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To submit news, a designer diary, outrageous rumors, or other material, please contact BGG News editor W. Eric Martin via email – wericmartin AT gmail.com

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Game Previews from FIJ 2017 II: Secrets, Unlock!, Go Cuckoo!, Oh Captain!, and Not Alone: Exploration and Sanctuary

W. Eric Martin
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• Let's check out more upcoming games that were previewed — or in some cases released — at the 2017 Festival International des Jeux in Cannes, France, starting with Secrets from Repos Production. Co-designer Eric M. Lang is on the minds of many gamers due to the Kickstarter launch of Rising Sun, but that title's more than a year from being released whereas Lang has six titles scheduled to debut at Gen Con 2017, this being one of them. That's not necessarily ideal as at some point I would think that Lang fans would pick and choose, leading to some releases being overlooked, but those release decisions are made by publishers, not him. Of course the potential audience for, say, The Godfather: Corleone's Empire is likely going to differ from that of Secrets, so maybe all will go well for everybody. We'll see.

In any case, Lang and co-designer Bruno Faidutti showed up at FIJ to talk about Secrets —and many other titles, of course, some in the design stage, others nearing publication, and I missed getting Faidutti talking about Fearz! due to overlapping appointments and Detectives due to me not checking Geekmail for a week! In any case, here's an overview of the hidden team game Secrets, and I'm curious as to whether anyone else is also feeling the American Flagg vibe.





Not Alone was a big hit at SPIEL 2016, and now designer Ghislain Masson and publisher Geek Attitude Games have two expansions in the works for release in 2017, with Not Alone: Exploration adding more of the same for variety and Not Alone: Sanctuary adding creature mutation and other new elements.





• The As d'Or — France's game of the year awards — were announced the night before FIJ opened, and designers Josep M. Allué and Víktor Bautista i Roca won the best game for children's prize with Go Cuckoo!, which is published by HABA under the title "Kikou le coucou" in France. They talked with me about the game's origin and development, specifically its transition from a game for adults to a game for children — despite it still being a game for adults in the end — while also demonstrating how to play.





• Another As d'Or winner was Unlock!, the escape room game series from Space Cowboys, with this title selling like gangbusters in France while still awaiting release in most other places in the world. Cyril Demaegd designed one of the scenarios in Unlock!, which will be sold individually in the U.S. instead of as a trilogy, and he talked about the game's reception and what else is in the works.





• To round out this handful of videos with designers talking about their creations, here's Florian Sirieix on one of two games that he has coming out in 2017: Oh Captain! from Ludonaute, with this being the launch title for the publisher's Legends of Luma world.

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Wed Mar 8, 2017 5:00 pm
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Game Previews from FIJ 2017 I: Batman: The Boardgame, Otys, Booo!, Princess Jing, and Captain Sonar: Upgrade 1

W. Eric Martin
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• Didn't I just finish posting game preview videos from Spielwarenmesse 2017 the other day? Yes, yes I did. I have a lot of preview videos in the can, though, so here's another batch for you, this time recorded on the shores of Cannes, France at the 2017 Festival International des Jeux, which took place February 24-26.

Let's start with an overview of Batman: The Boardgame, which was probably second only to Cities of Splendor in terms of breathless excitement generated from those monitoring FIJ from home. Batman: The Boardgame is based on the design of Conan, both being from Frédéric Henry and Monolith, with the game system at the heart of the design being mostly finished while everything else is still in the works. No release date yet as Monolith wants to move everything to the finish line first in order to avoid Conan-like delays upon completion of the inevitable Kickstarter.





Roberto Fraga, co-designer of Captain Sonar with Yohan Lemonnier, gave an overview of what to expect in Captain Sonar: Upgrade 1, which wasn't on hand to try out at FIJ 2017 in the Matagot booth.





• Fraga also showed off Princess Jing, a two-player game being published by Matagot that he designed eighteen years ago. Yes, this design predates the third millennium on the Gregorian calendar. Fraga told me only after we stopped recording that the inspiration for this game came from a Michael Jackson video in which characters hid from one another behind columns in a labyrinth of some sort. Perhaps someone can link the video below as this one doesn't ring a bell for me...





Pearl Games is collaborating with Libellud on its 2017 release Otys, with Pearl providing the gameplay and Libellud the world-building. Sébastien Dujardin presents an overview of this game about diving in a post-apocalyptic world, noting that it should be available for previewing at Gen Con 2017 ahead of its scheduled release at SPIEL.





• Christophe Gonthier's Booo! from Blackrock Games falls into the category of "staring games" — games in which players stare at a board, seemingly petrified, until someone finally notices a way to do whatever it is they're supposed to do.

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Mon Mar 6, 2017 6:30 pm
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Videos from NY Toy Fair 2017: Emerson Matsuuchi on Century: Spice Road and a Walkthrough of the Javits Center

W. Eric Martin
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As I explain at the beginning of the walkthrough video below, I don't normally record videos at NY Toy Fair. The event doesn't have an overwhelming amount of game announcements — at least not for the typically BGG user — and we've just recorded a hundred game overview videos at Spielwarenmesse in Nürnberg, Germany, some of which will be "new" at NYTF for that audience. Thus, I go to the Javits Center on my own, race around taking notes and pictures for 1.5 days, then fly home wondering when I'll be able to publish everything, which was even more the case this year since I headed to France three days after NYTF in order to record videos at the Festival International des Jeux. Such heartwrenching problems, I know.

Despite those protestations, I inevitably bring the videocamera with me anyway. In 2016, I recorded a trio of awkward videos with Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games. In 2017, I needed it for one scheduled game overview video that I didn't want to pass up — see below — but I didn't want to leave it that, so with ten minutes remaining before I needed to head to the airport, I opened up the camera, walked through the three aisles devoted to games, then kept walking. Hope you enjoy this peek into what NY Toy Fair is like!





• At Spielwarenmesse 2017, I played a game of Century: Spice Road with Plan B Games owner Sophie Gravel and cameraperson John K, then wrote up a game preview here on BGG News. Only afterward did I discover that I could meet designer Emerson Matsuuchi in NYC to record an overview of the game there.

So I did.

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Sun Mar 5, 2017 2:50 pm
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Game Previews from Spielwarenmesse VII: AXIO, Torres, Legacy of Pirates, Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time, and a Hall 12 Walkthrough

W. Eric Martin
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• After a brief interlude caused by me attending two other conventions, I've finally finished posting all the game overview videos that BGG shot at Spielwarenmesse 2017, the annual toy and game fair in Nürnberg, Germany, which took place Feb. 1-6, 2017. Thankfully few of these games are out yet, so these videos can still serve as previews of what's coming, such as this overview of Reiner Knizia's AXIO, a new iteration of the Ingenious tile-laying system from Pegasus Spiele that was announced at the end of January 2017.





• Not surprisingly, I ran into Reiner Knizia during Spielwarenmesse — several times actually, including a scheduled meeting to talk about what life is like for a game designer at such a convention. If you plan to make a living as a game designer, you don't necessarily need to attend such shows, but you'll be doing yourself a favor if you do so that you can survey in one location much of what's happening in the game industry around the world.





• The Spiel des Jahres-winning Torres from Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer is coming back into print courtesy of HUCH! & friends. If you're already familiar with the game, you can now check out the new (old) components, and if not, you can learn the basics of gameplay.





Cranio Creations has a big legacy-style co-op coming from designers Asger Harding Granerud, Daniel Skjold Pedersen, and Daniele Tascini, with Legacy of Pirates giving you ten linked scenarios and a huge 3D pirate ship that serves as the game board.





• I already wrote up the co-op game Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time from Matthew Dunstan, Brett J. Gilbert, and Funforge after getting an overview at Spielwarenmesse 2017, but for those who want to see the game in action, you can now check out this preview video.




• To finish off our coverage of Spielwarenmesse 2017, here's a nearly seven-minute walk through half of Hall 12. Man, that hall is massive! We just walked up and down the aisles shooting things without stopping and still saw very little of it. Maybe this video will be of interest simply to show some of the hundreds of other products at the toy fair aside from the games on which we've been focusing.

Outside of the few dozen game overview videos I've featured in BGG News posts over the past month, we have many dozen more on the individual game pages, with all 101 videos in a Spielwarenmesse 2017 playlist on our YouTube channel. So many games are coming, not to mention those I saw at NY Toy Fair 2017 and the 30-40 games we recorded previews of at FIJ 2017. Ideally I can post all of those videos before heading to PAX East on March 9, 2017 to see yet more games coming in the months ahead...

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Sat Mar 4, 2017 6:25 pm
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Game Previews from Spielwarenmesse VI: El Dorado, Photosynthesis, Kero, Donner Dinner Party & Catan: Seafarers 20th Anniversary Edition

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• The most eye-catching cover at Spielwarenmesse 2017 might also have been the most serene, that being Blue Orange's Photosynthesis from Hjalmar Hach. This title isn't due out until SPIEL 2017, but Hach was on hand in Nürnberg and willing to present the game, so I wasn't about to turn him down. In case you're not familiar with photosynthesis, you can now learn in the most abstract manner possible how the sun helps plants grow and how those plants then cut off access to the sun to shorter, less fortunate plants.





• Reiner Knizia's El Dorado from Ravensburger has inspired lots of "Could it be? Is this possible?" talk along the lines of Knizia returning to his more complex games of old. I wouldn't go that far, but in this design Knizia has put his own spin on deck-building, with the game including exploration and racing elements as you quest to discover El Dorado.





• Klaus Teuber's Catan celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2015, and now two years later German publisher KOSMOS is celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Seafarers expansion with a special 20 Jahre Jubiläums-Edition that includes four new scenarios that link together to tell "the legend of the sea robber".

KOSMOS will release this item both as a complete expansion (Seafarers, plus new "Sea Robber" scenarios) as well as an expansion for an expansion with only the new stuff. Morgan Dontanville at Catan Studio told me during the 2017 NY Toy Fair that the U.S. will likely see only the expansion-for-an-expansion release.





• Swiss publisher Hurrican has changed the focus of its output somewhat, with owner Yves Menu telling me in Nürnberg that he's releasing only two-player games from now on. This isn't a huge change for Hurrican given that it's best known for the two-player game Mr. Jack and its many spin-offs and expansions, but don't expect to see another Augustus anytime soon.

As part of this reorientation, Hurrican will rerelease the Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc title Madame Ching as a two-player-only design with almost no changes to the rules. Menu thinks the game is best with that player count and feels it's been overlooked because people mostly play with three or four players, so he wants to give it another push in a new format.



Hurrican also has the two-player post-apocalyptic game Kero coming from Forrest-Pruzan Creative. I had no idea what to expect when I showed up to film this overview, and now you get to discover the game just as I did.





• Feed others or feed on others? That's the dilemma that awaits in Donner Dinner Party, a hidden role game coming in August 2017 from Forrest-Pruzan Creative and Chronicle Books in which you either try to knock off the pioneers one dish at a time or else survive seven weeks in the wilds until help arrives.

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Fri Mar 3, 2017 4:21 pm
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Game Previews from Spielwarenmesse V: The Hunt for the Ring, Rhino Hero: Super Battle, Frogriders, Mistkäfer, and Monster-Pups

W. Eric Martin
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• Time for another round of preview videos from the Spielwarenmesse 2017 fair in Nürnberg, Germany, starting with one of the titles that brought the most cries of excitement when announced: Rhino Hero: Super Battle from Scott Frisco, Steven Strumpf, and HABA.

Yes, Rhino Hero has lots of fans, and now each of the players will have their own hero to raise high in the city skyline, with construction of that skyline having new complications.





• Another species awaits your attention in Frogriders from Asger Granerud, Daniel Skjold Pedersen, and eggertspiele, with players thankfully not trying to ride the frogs but jump them in order to remove them from the board, score points, and take advantage of their special powers.





• Even smaller critters await in Mistkäfer from Klaus-Jürgen Wrede and Schmidt Spiele, with "Mistkäfer" being German for "dung beetles". Yes, this is the German poop-themed game for early 2017, with players rolling dice and collecting them in ascending order (possibly stealing dice from others while doing so) in order to claim tokens that might bring you a wealth of dung — if you're lucky.





• Wait, another German poop-themed game? Yes, Monster-Pups — which is pronounced as "poops" — from Ravensburger has you trying to help your monster use the bathroom and clean up after itself more quickly than any other beast.





• Designers Marco Maggi and Francesco Nepitello are well-known for their handling of hobbits and other creatures in War of the Ring, and now they're partnering with Gabriele Mari — well-known for hidden movement games such as Garibaldi and Letters from Whitechapel — on The Hunt for the Ring, a hidden movement game featuring Frodo and companions traveling from the Shire to Rivendell that's coming from Ares Games.

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Thu Mar 2, 2017 8:02 pm
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Tweets from FIJ 2017 in Cannes, France: Cities of Splendor, Batman: The Boardgame, Otys, The Grizzled Campaign, Dragon Ball Z: The Board Game, and More

W. Eric Martin
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The 2017 Festival International des Jeux took place in Cannes, France on February 24-26, and between my young assistant and myself we took more than three thousand photos of the games, publishers and people at the show. Admittedly many of those photos were taken in bursts of thirty or forty until I taught m.y.a. a few more things about the camera, but we still ended up with an overwhelming number of pics, many of which I've shared on the BGG Twitter account and many more of which await sharing.

Here's a round-up of some of the pics I've already published on Twitter and the BGG Facebook account. Many of the items shown below still need proper BGG database listings, but those will have to wait a little longer unless designers and publishers in the know want to submit them now.

•••






Let's start with one of the most anticipated games known before FIJ opened: the Cities of Splendor expansion. I'll post a more detailed overview of this expansion separately, but note that the artwork shown here is obviously placeholders. To explain more than what's in the tweet, each player has a set of these five cards, and as soon as you've collected cards that match the totals shown on them (e.g., five green cards), you flip over the card and gain the special power shown on it for the rest of the game. Gold tokens are worth two of the same color instead of just one, for example, or you get to take a token from the reserves before buying a card.





The most anticipated game not known (at least to me) prior to FIJ was Batman: The Boardgame from the team that created Conan: Frédéric Henry and Monolith Editions. We recorded a long overview of this design, which uses the same core system as Conan, with some changes both for the multiplayer game and a new approach to two-player games; in this latter set-up, each player has their own control panel, with one controlling villains and the other heroes.







My son Traver was all over the place with his picture-taking, but some turned out just right (after cropping), with him sometimes setting up shots beforehand. He told me later that this one was inspired by The Hunger Games, which we're reading now while traveling.



Giant-sized displays were to be found all over FIJ 2017, and I encourage more publishers to make use of these eye-catchers at future conventions. When people are playing at such a display, you're no longer demoing the game to just those playing, but to dozens of passersby, many of whom stop to stare because the gameplay is more visible and dramatic.











We recorded 30-40 game overview videos at FIJ 2017. I'm not sure of the count as we kept recording, then moving on. The show runs late, with the exhibit hall open until 21:00 on Friday and 20:00 on Saturday, with an after-hours demo space for game prototypes — the Off — starting at 22:00 and running until 04:00 for four evenings.

Yes, the prototype space is open more days than the convention itself. Nadine Seul, the general commissioner of FIJ, told me that the Off has been running for at least ten years, and it started as a side happening during other events before blossoming into the huge happening that it is today. I recorded a walkthrough of the Off as well, but I need to add a voiceover track as we kept getting odd feedback in that space while having no such troubles in the lower floors where the exhibitors were located.











In most cases games are universal and can be played by all, but when you have a speed reaction game based on your ability to recognize characters in a French-only manga, some players are going to have an advantage over others...



















I have since been informed that speculoos shakes can be had in the U.S., albeit perhaps under a different name. I have been missing out on these for years, alas.



More pics to come on Twitter in-between a few off hours in Cannes. I'll post another round-up in this space as well, along with the final videos from Spielwarenmesse 2017 and more pics from NY Toy Fair 2017. I'll be at PAX East on March 10-12, 2017. Perhaps I'll see some of you there!

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Tue Feb 28, 2017 1:05 pm
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Designer Diary: Gloomhaven, or Trying to Fit a Full RPG World into a Board Game Box

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I'm a Eurogamer, but I like dungeon crawls. That's okay, right? I can like two completely different things?

I play games to challenge myself, to engage my brain in solving the complex system the game presents and emerge from the experience victorious — or, if not victorious, at least feeling like I got a good mental workout and performed well in the situation. Because of this, I naturally gravitate toward Eurogames, typically known for prioritizing complex, thinky mechanisms ahead of anything else.

I also just really like slaying monsters with swords and spells, though. I grew up on Dungeons & Dragons, Tolkien, and Final Fantasy. That animalistic urge to pick up a broadsword and chop a goblin in half is buried deep down in my brain.

But, oh boy, if I don't hate dice. If I'm going to win or lose, I want it to happen on my terms, not the terms of random chance. I will sit down and play Dungeons & Dragons or Descent and love every minute of it, but I can never help but think that there must be something better; something with more complex, engaging mechanisms; something that gives me more control over the outcome of my actions; something that gives me an endless supply of tough decisions instead of just rolling dice over and over.

I wanted to make my own dungeon crawl. I wanted to make Gloomhaven.




Developing the Combat System

It all started some three-and-a-half years ago. In 2013, I was still working on my first design, Forge War, but became intrigued with the card mechanisms of Sentinels of the Multiverse. I loved how each hero's deck of cards could feel so different from each other, and I wanted to try to expand that idea to a dudes-on-a-map game of tactical combat.

My first pass, however, was a mess. Instead of controlling one individual character, players controlled different tribes that had anywhere from one to ten characters. This variance did indeed give a wonderfully unique feeling to each tribe, but it also made the game fiddly to an absurd degree. It also didn't help that at that point in my design career, I was dead-set against any sort of randomness in my games.

So I moved on, and I grew a lot as a designer. Forge War was received well, and, in early 2015, I eventually settled on returning to this dungeon crawler as my next major design. I knew that the whole tribe-based approach wouldn't work, nor would the completely deterministic combat resolution. I needed something to differentiate the game from more basic "move and roll dice" dungeon crawlers. I didn't want each character to have a single special attack they could perform once per game. Instead, I wanted every attack to feel special and every character to feel unique. I wanted a card-based system, but was struggling with exactly how to implement it.

Enter Cards Against Humanity. (You weren't expecting that, were you?) Back in 2014, they ran this sort of reality show called "Tabletop Deathmatch", and it was pretty entertaining. Not only that, but entrants on the show instilled two pretty great ideas on me that would eventually permeate into Gloomhaven's design.

The first, I believe, was in reference to the deck-building game The Shadow Over Westminster. The idea was simple: Each player controlled a character running around on a map, but these characters didn't have any innate statistics written down on a card or mat somewhere. Everything that made them unique as a character was distilled down into the deck of cards the player was building. I know it's a pretty simple concept, but it resonated with me as a very elegant way to approach the idea of character statistics.

The second was the idea of multi-use cards. Now, obviously, the game in question, Rocket Wreckers, did not originate the idea of multi-use cards, but the simplicity of its implementation really stuck with me. Each card has an action on it and a distance, and each round you play two cards from your hand: one for the action and one for the distance. It was simple, but it allowed for dynamic decision making.




From there, the game kind of just exploded. Each character could have a unique deck of cards that contained all of the various abilities they could perform. No external stats were needed aside from their hit point value and their deck size. These cards could be dual-use, so that one side contained abilities geared more towards attacking, and the other side contained movement abilities. Players would play two cards each turn, and it would simulate the basic structure familiar in most dungeon crawlers — moving and attacking — but the diversity of abilities would give each character a unique feel and allow the players lots of decisions to make on their turns.

Soon after, the player order was also built into the cards by giving each one an initiative value, and, with some tweaking, the pace of the game was chained to the idea of a character losing cards over time, either slowly through resting or quickly through using super-powerful abilities or taking too much damage. Once players run out of cards, they lose.

I also needed to come up with a system for enemy automation. I wanted the game to be fully cooperative as far back as the early "tribe" design, simply because if a player is controlling the monsters, they're never having as much fun. The monster automation in that earlier design, though, was easily the worst part of the game. Each separate monster had a whole slew of conditional rules about how it prioritized who to attack under various circumstances. In all my testing, I would be the one to move the monsters because I was the only one who could figure it out. My number one priority now was to make it simple, so I looked to Mice and Mystics. I always appreciated how easy its enemy activation was, so I started from there, with a monster on the board simply going after the closest character and attacking.

I did have a secondary priority, though, which was to make monster behavior interesting and variable, so I decided to switch up the monsters' actions every round with a deck of cards that modified a monster's base statistic. Maybe one round a monster moves a little less than you expect, then attacks for a little bit more. Maybe another round, the monster doesn't attack at all, but simply sets itself up to retaliate if you attack it. The best thing about these card decks is that, much like the characters and their own decks of cards, you could give a monster a personality based on how it behaved. Each monster has a unique deck of ability cards, and learning and reacting to their tactics becomes part of the fun.

I suppose now is as good a time as any to address the looming specter of randomness that exists with any dungeon crawl — or really any cooperative game in general. If a cooperative game is completely deterministic, it either has to be incredibly complex to hide that determinism (which is usually a disaster, as I learned in the early "tribe" iterations) or it will quickly become solvable and lose its fun.




And while I have progressed far enough as a designer to know that randomness has its time and place in a game, I still can't bring myself to include dice in a design. I know that some people enjoy the activity of rolling a die, then standing up from their chair in anticipation of what the result of the roll is, but I just loathe dice. Furthermore, I am convinced that a deck of cards is a far superior random number generator due to the simple fact that a deck of cards is customizable. You can't customize a D6 without making a mess with stickers. Plus, depending on how often you shuffle the deck, it actually becomes less random than a die due to the existence of prior information.

What I am getting at with all of this is that I implemented a random element to the attacks made in the game through a deck of "attack modifier cards". For every attack you make, you flip over a card. It may have a "+1" or "-1" on it, and you adjust your damage accordingly. Yay, non-determinism! When you first start playing the game, the deck of twenty cards essentially acts like a D20, but very quickly you find out that it goes much deeper, because you can customize the deck. I'll get to that later...




Developing the Campaign

What was important at this point is that I had a really fun dungeon crawler. Like I said, after the initial innovations with the card play mechanisms, it just exploded into this highly enjoyable system — but that wasn't enough for me. Not by a long shot.

With the early "tribe" iterations, I was content to use the system to create single, independent scenarios. You head into a dungeon with your friends, kill the monsters, and that's the whole game. By the time the newer Gloomhaven system was in full swing, though, I had experienced the campaign play of Descent and knew there was something much more epic to be done. The game play of Descent is fairly basic, but the campaign aspect — stringing scenarios together and accumulating items and advanced abilities to face harder monsters — was scratching an itch I didn't realize board games could scratch. And once you start scratching that itch, you don't want to stop.

As I said at the beginning, I am a huge fan of role-playing games, and the idea that a structured board game could emulate a full Dungeons & Dragons campaign or an Elder Scrolls game was something I was desperate to explore. I wanted to see how far I could push it. I wanted to build an entire world that would feel expansive and open and would actually react to players' choices.

It should be stated up-front that I didn't start this journey trying to make a legacy game. To me, legacy is simply the concept of altering components and revealing new components over repeated plays, and, like any other game mechanism (such as deck-building or worker-placement), it has the potential to enhance a game play experience when used the right way. I don't think a designer should sit down and say, "I want to make a legacy game," any more than I think they should sit down and say, "I want to make a deck-building game." Use the mechanisms where they fit to make your core game a better experience.

To dismiss Gloomhaven as a legacy game is highly reductive and narrow-minded. Gloomhaven is a tactical dungeon crawl with an open and expansive world. Because it is so expansive, however, I felt using some legacy mechanisms was the best way to deliver it to players. If I wanted players to keep coming back week after week to play my game, I had to give them something to work towards. There had to be a sense of discovery to the game, hidden parts that would reveal themselves over time.




The most straight-forward example of this are the locked character classes. There are six character classes players can use when they first open the box and another eleven that can be played only once specific conditions are fulfilled. Maybe seventeen classes was a little overboard for a single box, considering each one has a unique deck of around thirty ability cards, but I love them all, and it definitely feeds into the concept of a giant, unexplored world. All seventeen of these classes could be available from the start, but then you are front-loading the joy of discovery. The best feeling in the game is opening one of those character boxes and seeing what amazing creature is waiting for you inside. It is a major incentive for players to keep coming back for more.

The progression of an individual character is also a massively exciting part of any campaign game. It's hard to call this "legacy" as the idea of character progression has been around for ages, but it is still an important part of that persistent, ever-changing nature of the game. Since it has been around for ages, though, there weren't too many innovations here. Players get money, then they buy equipment that helps them kill stuff better. They gain experience and level up, which gives them access to cooler abilities, more hit points, and the opportunity to customize their attack modifier decks. (I told you I'd come back to this.) This modifier deck customization is the secondmost exciting part of character progression to me because, as I said above, it is not something you can do very well with dice. Your deck starts out as a D20, but then you start taking out bad cards, adding good cards, and it quickly becomes something impossible to represent with any number of dice.

The most exciting part of character progression, though, is the fact that characters retire and get put back in the box. As soon as you create a character, you draw a "personal quest" — a long-term goal that represents the character's sole reason for becoming a mercenary in the first place. When a character completes this quest, they are forced to retire, and this is what unlocks new character classes to be played. This whole concept was born from the fact that I wanted the game to be big. Sure, playing a single character is exciting and fun, but there are so many characters in the box and players are going to be itching to play something new long before they've fully explored the campaign. I wanted this switch from one character to the next to be represented in the mechanisms, so retirement was created.

The other incentive here is that a personal quest gives each character an official story arc. Since the campaign world itself is so big and open, I wanted the narrative to be more focused on the characters than on some over-arching epic plot of world-ending evil. Sure, there is an official ending scenario that players will reach, and the stakes are sufficiently high, but I didn't want players to feel like that was the point of the game. There will be plenty more of the world to explore even after the "end boss" is killed.




Which brings me to the next legacy aspect of the game: the actual map board, a visual representation of both the world that you inhabit and the scenarios that are available to play. The idea here is that this is not a linear campaign. It is a sprawling world full of side-paths and branching story threads that opens up the more you play. I wanted to capture that feel of playing an Elder Scrolls game. You're heading off to a mission when you see some strange cave in the distance. You head over to it, either to explore it immediately or maybe just to mark it on your map so you can explore it later. Even with all the twists and forks in the story, I'm sure there were other ways I could have created a system to visualize what scenarios were available to your party at any given time, but I don't think any could be more engrossing or visually appealing than a nice, big board full of stickers. The world starts as a blank canvas, and, as you play, you slowly start to color in the details, which is something I find incredibly exciting.

The last major persistent part of the campaign are the event cards. I think this was one of the last mechanisms to be implemented, and they emerged as a way to add even more color and immersiveness to the world. I wanted to give the players more choices and give the world more opportunities to react to those choices. Every time players return to town or head out on the road for a new adventure, they draw an event card that gives them a little story, then a binary choice to make. Once the choice is made, the card is flipped over and the consequences are revealed. This is a very simple mechanism, but it allows for a huge number of opportunities to make players feel like they are playing in a living, breathing world. Players will develop a reputation which will then have an impact on the outcome of events. Completing certain quests may cause cards to be added to the event decks, giving the world a chance to react to the players' deeds. Retiring characters will also add cards, meaning that players may run into their old party mates later on down the road. I definitely drew inspiration from Robinson Crusoe here, with the idea that choices you made in events may affect what happens in your game later on. It's just great storytelling, and I'd be a fool not to use it.




In the end, I never intended to make a 21-pound game. I intended to give players a complete world to explore, and those 21 pounds were just the natural progression of that concept. I let the story grow and expand to fill in all the cracks of the world, and I ended up with 95 separate scenarios. To fill in those scenarios, I needed a plethora of map tiles and terrain features, in addition to an expansive bestiary of monsters to make sure the game never felt repetitive. I ended up with 36 different monster types, plus thirteen unique bosses. Add in the seventeen character classes — every exciting and unique character idea I could come up with, each with their own player mat, character sheet, miniature, and decks of ability cards and modifier cards — and, well, all that card stock and cardboard started to add up.

I could not be more proud of how it turned out, though. I feel like I have delivered on my vision, and now I eagerly wait to see where my 21-pound baby goes from here. The game was designed to make additional content easy to create, so I am looking forward to seeing what unique scenarios the community creates from the core system and how the world will continue to expand and grow from here.

Isaac Childres
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Mon Feb 27, 2017 5:05 pm
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Tweets from NY Toy Fair on Pandemic Legacy: Season 2, Firefly Adventures, Dice Forge, Ashes Deluxe Expansions, DC Spyfall, The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31, and More

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I jetted into NY Toy Fair this past weekend for 1.5 days of exploration, note-taking, pics, and even a couple of videos. I've been sharing those images and notes on BGG's Twitter account for the past two days, and here are a few highlights from that feed, with more pics and notes to come over the next day or two.

Why repost tweets instead of uploading images and writing things out anew? Well, I will in time, but I have only two days before heading to Cannes, France to record game preview videos at the Festival International des Jeux, so I'm opting for fast and seemingly lazy over slow and non-existent. Priorities!




I believe that Gale Force Nine actually anticipates having Firefly Adventures out by the end of June 2017, but my notes are messy, so let's go with Gen Con as a "sell by" date to cushion that expectation.


To add a bit more detail, the Borg are run by an AI and can appear all over the place. They weaken other players as they attack, and you might view that as a good thing, leaving them to ravage someone else's planet while you do things to improve your position, but as some point a damaged player can become the Borg, which then lets them take control of the race and give them a chance to win the game a different way.

Oh, and the Cardassian Union and Ferengi Alliance expansions for Star Trek: Ascendancy are on their way to retail. I'll poke GF9 again for a more precise release date.









No pics were allowed in the USAopoly booth — a restriction that's often in place because publishers are waiting for approval from license holders for the use of artwork and design — so I have nothing to show for this title. Andrew Wolf at USAopoly described the game as a Battlestar Galactica-style hidden traitor game in that initially everyone is trying to protect the outpost from an alien incursion, but someone might become infected and turn against everyone else. Wolf noted that the game has a sixty-minute playing time.



This title was the one exception to the "no photos" rule by USAopoly as the box was available for public viewing at the PSI booth.
















And here's a nice way to end this post:

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Mon Feb 20, 2017 2:30 pm
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Game Previews from Spielwarenmesse IV: T.I.M.E Stories, Unlock! & More from Space Cowboys; Teasers from IELLO; Messe Walkthrough

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• Some publishers had little to show at Spielwarenmesse 2017, but a lot to talk about, as with French publisher Space Cowboys, which had these mock-ups to show as a teaser:




Yes, in addition to the Expedition: Endurance scenario for T.I.M.E Stories — which became a 2017 release due to delays — Space Cowboys has three other scenarios on their release calendar for 2017. Lumen Fidei from Ulric Maes already has an established BGG page, noting that the scenario "involves moral choices, a powerful opponent and new mechanisms", whereas I've just created pages for the Estrella Drive and Frères de la Côte scenarios, about which I know little more than what's printed above.

Oh, wait, there's also a shot of their back covers, noting again that these are mock-up covers and not final:




Vincent Goyat from Space Cowboys noted that the plan for T.I.M.E Stories, now that they're over the delay, is to release three new scenarios each year, with one of the scenarios planed for 2018 coming through a public submission.

Aside from the scenarios, Space Cowboys plans to revamp the base game or repackage its components in some manner. Goyat explained that they've heard from many people who have played the Asylum scenario included in the base game on someone else's copy of TS, but who then felt bummed by the idea of buying their own copy of the base game and getting with it a scenario they've already played. Maybe one of the 2017 scenarios will be packaged on its own as well as with the base game, or perhaps the base game components will be delivered on their own by drone. Something will be decided at some point, then Space Cowboys will announce that decision.

• Aside from T.I.M.E Stories, Space Cowboys talked about a few other upcoming releases. Cities of Splendor, for which I posted an overview video recently, is scheduled to debut at Gen Con 2017, as is Victorian Masterminds from Eric M. Lang and Antoine Bauza; we recorded an overview video of that game in Nov. 2015, which gives you an idea of how long some of these game projects take to come to print.

Unlock! bears the tagline "Escape Adventures", and this is Space Cowboys' take on the "escape room as a tabletop game" trend, with each Unlock! scenario consisting of a deck of cards. The box at right contains three scenarios and is due out Q1 2017 in Germany and elsewhere in Europe; in the U.S., each scenario will be packaged on its own at the request of Asmodee North America.

Space Cowboys has a second trio of Unlock! scenario in the works for release before the end of 2017, with these scenarios involving a haunted mansion, pirates, and a deep sea vessel titled "Nautilus". Before the release of that trio, another print-and-play Unlock! scenario will be released to help introduce new players to the genre.

• Finally, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures — title #1 in Space Cowboys' Sherlock Holmes game series — was just released in U.S. stores in mid-February 2017. Title #3 in the series, the original (and newly revised) Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, is due out in Q2 2017. Title #2 is an updated version of Jesús Torres Castro's Watson & Holmes, first released in 2015 by Ludonova, and that's due out Q1/Q2 2017.

Following all of these will be Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Carlton House & Queen's Park, which will consist of the cases in The Queen's Park Affair and The Mansion Murders — two of the original SHCD supplements from the 1980s, with both being revised and updated — as well as two individual cases released by Ystari Games in 2012: La Rançon du Diable and La Piste Tordue.

• I've been posting dozens of game overview videos from Spielwarenmesse 2017 on BGG's YouTube channel, with those videos being posted to the individual game pages as well, but in addition to the videos, I brought home catalogs from many publishers, and those catalogs sometimes bring revelations that went unmentioned on camera or during conversations.

IELLO, for example, mentions that a Halloween-themed expansion for the King of... line is in the works, so I'd presume that we'll see an updated version of Richard Garfield's King of Tokyo: Halloween since those exact words are on the blank box in the catalog. (IELLO also notes that more than 750,000 copies of King of Tokyo have sold worldwide.)

• A first expansion for Maxime Rambourg's The Big Book of Madness is in the works, with a new element being introduced to the game.

• IELLO also depicts four titles in a "Coming soon" spread:

Sticky Chameleons, by Théo Rivière
Fairy Tile, by Brett J. Gilbert and Matthew Dunstan
Sentaï Cats, by Bauza, Maublanc, Rivière, Lebrat, and Oury
Hito Hira

I know nothing more than what's shown in the images below, but I now share that information with you as well:





• Let's close this post with a walkthrough of the top floor of Hall 10 at Spielwarenmesse. Halls 10 and 11 are the only two halls at the fair that consist of two floors, and Hall 10 is where most of the game publishers are located. As you'll see after the short introduction with Reiner Knizia, the environment at this fair is a far cry from Origins, Gen Con or SPIEL. Even NY Toy Fair, which I'll be hitting the weekend of Feb. 18-19, isn't as polished as this show, but maybe I'm just under the spell of the yellow floor coverings...

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Fri Feb 17, 2017 1:00 pm
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