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Exodus: Event Horizon, scheduled for public release Q4 2017, is an expansion for Exodus: Proxima Centauri and represents the final chapter in the Exodus saga.
Exodus: Proxima Centauri is set in a future where the collective actions of mankind led to the destruction of our world, and where humanity had to seek a new home in the vicinity of Proxima Centauri, the closest star outside our solar system.
Nearing the end of the exodus, humans encountered an alien race, commonly referred to as the Centaurians. With the aid of the Centaurians, the six human factions which had departed Old Earth were able to rebuild on the ruins of the former Centaurian empire. Humanity once again prospered. Being on the brink of their own extinction, the Centaurians depart, leaving only a remnant of their once glorious civilization behind.
The first expansion — Exodus: Edge of Extinction — tells the story of how the six human factions rebuilt, developed new technologies, and ultimately returned to full-scale war against one another.
Event Horizon takes us right into the midst of the conflict. At the height of expansion, humans discover that pockets of the old Centaurian civilization have also prospered and regained much of their old glory. The war escalates to include the ever-stronger Centaurians as well. Through a twist of fate, a monumental event takes place: the Centaurians return, ready to exact revenge on humanity for the treatment of the Centaurian remnant! Humans must now unite against the Centaurians or face certain annihilation. Win or lose, this final conflict cannot prevent another disastrous process which is unfolding — the death Proxima Centauri.
How the Event Horizon expansion came to be is a unique story in itself. In the summer of 2015, as copies of Edge of Extinction were being delivered to Kickstarter backers, I eagerly played my copy as soon as it arrived. Even before the release of Edge of Extinction, Exodus: Proxima Centauri was my favorite game of all time. Naturally, I had high hopes for the expansion.
It is no secret that Edge of Extinction was a success! Reviewers and gamers alike agreed that the expansion took the game to the next level. Its seamless integration with the base game; the staggering amount of new experiences it had to offer, but without necessarily making the game more complex; the flavor and asymmetry of the factions; the way the expansion simply made the game better, in all aspects — all of this made for a very good addition to an already great game.
I was over the moon! Edge of Extinction was everything I had hoped it would be, and more!
My mind was running wild with hopes and ideas for what might come in a future expansion. Not only had Exodus: Proxima Centauri become more solidified as my number one game, its relevance as a prominent game had become reaffirmed.
I took notes of some of the thoughts and ideas I had. As time passed, I returned to my notes to make comments and develop the ideas further. After a few short months, I decided to share these ideas with one of the game's original designers, Andrei Novac. I really had no specific expectations with regards to the response. Maybe other expansion ideas were already in the works, or maybe he and the team at NSKN Games had altogether different ideas of where things should go next.
To my pleasant surprise, Andrei responded that he liked my ideas and asked that I would elaborate on how I envisioned them fitting into the game. After a few exchanges back and forth, I was asked to co-design an expansion with him! I had never expected such a response! The thought of my humble ideas making their way into an actual expansion for my favorite game was beyond anything I could have hoped for.
As time went by, ideas were developed into game mechanisms. Structure and balance began to form, and each idea grew into its own module. Over time, Andrei's liking for what I brought to the table grew into confidence that I could simply design the expansion on my own, while remaining true to the spirit of the base game. With that, he also asked that I increase the number of modules, to ensure viability as a large-box expansion, and to provide more enjoyment and value for any gamer who would acquire the expansion.
The order of the modules, as they are laid out in the expansion, does not reflect the order in which they were developed. Instead, they are presented in Event Horizon in a way that makes them easier to digest and implement for players. Over the next couple articles, I will present each module along with a bit of explanation of the process that went into its development, from early idea to final design.
A few days ago I had a very interesting conversation about cheating and cheaters in board games which made me think a lot more (than needed probably) about this topic. As it turns out, there are people who cheat while playing board games… and I am not talking here about poker for money or Russian roulette, the events in question are plain ol’ euro games, like Agricola and its kind. I must admit that it felt like a surprise to hear that, so I decided to internalize this idea and figure out exactly where I stand.
First of all, let’s take a look at why do people cheat:
- they do not know how to lose or they want to make sure they win,
- they have no moral compass and therefore do not care how they win,
- they want to win so badly that cheating seems the right path to take,
- they’re afraid of social exclusion because they cannot win and thus they cheat to improve their chances, etc.
I believe that most people have a moral compass and that they see cheating in games as acceptable because the stakes are low… at least the official ones. You play a game which is just a game, it does not come with any financial gain or punishment, it does not affect your future and it will most likely be forgotten in a matter of days, if not hours. Our morality mechanism doesn’t really engulf board games properly and thus it keeps some of us in not-so-tight ropes and we allow ourselves to cheat. Well, that was my first thought, but them I took some more time to look into that.
Why do people really cheat in a game with literally no stakes? First of all, that’s not true, there are stakes, even though it’s they do not seem life changing or material. It’s players’ self worth. Here’s what I think makes people cheat in board games and other low stakes endeavors:
- they associate winning with higher intelligence,
- they need social recognition as they believe others see winners in board games as smarter that people who do not win so often.
Ask people not why they cheat, but what does their performance at board games tell about them and you will most likely get at least a few awkward answers, you’ll find some people who dodge the question and try to escape with a joke. I cannot say how do these people really feel, but I suspect that they suffer from low self esteem, they want to prove themselves in your (the smart gal/guy who does not cheat) eyes and they have no idea of how to deal with losing.
In my opinion, your ability to win specific games or your ability to do well in certain genres tells this about you: you are good at that. There are things I noticed in my still rather short years of experience with board games:
- genius level IQ does not necessarily make one good at board games, it might but it doesn’t have to,
- being very good at one game (I have a friend who won 9 Terra Mystica games out of the 10 he played) does not make you good at all games (the same friend is not winning many games which have negative interaction),
- people with below average IQ and real problems in their day to day life can be brilliant at one or more games (my parents have a friend who can barely manage at his easy job, but he is one of the best bridge players I have ever encountered).
Losing and dealing gracefully with it is a matter of education and knowing your self worth. Cheating is the way of people to circumvent life questions such as “Who am I really?”, “Am I a smart person?”, “How do others see me and what do I do with their opinions?”. My only advice for those who cheat at board games is to… not. If you cheat, you will always know you did that, it will lower your self esteem ever further because you will never know if you could have done it without cheating. Even if you’re not caught (ever) and you get to win, people will only see you as a person who has a way with board games, but life is more complicated and cheating is not an option. You’re only cheating yourself.
As for how to deal with people who cheat… that’s the real question. A few years ago I would have simply said take them out completely of your lives, what’s the purpose of having cheaters around? Today, I believe there’s a better way:
- first off, catch them and expose them, but…
- do not make them feel ashamed and small (they probably do that already),
- explain to them that winning is not everything, losing is OK, the experience matters and it is about having fun, learning and spending time with friends and family, make them feel human again and give them another chance. Show them that you do not think less of them if they lose, but you will think less of them if they’re cheating again.
How would you deal with people who cheat?
Spiel Essen is once again behind us. It’s been crazier than ever, but this is not the reason you’re reading these lines. We’re gamers at heart and even though our daily effort is allocated mostly to publishing, we like to take time off and enjoy opening games, punching our tokens and inhale the smell of freshly printed cardboard. It is also becoming a tradition to have a weekend long gathering of friends and play as many Essen titles as we can.
This year, our board games party coincided with a local bank holiday, so instead of some mean 48 hours of non-stop gaming, we were able to extend the event to four full days and expand our range from strategy to kids games, enjoying, talking about and criticizing a whole trunk full of games, out of which a few were absolutely amazing. To top this, the setting – a wooden house in the middle of the lake district of Poland, surrounded by trees and serenity, made it into an unforgettable experience.
Without any chronological order, here’s what I played and what I am left with…
Terraforming Mars was by far the most hyped game over the summer and the first autumn months, so I was obviously very curious about it, especially since my friends advertised it as “better than Through the Ages” which is one of my favorite all-time games. I played a Polish copy which got me a bit worried at first, but the symbols on the cards made the game almost language independent. The game play is rock solid, the decisions are right where they should be, there’s fierce competition for prime spots on Mars as well as for the best or rather most suitable cards. The artwork blends perfectly with the theme, giving this game the epic feel I was expecting. For me this is the first straight 10 of the year and by far the best game of 2016!
Another game which came with high hopes was The Colonists. The price point, heavy box and the promise of a very solid euro, bordering a civilization game made me want to play it almost as badly as the aforementioned Terraforming Mars. The game plays through four ages, taking 5+ hours and huge space on the table. Sadly, that’s about all it does. By the end of age I it seemed like a very cool game, with meaningful decisions and a strong preparation for age II. In age II we were all able to create combos, little working ‘industries’ of resources and points, but the game started feeling samey. Age III was the last we played as we were approaching the 6-hour mark and the game felt already stripped of meaningful decisions. A good game creates complexity through smart mechanisms, while this one does it by adding more and more components. It’s not a bad game, but it does not live up to its promise.
Then came Islebound, a game we managed to get at Gen Con but did not have time to play until last weekend. It is an excellent game, walking well in the footsteps of Above and Below, with the same thematic feel and sharing some game mechanics, yet fresh and immersive. The fact that a 10-year old was able to play and be competitive made an even stronger impression. All I can add is that I enjoyed every minute of the game and I am very happy that it made it into our collection.
Stefan Feld’s The Oracle of Delphi also came with great expectations. Unlike many of my friends, I am not a Feld fan and while I usually enjoy his games, I do not find them unique or special enough to make into my top ten. I am happy to report that in this case the game play exceeded the already high expectations. The Oracle of Delphi is an excellent dice + racing game. The luck factor is limited by mitigating factors, the player powers are small but meaningful, encouraging diverse strategies, the iconography is good and for a race game I cannot see how it could be better. The dice manipulation is implemented in a smart way, so the point to point movement and the pick-up-and-delivery is complex enough to generate a wide range of approaches. The game offers an epic feeling and the satisfaction to have raced, whether you win or not.
ICECOOL is a completely different dish. First, I must complement the publisher for making a smart and ergonomic game box/board. The box-in-a-box-in-a-box is very effective, the game is easy to set up and even easier to play. It’s a flicking game, so you’d think not my cup of tea… yet I enjoyed it enough to play it several times, with a mixed group of kids and self-respecting adults, having loads of fun. I must admit that I would not play it again and again as my fingers hurt and I find it a bit repetitive, but it’s a challenge to defeat a bunch of 10-year old kids at a game they have been ‘built’ to play.
So, how about some Adrenaline? In my opinion, this is a Euro disguised under a shoot-em-up coat, ready to entertain players who enjoy a healthy victory point competition as well as Doom/Quake/Counterstrike nostalgics. I must admit that when I was a kid I was pretty terrible at first person shooters, so I had the chance tp redeem myself and kill a bunch of misfits in Adrenaline. Even though I did not win, I came close enough. The cool part of the game is the presence of the negative interaction (shooting at and killing other characters) which does not bother anyone at all. It is a game about shooting in the end, but as you die and re-spawn immediately, you’re totally OK with this, sometime even asking players “shoot me, shoot me!”. Overall, Adrenaline offers a fresh playing experience and it should soon find a place in our collection.
Eurogames are the most popular in our group, so we could not go through a long playing weekend without at least a few proper euros. Ulm was the first on the list and it is a solid game. We played with the full array of components for the expert variant and it was worth it. The game play flows well, with very little down time, it allows different strategies, there is even a race component to the game which makes it more attractive and the worker placement mechanism is replaced by a push mechanic which adds an element of randomness to manage.
In the break from mind twisters, we focused a little on race and party games. Chariot Race is a good racing game, spoiled by the quality of components and the lack of artwork. It is still fun to roll the dice, race and deal a bit of damage to the other competitors, while leaving behind traps… even if you’re the one falling in them. HOP! is the opposite side of the spectrum, with amazing components, but lacking in game play. The game look gorgeous and if it were just a toy I would happily rate it a 9, but for a game – even a children game – it is underwhelming to say the least. The beautiful minis could be simple wooden cubes, the 3D board could be a single card scoring track and the game play would be exactly the same.
The last game worth mentioning is Bohemian Villages. It’s a small and rather simple dice game, which promises very little and delivers so much more! You roll your dice and assign your subjects to various buildings in several towns. Every building scores differently and you can make as many dice combinations as you can imagine. A low roll is not a bad roll and the designers have clearly done their research, because the most probable rolls are assigned to building which score throughout the game, while the least probable outcomes for those to be scored at the end, giving everyone a chance to get back in the game even after a slow start.
We have returned from Essen, and as always, we are tired but happy. The scale and sheer energy of Spiel is something that can surprise even someone who has been an attendee for the last five consecutive years. However, this post is not about the fair in general, but more of a single interesting experience.
As always, while attending Spiel, we tried to have at least a moment to look at games that were not ours. Let me tell you, with two booths (one belonging to NSKN Games, and one to Strawberry Studio, our microgame division), it was not easy. In fact, I can honestly say that apart from being the biggest Spiel for all of us yet, it has also been the most tiring. Miraculously, none of the core NSKN Team came back with a con flu, which I consider nothing short of a small miracle.
Pre-fair shenanigans at the NSKN booth, with my lovely wife.
Despite having a lot of work, a lot of people to talk to, and a lot of fans and friends to see, I managed to get a bit of time off together with my wife, which we decided to use in order to find some interesting games to get, and then play at home, after we have slept for about 24 hours or so. The ultimate outcome of the time we spent roaming the halls materialized in the form of a small pile of games, the best of which I will be talking about in another post next week. For now, I will mention only one.
Aeon’s End has been on my radar for some time now. To anyone who knows me personally, or simply knows my work, it should come as no surprise. I enjoy card games, specifically ones with a deckbuilding element. I also like fantasy settings, and I rarely pass on a cooperative game. For those reasons, we stopped at the Indie Boards and Cards booth to play a few turns of the game, and decide if we want to take it home.
We sat down and started the first round: there I was with my lovely wife, another man that wanted to explore Aeon’s End, and one of the staff, who quickly and clearly explained the basics of gameplay, so we were making our first steps as Rift Mages in no time. When he mentioned that none of the personal decks are ever shuffled, and instead a discard pile is simply turned over to form a new draw pile whenever a player runs out of cards, I remarked that it is a bit like Mistfall, trying to solidify my grip on the mechanisms explained by comparing them to a structure that is more than well known to me – and to my wife. The answer came quite quickly: “Yes, but this game is so much better than Mistfall”.
As I was considering my options, my wife cracked and started laughing, and knowing that it will probably become apparent sooner or later (I was wearing the red NSKN Games t-shirt), I introduced myself and simply said that Mistfall and Heart of the Mists are my designs. For a moment the man seemed terrified, then his face turned red. He started apologizing, and I quickly reassured him that I know no offence was meant, and that none was taken. Yet, there is a valuable lesson here.
So, is everyone ready? 'Cause me hand is shaking a bit.
At the NSKN Games booth we had both Exodus: Proxima Centauri, as well as Exodus: Edge of Extinction, and I’d have to lie if I wanted to say that neither Twilight Imperium, nor Eclipse were ever mentioned. People often asked how our own space 4X strategy compares to these two great games, and I would offer my analysis. If a question of quality appeared, I would simply say that I personally prefer the experience offered by Exodus. I stayed far away from saying that one game is simply better than the other.
We all have our tastes, and we have the right to speak our mind. I’ve been asked multiple times to compare Mistfall and Heart of the Mists to Pathfinder, and I have offered a list of similarities and differences, not hiding the fact that I liked my own design better, if anyone asked about my personal opinion.
The Strawberry booth brimming with life and the joy of gaming.
The world of board gaming is filled with excellent games, and it’s hard to find one completely unlike any other. Lists of “games that fired other games” are a common (and usually extremely lengthy) thing, and I think it’s great that a cornucopia of gaming goodness exists, allowing us to find games that are closer and closer to what we personally consider perfection. Hence, it’s simply impossible to discuss one game without comparing it to others, and that’s great as well, as we can easily build clear images of the experience a given game has to offer.
That being said, if you’re a demo guy (or gal!) for one publisher, it’s probably best not to make absolute judgements about games published by someone else. Simply saying that Game A is better than Game B may backfire in a truly ridiculous fashion (honestly, the person who presented Aeon’s End was really unlucky that one time), or – more often than not – alienate a potential newcomer, who is already a fan of a product that is deemed inferior.
Magic indeed. Not street magic, though. More like ancient nordic magic.
Finally, and just to nicely wrap it all up, I want to say that it looks like Aeon’s End will make its way to my post about Spiel 2016 games I enjoyed. I don’t enjoy it more than my own design, but I do believe that it’s a pretty awesome game.
If you’ve been following NSKN Games or the Mistfall universe, or if you are among the backers of our most recent Kickstarter, you already know of the existence of Shadowscape, a game separate from Mistfall and Heart of the Mists, but set in their shared universe. Finally I have the chance to show you a little more of the game and discuss its future, so whether you’re already a fan or just hearing about Shadowscape for the first time, you should be able to find some answers below.
Unlike the heavier and more involved Mistfall and Heart of the Mists, Shadowscpe is a lighter, more agile game with a dungeon-crawling theme. Since the first design decisions made, I was aiming at creating a fast-paced experience based on managing one’s tableau and hand of cards, and a healthy dose of tactical movement.
Some of the inspirations thus included games like Dungeon!, Drakon, Cave Troll or the Dungeoneer series. The aim was however not to lift some of the mechanisms, but to create a similar atmosphere and feel, while building a game that would stand out mechanically.
Sample Whisper Cards
The Flow of Shadowscape
The original idea for Shadowscape was to make a highly competitive game which would see players working to outmanoeuvre each other while racing to be the first to claim objective cards. However, as the Kickstarter project for Heart of the Mists continued, we also developed a fully cooperative option for those who wanted an experience more similar to that of original Mistfall.
Regardless of the mode, on their turn each player chooses two from a set of four double-sided Hero ability cards, in order to move, search rooms, fight monsters or heal. A chosen then flips to its other side, revealing an alternative ability which could be used (and flipped back) next turn. A player can also boost each of their actions using Fate cards from their hand, in order to move further, strike harder or be more vigilant when looking for treasure.
All this is done to meet requirement of Whisper cards – each with its own objective, and each that a player may claim if they meet a set of conditions. In the competitive mode players try to outwit each other and collect as many Whispers as they can for themselves, while when playing cooperatively, they are trying to beat the game clock and claim a certain number of Whispers before their time runs out.
Sample Fate Cards
Fate of Heroes
One of the most important elements of the game is the Fate deck. Each Fate card comes with two icons (each corresponding to an action), two abilities, and a monster symbol. While in a player’s hand, a Fate card can be discarded for one of the symbols in order to boost an action, or it can be played for its ability (one ability is used in the competitive mode, the other when Shadowscape is played cooperatively). The monster symbols are used at the end of each player’s turn, to spawn and move enemies around the dungeon.
Deciding when and how to use Fate cards is crucial in building strong plays. A player’s hand is not replenished automatically, so setting yourself up to fill it with new cards is also an important concern. Learning how to manipulate Fate is thus a key factor in winning (or losing) a game of Shadowscape.
Sample Equipment Cards
If you found the above interesting, join me in a week from now, when in Part II I will talk about the lore of Shadowscape (or why Heroes now fight each other), and of the future of Shadowscape as a game.
It’s been some time since Simurgh: Call of the Dragonlord found its way to our Kickstarter backers, and although the game is not yet widely available, I’ve had the chance to read some reviews and talk to some people who played the game with the expansion.
So, it looks like Call of the Dragonlord is a success, as reviews and opinions clearly suggests that the game is better when played with the expansion content. This warms my heart especially, since I had the privilege of being Dragonlord’s lead designer, and I was given the opportunity to leave arguably the biggest mark on what turned out to be its final version.
What I personally consider the biggest advantage of Call of the Dragonlord is its modularity. Because of that it was much easier to work on it as a design team. Each of us could develop their own ideas, knowing that we could iron out the wrinkles created by interactions later, and that introducing different ideas would not lead to one designer stepping on another’s toes.
Right from the start we knew we would want to put a lot of content in that gorgeous box, so apart from the comfort of being able to really work a lot into Call of the Dragonlord, we also knew we would be dodging some bullets. Most notably, we managed to evade making the game bloated, heavy and as unwieldy as many competent games that are crippled by expansion overflowing with new mechanisms, ideas and content.
Instead of making the game heavier, much longer and more complicated, we opted for the ability to customize and create a higher level of complexity of gameplay, and not really the rules. As we were progressing, I was firmly clinging on to the lesson of Arkham Horror – a game I used to love, and a game I parted ways with without a second thought the moment I understood its expanded form became a bloated horror that threatened my sanity whenever I tried to refresh on all of the rules.
Yet, with all the content Call of the Dragonlord brings to the table, I personally typed up the words: “We strongly recommend that you play Simurgh a couple of times before you start adding any elements of the expansion”, knowing that when mixed all together, Simurgh and Call of the Dragonlord might be a bit to heavy even for a seasoned gamer.
Today I see though that our ideas were good, and I know that our hard work paid off. People customize their Simurgh experience, and Call of the Dragonlord seems to be considered a great expansion. I can only agree, as even though I am one of its three fathers (don’t get me started on the intricacies of dragon breeding), it is also one of the products by NSKN that is played most often in my household.
So, for now the only thing left for me to say is: I hope you have as much fun playing the game as I had working on its various elements. If you did (or did not), I’ll be glad to get your feedback. And seriously, if you’re playing Simurgh for the first time, keep your hands out of the expansion box. Even a dragon first learns to walk, before it masters the art of flight.
Oh, and one more thing: we are thinking of another modular expansion for another of our games. It is a story for a future post, but nobody will stop you from making educated guesses…
While using the time and dedication of people volunteering to test a game prototype is not easy, finding articles covering the topic as a matter of mere minutes. However, not as much is said about being a good tester. Here’s how to be more helpful, and how to leave more of a mark on any prototype game you play.
I know you are already graciously donating your time and effort to help a stranger (or a buddy) forge a game idea into the next 7 Wonders or Twilight Struggle, and you should be praised. Still, if you want your time not to go to waste, do not antagonize the people you’re trying to help with unnecessary harshness or belittling remarks. Don’t make fun of the game you played, ant try to be polite even if you really hated it.
…but not too nice.
You may want to cheer someone on, you may want to encourage to further work, or you may simply be uncomfortable hurting someone’s feelings, and because of that you may simply say that you like the game, hoping that the uncool stuff will get ironed out somewhere down the line. Well, the truth is that you’re the “down the line”, and if you want to make your contribution matter, you need to say what you really think. You don’t have to be a jerk about it, but if you see flaws, don’t keep them to yourself. Finding them can make a big difference.
Play what you like
So, a friend is asking you to test his party game, and you’re a Eurogamer? Or maybe you’re tempted to sit down and try this “Agricola-killer” you’ve hear so much about, but you would not be caught dead (still clutching your plasma cannon) playing Agricola. If this is the case, simply say no. You won’t have a good time, and you probably won’t be a great judge of what’s good (or bad) for further development of the game. And if you do suffer through, don’t say that the game will stink unless plasma cannons (or farming for that matter) are added. You played a game targeted at other gamers, so get over it and play something else.
Talk to the designer…
…or to the developer, or to the volunteer who’s shown you the game. Ask before you get involved, so that you don’t waste your precious time on a game you will most probably hate (see above). When you’re done, expect a set of questions either emailed (if you’re involved in remote testing) or simply asked. If you’re not asked many questions, try to be specific when it comes to what you liked and disliked in the mechanisms or the theme. Yes, the designer/developer has just dropped the ball, but give them a chance to pick it up.
Be open and frank
Assume that you will see a new game, and be ready to judge it on its own merits. If it is similar to something you’ve played, tell it to whoever is responsible for the test. If you believe another game is being ripped off, ask about that as well, and ask plainly. As hard as it may be to believe, that may be just an unfortunate coincidence.
Finally, if something does not work, and you have an idea on how to fix it, don’t keep it to yourself! Your ideas are as good as anyone else’s, and this can really make you leave your personal mark on the game. However, if you’re offering a solution from another game (and a game you like) for the second or third time, take a step back, and make sure you’re not just trying to remake what you have just played into that other game. It’s pointless, that other game already exists, and I'm guessing you have it on your shelf.
As always with these kind of articles, it’s probably not nearly complete. However, you can help me complete it by offering your own ideas in the comments section below. What say you?
While it took me some time, I finally got to see Stranger Things, and I loved it. It gripped me right from the start, and did not let go until the search for a small town boy that vanished on his way home from a Dungeons & Dragons game reached its conclusion.
If you’ve not seen Stranger Things, I will not spoil the fun for you. I will only say that it is a story that is steeped deeply into classic horror stories, and one that immerses you even further into its atmosphere by not only taking part in the eighties, but also by presenting itself in a highly stylized form, suggesting that it was filmed thirty years ago.
It also has a bit more value for us gamers (although probably more for role players than board gamers), as it not only acknowledges the existence of gaming, but also makes the involvement of the young protagonists in a D&D campaign one of the plot points.
All that worked on me as (mostly a former, but still) a role player, but it also drove me to thinks about board games that would build an atmosphere similar to that of Stranger Things. What came immediately to my mind were games by Flying Frog Productions: Last Night on Earth and Invasion from Outer Space, which do an excellent job at recreating the atmosphere of B movies of the eighties, with only one thing missing: the actual horror.
Don’t get me wrong: the tension is there, but nobody I know ever said that they were feeling the cold touch of fear as they were moving their miniature around the board. For that matter, nobody ever testified to being genuinely scared during a game of Arkham Horror (unless we’re talking about the sheer amount of stuff you need to put on a table and manage during the game) or Eldritch Horror – two games that even put “horror” in their names.
It’s maybe not an easy task to recreate the pulp feel of the eighties, or to build a more pulp version of the Loveraftian world, but it is one board games have been performing really well for years. You can easily recreate the gothic horror atmosphere of Sleepy Hollow with a copy of A Touch of Evil, or the science fiction “Alien-esque” feel with Space Hulk or Legendary Encounters, but each and every time you will have everything but this one thing: the horror itself.
In my gamer life I’ve encountered a game that was able to create the actual fear and desperation only once: Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space. The sensory deprivation its system provides by making everyone’s movement secret (tracked with a pencil behind the screen) really works towards genuinely scaring you, if you are assigned the role of a crew member trying to leave an infested space ship in the middle of the cosmic nowhere.
The thing that separates Escape from the Aliens from other games, and what makes it so much better at creating the true atmosphere of horror is also its biggest flaw: a lot is based on player trust, both in all players actually not wanting to cheat, and (more importantly) not cheating by accident.
What role playing games have in spades: creativity and uncertainty of dealing with incomplete information (not to mention the presence of an actual mind animating everything players can and cannot see), board games usually lack, and for a good reason. When you sit down to play a game, you need to know how it works, what are the rules – and that the rules will not be broken at will unless another rule allows for exactly that. Simply put, you need to know everything, and to when you know everything, the horror potential is instantly gone.
Does the above mean that true horror is something completely out of reach of board games? It probably isn’t, but I’ve seen but a handful of examples that would come close to proving this false. Then again, our hobby is evolving constantly, and maybe we’ll see actual board game horror (the ingame type, not the “I spilled stuff on your game” type) come to life through the yet untapped potential of Legacy systems, or from somewhere else: from a place we cannot yet see, from a world not yet unveiled, where games will go in the future.
Versailles is admittedly one of the least known of our games. Published in 2013, it puts players in the shoes of master architects, trying to build the legendary palace by managing their workforce, gathering resources, crafting decorations and gaining access to useful technologies. If you’ve played Versailles, you probably know that. What you don’t know is what the original concept for the game actually was.
The first prototype of the game, back when it was still a pile of home-crafted cardboard tokens, a pile of wooden pawns borrowed from another game, and an unwieldy, one-piece board, was… Exodus II. If you’re thinking about Exodus: Proxima Centauri and Exodus: Edge of Extinction, you are on the right track.
Besides having fans of the game itself, Exodus has always been well liked for its lore. The tragic story of mankind having to leave Earth, and its encounter with a mysterious race of Centaurians made for a compelling backdrop to the brutal conflict that would play out on the board. While Exodus fans fell for the game due to its mechanisms and its volatile gameplay, many were (and still are) interested in the story. In fact, we still receive questions about what the future of Exodus holds for mankind, and for its real life fans.
Let me first come back to Versaillesand its original incarnation. Exodus II was a game more meaty than Versailles. While telling a story of building a gargantuan mothership capable of housing hundreds of thousands of people, it was also a longer and more involved game, with a bit more negative interaction and some bits of direct player conflict so crucial to making it feel like Exodus.
As a publisher, we are already firmly in the realm of building worlds using product lines. The Mistfall world already spans over five products (including the recently kickstarted Heart of the Mists, Sand & Snow and a fully standalone Shadowscape debuting at Essen this year), and Exodus itself is already at two, with Edge of Extinction developing on original gameplay and expanding the Exodus universe. Now we want to go further.
While a bit grimmer, and possibly more realistic, the Exodus universe is quite ready to go into a new direction – and have fans follow it. The only question is, what direction should that be game-wise? Would the fans want to see some completely new games in the line? Would including more German-style mechanisms be a good fit?
What do you think? Should we explore the darker corners of the Exodus universe with a deckbuilder, a worker placement game, or perhaps a tactical game of fighting units? We do have ideas and plans, but if you’re a fan of Exodus, we’d love to know what you think.
Thu Aug 11, 2016 12:33 pm
Check out my first published board game: In the Name of Odin!
The Kickstarter for In the Name of Odin completed successfully around a month shy of half a year ago. Since then, I kept my ear to the ground, looked at every Kickstarter update and asked NSKN directly about how things are going a few times. I expected to sweat every detail, but in fact it was a pretty quiet five months. And then, just two weeks ago, it happened. The boxes reached Europe and started reaching the US, they went out, and soon the backers started receiving them. That included me.
I wasn't overly excited, if you can believe it. I wasn't nervous. I didn't jump with joy, or cry tears of laughter. Mostly, I felt mildly surprised. It's here. It's done. My first board game, published after several years of development, some disheartening bumps, and many nervous months. And there it was, in my hands. Huh. „How does one react to something like this?” I wondered. Being a more introvert, inward-looking kind of person, I just found it amusing, and I felt at ease about this game for the first time since it sprouted in my head.
For me, personally, In the Name of Odin is an achievement in more ways than one. What you have to know about me as a creator is that I'm terribly insecure about my work. I have a hunch that what I'm doing is good or enjoyable or well-thought-out etc. but you won't find me praising my own game. The furthest extent I go to is saying „Yeah, I am pretty happy with that mechanic” or „I'm really proud of this game.”. I'm of the mind that the author is the worst possible person to rate his work, adhering to the latin proverb In propria causa nemo debet esse iudex („No one should be the judge in his own trial.”).
The first confirmation that the game was fun, was that NSKN even considered it, let alone took it in with open arms. But now that its in the hands of players, comes the ultimate test – and it's performing well! I'm reading people's thoughts on the game, I saw the reviews around the Kickstarter and now new ones will likely pop-up, and it seems like you're liking In the Name of Odin – and that's really the best thing I could hope for!
I am very happy with how the game worked out, in terms of production. I like the quality of the material for the figurines, I love the art, and I think the board looks gorgeous. One thing which I really liked was that we mostly managed to keep the style of the art on the side of history, and less on the side of fantasy. Don't get me wrong – I'm a sucker for epic Viking illustrations, and fantasy renditions of bearded warriors with axes in their hands. But I also think the aesthetic of the Norse and of the Dark Ages is attractive enough that it doesn't need embelishment. As such, I like that the final art in In the Name of Odin strikes a balance between what modern culture imagines Vikings should look like, and a bit more conservative, true-to-history approach.
What I also really liked in NSKN's approach was that when we hammered out the final kinks in the rules, their solution to some of the issues correlated with what I was thinking. Often they would say something to the effect of „We suggest tweaking this and that because it makes more sense that way.” and I would do a facepalm and respond „Yes, of course it's better the way you propose, why have I kept to that previous version?”. An easy example of this was that I insisted that the card offer should be replenished only after a player has completed a turn, instead of right away – when in fact it would prolong the game by making the subsequent player spend more time figuring out his moves when his turn comes along. There's no doubt in my mind that In the Name of Odin is a better game for having been published with NSKN than it was before they decided to release it.
Is there stuff that I'm less happy about? Sure. There's a few very minor things that I would've probably done differently in terms of presentation, but there wasn't time to revamp them endlessly if NSKN was to deliver you the game on time. I opted for a different naming scheme for the Raids, more abstract categories than specific places, but that was another thematic detail which most players wouldn't even register.
I apologise if this note ended up being a bit chaotic, but I'm really only just growing to understand that this is a huge thing that happened – and a very important thing to boot. I hope In the Name of Odin will end up not just a well-remembered, well-liked game, but also a stepping stone. Like all creatives, I have many other projects in various stages of completion – from stuff I consider ready-to-publish, through games which clearly need some reworking, to just bare-bones prototypes, or games which went through one-off tests and are now are tucked away in boxes, waiting to be salvaged. And that list doesn't even cover the ideas written down in a notebook, with a few sentences of „rules” jotted down on each of them.
So what's next? Hard to say, but hopefully the answer is „More published games.”
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