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

Archive for Game Previews

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Throwback Thursday: What Fresh Alchemy Is This? Element to Return in 2017

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Kalmbach Publishing Co., which acquired Rather Dashing Games in January 2016, plans to release a new edition of Mike Richie's Element on March 1, 2017.

In this game, first released in 2008 by Mindtwister USA, players place element stones on the game board and use the power of those stones to move and create walls, with the goal of immobilizing the opponent. When first released, Element was for two players only; this new version modifies the rules of the original game, with slightly different powers for earth and wind from what I recall, in addition to allowing for games with up to four players. With more than two players, your goal is now to trap the player to your right. Trap anyone else, and you have made them the victor!

I reviewed the original version of Element on Boardgame News on March 4, 2009, so I thought I'd share that piece to describe the original gameplay in detail, after which I'll note changes in the 2017 edition:

•••


Let's kick off this review with two confessions:

1. I know game designer Mike Richie personally as we used to attend the same karate dojo in Rhode Island. I even attended his wedding reception when he married his beautiful bride, Holly. And while he participated in a few of the game sessions that I hosted in the early 2000s, I don't recall him expressing an interest in game design. Apparently I had blocked out sour memories as in one email note late in 2008 he wrote, "Thanks for playing that awful game of mine at your party." No problem, Mike, although I haven't the foggiest idea what your design was.

The past aside, Richie now has a professional release from Mindtwister USA, which is surely a step up from a random prototype shown at a game night. Or at least that's the hope, which leads to the next confession…

2. When I first saw Richie's Element, I shuddered. The faux primitive art, the 1970s earthtones, the huge block of scrolling text a là Star Wars on the front cover — oh, this didn't look promising. Worst of all was the theme: Sorcerers using the four elemental powers of wind, water, earth and fire to do whatever it is sorcerers do. Gem collecting, palace building, and king replacing have all been beaten into the ground by German designers and publishers, but for sheer yawn potential, nothing beats yet another superficial painting of an abstract strategy game with the four elements.

Thankfully the game turned out to be decent and not the train wreck I had feared, with the elements proving to be more than mere coloring in the design.

Your goal in Element is to surround the other player's sorcerer and prevent it from moving. Play starts with the sorcerers nearly head-to-head in the center of the game board and a number of element tokens in their starting positions.

On a turn, you roll four dice: One side has the word "Element," one shows a wild symbol, and the other four each show one of the element icons. Each element has a different effect on the game board, and each element can replace one other: Fire replaces air, which replaces earth, which replaces water, which replaces fire. After rolling the dice, you'll place stones of the proper colors on the game board, replacing other stones as allowed and if you desire to do so. You can also move your sorcerer one space in any direction like a king in chess, with each "Element" word granting you an additional movement. As for what the elements do:

Fire spreads. If you place fire orthogonally adjacent to another fire already on the board, then the space on the opposite side of the existing fire also catches fire, assuming that space is empty or holds air.

Water flows. When you place water orthogonally adjacent to existing water, then you can make those pieces "flow" across the game board, taking right-angle turns as desired or required and putting out fires along the way.

Air enables. Air creates strong winds, so a sorcerer can travel over spaces that contain air in addition to making any other moves allowed on that turn.

Earth sits there and looks pensive. Place three earth stones in a horizontal or vertical line, and those stones can no longer be eroded by air, thereby creating a permanent wall on the game board.


Midgame on the 2008 version of Element


The game play in Element is similar to Knizia's Genesis in that a player's possible actions on a turn depend on the roll of the dice. Since your goal is to surround the other player, ideally you'll roll lots of elements that let you make such plays. At the same time, however, that player is attempting to surround you, so you might need additional movement to get out of potential traps or to create additional space around you by, say, encouraging a river to flow across the board. Over time the board becomes more crowded, with earthen walls creating spots that are permanently out of play, that block the spread of fire and prevent air from coasting you to safety. From the midgame on, you need to assess how much at risk you are each turn. Says Richie, "I've noticed that people tend to simply not notice all of the options on the board at any given time. If there is a serious discrepancy in the level of players, the weaker one will frequently not realize how close they are to being trapped."

To some degree, Element reminds me of Go, a game that I've played only a handful of times, as the game board starts in a nearly empty position. Your goal is to trap the opponent, yet he has so many degrees of freedom that you're not sure how to begin. One fire, one earth – they're meaningless on their own, but you lay them down anyway. As the turns pass, areas of the board start getting cut off. You maneuver your sorcerer a little at a time, trying to keep a path of air nearby so that you can jump to a fresh, unpolluted area as needed. In some ways, the game feels like two disjoint contests as you rarely move your sorcerer to an area where the other sorcerer is or has been; you've been trying to trap him, after all, so why enter an area that's already laced with land mines?


Playing with my exchange student Seung Chan in 2008 or 2009


While Element's game play is solid — at least for those willing to endure the capriciousness of the dice and to keep their plans flexible — the graphic design of the game is a mixed bag. As noted earlier, the cover seems like a throwback to decades past and not in a good way. The sorcerers are chess pieces, most likely used because they could be purchased cheaply, but because they're not generic like meeples and wooden cubes, their presence distracts you from the differentness of Element, from the mechanisms that make this game unique and challenging. The bags holding the glass stones are a classy touch, but they seem out of place given the rest of the graphic design. The rules are packed chock-a-block with text, using twice as many words as needed to get the rules across, so they're less clear than they could be; one plus for the rules, though, are the numerous illustrations that demonstrate the use of the elements and movement of the sorcerer.

In addition to discovering a good game, I've perhaps learned a lesson about judging titles based on their appearance and theme. As Element demonstrates, even the most tired of themes can be used in meaningful ways. Oh, who am I kidding? Down with ugly games about gem collecting!

•••


Ha, what a hater that old Eric was! He even titled this review "Fugly Fun" when he posted it on BGG back in 2009.

Aside from the change in player count, the biggest difference in the 2017 edition of Element is that players no longer roll dice to determine what they have to work with on their turn. Instead a player decides to draw 0-4 element stones at random from a bag, while being able to move their sage 5-1 spaces each turn, with the total of those two numbers equaling five. After a player draws stones, the player places stones and moves in whatever order they like.

Other changes: Earth now becomes a ridge and is therefore non-erodible by wind by placing a second earth stone on top of an existing earth stone, and if you connect this ridge to other earth stones, then those can't be eroded either, slowly creating barriers to movement as a player's sage cannot move diagonally through a pass in the mountains should one of those mountains contain a ridge.

When you stack one wind token on another — or possibly multiple tokens — you create a whirlwind that allows a sage to move multiple spaces by passing over it.

Finally, the graphics have been overhauled by RDG partner Grant Wilson, with a new cover, new component design, new game board design, and non-chess pieces for sages. Hallelujah!

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Thu Dec 29, 2016 1:00 pm
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Fleeting Flickers of a Flick 'Em Up: Dead of Winter Trailer

W. Eric Martin
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Is everybody filled with the holiday spirit? If not, perhaps this teaser video from Pretzel Games for Flick 'Em Up: Dead of Winter will help you embrace the spirit of the season, that is, one of unending hunger and gnawing on bones.

That said, Flick 'Em Up: Dead of Winter will be released in mid-2017, so the only winter in sight will be in the southern hemisphere. Whatever — I suppose "dead of winter" is more of a state of mind than a physical condition, and with the proper outlook we can enjoy being dead of winter no matter the time of year.




For those who want something more solid on which to attach thoughts of games, here's a shot from SPIEL 2016 of some prototype components from the game, which is still being developed:


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Sat Dec 24, 2016 6:14 pm
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Throwback Thursday: Splicing Past to Present in Gene Pool

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In November 2016, designer Mark Goadrich announced that a new edition of his card game Gene Pool was available through The Game Crafter, with new artwork by Ariel Seoane. Goadrich first released Gene Pool in a 200-copy edition in 2006 through his own Goadrich Games, followed by two hundred more copies in a second printing in 2009.

When I saw this announcement, Alec Guinness' voice immediately popped to mind: "Now, that's a name I've not heard in a long time. A long time." You see, before I started writing for BoardGameGeek in January 2011, I ran my own site — BoardgameNews.com — for four years, starting in November 2006 when BGN founder Rick Thornquist decided he wanted to move on to other things. At that time, I had contributed a handful of articles to BGN, these being company profiles combined with game reviews, with one of those articles profiling Goadrich and Gene Pool.

To celebrate this new edition, I thought I'd reprint that profile, first published on BGN on Nov. 1, 2006. It's fascinating to see how much work I put into this profile, which mirrors the many articles that I wrote for trade publications throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s. I haven't done something like this in a long time...

•••


Company profile—Goadrich Games / Review—Gene Pool

If you wanted to create an encyclopedia of the types of game players, you're unlikely to find a better example of the "new Eurogame fan to game designer" archetype than Mark Goadrich.

Goadrich grew up playing chess, cribbage, euchre, and the standard assortment of abstract and party games with his family. "It wasn't until graduate school when a friend showed me Ricochet Robots, quickly followed by Settlers, that I was hooked on the Euro game craze," he says.

Like most newcomers to the world of designer games, Goadrich started with the classic gateway games, then moved on to more involved titles. Gateway games are sometimes derided as being "dumbed down" for stupid people, but Goadrich — who received his Ph.D. in computer science in 2006 — has a hard time buying that argument. "By working up from light to heavy games," he says, "I'm trying to follow the way most fields of education are hierarchically organized, starting with the fundamentals and then building to the more complex advanced material."

"Games like No Thanks, Bohnanza, For Sale, and King Me! are great introductory games," he explains. "They deal with one major mechanic per game and are very quick and elegant, like a powerful short story. It's helpful to have some experience with these one-shot mechanics before mixing them together and jumping into Power Grid, Reef Encounter, or Scepter of Zavandor — great novel-length epics, but very intimidating if you have little gaming context. Of course, you can stop anywhere you like. I love the simple and elegant 30-minute fillers, but I'm also learning there's a lot to offer with a well-designed two-hour game that I never would have had the patience for had I not played the earlier fillers and Spiel des Jahres winners."

After playing Carcassonne in 2003, Goadrich awoke the following morning with a new game erupting from his head like Athena, and game design has been his hobby ever since. "I took a risk and went to Protospiel 2004 with a friend and a few prototypes in hand, not knowing what to expect," he says. "I've been back ever since because of the people I've met and the amount of knowledge about game design you can gain just by playing other prototypes."

Given his educational background, hearing Goadrich talk about game design won't come as a surprise. "In my mind, designing games is a lot like computer programming," he says. "There's iteration, game states, inputs and outputs, although compilation time is much longer... Seeing a game come to life is fascinating for me, where playtesting is an evolutionary process full of punctuated equilibrium, and the driving force of the game evolution are the elusive goals of fun and game balance. None of my games have stayed the same once they jumped out of my head and into a prototype form, and that's a good thing."

2016 logo
"The goal for Goadrich Games is to put out high-quality, small print-runs for my game designs while staying on a small budget; any game I publish in this format will probably have no more than 200 copies total," he says.

Gene Pool, his first published title, sold out its 200-copy print run in October 2006, and Goadrich is now hoping to find a publisher to pick up the game and deliver it to a broader audience. "While taking a game from idea to actually assembling 200 copies made me very proud, I find the game design side much more intriguing," he says.

As for future plans, Goadrich says, "I do have a few other prototypes nearing completion: one about elections on a small island (which some playtesters have called "Die Macher in half-an-hour"), and a set-collecting resource-management game about the black market antiquity trade (which used to be about collecting African violets). I hope to have both wrapped up by 2007 and either make the rounds with publishers or have them come out in another small edition from Goadrich Games; both prototypes have around 100 cards, a few plastic cubes and a scoreboard, making them very suitable for a small print-run."

Gene Pool

Mark Goadrich's first self-published game, Gene Pool, is a simple and clever two-player card game in which you try to manipulate a sequence of genes to match combinations on your scoring cards.

"Gene Pool isn't the first game I've designed, but it is the first one which felt ready to be published," says Goadrich. "The idea for Gene Pool came on an afternoon drive from Minneapolis to Madison from my wife's suggestion to design a game about viruses. While thinking about a larger virus game with CDC, biohazards, etc, what struck me was the way that viruses can take over cells and rewrite your DNA while your body tries to fight back. This was the inspiration for having two players both modify a common sequence of DNA, which turned out to be a great little puzzle on its own and became Gene Pool."

The DNA sequence in Gene Pool mimics the one in the human body. The game includes two types of Base Pair cards: one with Adenine/Thymine and the other with Guanine/Cytosine. The cards have giant letters (A or T, G or C) in opposite corners. You start the game by shuffling and inverting three of each type of Base Pair, then laying them out in a row. Reading the row from left to right creates a gene sequence, say, GCAGTT; reading the row upside-down inverts that sequence: AACTGC.

During the game, players take actions to alter this gene sequence. You can insert a Base Pair card from your hand into the middle of the sequence and snip a gene off either end; you can add a Base Pair to either end and delete from the middle; you can mutate one Base Pair card into another by playing one from your hand; or you can invert a section of the sequence, rotating one to five cards around an axis. "The insertion, deletion, mutation and inversion actions are taken directly from how DNA really changes and mutates in our cells over time," says Goadrich.


Ready to begin play (2006 edition)


Each player starts with one of each Base Pair in hand, along with a Gene Research card worth one year. Gene Research cards have a sequence of four or five genes associated with a particular disease; cards with four genes are worth one year, cards with five genes worth two years. If at the end of your turn, part of the gene sequence in either direction matches a Gene Research card you hold, you can claim that claim; whoever claims nine years' worth of cards first wins the game.

Two other actions available to players are drawing a Base Pair card, which allows you to prepare for future turns, and drawing a Gene Research card, which seems like a desperation move because you automatically draw one if you have none in hand at the end of your turn.

Gene Pool is easy to learn and play; the listed playing time is 30 minutes, but my games rarely took more than 10. Luck of the draw can be a factor, especially when you're playing for the first time and don't know the Gene Research deck. Once you've played a few times, you can sometimes guess what your opponent is trying to create and thwart him while simultaneously working toward your own goals. You can try to hoard one type of Base Pairs, but this tactic usually doesn't frustrate an opponent for long.

Aside from the appealing game play, Gene Pool also raises the bar for what buyers can expect from a self-published game. While the tuckbox is clearly a cut-and-glue job, the cards and rules are full-color and extremely attractive. "Gene Pool is all hand-assembled by myself and my wife, without whom this game could never have been made," says Goadrich. "We decided that if we were going to make some copies, we'd make them as professional-looking as possible but at the same time not go into debt doing so, thus the appeal of the postcard printing and die-press punching option."

Goadrich has detailed his game production experience on the Board Games Designer's Forum, and his posts are recommended for anyone interested in self-publication. [Editor's note: These posts don't seem to be available any longer.] "It's much more work that I thought it would be when I started getting serious about self-publishing, and I've made mistakes and learned lessons from this that will make the next attempt much easier, such as to never use the die-press machine again," he says. "Over the 200 games, we'll have made over 2,600 punches. Next time it's off to a card-finishing place that will cut out the cards for us."

Ideally, another publisher will pick up Gene Pool and republish it for a wider audience. The game has a built-in educational appeal, but unlike many games designed for didactic purposes, Gene Pool is actually fun. Who knew such a thing was possible?

Designer Mark Goadrich with copy #1/200 in 2006
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Thu Dec 22, 2016 1:00 pm
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SPIEL 2016 XIX: Guilds, IKAN, Creature College, Gobbit Angry Birds, and The Game: Extreme

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• Yes, I have still a few more game overview videos from SPIEL 2016, such as this one in which designer Steffen Benndorf explains The Game: Extreme from Nürnberger-Spielkarten-Verlag. What's more, he talks about his design philosophy in general and how practically every publisher in Germany refused to publish Qwixx.





• Setting up interviews at SPIEL 2016 can be an interesting challenge. I didn't have many open slots remaining when Giochi Uniti contacted me about interviewing designer Christian Giove about Guilds, and Giove was arriving by train in the middle of the fair, so in the end I caught pretty much right when he arrived at the show and he had to jump on camera immediately. No rest for the creative!





• French publisher/distributor Morning (né Morning Players) had a few recently released and upcoming games on display at SPIEL 2016, two of which I actually recorded previews for at Gen Con 2016. Still need to post those, too! Here, though, is an overview of IKAN, in which one player builds a labyrinth while others watch, after which the labyrinth is hidden and players have a limited amount of time to find the items they need, locate the treasure, and slay the monster that awaits...somewhere.





• In a world filled with pattern-recognition+slapping games, Gobbit Angry Birds from Morning is another one. I need to do an overview of these types of games at some point as I tend to love them, but other players fit them hit or miss and examining their differences might prove interesting.





Orhan Ertughrul's Creature College from his own Happy Otter Games was listed on the SPIEL 2015 Preview as an item being, well, previewed at that show, but I didn't know it would be present at SPIEL 2016. Turns out that I saw Orhan looking friendly and inviting in the HOG booth after I filmed something else nearby, so I took a seat with him to get an overview of this game. Being friendly and inviting will do that for you sometimes!

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Fri Dec 16, 2016 1:00 pm
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SPIEL 2016 XVIII: LudiCreations — Alexandria, IUNU, Long Live the Queen, and Mr. Cabbagehead's Garden Game

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So I was cranking along with the game overview videos from SPIEL 2016, publishing them at a decent clip right up to the point that I left for BGG.CON 2016 in mid-November, then I fell through a hole and forgot about the dozen or so that still remained. Thankfully, most of these videos are for titles that haven't yet been released, which means they still qualify as preview videos. Yay!

Today we have a quartet of previews for games coming from LudiCreations, two of which originated as self-published designs from Todd Sanders' Air and Nothingness Press, as was the case with They Who Were 8, which LudiCreations released in a new version at SPIEL 2016. Sanders' Mr. Cabbagehead's Garden Game is a solitaire game that mimics the look of a 19th century Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog.





• The other Sanders title coming from LudiCreations is IUNU, with "Iunu" being the original name of one of the oldest cities in ancient Egypt, a city that the Greeks renamed Heliopolis. In this set-collection game, 2-4 players return to those ancient times when everyone worried about collecting the right cards to make a name for themselves.





Alexandria from Babis Giannios has an entrancing setting: Players are characters in the Royal Library of Alexandria at the moment that it's started to burn, and each character is concerned about different things that will drive their actions during the subsequent game. One might try to help the others, whether they want help or not, while another wants to save particular rooms. The library burns over the course of the game, and when you all perish in the final room, whoever has done the best job will win (but still be dead).





Long Live the Queen, first released in Japan by Circle 3D6 in 2014 as Save the Queen, is a two-player game in which you are neither saving the queen nor helping her live a long time, but are instead trying to place your own butt on the throne as her successor. To do this, you need to collect might, wisdom, and wealth tokens — three of each — or else assassinate the other candidate, who happens to be your sister and a fellow princess. Them's the breaks, sis!

Long Live the Queen will be released in two versions, one using the original Japanese art and another using dieselpunk art and a setting to match. Why two versions? Because the LudiCreations team likes dieselpunk and wanted to place this game in that setting, while also acknowledging that some percentage of the audience would want the original look. Which one will prove more popular? Give us twelve months for publication and sales, and then we'll have the data on hand.

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Wed Dec 14, 2016 1:00 pm
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Game Overview: Tintas, or Five Easy Pieces (and Two That Are Much Harder to Get)

W. Eric Martin
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Abstract strategy games don't get a great deal of coverage in this space, not because I dislike them — this is true only in Bizarro World — but because it's hard to talk about them in any detail. They typically have no story, no setting, no world in which the action takes place, which means that the "action" all boils down to the movement of this piece or that over a (usually quite attractive) game board. Sure, you can say the same for all kinds of non-abstract strategy games, but it's easier to riff on diseases and zombies and fairies that collect bugs in atriums and pineapple slices being placed on ham sandwiches so that's what I spend most of my time doing.

That said, here I am now talking about Dieter Stein's Tintas, which debuted from German publisher Clemens Gerhards at SPIEL 2016. The publisher, also known as Gerhards Spiel und Design, releases nothing other than wooden games and puzzles, with these items having a fairly high price tag on them. Under one such title on BGG's SPIEL 2016 Preview, a user wrote, "Maybe the picture doesn't show all components, but 20 cones and a board for 45€? Is that correct?" Yes, indeed it is. Their titles aren't for everyone — honestly, which game is? — but the market for such specialty items definitely exists, something I learned in the early 1990s when I worked in a game store selling exquisite chess sets and beautiful wooden backgammon sets that retailed for hundreds of dollars. The game market is a diverse beast, and one should not assume that one's tastes (and budget) are universally applicable.

Tintas has a straightforward goal — collect all seven pieces of one color to win — but naturally this goal is complicated by your opponent doing the exact same thing. Each piece or set of pieces that you take allows the other player to respond in kind, and if you're stopping them from collecting the final pieces they need, well, then you're probably not collecting what you want. Lots to ponder in this quick-playing game!


In the week since I recorded this video, I realized that I had forgotten to cover one topic, namely the breakdown of how someone won the game. If no one collects all seven pieces of one color, then the winner is the player who collects at least four pieces of each of at least four colors. The game includes seven pieces of seven colors, so if all of the pieces are removed from the board — that is, if no one wins instantly by bogarting a color — then someone will win through majorities, and this secondary goal is always present in your mind.

In practice, over a dozen games the breakdown of wins has been about even between collecting all and collecting most. The threat of an opponent grabbing the last couple of tokens they need for the instant win is always forefront in mind. Those locations become hot spots on the game board, glowing in your mind with giant Xs across them as you try to figure out how to use the opponent's desire for those tokens against them. Can you lure that player to do something that looks helpful to them while actually setting you up for a better position in the long run? The answer to that question partly depends on what you've already collected since the opponent has a few glowing Xs of their own, and those intersecting landmine maps light up the tension on the board, driving you to avoid disaster and aim for the security of most, but sometimes you take the wrong step and everything ends with a bang...
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Wed Dec 7, 2016 2:00 pm
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Game Overview: Jeju Island, or Walking the Beach and Picking Up Souvenirs

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I first saw Jeju Island, then called only Jeju, in 2014 in a crowdfunding campaign on Korean site Tumblbug, with designers Gary Kim, Yeon-Min Jung, and Jun-Hyup Kim trying to fund the publication of this game and two others — Bigside and Alice's Mad Burger Party — at the same time.

I wanted to back the project, partly because I love Gary Kim's Koryŏ and partly because I love getting something that's a mystery to me when I open the box. I almost never want to pick up games set in space or in fantasy worlds or in the Wild West, for example, because I already have a pretty good idea of what those games will feature. Sure, those fulfilled expectations are a plus for most people, but I like being surprised. When a new movie is announced by a director I enjoy, I avoid previews and read nothing about the movie because I know that I'm going to see it and I want to experience the newness of the movie in the theater itself rather than seeing bits of film repeated over and over again, then seeing them in context and going, "Oh, yeah, that bit."

But I wasn't sure whether the games would include English rules or how to pay in won, so inertia won out and the project ended and that was that — until Happy Baobab picked up the now-titled Play Jeju and released it at SPIEL 2015, where I recorded an overview video. Australian publisher Grail Games then picked it up for wider release in English, and now Jeju Island is everywhere, while of course still being in Korea as an actual place that folks can visit to carry out this game's actions in real life.

My Korean exchange student was quite surprised when I showed her the game as she had not expected to see Korean games or games showcasing parts of Korean life while visiting the U.S. It's nice to think about such things making their way around the world, giving us all a taste at home of places we might never see otherwise.

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Mon Dec 5, 2016 1:00 pm
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Game Preview: Pandemic Iberia, or Riding the Rails to Research Disease

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Matt Leacock's Pandemic is one of the four cornerstones of the modern game industry, the others being Catan, Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride.

While the original Pandemic design might not have been thought of as a formula or framework for future designs, Leacock and others have transformed it into one, with the heart of each Pandemic game being the brilliant use of the infection deck. Whenever an epidemic strikes, you inject a new location on the game board with something terrible, then you shuffle all of the revealed location cards and place them back on top of the infection deck, ready to be revealed again to escalate your current woes. You know where bad things will happen; you just don't know when and in which order. That simple mechanism mimics the behavior of actual epidemics, not to mention other catastrophes, to present players with a challenge that's simultaneously frightening and manageable.

Pandemic Iberia, co-designed with Jesús Torres Castro and published by Z-Man Games, uses this familiar formula, while adding historic twists appropriate to the game's setting in the mid-19th century. Air travel is out, while travel by train is in — assuming that you build the rails first, that is. You're not able to cure diseases outright, but you can at least research these diseases and lay the groundwork for future creative efforts by others, similar to how the original Pandemic has laid the groundwork for this creation, Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, and other titles still to come.

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Fri Dec 2, 2016 1:00 pm
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Game Overview: Dream Home, or Home Is Where the Points Are

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City-building is a common theme for board games for obvious reasons: Players can easily grasp the setting and goal, you can apply simple rules to building or resource acquisition that create the basic framework of a game, and people like putting stuff together and marveling at what they made.

Klemens Kalicki and REBEL.pl took these same concepts, but applied a scaled-down approach in Dream Home, which has each player creating their own home one room at a time. This process mimics reality only loosely since sometimes you'll be forced to add another bathroom to the house when you already have two or will find yourself holding a grand piano with no place to put it. Oh, well, just toss it away and get on to the next room. You have only twelve rounds in which to build, so there's no use crying over spilt Steinways...

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Game Previews at BGG.CON 2016: Room 25 Ultimate, Fugitive, Moa, One Card Wonder, Munchkin Collectible Card Game, Batman: The Animated Series Dice Game, and Much More

W. Eric Martin
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Apex
North Carolina
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• Let's continue a run-through of some of the forthcoming games available for a look-see at BGG.CON 2016, starting with one looked at and seen only by the press, this being Steve Jackson Games' Munchkin Collectible Card Game from Eric M. Lang and Kevin Wilson.

Lang presented the game in the BGG booth during the 2016 GAMA Trade Show, but here's my take for those who want it in writing: The Munchkin CCG is a 2-4 player battle that leans heavily on bluffing. The game will be sold in three starter packs — each with two pre-set decks of cards that feature a different hero, such as warrior vs. bard or thief vs. cleric — with booster packs of randomized cards being sold separately.

Each hero has a health value and a special ability; the warrior, for example, can zap a hero or monster for 1 damage. A la Hearthstone, players start at level 1 and advance one level a turn to a maximum of ten, although a SJG rep assures me that few games last that long.



Preparing for my turn at BGG.CON 2016


At the start of a turn, you get money from the bank up to whatever your current level is, untap everything, draw a card, place any cards in your stash into your hand, then start doing stuff.

On a turn, you can have at most one location in play, with any new one played replacing your existing one; you can have loot in play with star power up to your current level; you can play hirelings for defense; and you can play monsters to attack the opposing hero, but when you play a monster, you play it face down, placing zero or more coins on it. If the opponent wants to run away, which they can do once per turn, you get the coins back and place the monster face down in your stash. If they want to face the monster, you flip it over; if you didn't pay enough, you take one damage and lose the monster; if you did, the opponent can use hirelings, loot, or both to defend themselves against the monster; the opponent can also play mischief cards from hand to surprise you. If the monster lives, it goes to your stash, while any opposing hirelings and loot are tapped and unavailable for use later in the turn.

And this is where all the bluffing comes in, as with morphing creatures in Magic: The Gathering. Which monster do you want to play in which order? Once an opponent sees you have something, they get to guess whether you're attacking with that or something else. Can you psych them out to waste loot on Blandy McBlanderson so that you can punch through with something else? Can you do it again?



Sample cards from the bard deck; art not finished



If the opponent puts up no defense or you hit with more damage than the loot absorbs, you damage the hero, with the damage points piling up over time until one of you is dead.

Due to the constantly increasing levels, everything in the game scales up over time, but because of the nature of combat — one creature at a time, please — the board doesn't bog down with creature standoffs. The game is all about the solitary face-off and trying to prepare for it so that you don't get hurt too badly if you guess wrong. (You do get a mulligan at the start of play, allowing you to ditch high-cost cards to redraw so that you're not a punching bag for the first few rounds.)

The bard's power — tap to return a card from the stash to your hand — seemed odd given the nature of the game. If the bard bluffs and I run away, the bard gets the money back and can simply return the card to hand to play it out once again, which makes my running seem pointless, but I've played the game only once and don't know everything in the decks, so I could be talking through my hat here.



Sample cards from the thief deck; art not finished


• I also tried Batman: The Animated Series Dice Game, which debuted at BGG.CON 2016. This game is a reimplementation of Steve Jackson's Zombie Dice, with the players representing villains who are trying to swipe as much loot as possible without getting caught by Batman.

On a turn, a player takes three dice from the cup and rolls them. Set aside dice showing loot and Batman, then decide whether to reroll alarms. If you do reroll, first draw dice from the cup so that you again have three dice. Keep playing until you either have three or more Batman symbols — which means you were caught and score nothing — or you decide to stop; if you stop, score one point for each loot.

The villain powers provide some variety and push players in different directions during the game. Poison Ivy can ignore one blue Batman, Catwoman doubles blue bills, Joker scores extra for each set of dice on the table, and Riddler rolls four dice on the first turn, then decides what to keep and what to return to the cup. No heavy decisions here, with this being a press-your-luck affair in a race to collect thirty loot first.




• In one of the exhibitor halls, Matagot showed off Room 25 Ultimate, which takes the Room 25 base game and Room 25: Season 2 expansion and shoves them in a single box.

Some small changes were made to details of the game, but the gameplay remains the same, with everyone trapped and looking for a way out through Room 25 — assuming they can find it in time.



Couldn't avoid glare with this shiny box and multiple spot lights!


Tim Fowers ran a Kickstarter for his two-player cat-and-mouse chase game Fugitive in mid-2016 — collecting more than $200K in the process — but I was oblivious to this design until I ran across the final product on display at BGG.CON 2016. So many games to see!

In the game, one player is the fugitive and is trying to play cards to reach #42 and escape, while the other player hunts for the first, revealing cards along the way, which then provides clues toward which other cards might be in play.



Some of the cards in the game, showing the final art


One Card Wonder is a Nathaniel Levan design that existed only as a box and a framed piece of art in the APE Games booth as the components were currently residing somewhere else, but APE's Kevin Brusky conveyed an overview of the game to me, and now I share one with you:

Quote:
In One Card Wonder, each player receives a card that shows a wonder of the ancient world and a set of support buildings. The multiple stages of the wonder must be built from the ground up, while the buildings may be built in any order. Players have four worker meeples and a personal supply of resources, and a general supply of resources also exists. The resource supply bag moves from player to player to indicate who is the active player.

On a turn, you take one of four actions. You may draw three cubes from the cloth supply bag, then add one to your personal supply, placing the other two in the general supply. You may take all resources of one type from the general supply. (You may hold only eight resources at a time in your supply, so if after drawing or taking you have more than eight resources, you must return some to the general supply.) You may build a level of the wonder or a building by paying its resource cost from your supply; your workers mark individual buildings as you build them, unlocking abilities. Finally, you may sell pairs of matching goods to the supply in exchange for coins. Coins can be used as a wild resource, but they also appear in the cost of some wonders. Resources sold or used to build are returned to the supply bag.

In games of four or more players, players may also trade. Trading occurs off-turn, that is, it can involve anyone except the active player. You may negotiate and trade freely with other players, but you must stop negotiating once you receive the supply bag and become the active player. The longer you spend on your turn, the more opportunity your opponents have to make deals.

The first player to complete their wonder wins!




• Other upcoming games on display or available for demo at BGG.CON included:



Moa reimplements Martin Wallace's Liberté to retell the conflict between birds and mammals in New Zealand;
due out from APE Games at SPIEL 2017 in October



Dark is the Night from APE Games pits hunter in firelight against monster in the dark on a board much smaller than their convention demo



Issue double-sided commands Major General: Duel of Time, with one command affecting each player as long as they're visible



Tiny Epic Quest was being played on the Gamelyn Games table every day



Artwork from Days of Wonders' Yamataï, due out in May 2017



3 to 4 Headed Monster, released by Tasty Minstrel Games after first being announced in 2014



Other TMG offerings newly available at BGG.CON 2016: The Oracle of Delphi, Orléans: Invasion,
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