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Designer Diary: Abandon All Artichokes, or a Heartless Card Game

Emma Larkins
United States
Washington
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Board Game: Abandon All Artichokes
What did artichokes do to deserve this? What could anyone possibly have against them? What kind of existential crisis inspires the consternation of this particular edible flower bud?

Well, friends, buckle up because I'm here to take you on an Abandon All Artichokes journey of mythical proportions from name-first design to pitching, from mechanical development to design philosophy musings, from playtesting to publication and beyond.

What's In a Name?

In July 2017 I issued myself a challenge (dubbed #gamedesigndaily) to improve my skills as a game designer. My goal was to do one design-related thing (no matter how small) each day, for example, play a board game, brainstorm a game concept, or take a picture on my daily walk to inspire creativity.

Enter the Alliterative Game Name Challenge. I wrote the list on my bus ride to work, and later posted it on Twitter:


The names were fun and goofy, but had no mechanical underpinnings — and yet someone responded to my tweet with "Can I pre-order Abandon All Artichokes?" My initial thought was "It's not even a game! There's nothing there! It's just a silly name that I came up with on the bus!" Nonetheless, the seed was planted, and slowly took root.

Three months later...

Game-a-Day Prototyping

...I was still going strong with #gamedesigndaily. At the end of October 2017, I issued myself a particularly tough challenge: design a game a day for a week. I made sure to set the bar for these designs low; the purpose of this challenge was not to come up with seven amazing games, but instead to hone my rapid prototyping skills.

With the clock ticking, I latched onto a name from the past for one of the designs: "Abandon All Artichokes". There was no time to ponder how a game called "Abandon All Artichokes" might function mechanically, so I went with the first mechanism that popped into my head: deck-building. You get rid of cards in a deck-builder, so it meshed well with this idea of "abandoning" the artichokes.

Next, I wanted to come up with at least a semblance of a theme. Well, the artichokes were there already. Why not throw some other fruits and vegetables into the mix? And why not put funny faces on them, just for the heck of it? No big inspiration there — I'm just a big fan of adorable faces on food.

And thus, a prototype was born.


Core Game Structure

From the start, I wanted Abandon All Artichokes to be something that kids and families would enjoy, but with enough strategy that I could play with my gamer friends.

From gallery of emmalarkins
The win condition emerged naturally and is one of my favorite parts of the game. Instead of having to count up points, you simply check for Artichoke cards every time you draw at the end of your turn. No Artichokes = WIN! As you cull Artichokes and add non-Artichoke cards to your deck, you naturally progress towards the end state. However, you don't know exactly when it will occur, which is a hallmark of an engaging game.

I decided on a limited set of card powers (as opposed to mostly unique cards) and a dynamic market (instead of always-available piles of each card type). Pineapple let you blow up an opponent's hand, forcing them to discard one or more cards using an adjacency effect. Broccoli shielded you from Pineapple attacks. Strawberry trashed cards to remove them from your deck. Banana drew cards.

That was the whole game, at the start. I like to point this out because a lot changed over time, but right from the beginning, there was a simple, core loop of fun that felt worth pursuing.

The original prototype didn't emerge from my brain as a shining diamond, however. Many things either immediately got the axe or took a while to weed out.

Far From Perfect

At first, the adjacency effect of the Pineapple felt like the biggest innovation. Very early on, however, it proved too chaotic for Abandon All Artichokes.

The Artichokes acted as a currency in the original version. Instead of getting a card for free each turn, you'd have to "spend" (discard) an Artichoke to purchase a card from the market. This slowed the game down because you couldn't get rid of your Artichokes as quickly if you kept discarding them from your hand.

The game had a good hook, but there wasn't yet a lot of meat to it. It would need a lot of development to get it in working order, but I didn't have a ton of time to spend on iterating because...

From gallery of emmalarkins
Abandon All Artichokes Hits the Road

The first PAX Unplugged was in less than a month. As someone who loves PAX and loves board games, I already had my ticket. I wanted to bring a new game to demo and figured that out of all my prototypes, Abandon All Artichokes had the most potential.

I did a quick art pass using clip art from Etsy. (Rule of thumb for new designers: Don't spend a fortune on prototype art, and don't steal art from the Internet.) Then I added the names and the powers to the cards, and I was ready to go.

Next I had to decide what to do with Abandon All Artichokes at PAXU, so I signed up for an Unpub table. (Shout-out to Unpub for being an awesome place for playtesting games.) I also figured I'd send a few pitch emails. It would be good practice, even if no one responded. I used the Cardboard Edison Compendium to find publisher contact information and cross-referenced that with the PAXU floor plan to make sure the publishers I was interested in would actually be at the show. I chose Gamewright because of my long-time love for their games (I figured I'd be able to play up the "food with faces" angle), in addition to a handful of other publishers.

Much to my surprise, despite the newness of the prototype, the response was positive! I credit my marketing background as right from the start, I had pitching on my brain. I wrote these notes less than a month after making the first prototype.

From gallery of emmalarkins
Early pitch notes for Abandon All Artichokes, November 2017

I kept the following in mind as I composed my pitch email (below): keep it short; images sell; have a good hook; and understand the publisher's products.
Quote:
I'd love to meet you and your team at PAX Unplugged, where I'll be pitching my light, fast-paced deck building game Abandon All Artichokes.

Attack your opponents with pineapples. Hit an artichoke with a pineapple to do triple damage!

External image


- Fast-paced
- Easy-to-learn
- Reduces deck building to its simplest components
- Funny theme
- Strategic
- Take that mechanic makes players consider card placement within their hands

Do you have time for a meeting? Happy to come by your booth if that's convenient. Love to stop by and say hi even if this game isn't a fit — I'm a big Gamewright fan, and Sushi Go! and Go Nuts for Donuts are my jam.
Playtesting at the Show

Playtesting was my main goal. I've always been a huge proponent of testing, and although I'd received some publisher interest already, I had no illusions that the game was done.

From gallery of emmalarkins
"Playtesters putting bought cards into hand instead of discard. Maybe this is okay!"

Testing proved fruitful throughout the show. For example, one player suggested that instead of "trashing" cards (a terminology common in deck-builders) you'd "compost" them.

I watched players take cards from the market directly into their hands instead of putting them into their discard piles (another common deck-builder trope). I wanted to lean into natural player behavior to make the game as intuitive as possible, so instead of fighting against these instincts, I decided to incorporate them into my game.

I also observed as one player in particular "broke" my game by making an Infinite Potato Loop using card draw.

From gallery of emmalarkins
"Will fix infinite potato."

Drawing cards in a deck-builder is an incredibly delicate power, and this started my long fight with the ability, eventually leading to cutting it completely.


Unpub was fantastic, the testing went well, and even with this incredibly early iteration I saw positive player feedback: smiles, laughter, and email list sign-ups — all good signs that I was on the right track.

Publisher Meetings

From gallery of emmalarkins
PAXU, at least in its first year, turned out to be a great event for engaging with publishers. I'd been to Gen Con a few times before, and there is so much going on that it can be hard to get a publisher's attention. PAXU was chill enough that I was able to set up some in-person meetings by handing out my card. My card has my picture on the back of it, so it was easy for people to find me.

I stopped by the Gamewright booth with my sell sheet and rules, as requested, and shook hands with Jason, but didn't actually demo. I did have a chance to sit down and play the game with a couple of publishers, and the response was surprisingly positive.

Initial Impressions

Jason emailed me back that the rules looked interesting, and he wanted to see a prototype. I sent it off December 2017.

Jason later revealed to me that he knew from the beginning that Abandon All Artichokes had something special to offer, but at the time I had no idea. Here's his response to my first prototype:
Quote:
I love the premise and can certainly see the potential here. I'd say the main sticking point is that it may be a tad too difficult for your causal, "never played a deck-builder before" player... Not sure how interested you would be in tweaking the game to address some of these issues, but if so, I'd be happy to give it some serious reconsideration.
That was good enough for me! It's exactly what I was looking for — someone interested in giving me focused feedback and passionate about making the game the best it could be.


Early Development

There's no secret path I took as I started developing Abandon All Artichokes. I didn't have a clear plan of "change x, y, and z, and then it will be done." I simply put in the hard work of iterating on card powers while maintaining the core elements of engaging play that I'd identified in the first prototype.

These are the core design philosophies that guided my practice:

1. Follow the Feedback: It can be incredibly tough for a player to put their experience into words, making it difficult to distinguish between what a player says and what they actually mean. "Following the feedback" doesn't translate to "make every change playtesters suggest". It means observing and tracking the sum of play experiences over time and not ignoring how someone feels just because it's not something you want to hear.

From gallery of emmalarkins
2. Design for Delight: I learn a lot by watching people's faces. A sudden smile, a look of shock, a shout of triumph — these are the things I want to inspire. My goal was to make a game that people would discuss in excited tones during play and even after the game was done.

3. Break down Barriers: I wanted Abandon All Artichokes to be as approachable as possible. This meant leaning into players' instinctual actions and removing rules that went against their natural inclinations.

4. Players are Powerful: Although I wanted to make my game approachable, I also wanted continual, interesting actions. I didn't want the game to get boring after a few plays. That's where the obsession with tweaking and balancing cards came into play.

Growing with the Seattle Tabletop Game Design Community

I launched a local, weekly playtesting group in Seattle right around the time I started working on Abandon All Artichokes. (The idea for the group actually came out of discussions at PAXU.) However, there were already designers doing awesome things in Seattle: Joseph Z. Chen and Justin Faulkner launched their Fantastic Factories Kickstarter in May 2018. Local Point Salad designers Molly Johnson and Shawn Stankewich were also an important part of growing the group, along with Rob Newton (Shuffle Grand Prix), Victoria Cana and Alexandre Uboldi (Gladius), not to mention a dozen other designers who you'll see popping up here on BGG in the near future.


The group had (and continues to have) lots of great energy. I never would have polished Abandon All Artichokes without getting to test it with my fellow designers on a regular basis. Everyone in the group was so positive, always excited to test the game and pushing me to get it published already so they could buy it!

Moving Along

I sent another prototype to Gamewright in May 2018 and scheduled a meeting at Gen Con 2018.

The conversations with Gamewright evolved over time. As I continued to make positive changes, they got more excited, and we had more in-depth conversations about the individual cards and powers.

You've never lived until you've chatted for half an hour about whether or not Broccoli is overpowered and how it should be nerfed.

Closing in on the Goal

Weekly playtests with game designers can help to hone a game, but it's also important to get the prototype in front of new players from time to time. I had a great reception showing the game at PAX West 2018.


My pace varied over time, but I continued to slowly hammer away at the design. The more I tested, the more I realized that I needed to find a really solid pool of card powers. Cards needed to generally be good early game and late game; cards needed to generally synergize well with each other. At the same time, we wanted to have a few different strategies emerge for players to be able to pick a play style that suited them.

Most of the development involved playing around with all the zones of a simple deck-builder — active player's deck, hand, and discard pile; the market, a.k.a. "Garden"; the market deck; other player's decks, hands, and discard piles; and the trash pile, a.k.a. "Compost" — as well as combining different actions available in a deck-builder: drawing cards; discarding cards; adding new cards to your deck; trashing, a.k.a. "composting" cards; shuffling decks; and interacting with other players. Every time I made a new set of powers, I'd have to rebalance every existing card. Some cards stayed much the same throughout development, but some cards had upwards of ten iterations before we landed on a final ability.

A few key mechanical learnings:

1. Costs without Currency: Most deck-builders use points, money, or both to balance card powers. Often, cards will have a "spending power" for acquiring other cards. A very powerful card will cost more to purchase. A card worth a lot of points might not have any other mechanical effects. Without having these things to play around with, I had to invent other types of costs, such as: discarding an Artichoke, taking a risky action that might not result in progressing the game, putting a useful card in someone else's discard pile, taking only one action on your turn, having to demonstrate a certain composition of cards in your hand, etc.

2. Denying the Draw: Card draw is essential to a deck-builder. One of the key elements that distinguishes a deck-builder from other types of games is the constant drawing, discarding, and reshuffling of a player's personal deck. Purchasing cards that allow you to draw more cards accelerates your engine. Drawing cards is also fun! Abandon All Artichokes started out with card draw, and it took a long time for me to remove it. I never found a way to cost the cards that didn't make drawing more cards too valuable, even if you drew two cards and gave one to an opponent.

3. Balance, not Boredom: As I iterated on card powers, I went through many dramatic versions and many boring versions. Some of the most frustrating playtests were the ones in which I was sure I'd "perfectly balanced" the cards. Turns out that the best prototypes had a balance of "exciting" and "boring" cards. Take the Potato card (my personal favorite), for example: "Reveal the top card of your deck and compost it if it's an Artichoke." Every Potato is full of excitement! Compare that to the Broccoli card: "Compost an Artichoke if your hand has three or more Artichokes." No matter which way you slice it, there's just not much to that card. It's great early game, not so much late game. Sometimes you just can't do anything with it. I played the game recently and couldn't resist teasing my friend for choosing a Broccoli-heavy strategy, but you know what? He won the game!

Let's dig into a couple of card evolutions to get a sense of how some Abandon All Artichokes powers evolved over time.

From gallery of emmalarkins

Potato Evolution

Remember what I said about card draw? Look at the power on that first Potato: "Draw two cards." DRAW TWO CARDS. What was I thinking?!?

I love how the changes in this series of cards represents me coming to terms with pulling the weed of card draw from my game. I reduced the power by changing it to "Draw a card. Compost if it's an Artichoke." Eventually I did away with drawing and just had players compost the top card of their player decks. I loved the chaos of this card, but it ended up burning through the deck too quickly. Eventually I settled on "Reveal the top card of your Deck. Compost if Artichoke, otherwise discard it." The final form of this power struck a great balance between the exciting reveal of the top card of your deck and not reducing your deck to zero cards too quickly.

Beet Evolution

I don't want to go over every step in this evolution, but I wanted to point out how two similar card effects merged into one.

One of the core design directives from Gamewright was to encourage player interaction. It took many, many iterations to find a steal effect that didn't feel too punishing for the person being "attacked", especially after I removed the ability to block attacks.

From gallery of emmalarkins

Eventually, I merged the Banana steal effect with the Onion "two players reveal a random card" effect to arrive at the final Beet power: "You and an opponent each reveal a random card. Compost both if Artichokes, otherwise swap them." If you play this early in the game, chances are good that you'll help someone out by getting an Artichoke out of their deck. This ended up softening the potential steal effect just enough to make a "take that" action not feel too bad.

Dark Night of the Soul

It's important to share this part of the designer journey because things aren't always sunshine and roses. Bringing a game design to life can be incredibly emotionally taxing at times, and it's good to talk about that.

I got stuck in development a few times, and yes, it was incredibly frustrating. However, after accepting the frustration, I'd make some wild changes to the game, like playing all cards face-up in front of you or having people swap their entire hand with another player. Most of these drastic changes didn't make it into the final game, but they helped to get me out of design ruts.

I also found myself declaring multiple times that "The game is finished!" when there were still, unbeknownst to me, multiple months of development time left. The more experience you get as a designer, the better you get at estimating development time. Still, sometimes you really just need to take the time to explore all the potential things a game could be if you want to make a really good game.

From gallery of emmalarkins
142 things, to be exact!

For a lot of the early development, I was going to conventions, constantly tweaking the game, getting a lot of good feedback. I hit a bit of a wall at the end of 2018 and didn't talk much about the game on social media for three months. At a certain point when you're developing a game heavily, there just isn't going to be any exciting news to share with your community. "I changed the phrasing on a card from 'draw' to 'reveal'!" No one will ever be close enough to your game to understand all the subtle complexities, all the seemingly minuscule modifications that you agonize over. Designing a game can get lonely, at times.


Closing In

I got to play Abandon All Artichokes with Gil Hova (designer of The Networks and other fine games) at the GAMA Trade Show in early 2019. Gil (who I now host the Ludology podcast with) was one of the first designers who took a chance on testing my games back in 2015, and he has always been an incredibly sharp and insightful person to work with. I was happy with this latest version of the game, and it felt really good to have his support.

That was the first moment when I felt 100% confident in the future of my game.

Picking a Publisher

Board Game Publisher: Gamewright
Gamewright was a dream publisher for me. I love their games, I love how cheerful and upbeat their booths are at conventions, I love their approach to the joy of play. I had strong interest from other publishers who I pitched to because Gamewright seemed like a long shot, but ultimately I decided I was going to wait it out to see what Gamewright would decide.

It's an interesting choice to make as a designer. You'll often have your prototype out with multiple publishers at a time because it can take months (or years!) for someone to agree to publish your game. You might really want to work with someone and have to make a tough choice over turning down a yes from a different publisher. You do have the option, if you receive an offer from one publisher, to approach your other potential publishers and ask for a counter-offer, but that can feel terrifying as a new designer.

So I made my choice and waited.

They Said Yes!

Throughout the development of the game, I had a strong internal sense not of what the game would look like when it was finished, but of direction. Sometimes during a playtest, you can sense the game getting better; sometimes you can tell your changes have made it much worse. Ideally, as time goes on, you're breaking the game less, and it starts to feel solid and consistently play well with new and existing players.

After a lot of uncertainty at the end of 2018, I came into 2019 feeling like this game could definitely get to a really good place. Not every game a designer makes gets there — some you just can't figure out how to move forward — but I was committed to seeing Abandon All Artichokes to completion, and though I wasn't sure exactly where the finish line was, I felt it was close, so I mustered my courage and sent Gamewright a strongly worded email (not really!): "Overall I feel like the game is in a good place now. I'd love to discuss next steps for publication as we continue tuning."

Their response:
Quote:
Overall, the game seems to be in fine shape and I think it will make an excellent addition to the Gamewright line.
It took my breath away. With those few short words, my life changed forever.

Working with Gamewright

I felt confident after my frequent communication with Gamewright that we would work well together.

The reality was even better than I expected. I couldn't have asked for a better publisher relationship. Because we'd gone back and forth a lot before signing a contract, we knew that we were going to make something together we'd be proud of.

We signed the contract at PAX East 2019.

Finishing Touches

Later that year we ramped up on getting the final game into production. Gamewright worked with me every step of the way. We were testing the game on both ends, sharing feedback, and getting the game into its final form.


Getting to see the art in September 2019 was one of the highlights of my year. I couldn't have asked for a better artist than Bonnie Pang to capture my vision for the game.

From gallery of emmalarkins
Love at first sight

Not every game designer loves writing and editing rules, but I loved being able to put my technical writing background to work to help with the rule book. It was important to me to ensure that when people opened up the game, they'd be able to figure out how to play.

It Lives!

Publishers vary a lot in how they announce games. For Gamewright, they generally prefer to just say, "It's here!" (as opposed to doing a months-long build-up). I wasn't sure exactly when it would drop. I really, really wanted to talk about it, but I figured I could stay patient for a little longer.

And then, news started to pop up. The game was first announced in Issu.


I didn't get to see the game in-person at Toy Fair 2020 in New York, but luckily I had friends there who sent pictures of the game in the wild for the first time.


Posts started showing up in different places, like right here on BoardGameGeek.

Finally I got to hold the game for the first time at PAX East 2020, exactly one year after the contract was signed. It was an amazing feeling — awed and excited and happy and release of all the pent-up expectations, all at the same time.


I had the opportunity to play the finished game with PAX East attendees, which was awesome, but it was also great standing off to the side and watching surreptitiously as new people played the game for the first time. I was already seeing what I had dreamed about from the beginning — people new to deck-building getting excited about this (for them) new type of game. Two people in particular came back to play a few times, excited to tell me how the concepts in the game were coming together for them and they were starting to see how the different powers fit together. I was witnessing someone's entry into a new style of gameplay for the first time, and it was beautiful to watch.

The reception at PAX East and beyond was positive as people started to receive their copies.

Abandon All Artichokes was listed as a "brilliant game" in Forbes, which was quite a trip.

By mid-March 2020, Abandon All Artichokes started hitting retail and online stores. I loved being able to see friends and people in the industry get their copies. Our community is very supportive, and I love seeing my friends succeed, but I emphasize that I don't want people buying my game unless it's something that they really think they'll enjoy. It's such a heartwarming experience to see your friends actually playing and loving the things you make.


In Conclusion

It's a game now. It's real. People are in the world, playing and sharing and enjoying and talking about it, and it's such a trip to see.

Want to learn more? Check out this "how to play" video from Gamewright!

Emma Larkins
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Tue Jun 2, 2020 2:35 pm
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Designer Interview: Julian Courtland-Smith, creator of Survive: Escape from Atlantis!

Neil Bunker
United Kingdom
Taunton
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Board Game: Survive: Escape from Atlantis!
[Editor's note: This interview was first published on Diagonal Move. —WEM]

Survive: Escape from Atlantis! designer Julian Courtland-Smith joins Neil Bunker from Diagonal Move to discuss his remarkable forty-year career designing board games:

DM: Hi, Julian, thank you for joining us. Please can you tell us how you got started in game design?

JCS: When I was a child I loved playing board games. After I left school, I went into catering. Didn't care for it so went on to art college. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, probably architecture. In 1965, whilst I was making up my mind as to what direction to go in, I read an article in a magazine about games. It was by Waddingtons, publicizing their new product Mine A Million. That was the moment I thought I can do that and become rich and famous! Ha! Easier said than done!

My first design was a world domination game, akin to Risk. Looking back, it was rubbish. Well, you have to start somewhere. I worked in retail management and spent my nights and weekends inventing numerous games. However, it was 17 years before I had a game accepted.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
An early press photo

DM: Survive: Escape from Atlantis! is your most well-known game. Where did you draw inspiration for the game from?

JCS: After I'd invented Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs I was looking around for another strong theme when I chanced upon a row of books in my local library all about the island of Atlantis. These inspired me to devise a game with a sinking island.

DM: Can you elaborate on the design process?

JCS: My first attempts at devising "Escape from Atlantis" didn't really work as I drew the island on the board. During play, the island was slowly covered by sea tiles to effect sinking. When tokens were moved across these tiles, they all shifted and knocked down other meeples like men in boats. It was two years later before it dawned on me to change the sea tiles to land tiles. That way the island could be removed piece by piece from the board during play to simulate it sinking. I called the game "Escape from Atlantis" as the title summed up the game's objective.

DM: How did you get "Escape from Atlantis" to market?

JCS: I took my 2D prototype to Graeme Levin, owner of Games & Puzzles magazine. He became my agent and showed it to Parker Brothers. They liked it and made it their lead game in 1982 in America. They changed the name to Survive! and altered the game in a number of ways. It was advertised coast to coast in the States and sold very well. At the time Survive! was selling 14,000 copies a week compared to Monopoly's 12,000.

Unfortunately, computer games came out and the winter of '83 saw a massive 80% drop in the board game industry as people were buying the new computer games. Board games bounced back a couple of years later but never recovered their dominance in the market. Parker Brothers dropped the game, and it dragged on until closeout a few years later. In 1986 Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs was launched in the UK. It did very well, coming in at #2 to Trivial Pursuit in the bestsellers list. I remember saying it would never catch on. What do I know!

Waddingtons phoned and asked if I had another 3D game. I confidently said yes! I had two weeks to turn Survive! (2D) into a 3D game. I remember sawing up a wooden hoe handle to make the island's land-tiles. Waddingtons launched their 3D version of Survive! and agreed to call it Escape from Atlantis!

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
An early photo of Survive!

DM: Survive! has been an incredible success and is still available 38 years after its original release. What do you attribute this success to?

JCS: When Survive! was launched there was nothing like it on the market. Starting off in the mass market gave it great impetus. The turbulent years of the 1980s/90s when companies were either going under or being taken over meant I was constantly taking my prototypes from one company or another. I knew to be financially successful that I needed a major manufacturer to market the game, hence I only dealt with the top five companies in the world. I had many offers from smaller companies but decided to hold out for the big one. When Hasbro took over Waddingtons in the 1990s, I submitted my game to them and they relaunched Escape from Atlantis into Europe in 1996 under the Waddingtons brand.

The game ran until 2002 and was off the market for a number of years. Meanwhile, Survive! reached #1 in the secondhand board game market. Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games in the USA was looking to relaunch popular retro games. He saw copies of Survive! trading on eBay for up to $100. He thought if there was that much demand for this game secondhand, perhaps there's a market for a new product. He became my new agent, and in April 2010 announced that Stronghold Games would be reprinting a new version of the game called Survive: Escape from Atlantis!

Board Game: Survive: Escape from Atlantis!

The game was launched on October 10, 2010. In June 2012, Stronghold Games relaunched a new edition, Survive: Escape From Atlantis! – 30th Anniversary Edition, which is still on sale today. It included refreshed artwork and a slightly revised theme. Simultaneously, French publisher Asmodee licensed the EU languages and launched The Island, which is the same game as Stronghold's version but with a rebranded name for EU trademark purposes only.

Yes, my game has done the rounds with a lot of publishers. End of the day, it's the public who decide. I'm pleased and grateful that games players today enjoy playing Survive! I get messages from fans who say they enjoyed the game in their childhood and are now playing it with their children and grandchildren. I'm pleased Survive! has lived up to its name.

DM: What influence do you think the success of Survive! has had on the games industry?

JCS: Games evolve just as art, music and literature do. Each new artist, author, or designer is influenced by preceding works. Good games, popular games have always been copied.

There are a number of games out there which appear to be influenced by Survive! Catan (1995) comes to mind as does Forbidden Island (2010). I think the biggest change Survive! brought to the market was hexagonal spaces on the board, thus allowing tokens more efficient movement. Before then, you saw hexagonal spaces only in war games.

Prior to my games, there were countless Monopoly-style variants where you commenced play from one corner and went round the edge of the board or track rolling dice. This trend had continued from Victorian days. I wanted to break out of that niche and use the whole board in play.

I do believe the same level success can be repeated despite market saturation that has occurred following the advent of Kickstarter. Survive! has remained successful because the play mechanism hasn't dated. Being the first such game, this style of board game has endured. Someone will come along one day with fresh ideas and usurp the market, then we'll see a whole new trend emerge.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
A cover star in 1986

DM: Did the success of Survive! change your life?

JCS: Guess so. It was literally a rags-to-riches story. Prior to the success of Survive!, I was broke and unemployed, scratching a living doing odd jobs, but I persisted with my dream. Following the success of Survive!, I became a full-time designer and moved with my family from a three-bedroom council house to our five-bedroom country house. Whilst there, Waddingtons launched Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs, followed by Escape from Atlantis. The government wanted to tax me at 60% which was crippling, so we emigrated to Eire. We stayed there awhile, and in 1987 moved to the beautiful Isle of Man.

DM: You designed Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs before Escape from Atlantis. Can you tell us more about that game?

JCS: I invented Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs in 1979. I got the idea whilst standing on a London Underground station waiting for a train. On the wall was a poster advertising a dinosaur exhibition at the Natural History Museum. That was my eureka moment. I thought great idea for a game! I was highly influenced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 book The Lost World.

Inspired, it took me just two weeks to invent the game, six weeks to write the rules, and six years to get it to market. Before Waddingtons took the game I approached a number of manufacturers. I remember a Dutch company turning it down as it was "racist". At that time the men in the jungle were represented by small black Halma pieces, so I changed them to small white Halma pieces and called them Incas. Initially, the pteranodon in the game was a picture on a card. One day, I chanced upon a retailer selling small plastic pteranodons. I introduced that to the game as a playing piece. Waddingtons turned this bird into a moving toy, and it became a big hit with the kids.

Board Game: Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs

DM: How was the design process for Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs different from that of Survive!?

JCS: I was six years trying to market Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs. During that time the game was extensively playtested by my family and friends until it worked perfectly. There was no pressure back then to deliver another game as games contracts were always one-offs, unlike books. When new authors get their first book launched they will normally sign a contract to produce more. With games you're only as good as your last but your reputation does get you interviews.

Games manufacturers of old retained artistic control. You were lucky if you got your name on the box! The first print runs of Waddingtons' Escape from Atlantis, which were 25,000 copies, did not give me any accreditation, even though it was written into my contract. Later, after a fuss, they agreed to mention me in the rules. Companies would, if they so chose, alter the rules or change components. The swirler dice in the Waddingtons Escape from Atlantis game was included by them, but to be fair, it proved popular with children.

By and large, Waddingtons' Escape from Atlantis didn't differ too much from my prototype, but Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs was radically altered. I was trying to break with tradition and designed the game with no dice. Waddingtons decided to include dice as they reasoned children like to roll dice. They also made a number of other changes, which is why I always say Waddingtons' Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs is their version of my game.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board

DM: Are there plans for a Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs re-release?

JCS: I have been approached many times over the years by companies wanting to market Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs (LVD). In 1987 I divorced. My wife and I agreed to split ownership of all the games I'd devised during marriage. Hence, she retains copyright to LVD whilst I own EFA. My ex-wife has indicated that she would be open to offers, but that she wants the game marketed as it was originally designed.

Publishers always want to input their creativity which can be an improvement or not. As I said, Waddingtons' Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs was nothing like the original. I tend to agree with her. Had LVD been marketed as invented, I believe it would still be around today as in its original form, it's better suited to the hobby gaming market.

DM: What other games have you designed, and do you have plans to release any others?

JCS: Too many to list here. I've designed well over fifty games to date.

I did produce a third game in my adventure trilogy called "Mammoth Mountain". The game has a strong theme which includes prehistoric animals of the period like woolly mammoth, sabre-toothed tiger, and so on. The game involves armed conflict between tribes fighting for survival whilst the world is slowly freezing over. When I presented it to Waddingtons, the games industry was in turmoil. Waddingtons were facing extinction therefore weren't prepared to launch "Mammoth Mountain" or any other games.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
"Mammoth Mountain" prototype

In the intervening years I devised a number of products, including a debating game called "Controversy". I was turned down because it was considered too controversial.

Late 90's, I devised a range of 3D hand-held magnetic puzzles. Hasbro turned them down due to production costs. The magnets in my design precede today's neodymium magnets! Had I been able to acquire cheaper components, I believe they would have got to market.

When I took Escape from Atlantis to Waddingtons, I also produced a space theme of the game in case they preferred that. Years later Stronghold Games told me they were interested in marketing a space version of Survive! It was "re-imagined" by American designers Brian, Sydney and Geoff Engelstein and called Survive: Space Attack! I had very little input into the product; any co-developing by me was done via Stronghold Games CEO, Stephen Buonocore.

Board Game: Survive: Space Attack!

In recent times I have invented games for a younger market, for example, "Diamond Quest", a ludo-style game based in India of old which is enjoyed by my grandchildren.

Regards Survive!, a new Japanese version of the game was launched in 2020 and is doing well. Also, there are plans in the pipeline for another version of Survive!, hopefully in 2021. Watch this space!

DM: Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring game designers?

JCS: Start with a good, strong theme. Once you have that, try to match the theme with a major mechanism as in the island of Atlantis sinking in Survive! From there have some rough ideas about minor mechanisms like meeple movement, die rolls, cards.

Maths must come into the game straight away. How many players? How many spaces on the board? How many tokens, cards, etc. All these need to "balance" so that play runs smoothly. Size of spaces and tokens is important. Make your game appeal to as wide an age group as you can. The greater the age group, the wider the audience, the bigger the market. 8-80 is perfect.

Make rules concise, to the point. Easy to read. Don't make the game difficult to play. It's easy to add a new rule to solve a problem in play. Much better to concentrate on getting the game play working smoothly.

The days of games lasting all day and night, like Risk, are long gone. Time each player's move, ideally making the game last up to an hour and a half. Try to build into the game a natural ending. Last, but not least, playtest, playtest and playtest. To give you an idea, Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs was playtested over two hundred times.

Finally, can you think of a new way of playing a game? Hard ask I know, but try to break out of the mold. Break with tradition, start a new trend and with luck your game will be around for the next fifty years!
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Fri May 29, 2020 6:08 pm
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New GMT Game Round-up: Command U-Boats, Struggle for Glory, Raid Anglo-Scottish Borders, & Write the Versailles Treaty

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Board Game Publisher: GMT Games
• In a May 2020 newsletter, GMT Games announced its latest P500 addition: Border Reivers: Anglo-Scottish Border Raids, 1513-1603 from designer Ed Beach. Beach is known for designing deep, immersive, historically rich, and often beasty, games such as Here I Stand and Virgin Queen, and some might also know him from his design work on the Civilization VI PC game.

Similar to Here I Stand and Virgin Queen, Borders Reivers serves players a strong dose of 16th century history, but is a faster-playing, slightly Euro-feeling game of resource competition, raids, and battle for 2-6 players. In more detail:
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For two hundred years, war waged back and forth across the border between England and Scotland. By 1482, the unfortunate town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, once the richest port town in Scotland, had changed hands thirteen times. By the time Henry VIII ascended the throne of England in 1509, the fifty-mile-wide stretch of rolling hills and stunning vistas that straddle the border had seen decades of hardship and atrocity.

Yet still the hardy families living on these frontier lands persevered. Unable to count on crops surviving until the harvest, they subsisted primarily on the livestock they could shepherd in the fields near their homesteads. When supplies ran low, raiding to steal what they needed from their neighbors was often the answer. Raids were often carefully planned operations with several border families uniting to steal livestock from a common foe in the dead of night. Cattle and sheep were the likely targets, often with hundreds of these creatures being stolen in a single raid. The reiver's goal was to herd their quarry to safety before the retaliatory "hot trod" pursuit could catch up and force an engagement.

Board Game: Border Reivers

To combat this constant hostility, England and Scotland established the system of March Law. Each nation divided its border lands into an East, Middle, and West March with each of these six territories administered by a Warden responsible for keeping the peace. The Wardens were drawn from the most powerful families on the borders, clans of great renown that could put upwards of a thousand men in the saddle in times of need. The March Law would have succeeded, too, but for the fact that these same great families were usually the ones best equipped and most inclined to raid their neighbors.

In Border Reivers, each player rules over one of the Marches as leader of one of the six major riding families of the border: Grey, Fenwick, Dacre, Maxwell, Kerr, or Hume. Your goal is to increase the wealth and fame of your clan throughout the reigns of Henry and Elizabeth to end the century as the most famous border reiver of all time. Players gain VPs from successful combats, amassing large herds of livestock, and by elevating their notoriety above the other players in the regions of the map.
While we wait (anxiously, in my case) for further updates on Borders Reivers, I figured I'd mention a couple other new GMT releases available for pre-order directly from GMT and retailers:

Board Game: Twilight Struggle
• Eric mentioned Imperial Struggle in a post in December 2018, but considering that was a while ago and more importantly, it's from the design team (Ananda Gupta and Jason Matthews) that brought us the acclaimed Twilight Struggle, I figured it was worth putting back on everyone's radars. Here's a brief overview of this highly anticipated two-player peace and war game:
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Imperial Struggle is a two-player game depicting the 18th-century rivalry between France and Britain. It begins in 1697, as the two realms wait warily for the King of Spain to name an heir, and ends in 1789, when a new order brought down the Bastille. The game is not merely about war; both France and Britain must build the foundations of colonial wealth, deal with the other nations of Europe, and compete for glory across the span of human endeavor.

Board Game: Imperial Struggle

Imperial Struggle covers almost one hundred years of history and four major wars, yet it remains a low-complexity game, playable in a short evening. It aims to honor its spiritual ancestor, Twilight Struggle, by pushing further in the direction of simple rules and playable systems, while maintaining global scope and historical sweep in the span of a single evening.

In peace turns, players build their economic interests and alliances, and take advantage of historical events represented by event cards. They must choose their investments wisely, but also with an eye to denying these opportunities to their opponent. In war turns, each theater can bring great rewards of conquest and prestige, but territorial gains can disappear at the treaty table. At the end of the century, will the British rule an empire on which the sun never sets? Or will France light the way for the world, as the superpower of the Sun King's dreams or the republic of Lafayette's?
In 2018, Ananda Gupta posted an excellent article that sheds light on the similarities and differences between Imperial Struggle and its "older cousin" Twilight Struggle which has me pretty hyped to play it.

Geoff Engelstein and Mark Herman's Versailles 1919 is a political, negotiation game in which 1-4 players gain influence to contribute to writing the Versailles Treaty. While thematically reminiscent of Herman's World War II classic game Churchill, Versailles 1919 is lighter and very different mechanically, sitting in a sweet spot that eurogamers and wargamers alike will probably dig. Here's the gist of it as described by the publisher:
Quote:
On November 11, 1918 an armistice halted the killing field that was The War to End All Wars. To make peace, Woodrow Wilson (United States), David Lloyd George (United Kingdom), and Vittorio Orlando (Italy) were hosted by President George Clemenceau (France) in Paris, and sat down to write what would become the Versailles Treaty. The treaty was signed on June 28, 1919, after six months of acrimonious debate and bargaining between the great powers.

Versailles 1919 allows you to experience this piece of history as one of the four leaders with a national agenda that must be satisfied. As one of the Big Four, you sit in a conference room gaining influence on the issues present in the room. Hovering in the waiting room sit other issues and personages who are waiting their turn to make their case to meet regional aspirations such as self-determination. Will you support Ho Chi Minh's attempt to free Vietnam from French colonialism? Help Prince Feisal establish a new nation in Mesopotamia or Chaim Weitzman create a Zionist state? Work with TE Lawrence to reduce unrest in the Middle East or with Ataturk in Anatolia?

Board Game: Versailles 1919

As France, you are concerned with containing future German aggression while aligning with the British on reparations to pay for the destruction of the war. The British, however, would like to see Germany restored as a trading partner while preserving their empire against the global aspiration for self-determination. Italy wants territorial concessions from the former Austro-Hungarian empire. Lurking in the background is the threat of Bolshevism. Towering above it all is President Woodrow Wilson with his fourteen points that set global expectations soaring, ultimately ending in disappointment when the U.S. does not join the League of Nations.

Versailles 1919 introduces a new card-bidding mechanism in which you use your influence to settle issues aligned with your agenda while keeping domestic constituents in support of your actions. You need to balance the need to demobilize your military forces while simultaneously keeping regional unrest under control. All of these decisions are set against the backdrop of regional crises and uprisings. The player who writes more of the treaty prevails in this contest of wills and national agendas. Can you save the world from the rise of nationalism? Can you make a better world while satisfying your domestic electorate? Play Versailles 1919 and relive making the flawed peace that was the Treaty of Versailles.
Board Game: The Hunters: German U-Boats at War, 1939-43
• For the solo gamers out there who love a good challenge, be sure to check out The Hunted: Twilight of the U-Boats, 1943-45, which is Gregory M. Smith's sequel to The Hunters: German U-Boats at War, 1939-43. Similar to The Hunters, The Hunted also includes rules for two players. Here's an overview of what you can expect:
Quote:
The Hunted is a solitaire tactical level game placing you in command of a German U-Boat during WWII. This game picks up the action where The Hunters left off, with you commanding one of many U-Boat models available starting in 1943 and looking to successfully complete U-Boat operations until the end of the war. Not only is this a standalone game, but fans of The Hunters will enjoy having the capability to easily combine both games to span all of WWII and experience the career of a U-Boat commander from 1939 until 1945.

Board Game: The Hunted: Twilight of the U-Boats, 1943-45

While your mission is to destroy as much Allied shipping and as many capital ships as possible, players will find it extremely challenging to "go the distance" and survive the entire war. The second half of the war has not been sugar coated; the brutal aspects facing U-boat commanders in the final phases of the war make surviving your attack difficult at best. True to history, your challenge is to accomplish what only a few could achieve — to make it to the conclusion, as happened historically.

The Hunted is purposely designed to deliver a brisk, yet intensive gaming experience that forces many decisions upon you as you take command among the major German U-Boat models in service during WWII, and try to survive until the end of the war. All major U-Boat models are accounted for, with every level of detail, including period of service, armaments, crew make-up, damage capacity, and more. Fans of The Hunters will enjoy the same nail-biting game system, but fraught with many more challenges to withstand the advances the Allies have made in anti-submarine warfare. If you ultimately survive until 1945, you will surrender at port, having done your part on the front lines.

As U-Boat commander, you will be confronting many decisions during your patrol. To begin with, eleven German U-Boat models are profiled and available for you to choose from. Patrol zones reflect the period during the war at sea and will shift as the war progresses. All stages of the U-Boat campaign are represented; missions become increasingly more difficult as your adversary makes advances in anti-submarine warfare.
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Thu May 28, 2020 1:00 pm
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Links: Distinguishing Between Red and Anthrocite, and Choosing Games for a Pandemic

W. Eric Martin
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
Board Game: The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
• Following the May 18 announcement of the 2020 Spiel des Jahres nominees, jury member Udo Bartsch has written an article that explains why certain games are nominated for the Spiel des Jahres award, which is aimed at families, while other titles are nominated for the Kennerspiel des Jahres, which is aimed at enthusiasts or connaisseurs. Here are two translated excerpts:
Quote:
Which game is a game for everyone and which is not cannot be determined by generally applicable and precisely measurable characteristics, but only by playing with as many different people as possible — and even then, the results are not always crystal clear.
Quote:
In the current year we see The Crew and The Cartographers as connoisseur games. Why? The Crew is a trick-taking game. Many people play trick games; Skat, Schafkopf, Doppelkopf, and also more modern representatives like Wizard are quite popular.

But in contrast to the usual competitive trick games, the co-operative The Crew demands more: If you want to play sensibly, you have to develop a notion for the whole story beyond your own hand and without seeing the cards of the other participants, you need to anticipate processes such as "stinging" or throwing off. The Crew requires an unusual thinking process to make it run smoothly. It's like a logic puzzle with cards. Several times I sat at the table with people who knew Wizard or Doppelkopf, but still had no idea what The Crew was now asking of them.
Board Game: SpyNet
• In mid-March 2020, Matt Jarvis at Dicebreaker profiled designer Richard Garfield, with the interview highlighting which game of his has been overlooked (SpyNet, a 2017 release from Z-Man Games) and what he values about KeyForge compared to Magic: The Gathering: "A game like KeyForge makes it tough for a 'one size fits all' strategy guide to emerge; every deck has its strengths, weaknesses and peculiarities. Weirdly, there is noticeably more variety in decks even though in a TCG technically a larger variety of decks could be played — because in practice they aren't played."

I also appreciate these comments from Garfield given how they mirror my own thoughts:
Quote:
"One of my current concerns in board game culture is how fast players draw conclusions about games," he says. "My favorite thing about games has always been that the best ones get better with time and go to unexpected places."

"Skim the comments and reviews on [BoardGameGeek] and they are littered with people talking about imbalances after far too little time. It often seems players pick a strategy the first time they play and if something unforeseen happens the game has a problem that should have been designed around."

Garfield says that games with a large amount of gameplay variety such as 1970s classic Cosmic Encounter, often cited as one of the best board games ever made and a key influence on Magic: The Gathering, have become "dangerous to make" as a result.

"Recently I have begun to suspect that this culture may excessively narrow the sort of games that are made," he says. "Designers are encouraged by this to create games that are tightly constrained so that players get what they expect and are not surprised except perhaps in the minimal amount required to make it feel like a new game."
Board Game: Jaipur
• Thanks to folks looking for things to do while at home, mainstream media outlets continue to introduce new board games to their readers, as in this April 30, 2020 article by Alexis Soloski in The New York Times that leads with this introduction:
Quote:
If you, like me, grew up with a battered box of Sorry and a Battleship missing at least two of its boats, you should know that board games have improved. With a large number released each year, the variety of games and the mechanics that govern them are almost infinite.

My library books remain unread, a stack of untouched New Yorker issues has become a household obstacle, and I can't make it through a movie, or even a 23-minute sitcom, without reaching for my phone. So why can I spend a focused hour-and-a-half bartering for camels in an Indian marketplace playing Jaipur or simulating quilt-making in Patchwork?
Board Game: Sanssouci
• On Ars Technica, Nate Anderson does something similar in an article titled "6 board games I’m playing during the pandemic", with this assortment of titles ranging from the "oh, of course" to the "wait, really?" Here's an excerpt that highlights the out-of-print title shown at left, although a new edition is coming in 2020 from Chilean publisher Fractal Juegos:
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A terrific tile-layer, this Michael Kiesling design has been criminally overlooked. No dungeon crawls here, D&D lovers—this is a game about building a European formal garden while moving your nobles down the garden path so they can smell the roses (and earn you points). It's fast, it's fun, and it's extremely relaxing. The rules are simple to teach, turns are fast, and everything looks great. The game even includes a small expansion module in the box for slightly more complex play. The biggest downside? It might be hard to find new right now.
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Wed May 27, 2020 1:00 pm
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Ride Whales, Collect Artifacts, and Sail Northwest with Reiner Knizia

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game Publisher: Grail Games
Australian publisher Grail Games has had a steady partnership with designer Reiner Knizia for years, starting with a new version of Circus Flohcati in 2015 followed by a new version of Medici in 2016.

Artist Vincent Dutrait was responsible for the look of that second title, and at this point the Knizia/Dutrait/Grail team has also worked on King's Road, Medici: The Card Game, Yellow & Yangtze, and the still-to-be-released Medici: The Dice Game.

Now they're coming together again for two new titles, the larger of which is the 2-6 player game Whale Riders, which bears a 30-45 minute playing time and this description:
Quote:
You are a whale rider. For generations, your people have known and lived with the ice whales and together you've bought and traded at the busy ports along the fabled Ice Coast. You are honored to be the latest in your family to sail with the whales — but the ice is thickening and the glaciers are moving. A deep winter is coming, the fiercest for centuries. You decide to ride your mount one final time before the snows come to buy and sell as much as you can...and maybe even collect some precious pearls along the way.

Whale Riders is a new design with a classic feel, with players racing to the end of the Ice Coast and back, buying and selling as many resources as possible to make the money needed to acquire the richest prizes. Will you skip opportunities to gain the greatest treasure, or will you make your money slowly along the way?

Board Game: Whale Riders

Each player has two actions per turn, but a lot they want to accomplish. Sail? Buy? Sell? Draw more order cards? All the while, your opponents might be sailing past and beating you to what's on offer down the coast! Once all the precious pearls have been purchased, the game ends and the player with the most pearls wins!
Grail Games plans to Kickstart Whale Riders in July 2020, along with a standalone companion game from the same team. In Whale Riders: The Card Game, which is for 2-5 players, you ride alongside others to buy goods along the Ice Coast, sometimes working together with others only to become competitors again when a better proposition comes along.

Board Game: Tutankhamen
Board Game: Tutankhamen
• In other Knizia news, U.S. publisher 25th Century Games plans to release a new edition of Tutankhamen — first released in 1993 by AMIGO, then republished in 2004 by Out of the Box Publishing — under the slightly different name Tutankhamun. The game will accommodate 2-6 players, and here's an overview of the setting and gameplay:
Quote:
The Great King Tutankhamun has passed, and arrangements are being made to fill his tomb with artifacts that will travel with him to the afterlife.

You are one of the priests and priestesses gathering artifacts for King Tut's tomb from all over Egypt. Once all the parts of each artifact have been located, that artifact is placed in the tomb, and the priests who took the most credit for acquiring it donate the funds needed for its procurement. Along the way, enchanted idols from the Gods may assist you in your journey. By acquiring artifacts, you rid yourself of your own wealth in order to pay the highest tribute to the late King Tut. If you can be the first player to completely disperse your wealth, you will so impress the new Pharaoh that he'll appoint you to the highest priestly office.

Prepare your offerings and invoke the aid of the mighty Egyptian Gods while you wind your way down the Nile toward the tomb of the great King Tut. Will you earn the favor of the new Pharaoh and be declared the next High Priest of Egypt?

Board Game: Tutankhamun

Tutankhamun features gameplay familiar from earlier versions of this game design, while adding new Egyptian god powers and implementing a modified scoring system.

To set up, shuffle the artifact and god idol tiles, then arrange them in a snake-like pattern that emulates the winding of the river Nile. Players start at one end of the line, taking turns choosing any tile from in front of them along the Nile while never being able to claim a tile they have already passed. Multiple sets of scoring tiles (three sets each of 8, 6, 4, and 2 points), along with ten 1-point scarab ring tiles, can be claimed, and when the last tile of any set has been claimed, the player holding the most tiles from that set scores the number of points listed, while the player holding the secondmost tiles scores half that amount. Whoever has the most scarab tiles when the last one is collected scores 5 bonus points.

Tutankhamun includes two copies each of five different Egyptian god idol tiles. When you collect one of these, you immediately trigger its ability to manipulate tiles on the path, tiles in player's collections, tiles in the Underworld (i.e., the collection of bypassed tiles), or scarab ring tiles in your collection.

When a player reaches zero on the score track at the end of their turn, the game ends and that player will be proclaimed the new High Priest of Egypt!
Board Game Publisher: SimplyFun
• When Knizia tweeted about the release of his game Phantom Seas in May 2020, I was surprised to discover not a design of his unfamiliar to me (since few people can keep up with all that he releases), but rather that the publisher of the game — SimplyFun — still existed.

For those not familiar with the company, SimplyFun started publishing educational games in the late 2000s, with its distribution of these titles being handled by sales agents who would host Tupperware-style parties during which they would show guests the games and take orders for them. I wrote about several SimplyFun releases in the late 2000s on Boardgame News, the site I ran prior to joining BoardGameGeek, but then I lost contact with the company and forgot about it — which is perhaps to be expected given that I never saw their games in stores or at conventions, much less at private home parties.

In any case, in April 2020 SimplyFun released the 2-4 player game Phantom Seas, which plays like this:
Quote:
In Phantom Seas, you want to claim as much treasure as possible without having it stripped away from you by the phantom ship that patrols the waters.

To set up, place the 22 treasure tiles face down at random on the designated spaces on the game board. These tiles are worth 1-3 points as indicated by the number of locks on them. Place the included compass on the game board, and orient the board so that the compass points north. Place your ship on one of the starting locations and the phantom ship in the center of the 13x13 game board.

Board Game: Phantom Seas

At the start of each round, reveal seven direction cards from the top of the deck. Players then take turns choosing a card and moving their ship in the indicated direction and distance, with most cards giving you choices for one or both of these values. If you finish your movement on a treasure tile, flip it over to see whether the phantom ship moves; if it does, the phantom ship moves directly toward you, and if it reaches you before ending its movement, then you throw that treasure away instead of keeping it.

Some tiles have you rotate the game board (and the compass), which means that the direction cards will now have you moving in different ways.

After all the cards have been played, reveal seven new cards from the deck. After seven rounds or after all treasures have been claimed, players count their scores to see who wins.
Board Game: Phantom Seas
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Tue May 26, 2020 1:41 pm
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Scooby-Doo and Jack Torrance Hit the Game Table — Again

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Scooby-Doo: Escape from the Haunted Mansion
• In February 2020, U.S. publisher The Op announced Scooby-Doo: Escape from the Haunted Mansion from Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim that was labelled as the company's first "Coded Chronicles" game.

The second such title has now been revealed: The Shining: Escape from the Overlook Hotel is by the same designers, and it's for one or more players, ages 17 and up, with a playing time of at least two hours and a release date of Q4 2020. Here's an overview of what you're doing in the game:
Quote:
The Shining: Escape from the Overlook Hotel puts one or more players in the roles of unhinged writer Jack Torrance's wife and son, Wendy and Danny, who must work together and find a way out of the mysterious resort!

Driven by the "Coded Chronicles" mechanism, which requires you to unlock clues and solve puzzles for unique storytelling codes, the game allows you to use psychic abilities like "the shining" to get through more than two challenging hours of escaping the threat of homicidal Jack and the paranormal hotel itself! Since every Coded Chronicles game is enriched with thematic details and objectives, escaping captivity makes this edition's difficulty level as hard as a dizzying hedge maze (minus the time limit)!

Board Game: The Shining: Escape from the Overlook Hotel

Players can anticipate being engaged with every unpredictable turn, thanks to Wendy and Danny's heightened abilities, which allow their characters to investigate with double the intuition as characters from the previous Coded Chronicles game, Scooby-Doo: Escape from the Haunted Mansion. Use Wendy's skill of looking and using surrounding objects to get a better hold of helpful items or tap Danny's supernatural "Shining" to reveal hidden clues.
The year 2020 is the fortieth anniversary of the film The Shining, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised to find a second game being released this year to mark the occasion, with Prospero Hall and Mixlore's The Shining having been released in March 2020.

Board Game: The Shining
• Or maybe given the current growth of the board game market, we just have to anticipate that many licensed properties will have associated games released by multiple publishers. In March 2020, for example, I wrote about Back to the Future: Dice Through Time and Back to the Future: Back in Time, with each being a co-operative dice-based game due out in mid-2020, the former from Ravensburger and the latter from Funko Games.

And just as The Op is following Mixlore onto the market with its own game about The Shining, CMON Limited is following The Op with its own take on Scooby-Doo, with Scooby-Doo: The Board Game — due out "soon" — being a co-operative design for 1-5 players from Guilherme Goulart and Fred Perret. Here's an overview of the game from CMON:
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Ruh-roh, Shaggy! There's a monster on the loose, and it's scaring everyone out of town! It's up to the Mystery Inc. gang to stop them! Scooby-Doo: The Board Game is a co-operative family game for 1-5 players that brings the beloved cartoon series to life with amazing miniatures of the whole gang.

Players take on the role of Scooby-Doo, Fred, Velma, Daphne or Shaggy, and ride the Mystery Machine around town, building traps to catch the villains before they frighten all the citizens away — but just like in our favorite episodes, even the best plans can go awry as the monster, which is controlled by the game itself, may make a move the players never expected!

Board Game: Scooby-Doo: The Board Game

Each member of Mystery, Inc. has their own unique, special ability to help them during the game, and they'll need all the help they can get because the villains all operate differently as well! The gang can succeed only if they coordinate together as a group.

Scooby-Doo: The Board Game has three levels of difficulty (easy/medium/hard) and special rules for playing as a two-player game or a solo game.
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Mon May 25, 2020 4:42 am
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"New" Game Round-up: Two-Player Sequels & Second Editions

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Board Game: Royal Visit
Board Game: Schotten Totten 2
Board Game: Twilight Struggle: Red Sea – Conflict in the Horn of Africa
Let's face it — sometimes it's much easier to get two-player games to the table, especially nowadays as we all continue to distance ourselves from larger social happenings.

Eric gave us a sneak peek of a couple of two-player sequel and second edition 2020 releases with Reiner Knizia's Schotten Totten 2 and Royal Visit in one of his Spielwarenmesse 2020 trade fair posts. I suppose Schotten Totten 2 was not a huge surprise after the release of 2019's Battle Line: Medieval, a rethemed version of Battle Line that's part of GMT's new "Lunchtime Games" series — with another title in that series being Twilight Struggle: Red Sea, a sequel to the highly acclaimed Twilight Struggle that I covered in this March 2020 post.

Here are a few more 2020 two-player sequels and second editions to check out...

Board Game: The Institute for Magical Arts
School of Sorcery is a dice-rolling, area-control game from Steve Finn and his publishing company, Dr. Finn's Games. Finn is probably most known for his games Biblios (which I love!) and Herbaceous (which looks beautiful, but I've never played).

School of Sorcery is a reimplementation of Finn's 2015 release The Institute for Magical Arts, a game in which two players compete as student wizards who use dice rolls to place crystals in an attempt to win cards that grant special powers, victory points, or both. Yes, there's dice rolling, but don't run away just yet — there are re-roll tokens and cast cards that allow players to manipulate their dice and mitigate some of the randomness.

Board Game: School of Sorcery

School of Sorcery features many of the same mechanisms as The Institute of Magical Arts, but with some new rules, upgraded components, revamped card powers, and new cards with a variety of powers. Considering how much I enjoy Biblios, I'm really curious to try School of Sorcery.

Christopher Moeller's Napoleon's Eagles: Storm in the East – The Battles of Borodino and Leipzig from Compass Games is a cards-only, Napoleonic wargame that reimplements Moeller's 1995 original release, Napoleon's Eagles.

The new version of Napoleon's Eagles is a more mature design, yet maintains the essence and core ideas of the original version. Here's an overview of the historical setting and battle scenarios you can expect:
Quote:
The events of Autumn 1812 to Autumn 1813 marked a pivot point in the history of 19th century Europe. Despite ominous setbacks in Spain, Napoleonic France before 1812 was at the height of its expansion. The continental system was holding, if imperfectly. Monarchs friendly to the Empire — several being members of Napoleon's immediate family — ruled in every capital of the continent. Only Britain remained unbowed. By the end of 1813, the story had changed dramatically...

Board Game: Napoleon's Eagles: Storm in the East – The Battles of Borodino and Leipzig

Napoleon's Eagles is a highly playable, action-packed card game set during the wars of 19th century Europe. Two battles are featured: Borodino, the sanguinary clash before the gates of Moscow featured in Tolstoy's famous novel War and Peace, and Leipzig, the great "Battle of Nations" which marked the beginning of the end of the French Empire.

Two smaller battles are included (Shevardino and Lieberwolkwitz), as well as two campaign games that cover multiple days of battle: September 5-7, 1812 at Borodino and October 14-18, 1813 at Leipzig. The game includes rules for cavalry charges, artillery bombardment, army morale, and army commanders. Emphasis is placed on the role of reserves and the judicious commitment of infantry and cavalry. Key terrain pieces are featured, such as the city of Leipzig and the famous Great Redoubt at Borodino.
Board Game: The Fox in the Forest
Foxtrot Games' The Fox in the Forest Duet, co-published by Renegade Game Studios, was released in the U.S. in January 2020.

Duet features a trick-taking mechanism, theme, and vibe similar to 2017's The Fox in the Forest, which landed a recommendation from the Spiel des Jahres jury in May 2020 following its release in Germany, but flips the competitive element on its head to create a two-player-only, co-operative trick-taking experience:
Quote:
To set up the game, place gem tokens on the designated spaces of the game board and the team tracker token in the center of the movement path. At the start of each round, shuffle the deck of thirty cards — which contains three suits, each numbered 1-10 — and deal each player a hand of eleven cards. Reveal one card as the "decree" card to determine the trump suit. For each trick, one player leads a card, and the other must follow suit, if possible.

The winner of the trick moves the team tracker toward them a number of spaces equal to the number of fox footprints on the cards played. If the tracker lands on a space next to a gem, the players collect one gem. If the tracker would move off the end of the path, return the tracker to the center of the path, then add a forest token to one end of the path, reducing the number of spaces upon which you can move (with you sliding gems next to this covered space next to the new end of the path).

Board Game: The Fox in the Forest Duet

The odd-numbered character cards have special abilities when played, allowing the trick winner to move the tracker in the direction of their choice or to ignore the footprints on one of the played cards so that you can land on just the right spot. One character allows players to exchange one card with each other, while another allows a player to change the decree card.

At the end of a round, you add five gems to designated spaces, add a forest space to shorten the path, then receive a new hand of eleven cards from a freshly shuffled deck. Collect all 22 gem tokens, and you win. Run out of time or head off the end of the path with no forest spaces in reserve, then you can just keep running in defeat or shuffle the cards and start the game anew.
From gallery of candidrum
Board Game: Ascension: Apprentice Edition
• Coming from Ultra PRO, Ascension: Eternal is Justin Gary and Jared Saramago's new two-player introduction to the world of Ascension, replacing the 2013 Ascension: Apprentice Edition.

Ascension is a fairly well-known, quick-playing, deck-building game in which 1-4 players acquire more powerful cards for their deck, while spending power to defeat monsters and gain honor/victory points. Ascension: Eternal retains the same core rules and includes everything two players need to play the game, as opposed to the standard format for most Ascension sets that allows for play with up to four people. The Eternal set was designed with the intention of having a good entry point for people getting into the hobby, while also serving as a solid introduction to Ascension for more experienced gamers.
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Fri May 22, 2020 3:24 pm
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BGG.CONline Goes Live Today, May 20, 2020; Check Out the Guest List

W. Eric Martin
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
Gen Con and SPIEL have cancelled their events for 2020, with both organizations promising to hold online conventions during the days when their shows would have taken place. BGG is doing something similar, but we got a jump on them since we cancelled our BGG.Spring show in early April, giving us several weeks to organize BGG.CONline — which debuts today, Wednesday, May 20!

You can visit the landing page for BGG.CONline — with this being our landing page in the future for all live events — to see the list of guests scheduled for airtime on May 20-21, as well as the games they will feature. (The listed time on the schedule matches your own time zone, so you don't need to adjust anything.)

From gallery of W Eric Martin
We're starting with two of the Spiel des Jahres jury members, who are joining us from Germany to talk about the recently announced nominees for the Spiel, Kennerspiel, and Kinderspiel des Jahres awards, then we'll be joined by publishers who will give an overview of recently released games.

You can watch the Twitch broadcast from the BGG.CONline landing page, and if you're already logged into Twitch, you can comment on that page.

Hope you'll join us for the first of what will likely be many such online events!
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Wed May 20, 2020 4:57 pm
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Gen Con 2020 Cancelled

W. Eric Martin
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
One day after the cancellation of SPIEL '20, Gen Con has announced that it, too, will not take place in 2020.

Convention co-owner Peter Adkison writes about the decision on the Gen Con blog and announces Gen Con Online on the same dates — July 30 - August 2, 2020 — as the original show. An excerpt:
Quote:
This will be the first time in the 50+ year history of Gen Con that we will miss the chance to see each other in person, and it hurts, but nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our attendees and the communities they hail from.

I have a conviction about the power of people being together in the same space. Things will have to change as we learn how to adapt to this crisis, but one day we'll join together in rolling real dice onto the same tabletop.

Until then, we adapt and we keep going. For us, that means working on Gen Con Online and planning for our triumphant return to Indianapolis for Gen Con 2021. If you've already bought your badge for Gen Con 2020 and you're willing to roll it forward to next year, it would be a huge help in keeping us operational as we work towards the future.
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Tue May 19, 2020 5:37 pm
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Game Overview: Nova Luna, or Taking Tasks to Tiles

W. Eric Martin
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Normally I present a written overview of a game along with my video overview in order to talk about that design from another perspective or to craft my thoughts in a more organized manner than the free-form nature of my video presentations, but with BGG.CONline starting tomorrow, May 20, and much still to prepare, I'm choosing to post only the video for now.

If you're curious about 2020 Spiel des Jahres nominee Nova Luna, this overview covers how to play and what the game feels like, in addition to including a full solitaire game that can watch or skip through as you like.

Conveniently, I've already posted overviews of the other two 2020 Spiel des Jahres nominees: My City (written and video overview here) and Pictures (written and video overview here), so now I just need to write something about Nova Luna...

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Tue May 19, 2020 2:33 pm
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