In general I like my approach to making game overview videos. I play the game several times, ideally with different players and with different player counts, then I think about the game to some unspecified degree, then I shoot the video, typically recording a long stream of takes until I think I've said what I want to say, then I move on to the next shot, and in the end ideally I've said things in an order that covers everything that needed saying.
I'm performing in the videos, after all, so I find that speaking about something — that is, actually mouthing the words and moving bits around — gets me to what I want to say in these performances better than writing about something. The drawback to this unscripted approach, however, is that sometimes I realize only afterward that I left out a relevant comment. So be it. Better the rambling, push-the-car-downhill-to-get-it-going method than the detailed script-writing method that holds no appeal to me.
This video overview of Monster Crunch!, a 2-5 player design from Forrest-Pruzan Creative and Big G Creative, covers everything regarding gameplay and my thoughts on the design. For those who don't know, Monster Crunch! is a ladder-climbing game that challenges you to eat more cereal, i.e., cards, over three hands of play than each of your opponents. The hook for the game is that everyone has the same deck (1-12 x3), so you'll all see the same cards over the course of the game, but each twelve-card hand you start with will differ from game to game.
When you play to a trick, you must match or exceed the sum of what the previous player played. You can play a single card or you can play multiple cards as long as (1) you discard a milk for each additional card played and (2) the cards are all the same value or in sequential order. A trick continues until all but one person passes, and whenever you pass, you "eat" the cereal you played to your bowl and collect a milk. Whoever won the trick leads to the next one, and a hand ends when someone runs out of cards, with everyone else discarding from the game cards still in hand.
What I forgot to cover in the video is that the terminology of play trips me up constantly, and you'll see evidence of this in the video. The rules refer to a game consisting of three hands, and a hand ends when someone runs out of cards. I tried to use this terminology at first, but we kept having instances where a player would confuse the hand as "segment of gameplay with hand as "the cards they hold". Also, the actual card play is not referred to as a trick, but rather as a round, which confuses the heck out of me each time I explain the game.
I can see why you might not call the cards played a "trick" since they remain in each individual player's bowl instead of being grouped together, but in my mind the cards still comprise a trick. Monster Crunch! is being sold as a Target-exclusive title in the U.S., though, so perhaps the publisher thought a "round" would be a more familiar term — except that I think of the game as having three rounds of play with some number of tricks within each round, and my terminology wavered back and forth during the video. Thus you'll find multiple text notes while watching!
Each player has two rule-breaking powers they can use once a game, and over nine games on a review copy from Big G Creative I've seen these powers used well, used poorly, and not used at all. I wouldn't advise playing with two as the flow of the game vanishes; as soon as one player passes, boom, the round/trick/current play ends, then the next one begins. Card counting becomes far more important with two players because you see how much milk they have, so you can (mostly) track what they can play, then take that into consideration with your plays. It feels almost like a different game with two, which is not the experience I enjoyed with 3-5 players.
• Catan is the Little Engine That Could in the hobby game world. I rarely hear long-time gamers talk about playing Catan at game night, yet it keeps chugging along in the background, with thousands of people still learning about the game for the first time decades after its debut, getting addicted to it, then telling someone else about it.
Thus, it shouldn't be a surprise that KOSMOS and Catan Studio keep releasing the game in new settings and with new scenarios to provide twists on the familiar formula. At Gen Con 2018, we got a preview of the next such title in the series: Catan Scenario: Crop Trust, a 3-4 player expansion from Klaus and Benjamin Teuber that's meant to do more than just entertain players. Here's an overview, followed by the demo we recorded at Gen Con 2018:
Catan Scenario: Crop Trust is an engaging and fun game experience for the family that may lead to thoughtful understanding about the importance of crop diversity to our food supply. Here, we introduce simple, semi-cooperative rules that enliven and educate the Catan experience. Players must weigh their need to harvest crops against a collective goal to store and preserve seeds in the seed vault.
This scenario was developed in collaboration with the Global Crop Diversity Trust, an independent international organization whose goal is to preserve crop diversity in order to protect global food security.
• Another ecology-themed game in the offing, with this one due out at SPIEL '18 in October, is Eco-Links from Günter Burkhardt and Korea Boardgames, although the ecological element seems to be solely in the name once you start examining the gameplay:
Environmental changes have forced animals out of their natural habitats and separated them from each other. Restore their habitats and help them reconnect with their families! You can earn more points if you create your path before anyone else.
Eco-Links is played in several rounds, and all players play simultaneously. Every round, six number tiles are revealed. Players then place their animal markers to the corresponding numbers on their board. The aim is to connect them all together using your path tiles. However, only the first and second player to successfully link all markers can get points. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.
• Can we find an upcoming game with a scientific link that's even more tenuous? Of course we can! Scientia from designer Evan Song and publisher BoardM Factory will be demoed at SPIEL '18, but not available for purchase at the show, no matter how much you want to take this Vincent Dutrait-created cover home with you. The game sounds fun and twisty, although I think we need to see card samples to really understand how it will work. Here's an overview:
Scientia is a tactical game for 2~4 players who compete to develop in four scientific fields: physics, chemistry, biology and astronomy. The game includes three different cards from each field, and each card has two different sides, so there are 24 effects for a game. On a turn, a player can choose one of two options:
• Take a card and place it in front of their personal board as long as it does not exceed its slot limit. There are two slots at the beginning of the game, and more can be added during the game. • Rotate one card twice (180º) or two cards once (90º each).
If a card is fully rotated (360º), that card is moved to the completion area. As soon as a card moved to the completion area, do this process:
1: Advance the research marker of that card's field. 2: If the research marker has reached the rightmost space of a track, take the score tile. 3: Apply the card's effect. 4: Put the card back in the center's appropriate position. If that position is empty, flip it before placing it, making a new effect available.
The game ends if all flasks (cubes) run out or all scoring tiles run out. Then calculate various scoring factors: cubes, research markers, fields, scoring markers, etc. All cards are always visible to all players.
So, wait? The entire game has only twelve cards? Or does each player have twelve? Or are multiple copies of the cards included, but only twelve types? Given my love of Innovation and other involved card-manipulation designs, I'll definitely be checking this out in Essen.
Update, Sept. 18, 2018: BoardM Factory just uploaded this image, which makes the gameplay much clearer!
1950/1960: The race into space is in full swing! We're making great progress on the techniques for supplying astronauts and space-ready machines, for optimizing launch conditions, and of course for designing the much-needed rockets. All this to explore the sheer vastness of space.
But in Lift Off, not only are two superpowers competing for the most glorious milestones of space travel, no, we players are also very involved. In this game, we each play a private space agency that wants to develop in their own areas. We must hire specialists, improve our rockets, and expand our capabilities because soon we have to decide which missions we want to carry out and what we want to bring into space. Only those who plan ahead and properly manage the resources available will win this race to the stars...
Here's hoping the graphic style of the cover is replicated throughout all the game components!
• French publisher Super Meeple, which has previously released new versions of Amun-Re, Louis XIV, Mexica, and Tikal — and which will have new versions of Java (now Cuzco) and Attika (now U.S. Telegraph) at SPIEL '18 — has yet another remake in the works: Werner Hodel's Mississippi Queen, which won the Spiel des Jahres award in 1997.
Super Meeple's Charles Amir Perret hopes to display this 2019 release at SPIEL '18, but here's an overview of what you'll find in the game in case you can't make it to that show:
In Mississippi Queen, players race their paddle wheelers down the Mississippi, picking up passengers along the way. But onboard coal supplies are limited, so each ship's acceleration and maneuvers must be carefully planned. The twists and turns of the river are unknown at the start of the game and are revealed only as ships progress downstream, so captains need to be alert at the wheel and ready to change course.
This version of Mississippi Queen includes the original base game that won the 1997 Spiel des Jahres as well as The Black Rose expansion that increased the player count to six and included the "Black Rose", a black paddle wheeler controlled by whichever player is currently in last place. This boat does not require any coal and can be used to hamper opponents in the lead.
The game has basic rules that more or less reflect gameplay in the original game, along with advanced rules that introduce elements such as floating logs and sand bars that were included in The Black Rose expansion.
This couple will be quite unhappy in a few minutes...
For as much as I feel that I have some idea of what is going on in the Japanese game market, I'm frequently reminded that I know next to nothing, or perhaps more charitably, more than most people yet still not much.
In 2015, for example, the design collective A.I.Lab.遊 released 航海の時代, which was subtitled "Era of Voyage". This game, one of hundreds of new games released at Game Market, was released in a wooden box, and like many Japanese designs it has a short playing time and a small footprint when laid out on the table.
The game could have vanished from the market, enjoyed only by the few hundred people who came across its original edition, but now the design has been picked up for a new edition from Taiwanese publisher EmperorS4, an edition that will be featured at SPIEL '18 and most likely licensed to multiple other publishers in turn, thereby exposing the game to thousands more people than would have ever experienced it otherwise, and while that's a great success story for A.I.Lab.遊, I'm left wondering how many hundreds of other design treasures are sitting out there unknown by much of the larger world.
I can't do anything about those other games right now, though, so let's spend a few minutes talking about Discovery: The Era of Voyage. This design fits a lot in a small package, with players traversing a shared pick-up-and-deliver engine laid out on seven island cards around a central island.
In general, you collect money and resources at various places, then use those items to place investment markers at other places, which further boosts your ability to collect money and resources, with players completing for ownership of the island cards (and the points they'll bring) through a standard area-majority mechanism. You can scoop up points directly at the one cultural island in the game, but mostly you're racing to put those markers in place because as soon as someone runs out, you finish the round, then tally points.
Like many other games, Discovery has no hidden information. Everyone sees which islands can do what, and you need to figure out how to do things more efficiently than others. As you place investment markers on an island, you boost that part of the engine for yourself, but once someone places their third investment marker on an island, no one else can invest there, so you can find yourself cut off from both super-charging your engine and acquiring the points available to the two players who invest the most in it.
Players also get in one another's hair while sailing since you can move only clockwise or counterclockwise around the island, with you setting your course each time you leave the central island. You can pay money to sail past multiple islands and reach something more distant, but money is tight — especially since you have to pay other players whenever you travel to their current docking point. Every coin, every fruit, every spice, and every brick of gold feels precious as you scheme for your plan turns in advance: picking up this, then trading for that, then converting money into these resources, then investing there, and so on.
Discovery includes multiple island cards to provide variety in the engines you'll confront. Is gold rare this game? What do you need to collect VP tokens this time? How much money is needed for investment in that island? No, really, how much? The numbers are super tiny, and I can't make them out — the hazard of packing so much game in such a tiny package is that sometimes you can't see it, but previously I didn't even know it existed, so this is still an upgrade!
One thing to note about the DSP voting process this year: Normally the voting period runs from May 1 through July 31, but as Dominique Metzler of DSP organizer Friedhelm Merz Verlag explained in late July 2018, they stopped accepting votes on July 27 and they threw out all the votes submitted between July 23-27.
Why? On July 23, 2018, vlogger Stephan Gust asked fans of his channel to vote for Clank! for the DSP, claiming that if the game ranked first in the DSP, then all fans of his channel would receive an exclusive promo card courtesy of Schwerkraft Verlag, publisher of the German edition of the game. Writes Metzler (in my translation):
We considered this process a clear attempt at manipulation, and I communicated this to Mr. Gust that same evening, because the tenor of the video is simply this: Whether you like Clank! or not, vote for it so that I and you, my fanbase, receive this card. Among other things, this video called for people to vote for only Clank! and no other games. The next day, a second video was added to this channel which in its entirety once again seemed very strange to us.
After these calls, about one hundred votes for Clank! came in, about half of which did not vote for another game, with the other half voting for Clank! in first place but also voting for other games.
We feel we have a duty to you, the gamers, but also to Schwerkraft Verlag. Although Clank! didn't reach first place thanks to this unambiguous manipulation, the game would probably have moved up a place in the top 10 list. Many people would have wondered after the announcement of the voting result, whether Schwerkraft Verlag would have placed X in the ranking for Clank! without the questionable tactics used by Mr. Gust.
To avoid any question about which game might have deserved which place in the rankings, Merz Verlag ended the DSP voting immediately and threw out all votes after July 23. The organization apologized to those who might have voted during that time given that their votes were also discarded, but in the interest of fairness that's the course they thought best.
A first version of this designer diary was originally posted on my website on August 7, 2018, in both French and English.
Citadels was first published in 2000 by a small French publisher that didn't really believe in it and that saved money by recycling art originally used in an occult-themed CCG set in Renaissance Europe. That's why the original art is more Renaissance than medieval and is sometimes relatively dark for a game about city building. This strange and beautiful art helped a lot towards the game's success.
In 2016, when Fantasy Flight Games decided to publish a big box with many new building and character cards, they also ordered new art by several U.S. fantasy artists (a story previously told on my website), the result being much lighter and more in line with standard American fantasy. Two complete sets of art for Citadels — one very European, one very American — was already a lot, and now there's also an oriental version, one that might be harder to get, especially in the U.S. where it theoretically cannot be sold.
Ten years ago, an Indonesian publisher started working on "Kraton", a localization of Citadels illustrated by local artists. Eventually this project was cancelled, and all that's left is a few graphic files on my computer; in the end, the Indonesian edition of the game is identical to the western ones. I regret this a lot because I would have liked to own a few copies of this very exotic Citadels. You can read more about this story in an older blogpost on my website.
More or less at the same time, a Mormon version was also considered, which would have qualified as extremely exotic in Europe, but not so much in the U.S.
Cards from "Kraton", the Indonesian Citadels that was never published
The oriental Citadels is finally coming from another, and much nearer, East. In 2015, I was contacted by Alireza Lolagar from Houpaa, who wanted to publish Citadels in Persian.
Modern boardgames are becoming popular in Iran, at least in big cities. Game cafés, such as cafeboard, are also on the rise. Those interested might read, or at least like me have a look, at the main Iranian board game website: Roomiz Games. The main local publishers are Houpaa, which is doing Citadels, and lbmind, which mostly imports games from Europe.
As I do every time I am contacted by someone willing to publish Citadels in some country where it isn't available yet, I first forwarded Alireza to Fantasy Flight Games, which already deals with localization of the game in twenty or thirty languages. This time, things were more complicated than they are usually, and my friends at FFG answered that U.S. commercial sanctions against Iran forbid them from dealing with an Iranian publisher. Yes, it looks like board games are that strategic.
On the other hand, there was no problem with me dealing directly with Iranians, providing that they didn't use the art owned by FFG. All the best for me, I was going to be one of the few people to benefit from the United States' inconsistent foreign policy and to have an oriental Citadels — and a completely different one than what I nearly got in Indonesia. I must also thank Maryam, a friend of Alireza who was living in Paris at that time and who helped a lot with this project.
All the art for Dej, a.k.a. دژ, the Persian edition of Citadels, is by Iranian artist Hassan Nozadian, whose Instagram feed features illustrations from the game. I appreciate the way he managed to make something both different from and very true to the original. Places and characters are not that different from the orientalist clichés I discussed on my short essay on this topic: desert landscapes with the occasional cedar or cypress, massive temples or caravanserais with wide arcades. Colors, on the other hand, are bright and fresh, quite different from the browns and beiges that western game illustrators always use when depicting the Middle East, as if forgetting that while there's indeed desert there, there's also sea.
Sketches and final result for the King card
Even the crown has been redesigned, with a bulb inspired by Sasanian models.
Western and Eastern crown
The card mix in Dej is the same as in the first basic edition of Citadels, which has now become the small square box. The box of the Persian edition is clearly oversized, but this will leave room for a possible future expansion with the cards added in the U.S. fourth edition should this game ever become a classic in Iran.
Citadels fans have already asked me how they can find a copy of this specific version of the game. Alireza plans to be at the 2018 SPIEL game fair in Essen — he obviously can't go to Gen Con — and will have a small booth there to sell a few games. The Irianian rial has collapsed these last months after the U.S. sanctions, so I bet even a few sales in strong currencies will help a lot. The game will also be sold online by nicegameshop, a German game shop that specializes in seriously exotic stuff. U.S. buyers, however, will probably have to ask for discreet packaging...
The publisher team and the illustrator of Dej; I'd like to visit them some day,
but I just got a new passport and don't want to lose my ESTA
• We're just over five weeks out from the opening of SPIEL '18, so rulebooks for games due to debut at that show have been popping up all over the place. The Quest for El Dorado: Heroes & Hexes from Reiner Knizia and Ravensburger, for example, was previously described only as having new dangers, new cards, new landscapes, and unique heroes — which is kind of expected and doesn't say much — but now that you can check out the rules (PDF), you can better know what's coming, mostly due to the discovery that "hexes" doesn't refer to the shape of the terrain tiles:
The Quest for El Dorado: Heroes & Hexes includes three new double-sided terrain tiles that add a new element to the game: curses. When a player stops on a demon space, they must draw and reveal a curse token to see how they're affected. Maybe they have to discard certain cards before they can travel on a particular type of terrain, or perhaps other explorers will move while the cursed one is paralyzed, or maybe you'll be afflicted by a demon, specifically a demon card that's shuffled into your deck and does nothing but frustrate you or get transformed into a half-coin each time you see it.
Why would you travel to a demonic location when bad things would happen to you? Moving to that space doesn't cost a card, so you might just be being cheap, but additionally some demon spaces have tunnels that allow you to move directly from one hex on a tile to another on that same tile. Is that free movement worth the punishment you might suffer? The expansion includes two blockades that bear a demon symbol, and if you're the first to break such a blockade on your quest across the map, you must suffer the curse that follows.
To play with this expansion, you must use the "Caves" variant of The Quest for El Dorado base game in which mountains are loaded with cave tokens. This expansion includes new cave tokens to be mixed with those of the base game, as well as four new types of expedition cards (with three copies of each) that can be pulled into the market once a stall opens.
Each player starts the game with one of four familiars (dealt out at random) in their deck, with each familiar having a repeating power and a one-shot bonus power. For a further way to juice up your deck, you can visit one of the three tavern spaces in the game. When you do this, you draw the top three hero cards of the ten-card deck, place one of those heroes in your hand (after which it becomes a regular part of your deck), then shuffle the other two heroes into the deck. Only one hero per adventuring party, please!
The Quest for El Dorado: Heroes & Hexes is due out in September 2018 in Europe in a dual English/German edition, with the expansion debuting in the U.S. at BGG.CON in mid-November 2018.
Aside from nice cover art courtesy of Franz Vohwinkel and a double-sided game board, this version of the game features two changes from earlier releases. First, at the end of a round players now score positive points based on how many more rails they needed to cover to connect all five of their cities. The player who ended the round scores 4 points, for example, while someone who needed to place two more rails scores 2 points and another player who needed three or four rails scores only 1 point. Players still play multiple rounds, with the game ending when one player has a total of 13 or more points.
Second, the game includes 19 special cards that can be used to provide more variety in gameplay. At the start of a round, reveal one of the cards; the effect of this card applies to all players during this round, perhaps with everyone discarding their rose card and needing to connect only four cities, or having a mountain pass count as only one rail played, or placing three rails each turn instead of two, or revealing two of their cards so that everyone can see where others are going in particular parts of the map.
• At Gen Con 2018, Didier Delhez from Sit Down! talked about three new items coming in Kasper Lapp's Magic Maze family. First is a giant playmat for Magic Maze Kids that bears the completely sensible name Magic Maze Kids: XXL Playmat. Delhez said that people had enjoyed the giant playmat that the company used to demo the game at conventions and asked for something that they could use at home, so here it is.
For the original game, Magic Maze: Hidden Roles introduces, yes, hidden roles, with a traitor or two possibly lurking amongst the adventurers and being daft only in a pretend way when someone slams that red pawn in front of them on the table instead of actually daft. The traitor needs to be not called out, or else someone else gets to claim their action for the remainder of play. Aside from that, Hidden Roles introduces challenge cards that players might acquire before or during play: visit this location, claim that object, and so on. If you don't complete your challenge, then you can't win!
Finally, Delhez demonstrated a rough version of what's currently called Magic Maze: Factory, a game with a similar set-up and functioning as the original game, but with players now controlling colors of paths, the production of one or more materials, and (as before) the revelation and placement of tiles. In the sample game that we ran through on camera, Magic Maze: Factory came across as more of a stereotypical Eurogame in that we needed to generate resources and move them to the proper locations. Beyond that, well, we'll have to watch for more in early 2019.
For the first time on The BoardGameGeek Show, boss Scott Alden goes missing! Scott was busy overseeing BGG's move to cloud-based servers when we recorded this episode, and for some reason he viewed the preservation and functioning of the site over talking with us. The nerve!
Chaz Marler pinch-hit for Scott and Steph Hodge, who was also away, and the four-person line-up might be something we stick with for future shows given that it allows for more free-flowing conversations and an easier editing job once Lincoln gets hold of our individual feeds. We'll rotate through the seats based on who's available when to keep things fresh.
For now, though, you can take a listen to host Rodney Smith as he segues like a master from one topic to the next. It's almost like he's a skilled video host or something...
00:39 Introductions 01:12 BGG@Sea 2019 tickets available now 03:40 What Have You Been Playing? 03:53 Cryptid - Hal Duncan, Ruth Veevers - Osprey Games 07:02 Blue Lagoon - Reiner Knizia - Blue Orange Games 08:50 Pantone: The Game - Scott Rogers - Cryptozoic Entertainment 12:05 Kashgar: Merchants of the Silk Road - Gerhard Hecht - Grail Games 19:07 Dice Throne - Nate Chatellier, Manny Trembley - Mind Bottling Games, Roxley 24:30 WizKids has signed a license with WWE for HeroClix, Dice Masters & board games 27:00 Monopoly Fortnite announced 30:28 John Ward is out as executive director of GAMA 36:32 Kickstarter for Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game launches 40:10 Goodbyes
• At SPIEL '18, German publisher Hans im Glück plans to release a tenth anniversary edition of Bernd Brunnhofer's Stone Age titled Stone Age: Jubiläumsedition, with this edition of the game featuring a double-sided game board (winter and summer), decorative player pieces, a revised rulebook, two mini-expansions ("The Igloos" and "The Wild Animals"), and a "Winter Is Hard!" variant.
Z-Man Games will release Stone Age: 10th Anniversary in English.
• Hans im Glück will have two other SPIEL '18 releases: Carcassonne: Safari, with this fourth release in its "Carcassonne Around the World" series challenging players to see as many animals as possible as they tile the savannah from scratch, and the yet-to-be-revealed Lift Off.
• Along the same lines in what might be considered a fourth anniversary edition, German publisher eggertspiele plans to release a new edition of Steffen Bogen's Spiel des Jahres-winning Camel Up at SPIEL '18, an edition that features giant humans looming over a desert instead of a pack of drug-crazed camel caravan. This version also has a new game board design, a new pyramid design, a new player count (3-8 instead of 2-8), engraved dice, and new game modes, including crazy rogue camels that start the race running in the opposite direction.
I've seen lots of comments about this cover ending the "Camel Up or Camel Cup" discussion, but this game's title was always "Camel Up" as confirmed by both the original publisher and co-publisher Pegasus Spiele — at least until Finnish publisher Lautapelit.fi insisted upon calling its licensed Nordic version "Camel Cup", at which point confusion did indeed exist. What's up with that, Finns?! No matter — for me the title will remain the same as it ever was: "Coked-Up Sand Horses".
Buried in that GeekList is a note from Breese that the 2010 title Key Market from David Brain — which vanished from the market immediately upon its release and which typically sells for between $100-200 — will be reissued in the first half of 2019.