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Game Preview: Die Tavernen im Tiefen Thal, or Use Beer and Money to Lure Nobles into Your Bar

W. Eric Martin
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It would be time-intensive to carry out this challenge, but at a future convention, I'd like to see someone set up a gauntlet of mystery games, then invite people to play these games and guess the designers.

To do this challenge properly, you'd have to choose somewhat obscure games from famous designers, not to mention making your own versions of these games with handmade components or public domain art so that someone couldn't recognize a title they've seen in passing; alternatively, you could liberate prototype games from the designers' homes so that no one would play something they've possibly played before. Conducting this challenge might take hours, given the number of games on hand and their playing time, but I'd be curious to discover whether game fans could find a Pfister or recognize a Rosenberg in a crowded field.

This thought experiment came to mind after playing Wolfgang Warsch's Die Tavernen im Tiefen Thal, a big box game for 2-4 players that German publisher Schmidt Spiele released in March 2019, and finding it similar in spirit to Warsch's 2018 The Quacks of Quedlinburg (and more distantly his games The Mind, Illusion, Brikks, and Ganz schön clever/Doppelt so clever), despite not sharing any game mechanisms with those designs.

When playing any of these Warsch designs, you'll experience huge highs and lows driven by large doses of luck, whether it's rolling exactly the dice you need in Brikks or GSC/DSC, flopping sequential cards in just the right order in The Mind, pulling all the right tokens from your ingredient bag in Quacks, or filling your tavern with the perfect combination of cards in Die Tavernen im Tiefen Thal, which translates as "The Taverns of the Deep Valley" and which will be released in English in Q4 2019 by North Star Games.




In the game, each player has their own tavern, which includes three tables, small storage areas for money and beer, a barrel of your custom house brew, a cashbox, a monk at the bar, and a beer supplier outside your door. You each have a deck of cards that consists of seven regular customers, a waitress, an extra table, and another beer supplier.

At the start of a round, you receive a bonus associated with that round — a treasured guest, your choice of a dish washer or a waitress, etc. — then you each flip over cards from your deck until all the tables of your tavern are full. The guests, sad and introspective, all want to sit on their own, so you might flip only three cards and be done; alternatively you might reveal and place all the cards in your deck other than guests, then finally fill the tables afterward. Mostly you'll fall between these extremes, just you do in Quacks when drawing ingredients from your personal bag.

After each player fills their tables, you each roll four white dice, place them on a serving platter in front of you, take turns drafting one die from your platter, then pass the platters to the left before you each draft another die, and so on until you've drafted four dice to accompany any additional colored dice brought to you by the waitresses. You use these dice to serve beer to guests (which requires placing a 1 or 2 for your deck's initial guests), get beer from beer suppliers (placing a 1 or 6), get advice from the monk (placing a 5), or dipping into your cashbox or drawing a beer from your house supply (placing any one die for each).

By drawing beer or getting beer from passing merchants and suppliers, you can attract new guests to your tavern, whether one of the slightly better guests from a fixed stack or one of four random guests in a drafting line. These guests have beer costs from 3-8, and you can acquire at most one guest a round — but any guest you do get is placed on top of your deck, which means they will visit your tavern next turn. Be ready for them!


For mint lemonade, you must come to my house instead of a tavern


By serving guests or dipping into the cashbox, you get doubloons, with which you can improve your tavern — whether by hiring beer merchants or dish washers, acquiring another table, or upgrading your tavern permanently. Most of these improvements are on cards that (like guests) you'll place on top of your deck so that you can first use them in the next round.

Permanent upgrades are what you're aiming for in the long term as they are not cards that you'll use once, then place in your discard pile, not knowing when you'll see them again. You can add an extra table, which means you'll seat one more guest, which means you'll likely place even more cards in your tavern and therefore do more stuff overall. You can upgrade the beer supplier so that you receive two beer for each die you place instead of only one or you can enlarge your safe so that you can store up to five doubloons from one round to the next instead of only two (and you want to store doubloons so that you can purchase other upgrades more easily).

What's equally important to improving your tavern for future rounds is that each upgrade attracts a noble in town, with you placing that noble card on top of your deck. I'm not sure why a noble would care that you hired a dish washer permanently instead of having only temp help, or that you have a larger cashbox that will allow you take three doubloons from it instead of only one, but we'll assume they're all simple-minded and move on.
Most cards that you add to your deck are worth 1-4 points, but a noble is worth 10 points, so you want to attract as many of them as possible. Nobles function as guests, so you can serve them beer in the future and make money from them, but mostly you care about them only for points — and as in Quacks, you can have giant turns in Tavernen in which you upgrade three things at once and add three nobles (and 30 points) to your deck or in which you serve twenty beers, with you being able to attract 1-3 nobles directly with 9-18 beer. As I said, simple-minded.


Using the first two expansions


At other times, your turn might be largely a bust. You place only a few guests, pull only one beer merchant (who supplies only a single beer and can take no dice), and...nothing else. You have a 4 guest and 5 guest who would place lots of coins in hand if you could supply them beer — but no 4s and 5s are rolled that round (and you lack the dish washers needed to increase the number on a die). Again, this sensation mirrors Quacks as in that game sometimes you draw all the wrong ingredient tokens and bust for the round, which sets you back against everyone else who is landing both points and money instead of only one of those.

You can mitigate bad luck in a few ways — having the aforementioned dish washers; using one of the three treasured guests you receive to clear your tavern and start placing cards anew — but you can't eliminate bad luck completely, and you won't necessarily know when to use a guest until you've played the game through and see what can happen when over the course of its eight rounds. You want to buy additions to your tavern each round and attract a new guest each round so that all of your growth compounds over time, but you can't be sure that any of your many, many decisions will be correct until things play out in the future, and maybe the luck of the dice does you in anyway, even though your choices seem ideal.

To live out the game's high highs — in this case the thrill of putting together a huge turn — you need to risk having low lows as well, just as sometimes you lose lives repeatedly in The Mind by sequential card plays not going your way or you fail in Illusion by cards being only one percentage point off. This high luck/high thrill combination seems evident across Warsch's designs, and ideally you as a player experience enough of those unpredictable highs that you can shrug off the lows and still feel like playing again.

I've played Die Tavernen im Tiefen Thal four times on a review copy from Schmidt Spiele: twice with the base game, once with the first expansion, and once with the first two expansions. The game comes with four expansions in all — called "modules 2-5", with the base game being "module 1" for some reason — and you must use all earlier expansions when adding one to play.

These expansions add new twists to gameplay, with the first expansion adding schnapps to your menu and giving you new guests in the first five rounds that you can use each in one of two ways by serving them schnapps. The second expansion lets you earn reputation points based on the lower amount of the beer or money you earn in a round, with reputation earning you schnapps and nobles; bards become another tavern improvement option, with their performances increasing your reputation. The third expansion gives you variable starting decks, and the fourth expansion gives each player a signature book that newly arriving guests "sign", which gives you a variety of bonuses.

All of these expansions add rules and fiddliness to the game, and the base game already has a dense twelve-page rulebook, which can be a lot to absorb, despite the gameplay itself being simple. Tavernen is an ideal game to learn by playing, preferably from someone who already knows the game so that you can skip the long rule descriptions and get right into the game, but of course that won't be possible for most people. Perhaps my video overview, which goes into more detail than what I described above, will be enough to kickstart your game-playing experience...


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Tue May 21, 2019 9:49 pm
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Game Overview: Sushi Roll, or You'll Die for Another Serving to Go

W. Eric Martin
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I don't imagine that designer Phil Walker-Harding thought he'd be connected with sushi for the rest of his life when he self-published Sushi Go! in 2013, but here we are in 2019 with Sushi Go! being a staple title in the game industry, a go-to suggestion when someone wants to gift a game to a stranger or introduce a newcomer to modern games.

Sushi Go! is appealing to many people because it's quick and easy to play; in each of three rounds, you pick up the cards dealt to you, choose one, reveal it and see what everyone else has chosen, pass the cards left, then choose again. You get a little surprise each turn, whether it's in the cards you've been given or the discovery that someone else has taken the lead from you for the endgame pudding bonus. When a round ends, you score points for the sets and individual cards you've collected, giving everyone a chance to evaluate who's in the lead and what you might want to do next round — assuming the cards work in your favor, of course.

Sushi Go Party! in 2016 expanded gameplay to eight players (instead of the game maxing out at five), and it included a catalog of card options that allowed you to customize the deck each game. Set-up time increased, yes, but so did the variety of the game experience.

For 2019, Walker-Harding and publisher Gamewright have released another tweak of the game system: Sushi Roll, a 2-5 player game that places the sushi on dice instead of cards. Gameplay is similar to Sushi Go! with players drafting dice over three rounds, scoring at the end of each round, then evaluating the pudding bonus at game's end, but the introduction of dice over cards changes a few elements of the game.




First, the game lasts fewer turns, with players starting each round with 5-8 dice (based on the number of players) drawn at random from the bag. Instead of having maki cards that depict one or more rolls, you now have a maki die that depicts 1-3 maki on its six sides; instead of a three types of nigiri cards, you have three types of nigiri on one die. All the sides of all five types of dice are helpfully presented on the menu that lies in front of each player, letting you know the odds of what might come up a die.

At the start of the round, you roll your dice, place them on your personal conveyor belt card, then draft one die from this card into your personal tray. After each player has chosen one die, you rotate the conveyor belt cards left, roll all the dice you just received, then choose one die again, and you repeat this until all the dice have been chosen. Each player starts with chopstick tokens that let you yoink a die from someone else's conveyor belt and replace it with one of your own and re-roll tokens that let you re-roll as many dice as you want on your conveyor belt before making your choice for the turn.

With dice replacing cards, the drafting choices are now open. When I pick a purple die with a tempura symbol, I can see how many other purple dice are in the game and where they are — which is important since I want to have some idea of how many such dice might be available to me over the course of the round — but I won't know exactly what's available to me on those dice since I have to roll them at the start of each turn. Sushi Roll replaces the mystery of which cards are being handed to you to which faces you'll see on the dice, while also giving you tools that allow you to manipulate fate in your favor — well, at least some of the time because you might bomb out repeatedly on rolling the sashimi you need to complete a set.


All menus, conveyor belts, and dice fit in the bag, with the tokens needing a doggy bag of their own


The other big change that comes with using dice instead of cards is that players now draft sequentially instead of simultaneously, possibly giving you a chance to respond to what someone else does. If you're leading someone in maki, which awards 6 points to whoever has the most rolls at the end of the round, and you each have a maki die on your belt, that player knows you can retake the lead if they choose it, so they might take something else. When you take a wasabi die, you place it on your tray, then place the next nigiri die you draft on top of it, tripling the value of that die — but you and everyone else can see where those nigiri are, and someone else might use chopsticks to take what you need before you get the chance to.

You can also use chopsticks to set up future turns, perhaps by swapping a die on your tray for a die on the player to your right. You'll get the die you want right now from that other player, then that player will ship that die back to you on the next turn, giving you another chance to roll what you need.

I've played Sushi Roll four times on a review copy from Gamewright, and gameplay with two seems notably different from gameplay with three and four players. You use only 16 dice at a time with two players, with each of you of seeing everything available, and the choices seem to play out in a somewhat obvious manner.

With three players you have 21 dice in play and with four players 24, so with more players you have more dice in play, with the turn order mattering (since you're not simply handing trays back and forth as in a two-player game) and with players competing for different things. It's not just you and me fighting for both maki and pudding and sets, but now I'm competing with Alice for maki and Bob for pudding and Cecily for sets, so you're pulled in multiple directions, while at the same time drafting fewer dice than in a two-player game, which makes each choice feel more important.


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Wed May 15, 2019 3:30 pm
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Game Preview: Die Hard: The Nakatomi Heist Board Game, or Welcome to the Party, Pal!

W. Eric Martin
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At long last our final game overview video recorded at the 2019 GAMA Trade Show in mid-March can be published. The game in question is Die Hard: The Nakatomi Heist Board Game, a design by Sean Fletcher and Patrick Marino that's due out in Q2 2019 from The OP (née USAopoly).

Die Hard is for 2-4 players and bears a playing time of 60-90 minutes, with one player taking the role of John McClane and everyone else acting as a terrorist. The game plays out over three acts, mirroring the events of the Die Hard movie, with the actions taken in acts one and two carrying over into the final standoff. I had posted a written overview of the game in mid-March 2019, but now The OP's embargo on our video preview has ended, so take a look:




As a bonus, here are a trio of promotional images from The OP showing miniatures for John McClane and Hans Gruber, along with one of cards from the game:



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Thu May 9, 2019 9:08 pm
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The Origins 2019 Preview Is Live — Now With Publisher Preorders

W. Eric Martin
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After a couple of days delay, the Origins 2019 Preview is now live on BoardGameGeek, kicking off with 120 titles, which is nearly half of what was listed in 2018 (263 titles), so it seems likely that we'll hit three hundred listings by the time that the 2019 Origins Game Fair opens on Wednesday, June 12.

As in years past, BGG will be at Origins to livestream interviews with designers and publishers for five days — June 12-16 — about their new and upcoming games. Given that we have five days of coverage without a huge number of Origins-debut titles, you'll likely see a lot of prototypes for games due out in the second half of 2019 or in 2020. We'll start putting together that demo schedule in mid-May 2019 with publication of it scheduled for Monday, June 10.

One big addition to this convention preview — and the reason for its delayed arrival — is that we have added a preorder system to this list and now publishers can take preorders from you for titles that they will have on hand at Origins 2019. Here's an example of what those preorders look like within the Origins 2019 Preview:




Yes, you can place a preorder and pay for a new release from Renegade Game Studios now, then pick it up at Origins 2019. Why would you want to do this? Multiple reasons:

• You know you want to get something, and you don't want to have to rush the doors to get it before it sells out. (Not sure whether that's really a thing at Origins, but at Gen Con and SPIEL...)
• You hate waiting in lines to buy games and just want to be able to show a receipt and get the game.
• You want to have a better idea of how much you're spending or you want to budget your spending.

I imagine that other publishers will set up preorders on the Origins 2019 Preview in the future, and I've sent instructions on how to do so to the 130+ publishers that I wrote to for information about their new and upcoming games. (If you're a publisher who will have new titles and prototypes at Origins 2019, and I haven't contacted you, please Geekmail me or write to me at the email address in the BGG News header.) Setting up preorders in the Origins 2019 Preview is voluntary for a publisher, but we know that it's a pain to manage such things, so we implemented this system to (ideally) streamline the process.

One of the biggest reasons that a publisher might decide to take preorders this way — aside from having a better idea of how much inventory to bring to the con — is that they'll have to handle less cash at conventions. This isn't a big deal at Origins and Gen Con given how much those in the U.S. use credit cards, but it could be a huge deal for publishers at SPIEL. Multiple publishers had thousands of Euros stolen at SPIEL '18, and if they can instead complete a decent percentage of their sales via preorder ahead of time, they will be a less attractive target in Essen. (Scott Alden has told me that the thefts at SPIEL '18 were the primary motivator to get this preorder system in place after years of me having on my wish list.)

BGG earns a 5% commission on these preorder sales, so I won't pretend that we're doing this entirely for altruistic reasons, but I think this preview preorder system offers positives for both publishers and players, especially when we look ahead to Gen Con and SPIEL where the lines are much longer, publishers worry about whether they're bringing too much or too little stock, and players want to know they can get something without having to buy a VIP badge. The Origins 2019 Preview is our test case, and if all goes well, this preorder system will be in place in the Gen Con 2019 Preview, the SPIEL '19 Preview, and many other such previews in the years to come.
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Wed May 8, 2019 10:06 pm
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Game Overview: Nagaraja, or It Didn't Have to Be Snakes, But It Is, So Get Over It

W. Eric Martin
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Because of the number of conventions that I attend, I sometimes feel like I'm previewing the same games over and over again — and sometimes I am.

We first recorded an overview of the two-player game Nagaraja at Spielwarenmesse 2018 in the Hurrican booth, but the presentation was not ideal, so we never published that video. At Gen Con 2018, co-designer Théo Rivière showed off the game in the BGG booth (video), then at the FIJ fair in Cannes in February 2019, co-designer Bruno Cathala and illustrator Vincent Dutrait got their turn in front of the mic (video).

What's more, Nagaraja was actually released at FIJ 2019! Yes, the game was available, and I went home with a review copy courtesy of Hurrican. Now the game is available on the U.S. market as well, and in case you need one more video about the game, I've posted one below from my perspective.

The gist of the game is that you want to find 25 points worth of relics in your individual temple before a competing archaeologist finds that amount of points in their temple. I'm not sure whether we're competing in mirror universes or side-by-side temples or in mock temples set up by our university sponsors to determine who they should put on staff. It feels odd us competing in this way, somehow having nearly identical temples, but at a certain point, you wave it off as game logic and get on with things.

Each player starts with a hand of five cards, and cards can be used for their bidding power — that is, access to fate dice that come in three types — or their special ability, which can be used on yourself, your opponent, or either player depending on how the card is labeled. Each round starts with players revealing one temple tile, then simultaneously bidding for that tile with one or more cards from their hand; cards come in four families, and all the cards you bid must come from the same family.

Once you reveal the cards, you roll the dice shown on your cards, with brown dice giving 3-5 fate points, white dice giving 2-3 fate points or a naga (snake), and green dice giving either 1 fate point or a naga. After rolling dice, players can spend nagas to play cards from their hand for their special abilities. Whoever ends up with the most fate points claims the tile, adds it to their temple, then reveals any relics they've reached with the paths that they've constructed. Relics are worth 3-6 points, but the three 6-point relics are cursed, and you lose the game if you reveal all three of them at once.

The player who didn't win the tile draws three cards, keeps two of them, and passes the third card to the opponent. Rounds continue until someone loses, someone reaches 25 points and wins, or someone fills their temple with tiles, at which time the player with the most points wins.




Nagaraja is simple at heart, but features delicious tension in its choices. You want to win temple tiles since those allow you to reach relics and score points — but if you just place lots of tiles, you might lose due to curses. You can use special abilities on cards to peek at your relics or swap them or rotate tiles or swap tiles in order to stay away from curses or hide relics previously found, but each card you use this way is one you can't use for bidding. You want to bid high for tiles (mostly by bidding brown dice), but if you overbid, then you've effectively wasted bidding power or cards, and cards are precious since you receive only one of the opponent's choice when you do win a tile. You might then bid more conservatively and hope to use nagas to play special powers if needed to beat the opponent, but you then roll no snakes despite having four green dice.

I've played three games to date, and each has been tense from beginning to end. Every choice seems important, but you also have to deal with fate in terms of the dice you roll. You have some say over how fate will treat you given that a brown die at worst ties a white die, and a white die always beats a green die, yet you don't know what your opponent will bid as you'll rarely know all of the cards in that player's hand. All you can do is make choices, then see how things play out, you and your opponent in a tug-of-war turn after turn for tiles and cards as you race one another for points in twin temples...


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Tue May 7, 2019 5:20 pm
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Take a Slow Trip to SPIEL '19 for Fast Sloths from 2F-Spiele

W. Eric Martin
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Are you planning for SPIEL '19 yet? Even if you aren't, game publishers are, with German publisher 2F-Spiele announcing its main title for that show: Fast Sloths, which will be titled Faultier in the German edition, "Faultiere" being German for "sloths".

Fast Sloths is, as you might expect, from designer Friedemann Friese, and this 2-5 player game will be released in English by Stronghold Games. Let's start with the publisher's description:

Quote:
You are sloths — cuddly, lazy, and, oh well, slothful.

All animals (including humans) like to take vacations, so everyone is together at a country resort. We sloths are sitting around, of course, while all the other animals are running throughout the resort. We want to look around, too, and traveling around the resort to pick up tasty leaves would be great — but running around ourselves is just too tedious. All the other animals are having fun, and we want that, too, but...we are so slothful.

And then we have an idea: We'll let ourselves be carried around by the other animals, thus getting around nicely. The others animals have so much energy that they'll even gladly carry us. They aren't slothful! Which of us sloths will be the first to get through the entire country and be victorious? We are ambitious, but so lazy!

Fast Sloths is a race game that at its core is a classic pick-up-and-deliver game — except that we ourselves are the cargo being delivered. We are being carried along the whole way and never take a single step on our own!

You always play with six out of twelve different animal species, and you can place the giant game board in four different combinations. On a turn, you draft 2-3 cards of different animal types from the top of their face-up decks, then you play as many animal cards as you like of a single type. Each animal provides a different type of movement or interaction with you, with ants carrying you along in a chain and the elephant throwing you with its trunk.

Fast Sloths is a game free from randomness that evolves only through the interaction between the players, doing so without any "take that" mechanisms — except for you snatching an animal from under the other players' noses because you need to use it yourself...

As mentioned above, you use only six animal species in each game, so by swapping animals in and out, you vary the possible actions available to players. The Power Grid-sized game board comes in two pieces, so you can arrange the segments in four different ways, varying the types of landscapes on the map. 2F-Spiele says that it's already working on new game board configurations and additional animals, and given the long life of Power Grid, I have no doubt that Friese could take this game in all sorts of directions. It all depends on the game's sales, of course, so for now I'll just note this future possibility and move on.


Designer Friedemann Friese with a mock-up of Faultier


I've played Fast Sloths once with the suggested starting set-up, both for the game board and for the six animals in play. For your introductory game, you place the animal tokens on specific spots on the game board, but after this first learning game, the rules suggest that during set-up players take turns placing animal tokens on the board one at a time. Players then choose starting locations for their sloth.

On a turn, you draft 2-3 animal cards from the face-up decks. Each animal card in a deck indicates the types of landscape on which the animal can move as well as its special ability, and the cards are stacked in order from lowest movement value to highest, which means that when you draft, say, a unicorn card, you might be exposing a better unicorn card. Cards played or discarded are placed under the decks in a specific order, so in theory you could track all of that information to know which cards are where in each deck and in each players' hand. I will not be doing that, but the possibility is there should you desire to do so.


Mock-up cards


After drafting, you play one or more cards of the same animal, trying to move your sloth from its current location to one of the many leafy lunches awaiting you. The numbers on a card show how many spaces an animal can move, and if you play multiple cards, you can sum the numbers. If an animal is next to you, it picks you up, then you can ride it up to its maximum movement value, then it can drop you in an adjacent space.

Some animals are straightforward to use, and some less so. A donkey just picks you up and moves you on roads (but not on bridges) and through three types of landscape, while the alligator moves only in water and on certain spaces adjacent to water. The unicorn has fabulous movement values compared to the other animals, but (1) you can play only one unicorn card on a turn and (2) only one unicorn token exists, so you can't rely on constant unicorn travel since someone else might take it in a different direction and leave those cards useless in your hand. To use the eagle, of which only one token exists, you need to play at least six movement points at once, after which that lone eagle will swoop down from wherever it is on the game board, pick you up, then move you up to six spaces.

Ants allow for movement in a chain, and moving from an empty space, then across the backs of one or more ants, then onto the ground again counts as only one movement point. Ideally you can move individual ants to create a chain or a series of space-ant-space-ant-space-ant-space in order to cover lots of ground quickly. (Of course if you do so, someone else can use that chain later, so you want to dismantle the chain behind you, if possible. In most cases you pull the rug up behind you, so to speak, but with the ants you need to do a little more work.)


Sloth standings after the first turn


Fast Sloths falls into an interesting category of games in that it's pitched as a family game, with cute artwork, friendly animals, and a 45-minute playing time, yet the game is luck free and could be a "deep thought" strategy game depending on the willingness of players to track cards drawn and played and anticipate who might be doing what where. You might think of it as the game adapting to the players. If you want to focus solely on your own cards and do stuff from turn to turn, that's possible; if you want to plan multiple turns ahead, you can do so since you draft multiple animal cards each turn, but can play only one type of animal; and if you want to create an overall strategy for how you'll visit eight of the nine leaf locations before anyone else, you can do that, too.

As you collect more leaves, you draw fewer cards each turn, or must discard a card after drawing. In addition, your hand size starts shrinking, so you become pinched for options, which requires greater focus in the endgame when you're trying to collect one of those final leaves. Everyone knows where you need to go, and they might know what's possible for you as well, so you'll need to be a smart sloth in order to stay one step ahead of everyone else — a step taken by someone else, of course, since you'll never step anywhere on your own!
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Tue Apr 30, 2019 5:00 pm
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Game Preview: Wacky Races: The Board Game, or Riding Nostalgia to the Finish Line

W. Eric Martin
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My lack of video game knowledge has bit me once again. In my overview video for Wacky Races: The Board Game, an Andrea Chiarvesio and Fabio Tola design that was released on the U.S. market on April 26, 2019 by CMON Limited, I wondered how large the nostalgia market might possibly be for an animated TV series that debuted in 1968 and lasted only one season.

Turns out that the nostalgia hook isn't reaching back that many decades as Wacky Races appeared as an NES game in 1991, followed by several more such titles on various game systems from 2000 to 2008. Everything old is new again, especially when you can possibly entice players familiar with one game into another one a decade later.

I've neither seen the animated series nor played the video games, so all I can do is evaluate the board game in front of me. Wacky Races: The Board Game is for 2-6 players, with six race cars on the track at all times no matter the player count; after everyone lines up at the starting line, you add neutral cars as needed until all six starting positions are filled.




On a turn, you must play a terrain card from your hand, advancing to the next empty space on the track. You can then optionally play up to two more terrain cards, but you can do so only if the terrain on the card matches the terrain of your current location (except for a few special spaces). If a space already has two racers on it, you skip that space and land on the next one. After you move, Dick Dastardly and Muttley — the series' villains — advance down the middle of the track to the next empty space of the terrain card you last played. If their car is now ahead of all others in play, you place a trap card face down on that space, then move their car to the back of the pack. As soon as someone hits that trap, that player reveals the card and carries out its effects — unless they have a special power that cancels that particular type of trap.

In addition to a trap-cancelling card, each player has three other special power cards, and you can use them at any point during your turn, with those powers allowing you to draw extra cards, steal cards, swap places with other players, and so on. You get to reclaim a power once the last racer in the game reaches the gas station at the halfway point on the track, but otherwise they're usable only once.

Neutral cars move after everyone else has moved in the round, with these cars moving one space, then 0-3 more spaces depending on whether they are on the three terrain cards revealed at random from the deck. Beep beep! Google-assisted self-driving car coming through!

After three games on a review copy from CMON Limited, I can say thatWacky Races: The Board Game feels the same from start to finish: Play 1-3 cards, move 1-3 spaces or possibly more if a space ahead of you is occupied, after which you're probably creating a block that someone else will leapfrog. The first player to reach the finish line wins, but you have almost no opportunity to create a breakaway moment or plan for future turns or surge to victory with a last minute burst of energy. Belying its own title, the game doesn't feel much like a racing game as everyone kind of moves in a group bit by bit, then the game ends. The design has a great look to it, with miniatures that match your expectation as to what CMON would deliver, but beyond that the game doesn't move far past the starting line...


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Mon Apr 29, 2019 8:07 pm
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Game Overview: Grab All the Animals You Can to Populate Your Planet

W. Eric Martin
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Urtis Šulinskas' Planet isn't a new game as Blue Orange Games debuted the title at SPIEL in October 2018 — and yet Planet is indeed a new game as (1) October 2018 was only six months ago and (2) the game is debuting in the U.S. market on April 22, 2019 to coincide with Earth Day.

(You might argue that in honor of Earth Day a company might vow not to release something that could be regarded as disposable entertainment, but since 2006 BOG has had a policy of planting two trees for every tree used in the production of its wooden games, and in addition it works with PUR Projet in France to plant trees to offset the carbon emissions the company creates while driving across the U.S. to visit retail stores, and that's far more environmental-boosting work than I've done in response to my activities, so who am I to talk?)

In Planet, each player has a dodecahedron with magnetic faces that serves as a planetary core, and in each of the twelve rounds of the game, you add a magnetic landscape tile to your world to create habitat regions. Five types of landscape are included in the game, and starting in the third round animal species cards are awarded to the player who meets the landscape condition stated on that card:

• Largest region of landscape type X that touches landscape type Y,
• Largest region of landscape type X that doesn't touch landscape type Y, or
• Most regions of landscape type X.

In case of a tie, the animal card moves to the next round, giving everyone a second chance to call dibs on the walruses.


Ready to divvy out the animals in round 10


Each player also has a secret landscape card that gives you 0-10 points at game's end depending on how many triangles of that landscape type end up on your planet, and that landscape type determines how many points you score for each animal card that you collect. If the animal is from the same landscape as your secret card, you score only 1 point for it; otherwise, you score 2 points.

This scoring rule keeps you from mindlessly focusing on collecting one type of landscape at the expense of all others. You want to both maximize your endgame scoring and scoop up as many animal cards as possible, but you can't do it all, which is a basic feature of good games. The rules pull you in different directions, creating tension over what to do and driving interaction with others since you're competing for the same things and one or more players will lose out to the benefit of someone else.

Planet isn't complicated, but your playing time will differ depending on how much you want to grab other players' worlds and spin them around to determine who has how much of this and that landscape ahead of each epoch of animal distribution. You could calculate every possibility for who can score what depending on which landscape tiles were revealed at the start of a round, but I predict you'd catch a dodecahedron in the face before too much calculation ensued — which means you'll have to wing it to some degree, slapping on the tiles, then seeing how you measure up, each creator in a universe apart from others, ideally satisfied with what you have since it's the only world you've got...


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Mon Apr 22, 2019 4:47 pm
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Game Overview: Covet All the Onions in Heul Doch! Mau Mau

W. Eric Martin
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I've been away from the game previewing scene for a month, but it feels like forever, seeing so many games pass me by while instead I've focused on packing my house for a move in early April, i.e. this week.

Finally, at the last moment possible, I cleared space among the boxes and filmed an overview of Heul Doch! Mau Mau, a card game from Leo Colovini and Ravensburger that debuted in Germany in January 2019. (At NY Toy Fair 2019 in February, I asked the North American branch of Ravensburger whether it planned to release the game in the U.S., and they had not heard of it yet, so assume not.)

Heul Doch! features two of the defining characteristics of a Colovini design:

1. Minimal rules. Boiled down, the game is Crazy Eights with a couple of twists — but those twists are what make the game not Crazy Eights and therefore something more enjoyable. Each player has their own discard pile and a hand of four cards. To play on your discard pile, you must match the color or number of the card currently on top of it; if you have a face-down card on top of your discard pile, you can play (almost) any card you want on that pile. At the end of the game, you sum the numbers of the cards in your pile and score that many points. Simple!

2. Player interaction. Colovini's designs could never be mistaken for multi-player solitaire. Your actions in one of his games always impinge on the actions of whoever follows you and usually all other players. In this game, if the card you want to play could be played on the discard pile of your left- or right-hand neighbor, then you can't play it on your own pile. For example, if my L neighbor has a green 6 and my R neighbor a yellow 5, then I can't play a yellow, green, 5 or 6 card on my pile. I can play such cards on their pile instead, and I can always choose to play a matching card on their pile even if I could play a different card on my own pile.


Heul Doch! over dinner, with the special action cards included


Why would I give them points? Because you have to play a card, and if you can't play a matching card on your own pile and can't or don't want to play on a neighbor's pile, then you must play a card from your hand face down on your own pile. Your neighbors can't mess with that card, which is effectively a joker, but at the end of play, you count the number of face-down cards in your pile, then discard all of that number from your pile. Collect six face-down cards, then you must discard all 6s in your pile before counting your score. In some games, I've lost nothing and in other games I've lost more than thirty points. Good luck winning in the latter situation!

You have minimal control over your fortunes in Heul Doch! — or at least you might think that you do, but you have more control than you initially realize. I've now played thirteen times on a review copy from Ravensburger, all with three and four players, and I've grown better at realizing how to play to my advantage: when to play face down, when to give cards away, and when to give someone points in a situation that will hurt them more than help them. That said, you're still greatly affected by the luck of the cards, and sometimes you have no choice but to reach for the tissue included in the box to dry your tears before taking what you hope is the least worst option...


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Tue Apr 2, 2019 4:00 pm
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GAMA Trade Show 2019 Overview Videos: Pipeline, Sorcerer, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth, and Dozens More

W. Eric Martin
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Today I've been focusing on publishing game overview videos that we recorded during our GAMA Trade Show 2019 livestream.

We recorded continually for 2.5 days, and now we've chopped those streams into bite-sized pieces focusing on specific titles or groups of related games from a publisher. I published forty(!) new overview videos today on our BGG Express YouTube channel, and while I could include all forty clips below, I'll instead highlight only a handful of them, focusing on larger titles that will be released in mid-2019. GTS serves as a preview showcase for such games, putting them in front of retailer eyes since those individuals will be placing orders for them in the near future.

Here's some of what they (and we) saw:



























We now have more than seventy videos in our GTS 2019 playlist, with more than forty videos still to be published. I aim to get all of those out by the end of March 2019, the earliest that we will ever have published all the videos from GAMA Trade Show, FIJ in Cannes, and Spielwarenmesse in Nürnberg. Splitting all of the convention coverage videos into their own BGG Express channel has proven to be a great way to consolidate that material and get it live on both YouTube and BGG faster, so kudos to Scott and Lincoln for making it happen!
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Tue Mar 26, 2019 7:38 pm
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