The Spiel des Jahres — Germany's "game of the year" award — turns forty in 2019, the award having first come into existence in 1979 with a list of nominees that included Sid Sackson's Acquire and Sly, Alex Randolph's Twixt, the electronic games Simon by Ralph Baer and Merlin by Bob and Holly Doyle, and eventual winner Hare & Tortoise by David Parlett.
For its first few awards, despite the "Jahres" in the award's name, the jury of journalists who ran the SdJ selected nominees that had been released within the past few years rather than only the year immediately preceding — a practice that makes sense given that the award was meant to shine a spotlight on modern games for an audience of casual players that might not have been paying attention to everything that was being released.
These days the purpose of the award remains the same — highlight and suggest games appropriate for an audience of casual players — but the jury focuses solely on games released in Germany within the past twelve months. From my understanding, a game needs to be available in a German edition prior to the end of March to be considered. This cutoff date gives the jury members enough time to play potential nominees and consider them against one another before settling on three nominees in what is now three categories: the original Spiel des Jahres (SdJ), the Kinderspiel des Jahres (KidJ) for children's game of the year, and the Kennerspiel des Jahres (KedJ) for enthusiast's game of the year, that is, for those already comfortable with learning and playing new games.
As part of its fortieth anniversary, jury chairman Harald Schrapers attended an exhibit about the SdJ at the Deutsches SPIELEmuseum in Chemnitz, Germany and announced the SdJ nominees during a live broadcast on Facebook:
In commentary on the nominees, Schrapers pointed out that the three nominees are all small games that you can learn and play almost immediately. Later in his commentary, Schrapers writes, "We now have a large number of titles on the table that are very high quality compared to decades past. Of the games that the ten jurors have played intensively over the last twelve months, probably more than one hundred would have been a candidate for the leaderboard in the 1980s."
• The Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design has announced the nominees for the 2019 Origins Awards within a variety of categories, with the winners of each category scheduled to be announced on June 15, 2019 during the 2019 Origins Game Fair. Attendees at the fair can try out the nominees in an area devoted to the nominated games, and they can cast ballots to determine a fan favorite winner in each category.
Some of the nominee categories are:
—Brass: Birmingham, by Gavan Brown, Matt Tolman, and Martin Wallace (Roxley) —Chronicles of Crime, by David Cicurel (Lucky Duck Games) —Cryptid, by Ruth Veevers and Hal Duncan (Osprey Games) —Everdell, by James A. Wilson (Starling Games) —Gizmos, by Phil Walker-Harding (CMON Limited) —Pulsar 2849, by Vladimír Suchý (Czech Games Edition) —Rising Sun, by Eric M. Lang (CMON Limited) —Root, by Cole Wehrle (Leder Games) —Space Base, by John D. Clair (Alderac Entertainment Group)
As with any set of award nominees, you can find oddities once you start looking at the lists in more detail. I'm not sure why Villainous qualifies as a card game, for example, whereas Space Base counts as a board game. Seems like they should both be in one category or the other together. Keyforge: Call of the Archons, by the way, was placed in the collectible games category, along with the X-Men Xavier's School expansion for HeroClix, the Dominaria expansion for Magic: The Gathering, the Legacies expansion for Star Wars: Destiny, and six other expansions for more traditional "collectible" games.
• Voting is open for the 2019 Deutscher SpielePreis (DSP), with games released in the second half of 2018 and the first half of 2019 being eligible. You can vote directly here, listing up to five family/adult games in the order that you prefer them, along with a single children's game.
Merz Verlag, which oversees both the DSP voting and the annual SPIEL game convention, is giving away more than a hundred games to voters, as well as prizes that award the holder free entry to SPIEL '19. After voting, you'll receive a message via email that you must click to confirm your votes, after which you'll be entered into the prize drawing.
Scott Alden, Steph Hodge, Lincoln Damerst, and I are back in a new episode of The BoardGameGeek Show, with all of us talking about somewhat long games that we've played in the past couple of weeks.
Scott and Lincoln dove into The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth for five hours (after starting play at 11:00 p.m.), while Steph played Escape Plan and I played Pearl Games' Gen Con 2019 release Black Angel four times in two days, with all of those games lasting 2-2.5 hours. I kept teaching the game to new players, so I was the only one with experience, which made the games last longer as you have a lot to consider in your first playing. You're attempting to put together long-term plans without having an idea of how the game flows from beginning to end, so initially you're kind of taking actions at random, then the lightbulb goes on halfway through the game. (I played game #5 of Black Angel a couple of days after recording this episode, and I now feel ready to record an overview video once I try the solo game once or twice. So much preparation...)
Near the beginning of this episode of The BGG Show, Scott reveals a new initiative we'll debut with the Origins 2019 Preview on Monday, May 6, this being the ability for publishers to take preorders for their new releases through the Preview for pick-up at that convention. I've already showed off this addition to BGG convention previews to more than a dozen publishers, and I'll send out details about this system to publishers on Monday, April 29 along with my RFI letter for Origins 2019. Once the Origins 2019 Preview goes live the following week, I'll post details about the program for you, gentle reader. For now, I'll just say that I'm excited we finally have this system in place!
00:20 Opening and intros 00:52 BGG Spring! Get tickets here: https://boardgamegeek.com/bggcon/spring 02:14 Origins 2019 Convention Preview Preorder Pick-Up 05:17 Very few tickets remain for BGG.CON! 05:45 What Have You Been Playing?: Lincoln - Big Trouble in Little China: The Board Game - Christopher Batarlis, Boris Polonsky, Jim Samartino - Everything Epic Games 08:06 Eric - Black Angel - Sébastien Dujardin, Xavier Georges, Alain Orban - Pearl Games 14:56 Scott - The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth - Nathan I. Hajek, Grace Holdinghaus - Fantasy Flight Games 21:47 Steph - Hadara - Benjamin Schwer - Hans im Glück 26:21 Escape Plan - Vital Lacerda - Eagle-Gryphon Games 29:41 Roll-and-writes galore 31:28 News and New Releases: Bloodborne: The Board Game & God of War: The Card Game 33:54 Mensa Select winners 36:28 Kickstarter News: Terraforming Mars: Turmoil - Jacob Fryxelius - FryxGames, Stronghold Games 38:17 Oceans - Nick Bentley, Dominic Crapuchettes, Ben Goldman, Brian O'Neill - North Star Games 40:22 Kickstarter slowing down? 43:03 Goodbyes
• Phil Reed, CEO at Steve Jackson Games, has published that company's annual "Stakeholders' Report", a summary of the year's successes, failures, and lessons learned. SJG grossed US$5.3 million in 2018, less than in 2017, but as Reed writes, a "combination of staff cuts, reducing our print runs to better suit the current market, and a focus in the second half of the year on our more successful titles put us in a stronger position at the end of the year than expected."
"Reducing print runs" is a regular theme in this report, with SJG having a greater reliance on Kickstarter in 2018 to determine print runs ahead of a game's production, while also opening a second "Warehouse 23" account on Kickstarter to handle projects that would be sold directly to gamers and not enter distribution.
Reed says that the main trend from 2017 — i.e., the game-publishing business becoming "more a periodicals business", as covered in this March 2018 BGG News post — only accelerated in 2018:
If 2017 was the year for new games, 2018 was the bigger, louder sequel. Thousands of new titles were released in 2018, with some coming and going so fast that even professionals missed the release. Many of those games got pushed to the clearance racks faster than ever before; during the winter holiday sales, some games released as recently as September were already on deep discount.
As he writes elsewhere in the report: "This is an industry-wide issue; we've discussed the problem with several of our friends, and most of us are watching as demand for new games continues to drop."
• On April 16, 2019, Kickstarter announced that more than US$1 billion has been pledged to game projects from more than 3.2 million backers since the site's debut in 2009: "Backers like you have funded nearly 17,000 Games projects, bringing to life the beautiful, bold, and unexpected visions of creators from across the globe. We've seen projects that made us laugh, cry, shoot lasers at bad guys, and think about games in totally new ways."
Note that the games category includes video games, playing cards, role-playing games, game-related calendars, and many other items beyond board and card games.
• I thought that I had posted this video already, but alas I had only placed it in a post-to-come. I have many such incomplete posts saved in this blog, yet thankfully sometimes I rediscover forgotten material that is still relevant. In this case, we have two videos from YouTube creator Archipel, with the focus of their videos being "Japanese creators, artists, and the places that inspire them".
In November 2018, Archipel posted its first video in a new series titled "Hidengen", which apparently means something like "analog". These videos will feature graphic designer and game designer YACOYON talking about and interviewing people about the board game scene in Japan. The first video focuses on board game cafés, specifically Asobi Café (which I don't think is connected to publisher ASOBI.dept) and Jelly Jelly Café (which is related to publisher Jelly Jelly Games):
The second video, which is what led me to re-discover the first one, appeared in late March 2019, and it profiles those behind game publishers Arclight, Oink Games, and Ten Days Games:
• In January 2017, the Asmodee Group acquired German publisher and distributor Heidelberger Spieleverlag, with the publishing part of that company being broken out into HeidelBÄR Games.
Now HeidelBÄR Games has broken off from the Asmodee Group to become an independent company, HeidelBÄR Games GmbH. Here's an excerpt from the March 2019 press release announcing the split:
Ownership has been transferred to Heiko Eller-Bilz, the previous studio manager. Much remains the same in other respects: the studio office will remain in Miltenberg, Germany, as will the HeidelBÄR team.
Likewise, our partnership with Asmodee will not completely end, since we will continue to cooperate with different Asmodee units internationally. Our first game TAGS will remain with Asmodee, and of course, we as HeidelBÄR Games will continue to support TAGS wherever we can.
For us HeidelBÄRs, this step is a return to our roots. As Heidelberger Spieleverlag, we had operated as an independent games studio for years, with all of the flexibility, creative chaos, personal responsibility, and long-term cooperation that comes with it. As HeidelBÄR Games GmbH, we still aim to create original games connecting geeks, non-gamers, and families alike.
• In a related development, Heidelberger Spieleverlag has returned to business as of April 2019. How? Former Heidelberger Spieleverlag executive Johannes Kastner had launched the wholesale business JoeKas WORLD in 2018, distributing titles from Ferti Games, Jolly Thinker, Mebo, and others, but with HeidelBÄR Games now separate from Asmodee, Kastner has adopted the Heidelberger Spieleverlag brand once more, with that company now handling titles from HeidelBÄR, among others.
Whereas publishing and distribution were combined in the former Heidelberger Spieleverlag, HeidelBÄR notes that the two will remain independent in the future:
The separation of distribution and development has proven to make sense in many respects, and so the two divisions remain separate companies as Heidelberger Spieleverlag and HeidelBÄR Games.
What used to be a company with more than 30 employees and many international partners is now a small enterprise in the process of being established. The German localization and distribution for partners transferred to Asmodee will remain there. However, further publishers are to be added as new partners. In the future, HeidelBÄR Games will also return to the localization business and release German versions of international game titles, which will then be distributed by Heidelberger Spieleverlag.
• Grey Fox Games developer Josh Lobkowicz has started a new game publishing company called Travel Buddy Games, with titles from this company intended to come in a small package suitable for traveling (duh), while also being approachable by mainstream game players and tied thematically to a travel destination, both to inspire travel to this location and to serve as a reminder of the place for those who have been. Lobkowicz hasn't yet announced any titles for the line, but he lays out what he's looking for on the TBG website should you be a designer with an appropriate game.
• U.S.-based publisher Ludus Magnus Studio funded Black Rose Wars on Kickstarter to the tune of $1.3 million, but after delivering product to backers (which is currently scheduled for June 2019), LMS will let Ares Games handle distribution of the game to retailers, albeit without all the KS bells and whistles. Here's an excerpt from an Ares Games press release:
The agreement brings to the next level the creative collaboration between Ludus Magnus and Ares, which already produced miniature crossovers between Sine Tempore and Galaxy Defenders, and between Black Rose Wars and Sword & Sorcery. Ludus Magnus also designed several of the miniatures for the new Sword & Sorcery cycle, "Ancient Chronicles"...
The retail version [of Black Rose Wars] to be published by Ares Games will be different of the KS edition, being adapted to distribution in the hobby market in terms of size and retail price, while still providing a fully satisfying gameplay experience.
Ares Games also plans to distribute the retail edition of Ludus Magnus Studio's Dungeonology: The Expedition, which is being funded on Kickstarter (link) through April 2019.
• U.S. publisher Winsome Games has apparently run out of track, so to speak, with company owner John Bohrer announcing — as published on BGG courtesy of Ingo Griebsch — that the 2019 Essen Set "is probably the last Essen Set we will produce".
That set consists of two games — Pennsylvania Railroad and 1836 — and while Bohrer notes that Winsome will end with a smaller production run than it had in 2018, this won't be the last time you see game designs from him: "I am 63 years old and retired. Making all these Essen Sets is more difficult than many seem to think. I will still create games and they might be licensed. There are 6 existing Winsome Games licensed to big firms that have not yet been announced by the licensees."
The Indiana Intellectual Property Blog serves as a marketing vehicle for intellectual property and business attorney Kenan Farrell of KLF Legal — no, not thatKLF — and he notes on the blog's "About" page that it's "intended to educate, entertain and enlighten readers on Intellectual Property law, news and events, particularly focusing on stories that directly affect Indiana".
Turns out that one of those stories might be of interest to you, fellow BGG user. On April 18, 2019, Farrell wrote about a lawsuit filed by Indie Game Studios, LLC d/b/a Stronghold Games LLC against Plan B Games, Inc. and Plan B Games Europe GMBH on April 15, 2019 in which Stronghold "seeks monetary relief for Defendants' acts of trademark infringement and unfair competition under the federal Lanham Act, trademark infringement and unfair competition under Indiana common law, and common law conspiracy". Here is Farrell's initial summary of the lawsuit:
The Complaint (below) [Ed. note: Viewable on Scribd here] references a contract by which the plaintiff, Stronghold Games, would exclusively publish a board game called "Great Western Trail" from August 3, 2016 to December 31, 2018. At that time, the game was owned by a German company called eggertspiele. The Complaint alleges that one of the obligations eggertspiele agreed to in the contract was it "will not during the term grant to any other person, firm or company any rights that would derogate from the grant made" in its contract with Stronghold Games.
Stronghold first released Great Western Trail in the U.S. in November 2016. It was very popular and quick sold out. However, while seeking permission for a second print run of the game in June 2017, Stronghold learned that all assets of eggertspiele had been purchased by Plan B Games, the defendant.
Plan B Games asserted that it had no contract with Stronghold and it did not grant reprint rights to Stronghold. Subsequently, in January 2018, Plan B Games released its own version of Great Western Trail, seemingly identical but removing Stronghold's logo from the packaging.
Farrell included this image in his post, with this image coming from Indie Game Studios' complaint:
Farrell might not realize (or perhaps simply didn't state) that this similarity of imagery and layout is often common in licensed games.
Original German/English version co-published by eggertspiele/Pegasus Spiele
Current (as of 2019) German-only version of GWT from eggertspiele/Pegasus Spiele
Other editions of GWT w/ 2D covers not available for all, alas
To continue with Farrell's remarks:
I think this paragraph from the Complaint nicely sums up why Stronghold is unhappy with the current state of affairs: "Plan B was well aware of the pent-up demand for the Stronghold Version of this game in 2017, and the introduction of the nearly identical Plan B Version in early 2018 to satisfy the pent-up demand for the Stronghold Version improperly traded on Stronghold's goodwill and has led to consumer confusion."
Unfortunately, while the Complaint references the initial contract between Stronghold and eggertspiele granting publication rights, it didn't include a copy of the contract for review. Although the contract apparently included language about minimum duration and exclusivity, it's unclear whether the contract granted any property interest in the Great Western Trail trademark to Stronghold.
As general information, license agreements can give licensees standing to sue for infringement, provided that they grant an exclusive license and a property interest in the trademark. A trademark licensee's proper use of a mark benefits the trademark owner, not the licensee. This allows trademark owners to rely on use by controlled licensees to prove continuing use of a trademark. Section 5 of the Lanham Act explicitly recognises the acquisition of trademark rights by a licensor through first use of the mark by a controlled licensee.
However, in this situation, Stronghold appears to assert its own claim to property rights in the GREAT WESTERN TRAIL trademark distinct from the licensor, based on its own exclusive marketing efforts in the United States.
I look forward to reading the Answer, which hopefully will include the original contract. Stay tuned for updates.
The complaint states that the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana has jurisdiction for this matter "because the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000 and this civil action is between citizens of a State and citizens or subjects of a foreign state", while adding that the court has jurisdiction over the defendants "because they purposely directed the activities at issue in this case towards this District, as evidenced at least by their presence and activities at the 2018 GenCon [sic] convention that occurred in this District and the offending sales that occurred in this District".
Following its two-day Mensa Mind Games event in which approximately three hundred participants played and rated games released in the past twelve months, the U.S. branch of Mensa has announced the winners of its 2019 Mensa Select award:
Game publishers submit titles to the Mensa Mind Games event, paying a fee in the process in addition to giving copies of the games to the organizing Mensa branch for use during the event. The 2020 Mensa Mind Games will be hosted by the North Texas Mensa chapter.
• Ben Parkinson is overseeing crowdfunding for the third Uganda Village Boardgame Competition, which is scheduled to be held May 22-25, 2019 in Koro Barogal, which is in Gulu District in Uganda. From the description of the crowdfunding project: "In 2018, we housed over 200 people at the Convention and it is hoped that this year we can work with even more, if we can raise enough money. For 2019 we also hope, with your help, to expand our reach into new areas, through board game outreach sessions, which will take place ahead of the Convention itself."
What's more, Boydell has developed a new game titled Firebox with Ben Bateson and Matt Green, and he will ship copies of this game to anyone who donates at least £30 to UVBC. Boydell details his offer and gives a briefing of Firebox in this BGG blog post.
• On The New Yorker, Samanth Subramanian writes about Fifty-eight Holes, one of the oldest board games in the world: "In the second millennium B.C., Fifty-eight Holes was the most popular game of its kind across Egypt, the eastern Mediterranean, and the Middle East, and roughly eighty boards of the game, in various degrees of incompleteness, rest in museum collections around the world." An excerpt:
Like every other ancient board game we know, Fifty-eight Holes is a "race game," capturing the heat of the most basic forms of human contest. "It's like a horse race or a running race, reduced to miniature," Irving Finkel, an Assyriologist at the British Museum, said. Finkel, who has a blizzard of a beard and hair to match, writes children's books with titles like "Swizzle de Brax and the Blungaphone." He is also arguably the world's foremost expert of bygone board games. "The race-game class is the first one we have," he said. When boards of Fifty-eight Holes were first retrieved from tombs, they were imbued with the symbolism of their funerary surroundings, their circular nature compared to that of life. The truth, Finkel said, is simpler. "It was often too hot or too difficult, or there were long periods of time when there was bugger all to do," he said. "Board games were played to fill time — for fun, for pleasure."
Fifty-eight Holes (image from The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
• Italian publisher dV Giochi has posted details of the 2019/2020 Gioco Inedito, an annual game design competition in which the games must all fit a theme and in which the main prize is publication in the following year. The theme for this year's competition is Leonardo da Vinci, and designs must be submitted by June 24, 2019. The winner of the competition will be announced at the 2019 Lucca Comics & Games festival in November 2019, with publication in 2020. More details on the competition, in Italian and English, are available on the Lucca website.
• The Pion d'Or — or Golden Pawn — is a new designation from l'Union des Éditeurs de Jeux de Société that's intended to be "a neutral and independent indicator of the economic performance of a board game". As such, the designation indicates only that a certain sales volume has been reached by that particular title, with the different levels of the award being the Silver Pawn (100,000 copies sold), the Golden Pawn (250,000 sold), the Platinum Pawn (1,000,000 sold), and the Diamond Pawn (3,000,000 sold). These designations are cumulative, so a game reaching a half-million copies sold would be labeled "Double Golden Pawn".
During a seminar at GAMA Trade Show 2019 on Tuesday, March 12, Asmodee North America announced that it had a new distribution deal with CMON Limited in which it would distribute titles from CMON to retail outlets in North America.
CMON would still be responsible for running and fulfilling its own Kickstarter campaigns, but once a Kickstarter is complete, any remaining product would enter the distribution chain via Asmodee NA.
One odd thing about this deal is that in December 2018, CMON announced that it had entered into distribution agreements with GTS Distribution and Southern Hobby Supply, so that as of January 1, 2019, U.S. retailers would be able to order CMON titles from these distributors in addition to getting them from ACD, Alliance, and Peachstate Hobby Distribution. Asmodee, however, has an exclusive distribution deal with Alliance Game Distributors — a deal put into practice in August 2017 — so after only a few months of carrying CMON titles, GTS and Southern Hobby Supply lose access to those titles once again, with ACD and Peachstate also having the CMON lines cut from their catalogs.
While this change in distribution practices might seem like a radical departure from previous practices, it's not out of the ordinary as in many European countries one of the branches of The Asmodee Group is already distributing titles from CMON Limited.
Funko believes that everyone is a fan of something, and this acquisition allows pop culture enthusiasts to display their fandom through multi-player interaction comprised by their favorite characters and introduces Funko to an entirely new demographic, ardent board gamers.
"We've always been incredibly impressed with FPC's portfolio and have witnessed the company make a name for itself on a global level," said Funko President Andrew Perlmutter. "As we expand our product portfolio, we believe this acquisition is in line with what we are doing with apparel, accessories and Funko Animation Studios. The games category is another avenue to deliver pop culture to our ever-growing fan base. FPC's nearly two decades of experience in developing high quality games will provide us added expertise as we leverage our existing IP and licensor portfolio into this category."
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, and the Company does not expect the acquisition to have a material impact on its financial performance in 2019.
Who doesn't love to display their fandom via multi-player interaction?!
• In late January 2019, Hachette Livre, the largest book publisher in France and the owner of the Hachette Book Group in the U.S. along with many other imprints, has "entered into exclusive negotiations with Jean-Christophe Gires and Stéphane Gires, the founders and directors of Gigamic, with a view to acquiring 100% of their company's share capital", according to a press release on the Hachette website.
Gigamic was founded in 1991, launching the company with the abstract strategy game Quarto, which I fondly recall demoing and selling at The Game Gallery in San Francisco. It was a different era then! Currently Gigamic publishes about fifteen new titles annually, with sales of more than €15 million. An excerpt from the press release:
Stéphane Gires, who is 56, will continue to manage the business that he has successfully built up with his brother.
For Hachette Livre, which already publishes party games (quiz games, etc.), and which added mobile games to its portfolio in 2016, this investment is part of a strategic decision to explore the leisure activity market that sits alongside publishing, in particular all the segments of the consumer gaming market.
"We are delighted to welcome Gigamic and its great team, whose skills are naturally closely aligned with our content creation activities for the consumer market. Like all the entities that have joined the Group in recent years, Gigamic will be able to pursue its development while retaining its creative autonomy", said Arnaud Nourry, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Hachette Livre.
"Our many discussions have confirmed that our companies share the same DNA in terms of ethics, innovation, management and trust in our existing personnel. Gigamic is becoming part of a major French group and a market leader, which delivers a strong message to our employees, our customers and our suppliers. We feel very confident and motivated for the future", added Stéphane Gires.
• Stepping back one month further, in mid-December 2018, Greater Than Games acquired Nevermore Games, stating in a press release that "The acquisition of Nevermore Games is the culmination of several months of conversations between Nevermore Games and Greater Than Games. As our companies undergo this transition, Greater Than Games looks forward to supporting the Nevermore Games product lines and fan base."
• For an industry move in the other direction, we have this statement from Dutch publisher White Goblin Games in January 2019:
During the previous year, we signed a deal with the Chinese company Yoka Games to produce a new localized edition of our game Bali in China.
At the time that we signed the deal, we were unaware of the previous and current history of Yoka Games, but it was recently brought to our attention that Yoka Games has been plagiarizing famous games such as BANG! and Lost Cities for many years.
Yoka Games has proven itself to be disrespectful of intellectual property rights and the work of other companies and designers. We firmly condemn this attitude, and for this reason we have decided to end our partnership with Yoka Games.