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W. Eric Martin
• Gen Con is the next big convention in the offing, with SPIEL following two months after that, but in many ways the conventions have an increasing amount of overlap, with designers and publishers (and therefore games) showing up at both conventions. Even when games aren't publicly available at both shows, though, one convention can still feed into the next. Case in point: Developer Uli Blennemann with ADC Blackfire Entertainment GMBH will be on hand at Gen Con 2017, so he's going to present an overview of Fabio Lopiano's Calimala on camera in the BGG booth ahead of the game's debut at SPIEL 2017. (In general, we demo only released games at Gen Con, but I'm making an exception in this case.) Until then, here's a rundown of the setting and gameplay:
The "Arte di Calimala" — the guild of cloth finishers and merchants in foreign cloth — was one of the greater guilds of Florence, who arrogated to themselves the civic power of the Republic of Florence during the Late Middle Ages. The woolen cloth trade was the engine that drove the city’s economy and the members of the Calimala were the elite of Florence.
Throughout its long history, the Arte di Calimala supervised the execution of artistic and architectural works. Most Florentine guilds performed such activities, but the Calimala distinguished itself from other guilds through the number and prestige of the projects and the sites administered, including the construction and decoration of some of the major churches of the city.
Players of Calimala are cloth merchants in medieval Florence, with a number of trusted employees that they assign to various streets within the city to carry out actions. (Each street connects two places where particular actions can be taken.) While taking these actions, players produce and deliver cloth and contribute to the construction and decoration of various buildings across the city. Employees stay on their assigned places for a while, carrying out their actions whenever the street is activated, and eventually are promoted into the city council, triggering a scoring phase.
Depending on the number of players, each player has a number of action discs. In turn order, they can put one on a space between two actions, performing both actions and activating all other discs on the same space. When the fourth disc is placed on an action space, the lowest one is promoted to the city council, which triggers a scoring. After the last action disc is placed or the last scoring phase in the council is triggered, the game ends. The positions of the action spaces and sequence of scoring phases vary from game to game, making each game very different. Secret scoring objectives and action cards add uncertainty.
• Mayfair Games has announced two titles for release in September 2017, with one of them being an English-language edition of a game that first appeared in Finland in 2015. Run Bunny Run from Kees Meis and Dennis Merkx pits one rabbit against a pack of wolves, with the latter trying to catch the former, and the former trying to make it home in one piece. Gameplay is akin to Wings of War as the wolves lay down cards on their turn that show where they must play a card on the next turn, giving the bunny a chance to move in response to their intentions.
The other Mayfair title is Food Chain from Kevin G. Nunn, with each player having a set of critter cards — worms, birds, cats, dogs, and fleas — and with players laying down cards simultaneously to try to eat opponents while not being consumed themselves. Nunn dropped by the BGG booth at the 2017 Origins Game Fair to present an overview of the game:
• Belgian publisher Flatlined Games will Kickstart a new edition of Mark Gerrits' SteamRollers in late August 2017. Flatlined originally released SteamRollers in a hand-assembled edition of two hundred copies in 2015, and now this dice-based, network-building game will be available once again — sort of. In a newsletter about the state of the business and the game market at large, Flatlined's Eric Hanuise explained that he's looking for a different way to release games:
A new business model is required for me to stay in operation in this changing market. Manufacturing games, placing them at a distributor warehouse and relying on them to do sales and solicitations requires a sizeable amount of cash on hand to start with, and is a very risky proposition. It also requires marketing and promotion efforts at a scale well beyond my reach. With the current quantity of new releases each week, no distributor can effectively promote each of my games to their retailer clients. Even them must make choices to face this flood of releases. But then what with the games that are not picked for the spotlight? Is the publisher expected to just write them off and have them destroyed? This is of course unsustainable, and more like playing the lottery than actually managing a business.
Thus, Hanuise plans to Kickstart games, selling directly to both gamers and retailers that want to carry the titles in their shops, then only if demand still warrants it, reprint the game for conventional distribution outlets. With that plan in mind, for a period of twelve months SteamRollers will be available solely via the Kickstarter campaign, from stores that back that campaign or buy directly from Flatlined, or from Flatlined itself at conventions. Writes Hanuise, "This should make SteamRollers a sought-after game, while avoiding some of the darker effects of current exclusive propositions such as overpriced resales. The one-year period should allow us to establish SteamRollers as a game worthy of a wider audience for distributors or foreign language partners."
• Oh, and here's another tease at Gen Con 2017 for a game due out at SPIEL 2017, this time from Pandasaurus Games, with this tweet actually being a tease before the announcement. This game will be available for demo at Gen Con, and I can't wait to try it out...
Thu Jul 20, 2017 10:30 pm
Everything started back in 2013, at the end of October, soon after the yearly SPIEL game fair in Essen, Germany. I was chatting about Dobble's great success with Roberto Corbelli, CEO of dV Giochi. Dobble has many perks: It's extremely easy to explain; it quickly allows the players to check who won a given round; it's unpredictable due to the random combination of cards in play; and it can be played by many players at once. I, too, wanted to write something as accessible as that, so I started working on several ideas, trying to focus on graphic elements as one of the main components of the game mechanisms.
I recall the eureka moment: I had loads of colored pieces of paper and cards, looking for a use, scattered about on my extremely messy desk, and I stopped to look at two identical cards. What if they had not been totally identical?
Did someone already come up with a game in which the player must spot slight differences between two illustrations? It's a rhetorical question: Of course they did. This is a well-known game, in Italy as well as abroad, appearing on countless game magazines, including extremely popular ones such as La Settimana Enigmistica, which has run it weekly for decades.
It would have been interesting to have a never-ending "Find the Differences" game in which one could always find a given number of differences between two randomly selected cards. In a couple of days, I had found a technical solution to this effect, one that I will discuss later. There still was another Dobble characteristic that I wanted to reproduce: The way in which one could instantly find out who had won a hand. A game in which the players must spot differences was not ideal for this because the control phase would have been too slow. I decided to base the game on the count (or the estimate) of the number of existing differences.
The first draft of the idea was called "Almost". Drawing is not my forte, so I decided to create a prototype with pixel art. I found apt images from my favorite TV series, Doctor Who, on http://pixelblock.tumblr.com and prepared a prototype deck of cards of "Almost: Doctor Who" (with my best regards to BBC solicitors!) to show would-be publishers that the game could easily be adapted to any license.
The game was based on an extremely simple idea: Picking two random cards, there are N differences between them. Try looking for them here:
Turning the cards, you discover the position and the number of these differences:
The rules of this first prototype were minimal: The players would look at the two cards, and one of them could stop the round in any moment, giving their estimate. A player, for example, could say "Almost 3!", stating that they thought there are approximately three differences between the images. If the player was exactly right, they could take two cards. If they were almost right, e.g., the estimate was one less than the real answer, they could take only 1 card. If they were wrong, i.e., in any other case, they had to give one card to the player on the left and one card to the player on the right. The game would continue until the deck was exhausted, after which the player with the most cards won.
The first round of playtesting was… well, a disaster. The starting idea was good, but its realization — glossing over the issue of "placeholder" graphics — left a lot to be desired. The main flaws were:
The round cards were too small, which made it difficult to spot the differences.
The player with the cards in front of them had an unfair advantage against those on the other side of the table.
Each round of the game lasted either too long (waiting for someone to talk) or too little (when players with few points tried to answer randomly, having little or nothing to lose).
The cards, even with all their little differences, looked "all the same", making for a repetitive and boring game after a while.
During the 2013 Christmas holidays, I thought the game over, with its pros and cons. I became increasingly convinced that the basic idea had to be developed better and that all the various issues could be solved. I also realized that if the game were to be proposed to a publisher, its strong focus on illustration demanded the help of an artist.
Luckily, I knew an excellent illustrator: cartoonist Benny Gemma, whom I had already worked with for the production of both my Globetrotter game and a series of illustrated mysteries for a renown puzzle magazine, a relationship that had lasted every week for over an year. The protagonist of these mysteries was the brilliant Inspector Crosby, one of our original creations. It must have been for this reason that, reasoning with Benny, I came up with a theme that seemed perfect.
The images of the game had to depict a scene of crime, seen from above. In the middle of the scene, a chalk outline of the corpse, with several objects scattered around it, the result of a messy fight. Benny has a humorous style, and the scene would have never looked gory.
The first sketch drawn by Benny Gemma
The cards would have been bigger and more detailed, about the size of a photograph; we could have added many funny or quirky items; the blank corpse in the middle added a bit of space to the image, so that it no longer looked like a random assortment of objects. What's more, now that the scene was shown from above, there would be no impression of being on the wrong side of the card if you were sitting on the other side of the table.
For a couple of months, between working commitments and other duties, Benny and I worked together to create a set of forty cards; this seemed like the ideal number to have enough variety while allowing us to play on the differences. On the back of each card, one could find up to five differences. Thus, in this version of the game, there were between one and ten differences between two random cards.
Two cards from the prototype, drawn by Benny Gemma
The work was really easy because it was based on a non-trivial scheme in which I indicated the changes to make on each card for each box of the grid. "What's this grid?", you might ask. It is the basis of the mechanism that makes the game work, together with the "template" card. In order to explain it, let's create two cards for a hypothetical "Almost BoardGameGeek".
Let's start creating a grid. The cards are really small in this example, so a 3x3 grid will suffice.
Let's then design the "template card": It must have drawings on about half the boxes of the grid, with drawings being allowed to occupy more than one box. Starting from this card, we can design other cards by adding, subtracting, or modifying objects.
The template card.
We added the chess king and subtracted the die.
We modified the meeple (turning it upside down), modified the diamond sign (turning it into a heart sign and moving it), and added a Go stone.
As we create new cards, the differences among these and the template are shown on the boxes of a common grid. The modifications to the new cards must be made on different boxes:
The result is the creation of the first two cards of the BGG edition of the game:
On the back of these cards we have something like this:
The back shows at a glance the total number of differences between these two cards (a number equal to the total number of green circles — five in this case) and their location. Note the little trick: We have effectively shown the differences between these two cards while we actually marked the differences between each card and the template.
Coming back to our story, I now had a prototype with forty richly illustrated cards. During the development, however, the new "crime" theme had inspired me to come up with another improvement on the first prototype. Instead of interrupting a round as soon as a player gives their estimate of the number of differences, now there are ten evidence markers in play, numbered 1 to 10.
Each player can take one at any time, and once they have, they cannot change their mind. Points are awarded to those who guessed correctly, or (if no guess was right) to those who came closest, whether high or low.
In addition, in order to add variety, I added a special die whose faces showed the position in which the cards should have been tiled for the current round:
* Lined up next to one another (like the "Find the Differences" puzzles)
* Placed opposite one another
* Tiled by the short side
* Thrown randomly on the table (!)
With these materials and a score track, the new prototype looked good in its box. The old title, "Almost", wasn't representative of the game anymore, so I renamed it "Crime Scene". I then started to print, cut, and pack the cards and the various game pieces. The best opportunity to show the game would be at SPIEL in October 2014. I had appointments with some publishers that might be interested in producing it, not knowing that a disturbing surprise and a great stroke of luck were just around the corner.
As usual, the months leading to SPIEL flew away fast. Time reserved for game developing was never enough, curtailed as it was by day-job deadlines and hard-earned vacation time. I was trying to test "Crime Scene" thoroughly with various friends and with members of Finibus Terrae, a game association and shop in my town.
It was then that a friend gave me a piece of news that made me groan: BGG's "Gone Cardboard" had featured a game by Christophe Boelinger called Difference, coming out for Gigamic. The game seemed to have something in common with mine. Worse still, the game was a new edition of a design from 2010 published by Z-Man Games called What's Missing. During the creation process, I had looked on BGG for games similar to mine, but I had focussed on obvious keywords such as "spot", "difference", "appears", and others.
I... ehm... had completely missed What's Missing!
Boelinger's game and mine definitely had an idea in common: In Difference, choosing two cards at random, one can find differences between them. In that game, the differences are always exactly two. It was therefore clear that the author had started, like I had, from a template card, then designed other cards with only one difference in each of them. The players of the game had to find, as quickly as they could, the two differences between the card on the table and the card they have in hand.
For a bit, the news discouraged me. The two games seemed too similar. Then, all things considered, I realized that they shared only one common idea, namely trying to answer this question: How do you create a "Find the Differences" game that can be played indefinitely?
From there, Boelinger and I diverged in our approaches. His is a pure "difference game" based on spotting and reporting the differences, while mine is more similar to an "auction game". It's not necessary to list the exact differences between the two cards as long as one gives an estimate of their number. In my opinion, this fact was the basis of having an original game, even compared to the classic "Find the Differences".
Armed with this conviction, I did what professional courtesy dictated: I wrote to Boelinger, explaining the genesis of my game and sending him the rules. He very politely replied that the two games could coexist peacefully, but he urged me to seek a second opinion from Gigamic. The publisher quickly answered my query, giving me a cordial and encouraging reply. They had compared the rules of the two games and judged that the only similarity (the "Find the Differences" core idea) was actually in the public domain. For the rest, they had found Difference and "Crime Scene" to be profoundly distinct.
Isn't it ironic that we spent time looking for differences in two "Find the Differences" games? Anyway, that's why Christophe Boelinger and Gigamic are thanked in the manual.
I was back in the saddle, but before I could fully concentrate on SPIEL in October, there was another fair fast approaching. It was much (much!) smaller, but just as important as far as I was concerned. September 2014 would have seen the third edition of BGeek, the comic and game fair of my city Bari, located in the Puglia region in southern Italy. The main guest of the game section was Spartaco Albertarelli, the author of games like Kaleidos, Coyote, Magnifico, and several official variants of the classic Risk! (S.P.Q.Risiko!, FutuRisiko!, Risiko! Master, etc.). Spartaco had worked extensively with Editrice Giochi, the publisher that had introduced in Italy classics like Clue and Dungeons & Dragons, and it had been just a little over a year since he had founded his publishing house, KaleidosGames.
Spartaco's timetable at BGeek was rather busy, with several meetings on different themes. In one of them, he discussed the synergy between board games and video games. On that occasion, Spartaco talked about some of the issues of a video game adaptation of his iconic Kaleidos game, which is based on the careful observation of rather rich and elaborate images. One of the problems was to create a wide variety of different images, featuring objects shown in perspective, while avoiding "collisions" of said objects. As Spartaco talked, I thought a possible solution couldn't differ too much from the "grid" I had used with "Crime Scene", and I told him I could show it to him.
So, the next day, bringing Spartaco back to the hotel, we played a couple of rounds of "Crime Scene" and... boom! He immediately liked the game so much that he considered the possibility of publishing it under his KaleidosGames label, which until then had released only games designed by him. I told him that I would have loved the arrangement, but I was already going to show the game to other publishers. Spartaco wished me luck, saying he expected me to sign a contract when still at SPIEL.
Ever since I've met him, that's the only prediction he made that turned out wrong. Everyone liked the game in Essen, but for various reasons no deal got through. The last rejection came a few months after the end of the fair. Strangely, I felt relieved; my hands weren't tied anymore, and I could go back to work with KaleidosGames.
The protagonists of the game were now police inspectors who are glancing at a picture, so I decided to change the title to "Blinkspector". Spartaco reluctantly accepted the change. To be fair, nobody really liked it, not even me… but for the moment it stuck.
Due to various real life contingencies, it took a whole year to see any further progress. I met Spartaco again during SPIEL 2015 and, together, we reasoned on how to produce the game. The outlined production team was nothing short of phenomenal, with Chiara Vercesi and Paolo Vallerga to focus on graphics and visual design of the game. Chiara started to draw the final version of the cards from the prototype design (a necessary step, given the structure of the game), while Paolo took care of the rest: cover, game pieces, rule booklet, etc.
One of the actual cards of the game, illustrated by Chiara Vercesi
Spartaco really disliked one of the rules of "Blinkspector": If a player guessed the correct number of differences, they were the only one who scored points that round. Running the game with six players and counting on having only ten rounds in the whole game, this rule was frustrating for those who couldn't get any points for several rounds, despite begin close to the correct answer. As editor (and publisher), Spartaco asked me to sort out this problem. I was also to remove the die from the game as it caused too much unpredictable randomness.
I once heard Reiner Knizia giving really good advice to game designers: "If you have two problems, try to find one solution that works for both." With three days of relaxation in a wellness center in Salento, I managed to find that kind of solution.
The new rules of the game stated that three medals — worth 1, 2 and 3 points — would be up for grabs in each round, and the 3-point medal (drawn at random) would show how the cards should be displayed during that round, giving the same variation previously obtained with the use of the die. With this method, we could control how many rounds of each type there were — we decided upon two of each of the five possible layouts — making sure that the right amount of variety was achieved in every game.
The new scoring system assigned:
* A red medal (1 point) to the player who guessed closest to the right answer, but was higher.
* A yellow medal (2 points) to the player who guessed closest to the right answer, but was lower.
* A green medal (3 points) and any unassigned red or yellow medal to the player who guessed correctly.
This system, while simple, had a number of positive effects on the game. You may have noticed, for example, that those who approach the right answer but are too high earn fewer points than those who approach it from below; this happens because if between two cards there are, say, six differences, one thing that might happen is that a player sees four or five differences and gambles on there being a few more and taking the 7 or a higher number. In this case, it is obvious that at a certain point we just guessed. If we came close to the truth, we are good, but we do not deserve a hefty prize.
The correct answer earning the unassigned medals was a nice idea that came to Spartaco while talking on the phone. This gives a bigger prize to those who win the rounds in which the solution is at the extremes (i.e., 1, 2, 9 or 10 differences), which are the most difficult to guess right. Furthermore, this solution made giving the exact estimate more desirable, granting up to 5 points (3 + 2) to the correct player. At the same time, the rules discouraged random answers, allowing for a more tense game.
The most attentive investigators among you have noticed that the tokens had now acquired a yellow hat with an unmistakable shape. The reason was obvious: the name "Blinkspector" didn't win any sympathy from anyone, and we all decided that a catchier name was needed. Staff brainstorming led to several suggestions:
• C.S.EYE: Nice pun, unfortunately lost on non-Anglophones
• Photocop: Again, a nice play on words between photo, cop and photocopy, due to any given card being almost identical to the others
• Police Line, Do Not Cross: Obviously too long, but it would have been nice to have a box with this title on a yellow ribbon running through its entire length
• Luminol: Sounds good, but it is actually not too relevant to the game
• And finally... Sherlook!
I must say that I am really proud of coming up with this title, being a great fan of the Sherlock BBC series (just as much as I am of Doctor Who... remember the origins of the game?). The play on words, suggesting a detective who looks — it is SherLOOK, in case you missed it! — immediately won everyone's heart. The final graphic design of the game started from this new and definitive title. Chiara Vercesi drew some sketches of the cover, each better than the previous one. I'll show you only four of my favorites below.
All of the mock covers were evocative, but in the end we decided to choose the one "displaying" the game better, the one with the two pictures on which the detective is working. Starting from that idea, Paolo Vallerga cast one his spells and pulled out this cover and this logo, hitting the bull's eye, as far as I'm concerned.
The work on the graphics of the game would deserve its own little diary, penned by the three talented illustrators (Benny, Chiara and Paolo) but lacking that, I invite you to look for the many little classy touches that Paul hid in his illustrations. For example, can you find the five references to Sherlock Holmes hidden in the logo of the game?
This story is almost over, even if the actual making and final playtesting took another year, and we didn't manage to complete it on time for SPIEL 2016. The game will be out very soon, anyway, and I want to salute those of you who have endured this long article with one last little secret.
As you may recall, the playtest of "Almost" had been a disastrous affair, and one of the flaws of the original prototype was that the images were too similar, soon boring the players. How did we solve this problem in Sherlook, which contains forty cards that look "almost" identical? Benny and I had the idea of placing many small inside jokes on the cards in order to keep the viewer's attention up and to entertain those who wanted to try to find them.
As an example, take a look at a snippet from these two cards. The first image shows a stain of blood, but... are we sure it actually is blood? The second image, apart from removing the nose profile from the silhouette of the victim, shows a fallen bottle of red wine. No blood spilled in this game then!
Actually, a careful examination of all the cards in the game may suggest to you that there is not even a real victim! And who knows, perhaps, as you play, you will notice that there are:
Multiple references to a renowned board game
A single reference to another board game that's extremely famous in Italy
An artistic, surrealistic reference
A veiled allusion to a 1988 videogame
An acknowledgement to a great football team
A bad joke that risked being censored
A belated cure
A play on words for musicians
The initial of the main suspect
And, last but not least, a quote from Doctor Who, to go full circle and go back to "Almost"
I wanted to write these designer's notes mainly to thank all of those who contributed to help Sherlook see the light. A game such as this one, in which graphics and game design are so closely entwined, just couldn't be produced without the help of Benny Gemma, Paolo Vallerga, and Chiara Vercesi. I would like to give them my full appreciation, and to thank all of those who had fun playing with me and beating me almost every time (after initially saying, "All right, we'll play, but you know all of the cards… you'll win for sure!").
The story of the design of this game has been a long one, and if I didn't risk boring you, I could add many more anecdotes to the ones I shared here, but now there's no time. There's a case to solve, and two pictures of the crime scene with revealing details. Take your pipe and hat, Sherlook: The game is afoot!
P.S. Thanks to Simon Mas for the translation into far better English than mine!
W. Eric Martin
Yesterday I previewed Rüdiger Dorn's Vegas Dice Game, one of nearly two dozen games that will appear exclusively at Target when that U.S. retail chain refreshes its game section at the end of July 2017. Today I'm looking at a far more typical mainstream release, one aimed at the youngest of players and one that exemplifies the constant challenge of getting people to enjoy playing games.
How Does Your Garden Grow? is from designer Gina Manola and U.S. publisher Mudpuppy, which previously had produced only public domain titles such as dominoes, bingo, and chess. This design features all the tropes that one might expect of a game aimed at four-year-olds: bright colors, call-outs to educational benefits ("Color Matching", "Strategy"), and an oddly-shaped box complete with a handle. As for the gameplay, here's an overview:
In How Does Your Garden Grow?, players want to tend to their garden, avoid pests that will eat their crops, and plant one of each of the six fruits and vegetables in the game. Whoever does this first wins.
To start the game, each player draws six seeds from the seed pouch at random and places them on front of the six slots on their 3D game board. On a turn, a player draws and reveals the top card. If it's a fruit or veggie and they have the matching colored seed, they can place this card in their game board in the slot next to the seed. If they lack this colored seed, they can swap one of their seeds with a seed drawn at random from the bag; if this now matches the card, they can plant it; otherwise they must discard the card.
Players might also draw a "Pick it!" card that allows them to steal a card from another player's garden, a "Pest" card that eats one card in your garden, or a "Helper" card that allows you to draw two cards, after which you play both.
Players continue taking turns until one of them has all six fruits and veggies in their garden, winning the game instantly.
All that seems straightforward enough, but the rules don't reveal that one important detail — needing all six fruits and veggies to win — until the final line when previously the object of the game was stated as follows: "[P]lant 6 fruits/veggies in your garden row. The first player to complete his/her garden is the winner!" The rules aren't long, but even in this game for kids I played twice (with a four-year-old and eight-year-old) before re-reading the rules and discovering that one detail I had missed earlier. Even in a game for children with almost no rules, the rules were initially unclear because the winning condition was stated two different ways. Sigh.
In our first games, we played until someone placed six cards in their garden, then called it. The four-year-old had fun with each revelation of his cards (and with winning the first game), while the eight-year-old was filled only with sighs. (A two-year-old observing the game had fun stealing seeds from the bag and playing with them on the remaining game board.)
Once I discovered the correct rules, I coerced the eight-year-old into playing again in order to check whether that color restriction would bog down play. What if you drew two tomatoes to match the two red seeds on your board? Would you then need to cycle through cards until you finally drew a pest so that you could discard one of them, then keep cycling until you drew the missing color? In two games, neither of us had this issue as drawing new seeds from the bag is optional, and both of us drew until we had all six colors, then stopped drawing and just let the deck do its thing.
As you can tell from the description, there's not much to the game itself. You shuffle the deck, then (for the most part) things happen without you having a say in anything. The extra complication of needing a rainbow of produce might cause games to go longer than they would if you needed only to fill your board, and you'll need to judge the patience of your young audience to see whether the complication is worth the trouble. As a designer of kids' games recently told me, sometimes you don't worry about the rules, but just put the components on the table and see what happens...
W. Eric Martin
• To encourage retail stores to sign up for CMON Play and hold gaming events for its titles, CMON Limited has put together two new "game night" kits that each contain exclusive material for the games featured. The Zombicide: Black Plague game night kit, which becomes available on July 28, 2017, contains a three-part mini-campaign called "Nightmares", 14 figures and ID cards of a new hero named "Bruce" (?!), and 26 custom dice. The Blood Rage game night kit, due out September 29, 2017, includes upgraded Clan, Age, and Valhalla game boards, first player horn tokens, and plastic clan tokens that replace the card tokens in the base game. Retailers are free to distribute these materials as they choose.
• In addition to these titles, CMON Limited plans to release a new edition of Roberto Pestrin's Dojo Kun, which first appeared in 2015 from Italian publisher Yemaia. In this game, due out Q3 2017, players manage a personal dojo and train their athletes to prepare for combat with those from competing dojos.
• Along the same lines and also in Q3 2017, CMON Limited will release a new edition of Max Valembois's Meeple War, which French publisher Blue Cocker Games released in 2016.
• In 2017, Spanish publisher Meridiano 6 plans to release Bedouin from Fernando Chavarria and Judit Hurtado, with the action in this game apparently taking place on some alternate Earth:
The discovery of the Z10 gas put the planet's spotlight on all the corporations of Earth. The treasure that hides under the sand changed the peaceful lives of the bedouin tribes that inhabited the planet. Used to the hard life of the desert, these tribes soon became the most valuable allies in the gas-extraction business. You are the new leader of your tribe and must guide your people to find the gas wells and to build extraction ducts that will reshape the landscape forever. Use your people wisely to control the most strategic places on the map and keep an eye on the movements of rival tribes. Don't forget that the powerful and greedy corporations of Earth pull the strings in the shadows and are capable of helping you...or making your tribe disappear between the dunes.
Bedouin is a strategic game whose main mechanisms are area control and hand management. There is a high interaction between players as they collect the tokens of the gas fields that their tribe controls; these tokens are worth different amounts of victory points, and their value can be modified by different actions during the game. The modular construction of the desert guarantees that you will not find two games the same. Every action counts under the burning sun of the bedouin's planet!
• Carnival of Monsters is a new card-drafting game from Richard Garfield and (unexpectedly) German publisher AMIGO Spiel. Here's an overview of the setting and gameplay:
Carnival of Monsters is a card-drafting game in which players collect sets of land cards that allow them to capture and display strange and exotic creatures, hire talented staff to help run their enterprise, and pursue their own secret goals.
Okay, not much to go on for now, but I got a chance to play a round at the 2017 Origins Game Fair, and it was intriguing to know that this design is coming from AMIGO, which typically publishes quick-playing games with few rules. In the game, you need to manage your money in order to pay for new land cards of various types, with these land cards then supporting various creatures that give you points or powers in various ways. You see what everyone else drafts each turn (assuming that they play the card instead of holding on to it), which gives you information for future turns since you're all drafting from packs of cards that are passed among one another each turn
What's especially odd about this project is that AMIGO Spiel is taking Carnival of Monsters to Kickstarter before the end of 2017, with the goal of funding additional art for the game. The more funding the project receives, the more individual pieces of art will be used for the landscapes and creatures, with a different artist handling each environment.
• Kolossal Games is a new U.S. publisher launched in 2017 with Travis R. Chance, formerly of Action Phase Games and Indie Boards & Cards, in charge of finding and developing titles. At least I think that's what Chance is doing. We spoke with him briefly about the founding of the new company at the 2017 Origins Game Fair, and I've included that video below.
What I do know about Kolossal Games is that the company has hired John Clowdus of Small Box Games to be a contract designer. To quote from Clowdus' announcement of the deal:
Kolossal Games now owns all of Small Box Games' back catalog of games. This is amazing news for me, and for you as a Small Box Games fan. But what does all of this actually mean?
Kolossal Games will likely be releasing some of my previous designs under a broader release, with updated and upgraded components, themes, graphics, and rules. This is extremely exciting, and I can't wait to see what Kolossal does with some of my designs. Small Box Games, as a company and publisher, will continue to exist, with a focus on card-only games.
Additionally, I will be designing bigger games for possible publication through Kolossal, something I couldn't have reasonably done through SBG — but I will also continue designing card only games as well.
W. Eric Martin
Rüdiger Dorn's dice game Vegas was a departure for the alea line when the game was released in 2012. A pure dice game? That rates only a 1 on alea's difficulty scale? What's happened to our beloved alea?!
Yet Vegas is tremendously entertaining. This game about gambling actually feels like gambling because you're placing stakes on casinos in the form of dice that you roll, and sometimes you increase your stakes (by adding more dice to the casino later) and sometimes you lose your wager, ending up with nothing but broken dreams while an opponent brings home the jackpot. You're not in control of what happens because you can place dice only in one of the casinos that you roll — and when you do so, you must place all the dice of a single number — and you must place at least one die each turn. Turn by turn your die resources are allocated until it's the end of a round and you're hoping against hope to roll the one number you need with your lone remaining die in order to break a tie in that casino and go from bupkis to a huge payout. The odds are against you, but it could still happen!
Vegas went on to be nominated for the Spiel des Jahres, Germany's game of the year award — after which it was renamed Las Vegas — but it lost out that year to Kingdom Builder. In 2014, Dorn and alea released Las Vegas Boulevard, an expansion that consists of several individual modules that can mix up gameplay in multiple ways, from larger bills to more players to large dice that count as two normal dice to a new seventh casino that works differently from all the others.
Now Vegas is being repackaged again, this time as Vegas Dice Game, with this new version being available from Ravensburger solely through the Target retail chain in the U.S. A game buyer from Target contacted me a while ago about taking an early look at this game and several others that will start appearing in stores and online at the end of July 2017, and I said sure for two reasons. First, I want to preview games in this space, and here was an opportunity to do so — although I initially had no idea what I might be previewing. Roll those dice and see what turns up! Second, I want to help more gamers discover BoardGameGeek, and having previews of games that will appear solely at Target might lead them to discover BGG when searching for more information. We'll see whether that actually happens in the months ahead.
Seeing Vegas Dice Game as one of the titles headed to Target shelves makes sense to me. I've brought Vegas to picnics and gatherings of "regular" people — you know what I mean, people who play games but aren't obsessed by them — and they took to Vegas immediately. The game takes at most a minute to learn, and it plays in game space that's familiar to most people. After all, more than 75 million people visit U.S. casinos each year, and they're all comfortable with rolling dice and trying to work the odds in their favor. Heck, most of us do that every day of our lives — just without rolling actual dice.
We played the game over burgers and chips and sodas and beer, players coming and going throughout the evening with new people picking up the game immediately by watching others. That's a gaming success — but whether it will translate directly from the store shelf is another matter. I worked in a game store in the early 1990s, and I learned over and over again that you can put a game out for display on a table and sell dozens of times more than you can from a game sitting on a shelf.
In any case, here's a video overview of Vegas Dice Game for those who haven't already played the game or those who want to see what this new version looks like:
W. Eric Martin
Nearly two months after announcing its nominees, the jury for the Spiel des Jahres — Germany's annual game of the year award, which is the game industry's largest prize as it typically leads to additional sales of hundreds of thousands of copies — has proclaimed Kingdomino from Bruno Cathala this year's winner, beating out Magic Maze and Wettlauf nach El Dorado. Kingdomino is published by Blue Orange Games, with Pegasus Spiele being the German licensee.
Minutes before announcing the Spiel des Jahres winner, the jury gave the 2017 Kennerspiel des Jahres — an award aimed at enthusiasts who already have some familiarity with modern games — to EXIT: The Game, specifically the first three titles in this series: The Abandoned Cabin, The Pharaoh's Tomb, and The Secret Lab. These titles were all designed by Inka and Markus Brand and published by KOSMOS, and three more titles in the EXIT series have already been released in Germany, with even more on the way. The other two nominees for KedJ were Raiders of the North Sea and Terraforming Mars.
The Kinderspiel des Jahres —the children's game of the year in Germany — had been awarded on June 19, with Brian Gomez' penguin-flicking game Ice Cool, published by Brain Games, taking home the prize over Captain Silver and The Mysterious Forest.
Mon Jul 17, 2017 10:26 am
W. Eric Martin
• White Wizard Games debuted in 2013 with Star Realms, and it's been making small, addictive, quick-playing card games ever since. Now it's launched a new standalone expansion for that game line — Star Realms: Frontiers — that allows for play with up to four players at once, along with eight expansions that can be used with this new release, the original Star Realms, or Star Realms: Colony Wars.
Six of these new expansions — The Alignment, The Alliance, The Coalition, The Pact, The Union, and The Unity — are command decks that include a custom twelve-card starting deck that uses cards from two of the four factions so that you can take on the role of a legendary commander. The final two expansions are another command deck (The Lost Fleet) and a multi-faction expansion pack (Stellar Allies), both of which are sort of Kickstarter exclusive, although excess stock will be available at conventions and they'll be reprinted later with different art. So many realms in which to star! (KS link)
• Svavar Björgvinsson's Ancient Aliens: Creators of Civilizations from Gamia Games gamifies Erich von Däniken's theories of aliens from the stars shaping the future of mankind on Earth — and now you get to be one of those alien races. Funqqqwick!, as they might say. Each player has their own power and deck of cards, and you're trying to advance humans enough that they can build monuments to your awesomeness. (KS link)
• Each round in Legendary Creatures, from Eduardo Baraf, Christopher Hamm and Pencil First Games, players draw four creatures from their individual decks, send one on an expedition, then use the other three in one of the realms on the game board to generate resources, cast spells, and more. (KS link) BGG recorded an overview of the game with Baraf when it was titled "Fantastic Creatures":
• Seth Jaffee's Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done is the latest "deluxified" title from Tasty Minstrel Games, this being a Kickstarted version of a game that includes fancy metal bits and fancy wood pieces and fancy gold trim on the box and other fancy things in a fancified format. As for the game, you are not crusading in the Middle East, but rather running an order of Templar knights and trying to train troops and construct buildings to gain influence. (KS link)
• Steve Jackson Games is running a short KS campaign for Munchkin Special Delivery, which might instead be called Munchkin Warehouse 23 Clearance as this mystery box contains "a core Munchkin game, a combination of expansions and/or boosters, and cool accessories and swag". (KS link)
• Action News: The Game of Television News from John Teasdale and Justin Robert Young is a set-collection game in which you assemble news stories from different cards, possibly using sources on the original story in new ways to provide further commentary. (KS link)
• Firelight: The Questing Card Game from HobbyHorse Games is a card-based tabletop role-playing game that allows 2-4 players to "tell complete, five-act stories with only five minutes of set-up time", according to the publisher, and its introductory nature made it seem like something appropriate for a round-up like this on BGG. (KS link)
• Nemo Rathwald's Overworld from Magic Meeple Games is self-described as "heavily inspired by the 16-bit era of role-playing and adventure video games of the 1990s". Players place double-sided tiles to create the world, with land not able to touch water except for coast spaces, and as empty spaces are create, players compete to occupy them with dungeon doors. In the end, whoever has doors that are the farthest apart wins. (KS link)
• Action Cats! is a storytelling game from Keith Baker and Twogether Studios that's "made with 100% crowdsourced cats". Thankfully the game itself is not made from processed cats, but rather it contains crowdsourced images of cats, with players in the game being presented with one of these images, then challenged to create a story about it from cards in their hand, after which a judge determines which story is best. (KS link)
• Rogue Marechal's Serengeti: A Race for Life from GCT Studios is a head-to-head deck-building competition to save life in the African savannah, with players needing to manage their resources and threats to wildlife to gain majority control of the land. (KS link)
• Spookre (think Euchre) from David Sheppard and Twitch Factory is a trick-taking game with players trying to grab ghosts from the graveyard, and when any played ghost has the same aura as the target ghost, then their abilities trigger. (KS link)
• The Stonebound Saga, previously known as Land of Zion, has funded on its third go on Kickstarter, showing the value of persistence, branding, marketing, and who knows what else. Maybe it doesn't show the value of anything; I should let others worry about such things. In any case, this game by Eric Bittermann and Sky Kingdom Games has each player control and train three characters on their way through a valley to a final battle against an alien force. (KS link)
• Ascended Kings from Jason M. Allen, Dylan Pierpont, and Incarnate Games is another KS reboot, with the 2-4 players in this game fighting one another again and again, even after death, to gain four bloodstones, then attempt to claim the Omega Stone. (KS link)
• Still another second run feature on KS is Illuminatus from Nick Crones and Dark Mushroom Games, with this title seeming like a 1980s-style game in which 2-6 players go after one another with all the conspiracies they can muster in order to complete their hidden agendas first. (KS link)
Editor's note: Please don't post links to other Kickstarter projects in the comments section. Write to me via the email address in the header, and I'll consider them for inclusion in a future crowdfunding round-up. Thanks! —WEM
W. Eric Martin
We've already published two preview videos about Codenames Duet: one from the 2017 GAMA Trade Show when the game was still being developed, and another from the 2017 Origins Game Fair when the design was pretty much complete and just waiting to be sent to production before the game's debut at Gen Con 2017 in August. Thus, I thought I'd avoid creating another video about the game and instead write something up.
Vlaada Chvátil's Codenames is only two years old, but the game already feels like an established classic, something that will be with us for decades. The game design is so minimal — teams take turns trying to identify their hidden secret agents, which are known only by their visible codenames — that its framework can be filled with almost any content, and the gameplay itself will still work just fine; designer Bruno Faidutti, for example, has noted that he's played the game with people guessing rubber ducks, empty beer bottles, board game boxes, novels, Dixit cards, Cards Against Humanity cards, Unusual Suspects cards, and actual people. Multiple versions of Codenames exist or have been announced, and many more are sure to come in the years ahead.
Codenames Duet already functions as another version of Codenames. The box contains two hundred new double-sided word cards, so even if you ignored the new way to play the game, you'd have four hundred new words to use when playing Codenames. (You're on your own when it comes to acquiring rubber ducks as publisher Czech Games Edition doesn't sell them!) These words are a bit more out there than in the original game, with "Joan of Arc" and "Hercules" showing up amongst more common words like "soup" and "hose". I've spoken with CGE's Josh Githens at multiple conventions this year — including at PAX East, where we played a still-in-development Codenames Duet — and he said that they tried to assemble a mix of words in which some serve as hubs (with tons of potential connections) while others have a smaller range of connections.
In practice, some of those more limited words can still be guessed the old-fashioned way: creative clue-giving combined with the process of elimination. In one game, my partner gave the clue "queen - 2", and it was easy to guess "King Arthur" as one of the two words matching "queen", but I scanned fruitlessly for its partner — until I suddenly realized that she probably meant "Joan of Arc", simply because this card was the only one in play with the name of a female human. Success! (After the game, she confirmed that line of thinking. Joan of Arc wasn't a queen, but that clue would likely get me to that card, and in the end that's all that matters.)
Codenames Duet differs from Codenames in that this new game is fully cooperative instead of being played with competing teams. You lay out 25 word cards in a 5x5 grid like normal, but you place a double-sided code card (one side shown at left) between the two players. I see the nine agents (shown in green) that I want my partner to guess and three assassins that I want my partner to avoid (in black). Either player can give the first clue, then players alternate after that, trying to identify all fifteen agents within nine turns.
The tricky part is that my partner's side of the card also shows nine agents and three assassins, and of those three assassins, one of them is an assassin on my side of the code card, one of them is an innocent bystander (shown in tan), and one of them is an agent. This last one is a double agent, I suppose, since I'm trying to get my partner to guess this card, yet if I choose the card on my turn, we lose the game.
Thus, Codenames Duet often puts you in a bind. You know that at some point you'll need to correctly identify one of the three assassins you see as an agent — but which one? The cool part about this bind is that once you do guess the right assassin, you know that the other two assassins shouldn't ever be guessed since they're worthless to you. Your partner doesn't know that you know this since you're not supposed to share info, but you can feel satisfied internally and leave it at that.
You each have nine agents depicted on your side of the code card, but three of those agents are shared; each of us knows those three agents, but we don't know that we both know. This (unwitting) sharing of information gives you another chance to interact in subtle ways. Your partner gives a clue that might work for a few different cards, but one of them is an agent on your side, so that gives you an incentive to choose it — although one of those agents is an assassin, so hmm...
Another challenging aspect of Codenames Duet is that you want to track guesses and information in a way that records who did what. We place the agents and bystanders on the cards so that they face the person who guessed them. If someone is facing me, that means I discovered their identity on my partner's side of the code card; my partner, however, knows nothing about their identity on my side of the code card. Is this revealed agent also an agent on my side? I know it is, which means I have one fewer agent to clue, but that's my info, not theirs. The person I see as a bystander might actually be an agent that they have to guess.
I've played more than twenty games so far on four-fifths of a copy that Czech Games Edition gave me after the 2017 Origins Game Fair. One strong difference from the original game is that Codenames Duet is a lot quieter. When playing Codenames, teams trying to guess words tend to discuss things openly, which gives information to both cluegivers as well as the other team, but in Codenames Duet you know information that the other player doesn't, so you can't say, "Well, it can't be 'scarecrow' because that's an assassin on my side and I've already guessed the 'fog' assassin." You just sit and stare and eventually guess.
And sometimes you die. In Codenames when a team guesses the assassin, the other team breaks out in huzzahs and cheers; in Codenames Duet, you both slump in the chair, defeated. If Codenames were Star Wars, with two factions facing off against one another with one sure to win in the end, Codenames Duet is Rogue One, with the two of you in a race against time, often cowering on the beach as the world blows up around you.
Then you flip over the word cards and try again.
One new addition to Codenames Duet — something not in the original design from Scot Eaton (which was heavily developed by CGE) or in the original Codenames — is a campaign mode that allows you to increase the difficulty of the game. In my 20+ playings, we've won only 3-4 times, with two of those wins coming in sudden death. (If after nine rounds you haven't identified all fifteen agents, then you enter sudden death. Either player can finger one of the word cards, and if it's an agent from the other player's perspective, then you mark it as such and continue or win; if it's not an agent, then you've lost the game.) Thus, we've stayed away from the campaign mode so far.
How campaign mode works: If you've won the normal Codenames Duet set-up, which starts with nine bystander tokens on the side of the playing area with players having nine rounds, then you can mark off Prague on the map and travel to an adjacent city. Maybe you'll go to Moscow where you start with only eight bystander tokens and have only eight rounds in which to identify the fifteen agents. If you survive Moscow, you can travel to Bangkok where you have only seven of each — or you can head to Yakutsk, where you have eight tokens, but only four bystanders.
During the normal game, if you voluntarily stop guessing after one or more successes, then you take one of the bystander tokens and flip it over to show a file. (Thus, whether you hit a bystander or stop on your own, one token is removed from play.) The number of tokens thus indicates how many turns remain in the game. If you go to Yakutsk, then you start with four bystanders and four files. If you stop voluntarily, then you take a file; if you finger a bystander, then you place a bystander; if you can't place a bystander token (because you've already placed them all), then you must take two file tokens, flip them to the bystander side, and place both of them on the word card. Boom — two turns lost in one go.
Maybe I'll get to travel the world of secret agents at some point, but I need to improve my clue-giving before that can happen!
W. Eric Martin
• Australian publisher Grail Games has announced that it will release an English-language version of Gerhard Hecht's Kashgar: Händler der Seidenstraße in Q1 2018 under the name Kashgar: Merchants of the Silk Road. Kashgar was first released in 2013 by KOSMOS in a German edition, and while the game received a fair amount of praise, the cards contain a lot of German text, so folks in other countries decided to wait for a release of the game in their language — after which no one else released the game. *sad trombone*
Now Grail Games is stepping up to the plate, licensing a game that one might have expected to appear in English from Thames & Kosmos, the U.S. branch of KOSMOS, but representatives of T&K have told me (in the past and not related to this announcement) that they have a huge number of titles available to them in the KOSMOS catalog, and they can't possibly do everything. As for the gameplay in Kashgar, here's an overview:
Kashgar is a deck-building game in which players build three, "open" decks at the same time. The card at the front of each deck (or caravan) determines which actions are currently available for the players. Cards let you acquire spices or mules, make deliveries for points, or acquire new cards for your caravans.
• CMON Limited was already publisher of the English-language version of The Grizzled from Fabien Riffaud and Juan Rodriguez, but in late June 2017 it bought all rights to the game from original publisher Sweet Games.
So what's next for the World War I game? The Grizzled: Armistice Edition, which includes a campaign mechanism to give "more structure to the story of friends surviving World War I", to quote from CMON Limited's press release. I tweeted a pic of this game's prototype in February 2017 after meeting Riffaud and Rodriquez at the Festival International des Jeux, but apparently I forgot to also mention this item in this space until now. Oops.
The press release describes The Grizzled: Armistice Edition as an expansion, but Riffaud and Rodriquez had told me this would be a standalone game, something that essentially starts with everyone meeting at training camps, then learning how to rely on one another to survive all the travails of war. The game is still under development, of course, so things might have changed from that earlier description. They also mentioned that this would be the final Grizzled title since original artist Tignous died in the Charlie Hebdo shooting in 2015, the year that the original game debuted, and no more art from him exists for the game.
• At SPIEL 2017, Plan B Games will release its second title following Century: Spice Road, a tile-laying game from Michael Kiesling titled Azul. According to Plan B's Mike Young, "It's a fantastic follow-up to Century (easy to learn, full of clever strategic decisions, and addictively fun!) and helps confirm Plan B's line." Here's a short description:
Introduced by the Moors, azulejos (originally white and blue ceramic tiles) were fully embraced by the Portuguese when their king Manuel I, on a visit to the Alhambra palace in Southern Spain, was mesmerized by the stunning beauty of the Moorish decorative tiles. The king, awestruck by the interior beauty of the Alhambra, immediately ordered that his own palace in Portugal be decorated with similar wall tiles. As a tile-laying artist, Azul brings you to embellish the walls of the Royal Palace of Evora.
In the game, players take turns drafting colored tiles from suppliers to their player board. Later in the round, players score points based on how they've placed their tiles to decorate the palace. Extra points are scored for specific patterns and completing sets; wasted supplies harm the player's score. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.
• In 2018, Alderac Entertainment Group plans to release a second Smash Up expansion that contains factions submitted by and voted upon by fans of the game — but to do that, AEG first needs to receive your submissions, so they invite you to submit faction ideas for "Oops, You Did It Again!" before the end of July 2017. Voting on these nominees will open August 1, 2017.
• At San Diego Comic Con, which runs July 20-23, 2017, Renegade Game Studios will debut Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Card Game, a Keith Baker deck-building design that features artwork by Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O'Malley. What's more, copies at that show — which are limited to fifty per day on Thursday, Friday and Saturday — feature a convention exclusive variant cover. After all, what's a San Diego Comic Con release with some exclusive element?
W. Eric Martin
Renegade Game Studios had advance copies of a number of upcoming releases at the 2017 Origins Game Fair — Flip Ships, The Fox in the Forest, and the game I'm talking about today, J. Alex Kevern's Sentient.
As I note in the video below, Sentient feels like one-third of a Stefan Feld game. It features a solid drafting and dice-manipulation system, with each player drafting four AI cards each round, with each card being placed between two dice on your individual player board. The values of those dice determine whether you score points for the card, but the cards themselves often change those values unless you spend one of your handful of assistants not to make that change.
As you use agents to draft cards, you're also trying to use those agents to gain control of investors that will (possibly) give you extra points at the end of the game. Can you combine the right investors with the right AI, while also triggering all of the AI to score? Sometimes things just fall into place for you — the perfect AI triggering massive points while you simultaneously sway just the right investors — but that's the beauty of the future. You never know exactly what will happen...
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