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The Rebirth of Rio Grande Games: Underwater Cities, Caravan, Nevada City, and More

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U.S. publisher Rio Grande Games is going through something of a renaissance right now. Over the past few years, the company has released only a few new games — mostly Dominion titles and Tom Lehmann designs — having shed the co-publishers and licensed titles that constituted most of the titles it released throughout the 2000s.

Now Rio Grande is continuing the partnerships that remained, adding new licensing partners to the line-up, and releasing a wider range of original titles. Ken Hill, who was hired as production manager in Q4 2018, detailed some of the changes underway, while also giving an update on some of the titles hitting the market from RGG in the first half of 2019.

• To start, Lutz Stepponat's Gambit Royale — an English-language version of
2018's Kabale und Hiebe: Setzt dem Ganzen die Krone auf from German publisher LuPri, which is itself a revamped version of the 2006 title Ruse and Bruise — was released in December 2018, along with Tom Lehmann's New Frontiers (which the designer covered in detail in this development diary on BGG News).

• Mac Gerdts' Concordia Venus, which debuted from PD-Verlag at SPIEL '18 as both a standalone game and an expansion for the Concordia base game, reached the RGG warehouse in mid-January 2019 and should be available at U.S. retailers by the end of the month given the one- to two-week turnaround time needed for receiving, re-shipping, and handling via distribution. The Cyprus game board that's unique to the standalone game and not included in the expansion will be available later in 2019 paired with a new map yet to be announced, according to a PD-Verlag representative, and Hill verified that RGG will also release this double-map expansion in the U.S.




• Vladimír Suchý's Underwater Cities was another SPIEL '18 release, this time from newcomer Delicious Games, and Hill anticipates having this title available on the U.S. market before the end of February 2019. He notes that this version incorporates a few production improvements such as thicker player boards, and based on preorders he anticipates placing a reorder for this title as soon as it reaches stores.

• Another February 2019 release is Tom Lehmann's Roll for the Galaxy: Rivalry, which I covered in detail here.

• Friedemann Friese's Power Grid Recharged, covered in this BGG News post, reaches the U.S. market in March 2019.

• In terms of non-Lehmann new releases, Joe Huber's Caravan is due out in March or April 2019. This 2-4 player game sounds delightfully minimalist, and I offer this summary of the setting and gameplay:

Quote:
1300 A.D., Western Africa — the desire for goods such as ivory in Europe drives the development of many trade routes here, with caravans of camels delivering goods across the desert landscape.

In Caravan, players must use their camels to deliver goods where they are wanted. Each player starts with five camels in their color (or six in an introductory game), and the game board is seeded with eight goods on the spaces numbered 1-8, with demand markers placed on the goods at spaces 1, 2, 7 and 8. The first player in the game takes one action, the second player two, and so on until someone takes four actions, after which each player can take up to four actions on their turn. Actions are:

—Place or move an unladen camel of your color into an empty space: 1 action
—Place or move an unladen camel of your color into an occupied space: 2 actions
—Pick up a good and place it on the camel in that space: 1 action; if any demand markers are on this space, you keep them.
—Move a good along a chain of your camels, ending with it on top of one of your unladen camels: 1 action
—Steal a good from on top of an opponent's laden camel, placing it under one of your camels in the same space: 1 action and a theft marker; if you have no theft markers, you can't do this.

If you move a good to a camel located in the city that wants that good (as indicated by color), then you remove that good from the board and keep it. As soon as four goods have been picked up (not necessarily delivered), pause the game and place a demand marker on each good still on the board; in addition, refill the empty numbered spots with a good from the bag.

Once the final four goods have been drawn from the bag, the game ends immediately following the next delivery. Players score points based upon what they've collected: Rare goods (of which there are three each of four types) are worth 6 points each; common goods (nine each of four types) are worth 3 points each; and each demand marker is worth 1 point. Whoever scores the most wins.

• A much larger game in the pipeline is Alan D. Ernstein's Nevada City, which Hill says they've been working on for more than three years. Hill adds, "The basic game is a nice twist on the worker placement genre, with an interesting market mechanism and some other fun mechanics. We packed a lot in a 90-minute game but not too much." Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game, which will debut in Q2 2019 no later than the 2019 Origins Game Fair:

Quote:
You and your family have come to Nevada City to set up a homestead and help the town grow. Will you be able to outperform the other homesteaders?

Each player in Nevada City starts the game with a nuclear family — mother, father, daughter, and son — and a homestead mat where you can establish farms, fence in livestock, and develop silver mines. You start the game with one mine, one farm, and one ranch, along with some money and an assortment of commodities. The town consists of a few buildings, and other buildings will become available for construction as the years advance, with the game lasting four years.

A year lasts a number of turns until all players have used all of their characters and hired workers. On a turn, a player chooses one of their characters and takes actions until all of that character's actions are spent; a character can't take the same action during a turn. A character can buy new property from city hall; mine, farm, or ranch their own property; claim a building; construct a building; use an existing building; reserve a contract that has conditions for improving the city; or work to fulfill that contract. Each character and worker has a different set of skills that can boost the actions they take, such as finding additional silver in a mine or bringing lumber to a construction site.

You earn victory points (VPs) for constructing buildings, in addition to fees from those buildings when other players use them. You earn VPs for completing contracts as well, with those contracts having different values depending on which buildings are in place at the time. Each player receives a private goal card at the start of the game, and all players score points for these goal cards based on how well they do relative to other players, so pay attention to their choices.

Each year, various events pop up, leaving players to suffer drought or reap the benefits of fertile land, among other things. At the end of a year, workers leave unless you marry them into a family, which will require spirits and other resources.

Nevada City also includes advanced rules that add additional buildings and events to the game, a gambling subgame of sorts, a more volatile production market to make life in the West less predictable, and extra sons and daughters. On top of all that, the unhired workers at the end of a year get rowdy and start shooting up the town, so you need to use your gunslinging abilities to bring them to heel and try to avoid getting wounded since you might lose out on a character's abilities in the subsequent year.

• Aside from these titles, Hill says, "We're going to be actively going after partnerships again, and I'm on the prowl for other titles." In addition to at least one more title due in Q2 2019, other games currently in the RGG pipeline include an Andreas Steding design (due out at SPIEL '19), an Arve D. Fühler design, a two-player title from Phil Walker-Harding, and two designs from Daryl Andrews.


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New Game Round-up: Build Cities, Collect Spirits, Become Death, and (Above All) Stay Cool

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For our early 2019 convention preview, I'm pulling together info from companies in Germany, the U.S., France, and elsewhere, and it's interesting to see the contrasts in who is doing what. Here's a sampling of games that will be shown or sold at Festival International des Jeux in Cannes, France:

is a drafting game with an area-majority element of sorts from Johan Benvenuto, David Paput, and Bankiiiz Editions for 1-5 players. The game is due out March 11, 2019, but I would assume it will be at FIJ for demos, if not for early release. Here's what is going on in more detail:

Quote:
In , you build a city composed of nine building cards, with these cards coming in five types adorned with "source symbols" for strength, faith, and food. Each edge of a building card has a semi-circle on it showing half of a source symbol. Cards also have complete symbols for strength, faith, and food on them.

Each player starts the game with two project cards — cards fueled by source tokens — and an empty 3x3 grid that shows semi-circular source symbols around the edges. The game lasts four rounds, and in each round you draft three cards. At the end of the second, third, and fourth rounds, all players compare their strengths in various horizontal or vertical rows on their grid.

In the first round, you draft three project cards, each with special effects that can be used if you fill all the source symbols on it. In each of the next three rounds, you draft and play three building cards. When you play a building card and complete one or more source symbols (by matching the colors on each half symbol), you receive a source token of that color for each completed symbol, which you must immediately place on a project.

After the third, sixth, and ninth building cards have been placed, you compare your strength in the row or column indicated on battle cards. (You have two such challenges after rounds six and nine.) The player with the most strength in the appropriate row or column receives 3 achievement points (AP), while the loser marks that row or column with a damage token. If a building card has damage in both its row and column, it's destroyed and removed from the game.

At the end of the game, players feed their city, scoring based on the number of food symbols they have and the number of non-destroyed buildings. Players also score AP for faith symbols in their city.

also contains rules for a solitaire game.

• At FIJ, Bankiiiz Editions will also demo Julien Griffon's Yōkai, a 2-4 player game due out in Q2 2019. Game info is brief for now:

Quote:
There's confusion among the Yōkai!

These Japanese spirits have become intermingled in Yōkai, and to calm them, you have to group together members of the same family. They're hiding, however, so to carry out your task successfully, you have to be clever and not make any noise to avoid frightening them...


Sample cards in Yōkai


• Designer Julien Sentis has specialized in quick-playing party games, and Stay Cool is a new design for 3-7 players that will debut from Le Scorpion Masqué at FIJ. The game will be released only in French initially, but the Canadian publisher often releases games in English as well, so perhaps we'll see this in the U.S. later:

Quote:
Stay Cool is easy. We ask you to do nothing complicated — but you must do it all at the same time...

When you are the active player in the first round, you must answer verbally the questions asked by your left-hand neighbor while you "write" answers to the questions asked by your right-hand neighbor, using seven letter dice to "write" three- or four-letter answers. While you're doing this, another player flips a 30-second sand timer four times, giving you two minutes to answer as many questions as possible. At the end of that time, multiply the number of answers you gave for the questions from the left and from the right to determine your score.

In the second round, you do the same thing once again with new questions, but you must tell the player watching the sand timer to flip it before it runs out of sand, with a maximum of two minutes of playing time. If you fail to tell the player to flip the timer before it runs out of sand, your turn ends immediately. However your turn ends, you score points as described above.

In the third and final round, you must do everything described in the third round except now the sand timer is hidden from your eyes!

Lumberjacks Studio released two titles in late 2018 that, as far as I know, exist only in French editions, and while the games were apparently available at SPIEL '18, they're essentially still new on the market, so I've listed them for sale on our con preview.

One of those two titles is François Bachelart's La Petite Mort, a 2-4 player game in which everyone plays a junior grim reaper who is attempting to take over the role of Death itself because Death is finally retiring to greener pastures. Yes, this is another "replace the king" game, but at least the setting offers something new!

To win the game, you must be the first to achieve any four objectives show on the "Reaping Diploma", a diploma that means you've graduated from death school and are ready for the job. An overview of the gameplay:

Quote:
During the game, each player will have characters in their playing area who will be born, grow, age, and enrich their personalities or acquire skills that will bring them strengths and weaknesses throughout their lives. You will see your characters live and guide them gently onto their deathbed for the liberating reap. It is by guiding your characters to their "natural death" that you will have the best chance of achieving the objectives required to get your Diploma.

You can also reap an opponent's character with reap cards as long as these cards meet the requirements — i.e., weakness symbols — present on the targeted character cards. Reaping your opponent's characters is easier, but is less rewarding because you have to share these cards with one or more of your opponents. Naturally the characters in your playing area will be targeted by others, but some cards with strength symbols will protect your character from another similar weakness symbol, so they will be be harder to reap!


Some of the characters who await your guiding hand in La Petite Mort
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Roll for the Galaxy: Rivalry Arrives on Earth in February 2019

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Rio Grande Games has announced a release date for the long-awaited second expansion for Wei-Hwa Huang and Tom Lehmann's Roll for the Galaxy, with production manager Ken Hill telling me that Roll for the Galaxy: Rivalry will be printed in February 2019, so it "should be in stores by the end of the month".

Here's a summary of what Lehmann has revealed about this expansion to date:

[Info updated Jan. 17, 2019, based on additional details from Tom Lehmann and Ken Hill]

Quote:
Roll for the Galaxy: Rivalry, the second expansion for Roll for the Galaxy, consists of three expansions in one box.

First, it adds expansion content to the base game: 62 more game dice, a new die type, start factions, home worlds, and more than double the number of game tiles for the bag as in Ambition, the first expansion for Roll. This material is compatible with Ambition, but that expansion is not required to play Rivalry. If you are familiar with the dice from Ambition, then you can add this content and start playing immediately. (If not, you'll need to read about the new dice.)

Rivalry also contains two optional game modules — the Deal Game and the Orb Game — which can be played separately or combined. These modules can also be combined with the goals in Ambition, although the publisher suggests not combining them all at once for new players!

• The Deal Game has a new deal phase in which players assign $ dice to a new deal board in order to swap assets they don't want for those they do — and pretty much everything is fair game in terms of possible trades. Not using all your credit track? Why not trade in the top part of it to get a useful die? Or, if you're running a large economy and need a credit track that goes to 11 (or even 16), why not trade away a couple of white dice to get a larger track?

Have a bunch of extra tiles clogging up your construction zones from previous Explores? Why not trade them in for new dice? Or, a chance to draw from the bag until you find a 6 cost development? Or a pair of VP chips? Or a talent counter? Or some credits? Or, another Leader die? Or, a chance to draw a world of a desired color from the bag? Or, to turn some Citizenry dice directly into Developers or Settlers? Or...

Seven deal dice are rolled each turn before players assign their workers to determine what asset types can be potentially gained or traded in that round. After you swap assets, your deal will start to mature over several rounds. If you (or someone else) calls "Deal" again before your deal expires, then you might want to send another dealer in to reverse your trade, trading back for what you originally spent and making some credits and talent counters along the way. Of course, while your deal is maturing, some other player might swoop in and reverse it before you wanted to, taking their cut and converting your attempted temporary loan into a permanent exchange. These things happen...

• The Orb Game gives one yellow "Alien Orb" die to each player, and the faces of these dice can be popped out and upgraded to various "lines" of faces that allow you to customize what you can do in the game. (Think of the lines as being akin to a tech tree.)

You can assign dice to become researchers in the Research phase, and for each assigned researcher, when someone calls Research, you get two "dots" of upgrades to your dice. The first dot gets you a 1-dot face in any line; extra dots get you better faces in that line. (If you want to switch lines for a given face after entering a line, pay 1 dot more.) These upgraded dice affect your play. For example, if you roll the 2-dot beige -1 develop face, you receive a -1 die discount on all developments you build that turn.

Orb dice are rolled in front of player screens at the start of a round. If, for example, you roll a face that grants virtual workers, then everyone knows that you will benefit if Explore occurs and can plan accordingly as they assign their dice and decide which phase to call.

To allow improved Orb dice more opportunities to affect play, the Orb game ends at 15+ tiles or when the initial VP chip pool is exhausted, which is increased to 15 VPs per player. At game end, each 2-dot and 4-dot face on your Orb die is worth 1 and 2 VPs, respectively.

• Replacement player screens including a summary of the optional games (in different colored type faces) and all three added dice types are also included.

Hill notes that Rivalry carries an $80 MSRP, $20 more than the Roll for the Galaxy base game. "We discussed releasing it as three separate expansions, each costing $35 to $50 for a total of roughly $125, but decided that a single combined expansion for $80 made much more sense," he says. "The Deal and Orb games share some material, which made sense to put in the same box with reduced costs. The extra Leader and Entrepreneur dice needed for the Deal game allowed us to provide them along with the expansion content for players who don't own Ambition. Rivalry contains over 400 game items: dice, dice faces, tiles, counters, etc. The box is even larger than a normal expansion box." Specifically, Rivalry comes in a box sized between the base game and Ambition. [Quote updated Jan. 17, 2019, based on follow-up with Ken Hill]


Production image from Tom Lehmann showing the non-final dice, with the colors being off in these samples;
the Deal dice are the one black die and six white dice at left
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Pauchon and Days of Wonder Roll from Yspahan to Corinth to Write History Anew

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"Everything old is new again" seems to be a common practice in today's game industry. The market is hungry for titles — possibly due to so many titles being released, which exacerbates the speed with which titles disappear from shelves in order to make room for all those new games coming down the pipeline — so in addition to signing previously unreleased designs, publishers are revisiting older games and bringing them out anew.

The latest title to see new life is Corinth, which probably doesn't ring a bell, but if you were to learn this design's playtest name — "Yspahan: The Dice Game" — you might start nodding your head in recollection. Sébastien Pauchon's Yspahan debuted in 2006 from French publisher Ystari Games, its third release following Ys from company founder Cyril Demaegd in 2004 and the market-changing Caylus from William Attia in 2005.




In Yspahan, players tried to deliver goods to market stalls in various areas to score points, with the novelty of the game coming from how players delivered those goods, in addition to acquiring gold and camels. At the start of a turn, the active player rolled nine dice, then placed all the dice with the highest value on the gold space of a chart, then started placing dice from the bottom of the chart up, with each value of dice being on a separate level. The active player would take all the dice on one level, then take some action with them: collecting gold, delivering goods stalls, collecting camels, drawing an action card, or moving the supervisor, with the possible actions differing depending on which dice they took. The active player could spend gold to roll up to three extra yellow dice and thereby increase the odds of getting to take a desired action; if the active player didn't take any of these yellow dice, they were removed from play, preventing others from benefitting at that player's expense.


Yspahan image by Ivan Kosak


Corinth keeps this dice chart at the core of gameplay, with the active player rolling nine white dice as in the original game and possibly spending gold to roll up to three extra yellow dice. Players take turns selecting all of the dice on a level, but the choices are streamlined compared to the original Yspahan game. The top level gives the player as many gold as the number of dice they took; the bottom level gives camels instead of gold; and the middle levels allow a player to deliver goods to a number of market stalls on their personal player sheet equal to the dice claimed.

Yes, Corinth is a roll-and-write game, with each player marking off stalls on their sheet. You have four colors of stalls as in Yspahan, and once you start marking off, say, rugs in one of the blue areas, you have to finish marking off all the rugs in that area before you can start marking off another blue area. This mimics the gameplay decisions of the earlier design: If you have two dice, do you mark off the easiest stall now to claim a few points or do you mark off some spaces in the largest stall, hoping to take more dice from the same level in the future in order to complete that stall and earn more points per die claimed?




Instead of marking off gold, goats, or goods, you can use the value of the die or dice claimed (1-6) to move the steward on your personal score sheet. The steward starts in the middle of a 5x5 grid on your sheet, and you must move it as many spaces as the number of pips on the die value claimed, not crossing over any line you've drawn previously. You can pay 1 gold to move the steward one more or one fewer space, and you can pay as much gold as you want to do this. You can receive gold, goats, or goods from where the steward stops, but beyond that, you can earn points. When the steward stops on a corner space of this grid, you count the number of spaces circled to this point, with some spaces counting twice, then you write down that number, scoring that many points at game's end. If you stop in another corner later, you do the same thing again, which compounds the value of all your previous movement.

As in Yspahan, in Corinth you can spend gold or goats to construct buildings that give you bonus powers, such as collecting two additional gold whenever you collect any gold or moving the steward up to two spaces more or less without paying.

After 16 turns (with four players) or 18 turns (with two or three players), the game ends and you tally points for goods delivered, spaces visited by the steward, buildings constructed, and goats and gold still on hand.

Corinth retails for €20/$20, and it will debut from publisher Days of Wonder in March 2019 in Europe and in May 2019 in North America.


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New Game Round-up: Build Copenhagen, Explore Luxor Anew, and Build New Worlds in Minecraft

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• Another day, another announcement or seven from one publisher or another, with Queen Games teasing info on three early 2019 releases for now. Let's start with the trendiest title of the bunch: Copenhagen, a 2-4 player game from the familiar design duo of Asger Harding Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen that plays in 20-40 minutes.

Why does this one get the "trendy" tag? Because the game features polyominoes, which seems to be the go-to component for designers and publishers worldwide. That said, I have no idea when Queen signed this design and how long it's been in development. Perhaps Asger can reveal all in a designer diary down the road. For now, here's a summary of the gameplay:

Quote:
The Danish city of Copenhagen is traversed by canals and harbors, and part of it — "Nyhavn" (New Harbor) — is famous for the colorful gabled houses along the water.

In the game Copenhagen, players must design new façades for these houses so that they fit seamlessly into this beautiful harbor setting. By using the cards on displays, players receive the corresponding façade polyomino tiles, with which they beautify their houses. Overbuilding certain spaces and floors gives them additional skills for the rest of the game. Floors that consist of a pure window front are particularly rewarding and bring the players many points.




Luxor: The Mummy's Curse, due out in May 2019, is an expansion for Rüdiger Dorn's Luxor, which was nominated for the German Spiel des Jahres award in 2018. Queen is attempting to fund this title on Kickstarter through the end of January 2019 (KS link), and as is the habit with many a Queen title, Luxor: The Mummy's Curse contains multiple modules that can be mixed-and-matched as desired, as well as components to allow up to five players at once. Here's a rundown of the modules:

Quote:
—The Mummy: An ancient cursed mummy has woken and is not amused at the adventurers intruding on her temple. Whenever an Osiris card is played by any player, the mummy moves forward as many spaces as the number of eyes on the card. Any adventurer she lands on or passes through falls into a deep slumber and must be woken up by spending an activation. The player controlling the mummy receives Talisman tokens that grant them a one-time special ability.

—Equipment: Players choose their starting hands from five of seven equipment cards. Once played, the equipment cards are discarded as normal and will be shuffled into the deck. Each equipment card is a variation of the normal movement cards and allows players to choose a starting strategy.

—New Treasures: A fourth treasure type is added to the game, along with new rules for set collection.

—Special Adventurers: Each player chooses from one of eight special abilities that are unique to them for the entire game.

• As you can tell from a glance at the cover, Voll Verwackelt is the Queen title in this batch aimed at young players, and like many such titles from Queen's past, this Wolfgang Dirscherl and Manfred Reindl design has a dexterity element:

Quote:
Tim Löwe and his friends have found the tastiest coconuts imaginable, but unfortunately these coveted fruits are growing on a palm tree that stands in the middle of a shaky rock.

In Voll Verwackelt, players must balance the animals constantly as they move them gently across this unstable rock because only if the balance is kept do you receive coconuts as a reward. Collect the most coconuts by the end of the game, and you win!

Ravensburger has posted information about the children's games that it plans to release in the first half of 2019, but information about its titles for more general audiences has been scarce so far. Las Vegas Royale appears to be a new edition of Dorn's Las Vegas, which debuted in 2012 from Ravensburger's alea brand, but there's no sign of anything new in this edition other than the title and (possibly) the artwork since nothing has been posted for this release yet.

• Even less info is available for Minecraft, a 2-4 player game for ages 8+ that plays in 30-60 minutes. All I know now is the brief description below:

Quote:
The video game phenomenon comes to your table with the Minecraft board game, in which you try to grab rare resources from your fellow players and avoid getting surprised by monsters like creepers and zombies. Craft your collected resources into new, better gear, and design your personal dream home to secure victory!
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Restoration Games to Bring Back Conspiracy at Origins 2019

W. Eric Martin
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U.S. publisher Restoration Games, which most recently blew the doors off Kickstarter with its campaign for a new edition of Fireball Island, has announced the next title to be "restored" as part of the company's efforts to revive nostalgic favorites and make them play as well as we think they played at the time: Eric Solomon's Conspiracy. Here's an overview of the gameplay in that design, which first debuted in 1973:

Quote:
There are four capitals, four bankbooks, one top secret briefcase and eight greedy spies that anyone can control. The object is to move the briefcase to your headquarters. Players can either secretly pay off or openly move a spy one space on their turn. Each player has an account of $10,000 and can bribe spies in increments of at least $100. If you move a spy, another player may challenge the move. The two players then slowly reveal how much money they each have on the spy in question. If the challenger wins, the move is rescinded. If the defender wins, the move stays and the challenger loses his next turn. Players need to cooperate against whichever player is closest to victory. You can conspire openly to swipe the case or murder a spy and turn the tables on a player who is a mere one space away from winning. No dice, no cards, no luck involved. Learn to work together or games will end in a hurry.

Conspiracy was released under a number of different titles over the years — Sigma File, Agent, Casablanca — and anyone who's seen the game will recall its distinctive components for the spies:




The Restoration Games version bears the title Conspiracy: The Solomon Gambit to honor the game's original designer, and it will debut at the 2019 Origins Game Fair in June. In addition to now supporting 2-4 players (instead of 3-4, as was the case with most earlier versions), the game has a few other changes to the game as well, thanks to co-designers Rob Daviau, JR Honeycutt, and Justin D. Jacobson:

Quote:
This restored edition offers two new twists on the original gameplay. First, each agent has a unique ability that lets them move an agent or the briefcase for free. Second, an alternate win condition eliminates stalling and potential stalemates. If no one wins within a certain number of turns, Dr. Solomon can end the game immediately, and whoever has paid off the most to him wins the game. However, if you pay off too much to Dr. Solomon early in the game, that can leave you with little control over the other agents, forcing you to strike a tricky balance between immediate and long-term goals.




Restoration notes that it won't feature the marble busts of the earlier releases, modernizing the game with art by Matt Griffin and spy components that look like this:

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Designer Diary: Beta Colony, or It All Started with Space Vikings!!!

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Ben Pinchback here, one of the co-designers of Beta Colony. I'll be doing the main writing on this designer diary, with Matt Riddle, Beta Colony's other designer, chiming in with his comments, such as this:

Did you hear the one about the monk who walked into the bar? Ouch!

For real, hey everyone. In this post, Ben spends about five thousand words exploring the journey that brought us to one of our 2018 releases — Beta Colony from Rio Grande Games, with Piepmatz and Fleet: The Dice Game being the other two — and I will pop in randomly to break up the monotony of Ben's prattle.

Also, it is interesting how themes change over time. Each step, we did work to make sure the current theme is integrated and made sense. Even though this game is a Euro, there are thematic elements throughout Beta Colony — even a cool backstory written by our buddy Mike Mullins.


If you've heard of me and Matt up to this point, it's most likely from our card game Fleet from 2012 or from our 2017 post-apocalyptic romp Wasteland Express Delivery Service (a.k.a., WEDS). WEDS is kind of like a sibling to Beta Colony in that they both share the same parent — "Space Vikings!!!". Technically Beta Colony is from "Space Vikings!!! 2.0", as we had dubbed it, so I guess that makes Beta Colony a nephew or niece to WEDS with "Space Vikings!!!" proper being the granddaddy. The "Space Vikings!!!" family tree also includes unpublished sibling "4 Brothers of Love", who begat published cousin Morocco, as well as crazy cousin "Alcazar" and his sister "Wolf and the Fox", both of which have been committed to the shelf of misfit protos.

So why do you care about "Space Vikings!!!" and all of Aegir, God of the Sea's children and grandchildren? Well, you don't and you shouldn't. It's just the long way of explaining where the central idea for Beta Colony — the "Rolldel" — came from. In short form, the Rolldel is a dice rondel. Players use sets of rolled dice in pairs to first move their token around the action circle with one die, then activate the spot with the other die.

But we're getting way ahead of ourselves. To properly explain the Rolldel, we need to start back at the beginning, with the vikings in the Baltic sea when Chief Forkbeard passed on and his five worthless sons were left to carry on his legacy. (We'll soon be getting to voyagers constructing colonization pods on the chosen planet, Victus, I promise.)

Get it? Roll... like dice... plus rondel = Rolldell! Boom. You're welcome. Also, the "Space Vikings!!!" tree is like the Belichick coaching tree: mildly successful, but better in theory than in practice.

Back in the Baltic Sea, the brothers Forkbeard went about their business pillaging and expanding with great abandon, forgetting their roots and also forsaking tribute to Aegir, God of the Sea. Enraged by their behavior, Aegir banished them to space, where they would be forced to work their way back into his good graces on their quest home.

This was 2012, and Matt and I would spend the better part of 3-4 years trying to make this ridiculous premise into an actual functional game. Mechanically it had this cool octagon- and square-patterned modular board with an action-selection player mat and upgradeable ships, but thematically it was a mess. I can't imagine why. Also, if this sounds kind of like Wasteland Express Delivery Service to you, then you've cracked the code — but that was not until waaaaay later.




During this journey, we took a left turn at one point and created "Space Vikings!!! 2.0". We had decided that the Forkbeards needed dice to spice things up and that gameplay needed to be cut down to 60 minutes tops. "Space Vikings!!!" was inherently a pick-up and deliver game, and 2.0 would be the same, but instead of a sprawling modular board, the game would take place on a circular array. Players would use dice to move around the galaxy clockwise in a circle and stop on the different planets to perform actions. Players would use dice in tandem; one selected die would move a player around the circle, and a second selected die would be used to perform the action at that location. The Rolldel had been born!

Even so, the Forkbeards were not doing so well. The pick-up and deliver in a circle was a little too on the nose and lacking in dynamics. Everyone who played the game loved the dice mechanism, but the game as a whole was just not working. And, shockingly enough, the theme wasn't making any sense. But again, everyone loved the dice thing.

The dice thing then went on to spawn a few other games that didn't quite make it to the finish line, crazy cousins "Alcazar" and "Wolf and the Fox" among them, but in the end it became just a cool idea in our tool belt, waiting for the proper time to come out again.

I really liked "Wolf and the Fox", which is still my favorite shelved proto. It even has cute art courtesy of Eric J Carter (the now retired Fleet artist). It is just a simple rolldell game — pick a die, move that many spaces around the rondel and take cards where you land — then later the cards score Ra/Sushi Go-style set stuff. (PWH isn't the only one who can borrow from the good doctor. He just does it way, way better.) Seriously, though, "Wolf and the Fox" is a totally fun 20-30 minute family game, but alas, it just never quite found a home.




In a parallel world, Matt and I traveled to Baltimore in January 2013 to attend our very first Unpub convention. Unpub is an amazing event in which rooms full of designers play their prototypes with the general public, who show up in droves to test these games and give critical feedback. In the winter of 2013, Matt and I were showing off/working on Monster Truck Mayhem (which deserves a Shakespearean tragedy written completely unto itself) and a mid-weight Euro called "Bagan".

"Bagan" used a hex grid, tiles, and a little resource acquisition mechanism to have players control monks building a temple. The tiles had fun powers on them when built, and the tile-laying had a cool double area control type of scoring. Throughout the weekend, players super enjoyed the tile portion of the game but were continually left feeling flat regarding the resource acquisition. It was too direct and didn't feel clever at all. The game needed a slick layer to pair with the fun tile building...

Fun note: The resource acquisition in "Bagan" was the draw mechanism in Fleet Wharfside. Two piles/queues of three cubes (cards in Wharfside) and you can take two but from only one of the piles. I do not honestly know whether it was in Wharfside first or "Bagan" first — but it worked way better in Wharfside.

Matt and I generally don't add more content to "fix" game designs. Our typical pattern is that we start with way too much fun stuff and end up sculpting the final game down like a statue as opposed to building it up from different pieces. "Bagan" was different. It totally worked but was begging for another layer. It was begging for what Matt and I call "The Feld", that is, the first part of most Stefan Feld games, the clever thing you do which then allows you to do the basic Euro stuff later. Think of the mancala in Trajan, the card drafting in Strasbourg, the dice placement in Bora Bora, the dice trick in Macao, the card play in Bruges. All of these slick things define the games they're in, then give way to otherwise familiar Euro mechanisms. "Bagan" had fun, familiar Euro tile-laying, but it needed — say it together now — the Rolldel.

Combining "Bagan" with the Rolldel made perfect sense to us. Once united, the game began to sing and players were having a blast. The puzzle of the dice selection with movement around the circle, then activation coupled with the tile-laying was perfect. We continued to work the game and ended up with three different areas to in which to build, each with a unique rewards track as players level up in those particular areas. Everything was making sense except the theme. We were still monks building a temple, but for some reason...three areas of the temple. We kinda liked the theme though, so we stubbornly stuck with it when we started to pitch the game around 2015-ish.

It was a pretty good theme. We even explored a two-phase mechanism in which an earthquake happens and the second phase builds off the remnants of the first phase. It was interesting and worked and was historically-based as Myanmar is located in an earthquake zone, but it was not salable as it turns out and, in retrospect, not socially something that Ben and I would embark on now. We have learned a lot over the years from our great gamer and Twitter friends about social consciousness and something with the depth and history of this theme should be handled carefully, if at all. Also, yes the monks have guns in that proto.




Matt and I had always dreamed of having a design published with Rio Grande Games. After we got deep into the hobby as players, seemingly half or more of our initial collections were Rio Grande titles — all the huge ports from Europe like Power Grid and Puerto Rico, plus favorite originals like Dominion. Add to that Rio Grande's presence at conventions like Origins and Gen Con, and they always felt like the big leagues to us.

Adding to this dream was the fact that Rio Grande's owner, Jay Tummelson, was always very responsive to Matt's inquiries for meetings at those conventions. We pitched Jay a minimum of twice a summer for years. He had taken some of our games overnight to further evaluate, but we had never reached the finish line with him and his team. Ever persistent, we showed him "Bagan" in the middle of 2015. Jay liked the game enough to keep it overnight and have his team evaluate it. The next morning we came back, and his basic response was "Pretty cool game, but it needs some development. Oh, and it should be in space."

Space monks!!! No, not this time. We'd play it a little more straight this time around, especially since space made total sense in this context. The Rolldel was an orbit around a central body stopping in at the moons, etc., and the tile-laying created different settlements. It was a perfect fit, so we worked on integrating the new theme and changing things around over the next year.

You read that correctly: the next year. A year sounds like a long time, but consider that for a 60-ish minute game, two designers working full-time jobs who get together once a week are getting one, maybe two, reps a week. When you start making changes and need the plays, it just takes time. During this time, we had loose contact with the developer from Rio Grande, Ken Hill, who encouraged us to keep working the changes and bring the game back in 2016 to show Jay and the team.

The summer of 2016 went well. We showed the new game to the Rio Grande team, and they were very excited about it. Ken began his development, and we embarked on another period of testing and changes. Like the sculpture mentioned before, extra tasks and scoring opportunities that we felt were fun got chipped away as Ken and the dev team trimmed the fat. (We had additional contracts to complete that you could pick up at the Ridback and a convoluted auction for player powers.) When as a designer you play some form of a game for the better part of four years, you get really good at it. As you get better, the tendency is to add more and more to keep it challenging, not realizing that you've outpaced your audience. This is why testing at events such as Unpub as well as with the dev team are so important. You get the impressions from real players playing for the first time. Inevitably you end up trimming things out you thought you needed.


All the bits


I miss the contracts...maybe for an expansion if it sells well? They were basically dice puzzles that you had to complete while doing other things, so you needed to, say, drop off an orange cube at The Ridback with a green die range 4-6. I realize that unless you've played the game that makes no sense, but they were fun — and unneeded for the target audience. But honestly, super fun, at least for me...

Also, I want to piggy back on what Ben said and thank Ken Hill. He did make some great strides on Beta Colony. Originally the tile-laying influence was disappointingly mathy. It was similar to the system in Santiago (tiles • your markers), but you had to do it constantly instead of just at round's end. It worked and added some nice depth, but was work. Turns out not everyone likes doing algebra.


Ken did a great job over that next year working with his testers and going back and forth with us, and we got the game nailed down enough to begin art assets, graphic design, and production talk. A long story short on this effort is to say that this took longer than we expected for Beta Colony. There were some specific challenges with the tiles, colors, the Rolldel, symbology, clarity, the board layout, and tracks that required a couple go-rounds.

To Ken and Rio's credit, they never settled with good enough. When it was determined that the board wasn't going to be usable by most players, they went back and worked it to make it better. The end result is that Beta Colony is a beautiful production with nice, chunky wooden bits and bright colors reinforced with fun symbols. The dice puzzle leading into the tile play has been well received, and we super hope you enjoy it, too. From "Space Vikings!!!" to "Bagan", Forkbeard to the Rolldel, to the marriage of it all on Victus — our new chosen planet to colonize — thanks for reading and enjoy the game.

Yes, thank you to everyone who read this, or even lightly skimmed it, or just read my parts. Consider checking out Beta Colony as it is in retail now. If you ever have any questions, hit us up in the forums or on Twitter because we will always answer. Matt = @mdriddlen, Ben = @pinchback21


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Mon Jan 14, 2019 1:00 pm
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Game Industry Happenings: Stackpole Resigns from GAMA, Asmodee Buys Something, and Uwe Mölter Retires

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• On Sunday, January 5, 2019, game designer Michael Stackpole resigned from the Board of Directors of Game Manufacturers Association, a.k.a. GAMA, a position that he's held for eleven years as an Emeritus member following a three-year term as an elected member. Here's an excerpt from his public resignation letter:

Quote:
I feel the Emeritus role on the board is a crucial one, since board turnover requires a repository of knowledge so we can avoid the pitfalls of past mistakes, and maintain the benefits of what we have learned in past times.

I regret that I must now tender my resignation from that post.

I have not reached this decision based on any political divide within the Board. I have come to it because the Board is broken. Since June, the board has had more meetings than ever before, and has done less than ever before. In one recent meeting, it took the board 45 minutes to word a resolution empowering a committee to hire a lawyer to negotiate with another lawyer. Three-quarters of an hour, in a meeting scheduled for two hours, which stretched to four.

The board is broken when the organization's membership indicates its will; and then the board commissions a poll to second guess the membership's will. When that poll comes back confirming what the membership wants, the board hires a lawyer to tell them they can ignore the membership.

The board is broken when it, having previously enjoyed robust and detailed discussions about GAMA harassment policies, down to the minutia of the structuring of an investigative team to be in place at our shows, chooses only to censure an officer who physically assaulted a female security guard.

The board is broken when, in wishing to discuss me in email, without my being aware of the chain, they actually send it to a list which includes me. (Thought I'd let you know about that so you didn't think your emails were leaked to me.)

• In the "What did Asmodee buy this time?" slot in these round-ups, we have the news that in January 2019 The Asmodee Group acquired Bezzerwizzer Nordic, which is primarily known for the trivia party game Bezzerwizzer and dozen other titles that bear the "Bezzerwizzer" name, a word derived from the German "Besserwisser", which means "smart aleck" or "know-it-all". An excerpt from the press release announcing the deal:

Quote:
Established in 2006 by Birgitte and Jesper Bülow, Bezzerwizzer is one of the leading game publishers in the Nordics with its main titles Bezzerwizzer and Hint. Asmodee already distributes both games in Nordic countries.

"We are excited and proud to become part of Asmodee. Having built a strong Nordic position in trivia and party games, we are ready to bring our games to players in other parts of the world as a member of the Asmodee family, who shares our dedication to high quality board games." said Jesper Bülow, Bezzerwizzer Nordics CEO.

Bezzerwizzer becomes Asmodee's 14th studio and brings its expertise in developing successful trivia games with creative developing & marketing teams to the Group.

Asmodee has offices in 18 countries: USA, Canada, France, UK, Germany, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Poland, Chile, Belgium, Brazil, Taiwan and China. The company also relies on 14 publishing studios spread around the world and distributes products in over 50 countries.

Fourteen studios! Many publishers don't even have fourteen games in their catalog...

• Uwe Mölter is retiring from AMIGO Spiel after spending 25 years at the company as a game editor. Titles he's worked on include Bohnanza, 6 nimmt!, Wizard, and Elfenland. More recently, he brought ICECOOL to AMIGO, where it won the Kinderspiel des Jahres in 2017, and in 2018 he oversaw Krass Kariert, which won the 2018 Fairplay A la Carte award and Tief im Riff, a children's game that was claimed a Spiele Hit award from Austria's Wiener Spieleakademie.

• Netflix is being sued for trademark ingringement by Chooseco, the publishing company that holds the "Choose Your Own Adventure" trademark, over Netflix' use of the term in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch in December 2018. The lawsuit itself doesn't relate to the game industry in any way, but in the legal complaint filed by Chooseco, the company notes that the licensed Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger title from Z-Man Games has "sold over 150,000 units since its launch in June 2018". Thought that sales figure would be interesting to note since Z-Man usually doesn't publicize such things. (HT: Chris Cieslik)
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Sat Jan 12, 2019 4:00 pm
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Schmidt Spiele Welcomes More Warsch in 2019, with Doppelt So Clever, Herbal Witches for Quacksalber, and The Tavern of the Deep Valley

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• As January continues, the German publishers are dropping their catalogs into public view one by one, with Schmidt Spiele being the next one to do so.

The highlight title for me — and possibly for others — is Die Tavernen im Tiefen Thal, a big box game from Wolfgang Warsch for 2-4 players that plays in 60 minutes. Schmidt struck gold in 2018 with Warsch's Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg, so here's an overview of their second "big box" game together:

Quote:
In the village of Tiefenthal lies "The Tavern of the Deep Valley". There, all citizens from the area gather, but it's important to attract new, wealthy guests for only then is there enough money to expand the tavern, which will then lure nobles into the tavern as well. But which tavern expansion is best? Should you focus on money? Or rather ensure that the beer will keep flowing?

In Die Tavernen im Tiefen Thal, the challenge is to skillfully choose the dice and develop your personal deck of cards as profitably as possible. The game is structured with five modules so that each player can set their desired level of difficulty.

Okay, we need more gameplay details to know what's going on, and thankfully BGG will be at the Spielwarenmesse fair in February 2019 to record video overviews of this and dozens more upcoming games.

• Speaking of Warsch, Schmidt has a spin-off title from Ganz schön clever, which like Quacksalber was nominated for the Kennerspiel des Jahres in 2018.

Doppelt so clever ("Double so clever") appears to follow the gameplay model of GSC, with the active player rolling dice on their turn up to three times in order to mark off spaces in their scoring sheet, after which everyone else uses one of the dice not chosen by the active player. This new game includes a new action beyond the re-roll and "use one more die" actions of GSC, an action that looks like a block with a backwards arrow on it. My guess would be flipping a die to its reverse face. We'll see...

• Schmidt's "Klein & Fein" line of small dice games has a second entrant in the first half of 2019: Dizzle by Ralf zur Linde, which like Doppelt so clever is for 1-4 players with a 30-minute playing time.

In Dizzle, players draft dice turn by turn during the round, and they need to match what they already have in order to continue drafting. At the end of a round, everyone marks boxes on their scorecard for what they've collected, then a new round begins. More details are needed to see what's going on here.


Dizzle scorecards


So typisch! from designers Matteo Cimenti, Carlo Rigon, and Chiara Zanchetta is a 3-8 player co-operative party game "full of stereotypes and clichés", according to the publisher. Each round, a single player decides which item to assign to a person, then everyone else must assess how this player has decided. In the end, players win only if they've made more matches than mistakes.

Overload is a racing game for 3-5 players from Wolfgang Riedl. At the start of the game, each player decides how many discs to place on their figure. The more discs you have, the more you score! Whenever someone passes you during the race, you add another disc to your figure — but if you collect too many discs, then you go out of control and need to start the lap again...

Ratto Zakko is the one Drei Magier Spiele title in the batch, with Schmidt distributing this brand, and this Jacques Zeimet title for 2-8 players seems right in line with his brand of game design:

Quote:
Ratto Zakko features fast food for gourmets — but hopefully you can grab the right dishes, despite the changing colors of the hoods that hide the dishes, the rancid cheese or rotten eggs that might await there, and the darn fly that keeps showing up when you least expect it! Who can grab the most delicacies?

• Finally, let's end where we began — with Wolfgang Warsch and Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg, more specifically with the Die Kräuterhexen expansion that adds components for a fifth player, more ingredient books, a new "fool's herb", and the introduction of herbal witches for more variety.



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Thu Jan 10, 2019 4:47 pm
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Prepare Yourself for Paint, Pearls, Pets, Proving Grounds, and Puffy Dice in Early 2019

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• French publisher Super Meeple, which to date has focused on new edition of older games, has given details of its first original release: Couleurs de Paris (Colors of Paris) from first-time designer Nicolas de Oliveira. Here's a teaser of the setting and gameplay, with this game due out in May/June 2019:

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You are a painter, and you've decided to participate in "Bateau Lavoir", a friendly competition between several painters in a workshop in Montmartre, Paris. The newspapers know about this challenge, so perhaps this is a good opportunity to become famous, following the path of Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Monet, or Renoir...

Couleurs de Paris is a management game in which you must take care of your paint tubes, mixtures, and time to create works, all the while anticipating others to perform as needed within a rotating set of actions.

• German publisher ABACUSSPIELE has a number of licensed titles for release in the first half of 2019 — Roberto Fraga's Crazy Eggz, a new Deckscape "escape room" card game — as well as the new card game Pearls from designers Christian Fiore and Knut Happel. Here's an overview of this game for 2-6 players:

Quote:
In Pearls, players dive for valuable pearls, then try to sell them at local markets. You either collect or score pearl cards of the same color (and value) on your turn. Cards with higher value score more points, but are less common. Pearls with lower value may seem weaker at first, but if you score a larger quantity of cards at once, you receive a necklace card with bonus points, if available. With a hand limit of ten cards, however, this requires clever hand management and timing.

At the end of the game, all pearl and necklace cards in your scoring piles score positive points and any cards left in your hand score minus points. The player with the highest total score wins.

• In April 2019, Renegade Game Studios will launch its "Solo Hero Series" with Kane Klenko's Proving Grounds, which includes both a novella by Monica Valentinelli to introduce its hero and the game itself, which takes place in a gladiatorial setting. This solitaire design consists of a training game as well as six mix-and-match modules that can be used individually or in any combination.

• Wooden cubes can represent many different things in games, and in Kibble Scuffle — due out in April 2019 from Keegan Acquaotta, Jennifer Graham-Macht, Scott Gratien, Jesse Haedrich, and WizKids — they become cat food, which makes perfect sense to me as my cats' food does indeed resemble cubic nuggets. As for gameplay:

Quote:
Kibble Scuffle is a tactical card game of area control to try to get the best food for your feline friends. With cards like the Robo-Vac and Laser Pointer, you can use toys to strategically distract your opponent's cats. Using the game box as a cat food box to store the food cubes, players take turns placing their cats and resolving their abilities. For example, the Pounce Cat removes a cat at a bowl. The Greedy Cat eats two food cubes. The Mangy Cat forces another cat to move away from their bowl. Once five cats are at any food bowl, the feeding (scoring) phase begins, followed by a new round.

Once a player reaches 20 points, the player with the most value of food cubes eaten at the end of the feeding phase wins.

Smash City is a design from Stephen Avery and WizKids currently due out in March 2019 in which 2-4 players roll large foam dice in order to knock over buildings and spread poisonous gas throughout the city. Each of the four kaiju characters in the game include unique special powers.


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Wed Jan 9, 2019 3:27 pm
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