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Game Preview: Jaws, or Please Stop Boat-Shaming Quint!

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Summer has just started in the northern hemisphere, so it's time to break out your fake fins and start terrorizing others when you visit the beach.

Alternatively, you can get your fill of sharky fun with JAWS, which debuts on the shelves of the Target retail chain on Sunday, June 23, 2019. As with 2018's Villainous and Jurassic Park: Danger! Adventure Strategy Game, JAWS is being brought to market by Prospero Hall (the pseudonym of Forrest-Pruzan Creative) and Ravensburger.

In this 2-4 player game, one player takes on the role of the shark, while the 1-3 other players represent Brody, Hooper, and Quint, with all of the humans being part of the game no matter how many players you have. The complete game is played out over two acts, with Act 1 taking place on Amity Island, with the shark trying to eat as many people as possible before the humans can impale it with two barrels. The more the shark eats, the more abilities it has in Act 2 and the less gear the human crew has available to itself for the final face-off on the Orca. If the humans can deal 18 damage to the shark before it either kills all the humans or completely destroys the boat, they win.

At least for now. You know the sequels are inevitable, right? I can't wait to make psychic attacks against Michael Caine!

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Sun Jun 23, 2019 6:09 pm
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Game Preview from Origins 2019: Letter Jam, or Piecing Your Words Together One Clue at a Time

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What's the longest, most specific word you can create with the letters E, I, M, R, T, and a joker, with each of these letters being available to you as many times as you want and with the joker representing the same thing each time it's used in this word (should you use it at all)?

I was presented with this situation recently in Letter Jam, a co-operative word deduction game from newcomer Ondra Skoupý and publisher Czech Games Edition. I played Letter Jam twice in near-final prototype form at Origins Game Fair 2019, was offered a mock-up copy from that fair for further playing, played twice more on Sunday night after packing up the BGG booth and having dinner, then played twice more since I returned home.

Like Codenames, the 2015 deduction game that propelled CGE into the party game market, Letter Jam inspires cleverness in both the clue giver and the clue receiver. You're presented with an unusual situation — a situation similar to what you'll see in other playings of this game, but a situation unique to these particular circumstances — and you must create a clue that takes advantage of that situation as best as possible.

Each player in Letter Jam is trying to guess the letters spread face down before them in order to guess the word they were given at the start of the game. Only one letter a time is visible from each word, and these letters are visible to everyone other than the person who "owns" the letter.

In more detail, at the start of play, each player places their leftmost letter in a stand facing everyone else, with dummy letters added to the table so that six letters are visible no matter the number of players. An asterisk representing the joker is placed in the middle of the table. All players think of clues that use letters owned by other players, letters owned by dummy players, and the joker, then they say how long their clue word is, how many players' letters are used (but not which players and how often those letters are used), how many dummy players' letters are used, and whether the joker is used. Anyone can throw out clue parameters, then players debate whose clue they should use.

So what ten-letter clue did I give in the picture below that used all the available letters and the joker?




"Millimeter."

Note that you don't say your clue word. Instead, you spell out the word letter by letter by placing numbered tokens next to the letter or joker being used. This means I placed the 1 by "M", the 2 by "I", the 3 and 4 by the joker, and so on. (The mock-up game that I have includes only tokens numbered 1-8, so I just pointed at the letters while saying "Nine" and "Ten".)

Each player whose letter was used — all of them in this four-player game — writes down all that they know from what they see, so the player with an "M" would write _I**I_ETER on their personal note sheet, while the player with the "R" would write MI**IMETE_. Ideally you can give a clue that allows each other player to determine with certainty what their letter is. If they do, they put their letter face down on the table — without looking at it! — then place the next letter in their letter row in their stand; if they aren't confident about what the letter is, they might write a few guesses next to the clue word so that they can better narrow down their choices with the next clue they receive.

By the final round of the game, ideally you know all your letters and can anagram them into a word. (If you guess your letters before game's end, you have a chance of earning bonus letters.) You don't necessarily have to create the same word that you were given; if you receive the letters ABDER, for example, you can spell three different words, and any one of them counts for the victory condition. If you goof up on something, as with my notes below in which I recorded GASN, then realized that I couldn't possibly create a word with the fifth letter, you can claim the joker or a bonus letter from the center of the table and overlay one of your letters so that you can form a word.


Wrong guess in the first row! What other words take the form of F*O_?


Letter Jam is a phenomenally smart design. As with Codenames and to some degree Decrypto, you need to give clues to your fellow players that work on multiple layers. Longer words tend to be better for clues because they'll give players more to work with, but sometimes you just can't make it happen! If you're staring at five consonants like F, M, C, G, and W, you could use the joker to clue two people in with the word MIMIC, but you might be better off hoping that someone else can step with a clue of their own.

The more often you give clues, though, the less you learn about your own letters, so you need everyone to participate. You want to use as many player letters as possible, but of equal importance is giving them a clue distinctive enough that people can make a leap, then move on to their next letter. (In a six-player game, I gave a clue of LACTATE that let all five of my teammates guess their letter, and I felt like cheering.) This keeps everyone moving toward victory, but it also just gives players a different assortment of letters each round. In my six games, the worst experience has been getting a couple of short clues that told no one anything and left us staring at the same letters as before.

You're also incentivized to use the dummy player letters, should have fewer than six players, because if you use all of the letters stacked before a dummy, you receive an additional clue token that gives all players one more round in which to deduce what they have.


Three dummy players in a three-player game


To make one more comparison with Codenames, Letter Jam is highly group dependent. I played a game with my ten-year-old son, for example, so the three adults at the table had to pitch their clues toward his age range. During a demo game at Origins, I realized after giving a clue of SUFFERS that I could have given the more detailed clue (sans joker for the R) of SUFFUSES, but a couple of players were having trouble figuring things out — not deducing their letter from the clue of _CON_C, for example — so a clue of SUFFUSES probably would have been as useless as my clue of SUFFERS. So much suffering in that game...

In another demo game at Origins, I hit upon the perfect clue for my four teammates, but I could not possibly give that clue as it was a word I would have used only among people I know extremely well. So be it. Better to lose the game than create a bad reputation for you and your employer — and in the end we all deduced our words anyway.

While Letter Jam shares many traits with Codenames, it's not comparable in ease of play. Each player has to know what they're doing, and if someone can't figure out a letter or two, then all you can do is throw more clues at them or try to race through your own letters so that you can pile bonus letters onto the table that they can use at game's end. If a player can't come up with a clue longer than four letters, at some point you shrug and say go ahead because you need everyone to give a clue in order to unlock a bonus clue round — and maybe that four-letter word will help more than you think. AMOK would be a wonderful clue, for example, as long as it doesn't include a joker because everyone should be able to figure out their letter from seeing _MOK, A_OK, AM_K, or AMO_, right? That's the hope anyway...


Paul Grogan from Gaming Rules! teaches Letter Jam at Origins 2019
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Thu Jun 20, 2019 9:00 pm
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Game Preview: Black Angel, or Technicolor Trials in a Not-Too-Distant Future

W. Eric Martin
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In my coverage of Origins Game Fair 2019, I previewed Ishtar and Caravan, both of which will be available for purchase at Gen Con 2019, and I wrote up Copenhagen: Roll and Write, which will be available for demo at Gen Con 2019 ahead of a SPIEL '19 release. (I initially thought C:RAW would be a Gen Con 2019 release, but a game being "available" at a show means different things for different people. Lesson re-learned.)

With BGG's Gen Con 2019 Preview now live, it's time to kick off the previews for that show in a larger way — and you're not likely to find a larger game debuting at Gen Con 2019 than Pearl Games' Black Angel from the design team of Sébastien Dujardin, Xavier Georges, and Alain Orban. This game has been in the works for more than six years and was on many "most anticipated" lists for 2017 and 2018 when the game seemed to be nearing completion, so when Dujardin offered me a preview copy at Spielwarenmesse in February 2019, I couldn't pass up the chance to try it out.


Even with only two players, you need a lot of room (non-final components)


I've now played Black Angel six times and had my head broken more than that many times when I discovered that my plans had gone awry, whether due to an opponent taking the die or space that I needed, or the Black Angel traveling through space on the game board, or my poorly calculated efforts as to what I needed to do to make something happen.

You take lots of microturns in Black Angel, but they're not microturns in the sense of Splendor because those microturns compound on one another in complex ways. You often have immediate goals — getting robots, removing debris, taking a certain colored action so that you acquire a mission card of that color so that you can use that card to activate specific technology on the subsequent turn — but layered on top of those are more long-term goals, with you establishing a mission on one turn that you likely won't use for at least ten more turns, at least not if you want to maximize your points from activating that mission.

You're somewhat at the mercy of the die rolls, yet not really given the vast number of rolls you and other players take in the game. You can purchase — well, conduct a forced sale of — an opponent's die to get the thing you need, but they can do the same to you, of course, possibly leaving you to scramble for a back-up plan, then another, then another. You can adjust the value of your own dice, but only if you have the material on hand to do so. You need to be flexible in your plans, but you do need plans in the first place in order to keep yourself from merely jumping from one rock to another only to find themselves disappearing beneath you.


Ravagers overwhelm every sector of the ship, with damage everywhere (non-final components)


Black Angel isn't hard to learn. Each individual action is easy to understand, but the ramifications of those actions — why you'd want to do them in this order at these times in those locations — isn't. Each action often has long-term consequences that you don't realize until later, or rather until it's too late. Even after six games, I feel like I'm just getting a handle on how to play well as opposed to just doing stuff on my turns.

This overview video is far longer than anything else I've done, but that's because the game itself is quite involved and because I've played the game enough to feel that I have some grip on it and can talk about it in a meaningful way. I trimmed many bits of my presentation to remove duplication and keep it of somewhat reasonable length, including a brief aside about Troyes, the first publication from Pearl Games from this same trio of designers. The dice-selection and action-choosing mechanism at the heart of Black Angel is reminiscent of Troyes, according to folks with whom I've played, but I've never played Troyes, so I can't compare the games. I had a toddler when Troyes debuted at SPIEL '10, and that's the only SPIEL I've missed since 2006. I missed out on a lot of games over the first few years of my son's life, and given the number of games being released each year, I never caught up on all of them. C'est la vie!


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Tue Jun 18, 2019 4:40 pm
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Game Preview from Origins 2019: Roll and Write Your Way Through Copenhagen

W. Eric Martin
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The original
Another day at Origins Game Fair 2019, another preview of a Gen Con 2019 release SPIEL '19 release that will be demoed at Gen Con 2019, with the game in question being Copenhagen: Roll and Write from Asger Harding Granerud, Daniel Skjold Pedersen, and Queen Games, the trio responsible for the Copenhagen board game released earlier in 2019. (The images shown below aren't final, and the name of this game might differ upon publication, but the description below should match the gameplay you'll find in the box.)

Copenhagen: Roll and Write features gameplay similar to Copenhagen, but with players now finishing the façade of their individual building through colors shown on rolled dice, not through drafted and played cards.

In the game, each player has a paper scoresheet that shows a building and five colored lines of boxes. A sheet in the center of the playing area shows various polyomino tiles in those same five colors, with tiles of two and three spaces on one side of a central divider and tiles of four and five spaces on the other side. The game includes five six-sided dice that feature the above mentioned five colors on five of their sides as well as a sixth color that serves as a joker. Each player starts with two red stars on their scoresheet; you can spend one or more of these stars on your turn to re-roll as many dice as you wish.

On a turn, you roll the five dice. If you have re-rolls in reserve, you can use them if you wish. You then choose a group of dice in a single color, then you see the shape of the polyomino that corresponds to this choice, then you draw that polyomino on the façade of the building, with the polyomino needing to "rest" on the bottom of the building area. One space in this polyomino is brick (represented by an "X") while the other spaces are all windows (represented by an "O"). If you created a polyomino of four or five spaces, you cross it off the central sheet of paper as each tile shown on the right side of the sheet can be used only once.


After the first few turns (components are non-final)


Each other player then gets to choose one of the dice that you didn't use to claim that polyomino, then fill in the leftmost empty box of that color on their scoresheet. (In a two-player game, the non-active player chooses two unused dice, assuming that at least two dice weren't used.) These boxes might have a symbol underneath them. If the box has a + under it, then this player can cross off the + on a future turn to add one "phantom" die showing this color to whatever they rolled that round, e.g., if you cross off a blue +, you effectively rolled three blue dice that turn instead of two. If a box has a star under it, then you can cross out that star on a future turn to use the power of that color:

• Red lets you reroll as many dice as you want.
• Blue lets you change one brick space to a window space when you're drawing something into your façade.
• Purple lets you draw one brick space in an empty space of your choice (as long as this space isn't floating in air).
• Green lets you change all dice of one color to another color of your choice.
• Yellow lets you use a polyomino shape that was crossed out on a previous turn.

You can use as many stars as you wish on your turn, say using a red star to re-roll dice to get three blue, one yellow, and one joker, then using a green star to turn all the blue dice yellow, then using a yellow star to let you re-use the yellow five-space polyomino that had been crossed out earlier.

When you fill in a horizontal row in the façade of your building, you score 2 points if all the spaces are filled with windows and 1 point if at least one space holds brick; when you fill in a vertical column, you score 4 points and 2 points under the same conditions (all windows vs. at least one brick). When you fill in predesignated rows and columns, you receive an immediate bonus — either drawing one window in an empty space or crossing off two boxes in one or two color lines on your scoresheet. If you cross out the final space in a color line, you score 2 points.

Gameplay continues until someone has scored 12 or more points. Complete the round so that each player has had the same number of turns, then whoever has the most points wins!


Final holdings in a four-player game, losing to someone who scored 15 points


I played Copenhagen: Roll and Write twice, once with two players and once with four. With more players in the game, more polyominoes get crossed out by opponents, so yellow stars would seem more important, and I pushed for them when choosing what to X off on an opponent's turn — but then I never had a chance to yellow star something as the dice didn't turn up as I wished they did, despite me re-rolling three times. Boo.

The game feels super-combo-y, with you trying to set up the bricks just so, then kick everything off at once by dropping in a polyomino that completes a line or two, ideally giving you one of the bonus "cross off" actions at the same time so that you can complete another line and race to the 12-point threshold before someone else can do so. Things don't always come together for you, but this can be as much a result of incompetent special power usage as unlucky die rolls.

Queen Games is still working on the final graphics and components of this design, so don't expect it to appear exactly this upon publication.
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Sat Jun 15, 2019 1:00 pm
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Game Previews from Origins 2019: Ishtar and Caravan, or Stationary Camels in a Shifting Desert

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Thanks to a larger BGG staff presence at Origins Game Fair 2019, I've been able to get out of the booth more than I usually do at such events in order to talk with publishers about future releases. Sometimes I've even played a game!

Given my discovery of this possibility at a game convention, here are short takes on two games being previewed at Origins 2019 that will be released in the next two months: Ishtar from Bruno Cathala, Evan Singh, and IELLO, and Caravan from Joe Huber and Rio Grande Games.

•••


I played only a half-dozen turns of Ishtar due to time restrictions, so at this point I can cover only the gross mechanisms of the game without anything in the way of how it feels.

On a board of 4-6 hexagons for a game with 2-4 players, you are trying to transform a gem-filled desert into the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Each hexagon has a fountain on it, with some spaces on that hexagon being sacred and off limits. On a turn, you take the next landscape tile on the tile display — shown in the upper left of the image below, with tiles coming in one of three shapes —or you pay a gem to take any tile that you want, then you place that tile next to a fountain or next to an existing tile. If you cover any gems with this tile, you collect them and place them on your personal game board.

Tiles have a combination of grass and garden spaces, and they sometimes bear an icon that allows you to place an assistant on a garden space (with each player starting with two assistants) or use collected gems to activate a space on your personal board. The first row of spaces on your board all have one-shot actions, such as placing a two-space flower tile over grass tiles in order to enlarge or reserving a tile for future use; the second row of spaces has scoring bonuses that will take place for you at the end of the game if you activate them — but you have to activate the space ahead of the scoring bonus in the first row before you can activate the scoring bonus.

You use assistants to claim garden areas for yourself that will score points for you at the end of a game. You want to enlarge the gardens, but along the lines of Through the Desert, you can't place a tile that would combine two gardens that each bear an assistant into a single garden. Thus, you need to ensure that you have room to grow, but of course if you enlarge a garden too much before claiming it, someone else might grab it out from under you.

Aside from activating spaces on your board, collected gems can be used to acquire tree cards that earn points at game's end. You then place a tree on the board next to a garden, with trees adjacent to gardens being another way to earn points as long as you've activated that bonus scoring space. Alternatively, you might activate the space to score points for gems still on hand at game's end, which would mean you don't want to spend them for trees.

The game ends when a certain number of stacks of tiles have been placed, with players scoring the garden of each placed assistant as well as any bonus point spaces they've activated.




•••


As Huber suggests in his designer diary for Caravan, the design feels like a member of the "German games in the mid-1990s when the focus was on simple rules with depth of play". I've played only once, so I can't vouch for the "depth of play", but Caravan strikes me as being akin to a classic Leo Colovini game as the rules are so short as to be almost non-existent and the players interact in a relatively tiny shared space, with each player's actions affecting what everyone else can do.

To set up the game on the 7x7 board, place one goods cube in eight specified locations. Players take up to four actions on their turn (after the first three turns in which players take one, two, then three actions), with actions being to place or move one of your camels without a goods cube in an empty space, pick up a goods cube in your place, pass a goods cube along an orthogonal chain of your camels, steal a good from a camel in the same space as one of yours, or place or move one of your camels without a goods cube in a space that contains one or more camels, with this latter action costing two actions instead of one. Simple, simple, simple.


Gamer Shawn and Rio Grande Games production manager Ken Hill


As soon as you move a goods cube to the destination space matching its color, you remove it from the board and place it on your player board. Cubes going to the edges of the board are worth 6 points, while the other cubes are worth 3 points. Goods in the far corners start with a demand token, and when you collect a good, you collect any tokens in the same space as that good. When only four goods remain on the board (regardless of how many goods rest on the backs of camels), you pause the game, place a demand token on the spaces where goods remain, then refill the empty numbered spaces.

As soon as the last goods have been placed on the board, the next delivered cube signals the end of gameplay, and whoever has scored the most points wins.

We played the beginner game in which each player has six camels and not all of the goods are used. Even so, I managed to strand one of my camels in the upper-right of the game board (as shown in the image above), as I placed it there to pick up three demand tokens along with the white cube, but I had neglected to think through Ken's explanation of the game. Nowhere in his presentation had he mentioned that you could dump a cube, yet somehow I had assumed that I could do that. Not so. Once a camel picks up a cube, that cube remains in place until you move it along a chain of your camels until it stops on another camel or is delivered to the target space. I had unwittingly started playing the game on hard mode...




Eventually I cleared out all the cubes in the southeast portion of the board, then moved north to rescue my unfortunate ungulate. Caravan is an odd take on the pick-up-and-deliver genre in that the camels can't move once they pick something up. You need to build camel chains, move goods, shift links in that chain, and disrupt other players' chains as best as you can.

We didn't mess with one another too much, possibly because Shawn and I were playing for the first time and just trying to figure out how to make goods go. When you steal a good, you place the good underneath the camel's legs, and that good can't be stolen away from you until you move it. What's more, when you steal a good, you have to give that player a theft marker, with everyone starting with one such marker. No theft marker = no theft by you. I can imagine theft playing a larger role once you gain more experience in the game and are thinking of how each camel can serve several roles at once, but as mentioned before, you can't move a camel with a good on it, so don't steal unless you have a plan to get rid of the goods.

In the end, I beat Shawn by one point, with Ken being only two points behind Shawn. I had concentrated on demand tokens far more than the other two players, and those twelve tokens made up for my relative lack of goods cubes. Looking forward to trying Caravan again, especially with four players, and Ishtar also seems to have a similar minimalist appeal, with players fighting in that shared space to grab good gardens and elbow others out of the way.


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Fri Jun 14, 2019 1:00 pm
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Game Overview: Lift Off, or Leveling Up to Infinity and Beyond (Three)

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Jeroen Vandersteen is a newcomer to game design, with Lift Off, his first published game, having debuted from German publisher Hans im Glück at SPIEL '18 in October. (An English version of the design is due out from Z-Man Games at some point in 2019.)

Given the setting of the game, with each player controlling a space agency in the 1950s and 1960s when the space race was in full swing, perhaps it won't be surprising to learn that Vandersteen is an aerospace engineer at the European Space Agency who has been to Mars!


Noordwijk or not of this world? (image source)


Or who has been in a Mars simulator. One of those.

Lift Off is an archetypal Hans im Glück design as players start with money, a few tools, and secret long-term goals via endgame point cards, then build up from there. Your actions in the game feel like they're taking place independently of the opponents, yet you're actually affecting one another constantly via the draft for specialists at the start of each round. You draft a hand of three specialists, with each specialist providing either a one-time bonus of money or points or a modification bonus of what you'll do later in the round; in addition, each specialist has one or two abilities on them, and these abilities are crucial for:

• Upgrading your laboratory (so that you can launch missions of levels higher than 1),
• Acquiring technology (again, so that you can launch higher-level missions),
• Improving your rocket (so that you can carry missions that weigh more than 1 ton or lower the cost of launches),
• Investing in the international space station (for points and a boost to your income or bio-food supply), or
• Scoring points for missions already launched (which also nets you money).


So much space required for space exploration!


You want to do it all, and of course you can't. You play only two of those specialists each round, holding the third for the subsequent round, which gives you some ability to plan for future growth, although your plans might change once you're dealt two new specialist cards at the start of that next round.

As you launch missions into space — scoring points both for the rocket launch itself and for the mission(s) launched — you gain other improvements or an endgame scoring goal that you can add to your "to do" list: maximize my income, for example, or collect tons of fuel technology. To pull down the big points, you need to launch level 3 and 4 missions, but to do that you need to upgrade tech, advance your laboratory, and build bigger rockets that can carry more weight — and all of that takes money, which in a nod to realism (at least in regard to the U.S. space agency) is hard to come by on a regular basis. You're constantly weighing options and changing course because you don't have the funds to do everything, a common game design element that produces a crushing, yet expected tension to everything about the game.


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Mon Jun 10, 2019 5:07 pm
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Game Preview: Tuki, or Stack Quickly to Quash Opponents

W. Eric Martin
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The 2019 Origins Game Fair opens on Thursday, June 13, and while BGG's Origins 2019 Preview lists 270 items for sale or demo (as of this date), few of those items are debuting at Origins itself. Publishers focus their mid- to late year game debuts on Gen Con and SPIEL — which shouldn't be surprising given that they want to have something new to attract buyers to pay for the huge costs of those fairs — but that means those few publishers who do debut at Origins have the spotlight largely to themselves.

For the third year in a row, Canadian publisher Plan B Games is taking advantage of this lack of competition to highlight Century: A New World, the third title in Emerson Matsuuchi's "Century" trilogy (and a game that technically debuted at UK Games Expo in late May 2019), and Grzegorz Rejchtman's Tuki from its Next Move Games imprint.

Tuki follows Azul and Reef in Next Move's line of themed abstracts, with "abstracts" here meaning not a perfect information abstract strategy game as one might normally think, but rather a game that could probably have other settings without changing the gameplay too much. The game settings work in a minimalistic way — in Azul, you're laying tiles; in Reef, you're building a coral reef; and in Tuki, you're building sculptures of a sort — but the gameplay isn't about the setting. You probably don't care one way or another what your actions represent and are instead focused solely on the gameplay, although all of the Next Move games do have components that are pleasing to handle and look at.


Check out those counterweights on the build in the back!


"Tuki" is apparently short for "tukilik", which in the Inuit language of Inuktitut means "thing that has meaning", and the meaningful things you build in this game are "inuksuit", which is the plural of "inukshuk" — and an inukshuk is a stone sculpture of sorts used to convey information in a tundra-like environment that has little around in the way of geographic landmarks. Some of this information is conveyed at the start of the rules, and I've looked up other information on my own, but again the setting is secondary to the gameplay.

In the game, players have three colored sticks (or four in the advanced version of the game) and four white pieces of snow. You can use the snow in whatever manner you need in order to recreate the pattern of colored sticks showing on the target card. Each card has three orientations, and you determine the orientation of the card via a die roll, which is a clever way to bake replayability into the game design. Half of the die faces have a white dot on them, and when that dot shows, then you need to place your sculpture on snow (as in the image above) instead of allowing your colored sticks to touch the table.

In general, the slowest player to finish each round receives the target card, and when someone gets five cards, they're out of the game. In a two-player game, the other player wins, and in a game with three or four players, everyone who isn't out plays one final round, with the player who finishes first winning the game. I fill out this game description and offer comparisons between Tuki and other real-time games in this overview video:


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Mon Jun 3, 2019 5:35 pm
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Game Overview: LAMA, or Handle Your Llamas with Care

W. Eric Martin
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My friend Ken Shoda attended BGG.Spring 2019 this past weekend, and he is undoubtedly the attendee who traveled the farthest distance to the show since he lives in Japan. Ken helps me out at Tokyo Game Market, translating for the guests we have on camera and introducing me to designers, publishers, and other game industry figures as he seems to know everyone.

Ken and I share a love of similar games, especially when it comes to the works of Reiner Knizia. Ken owns more than seven hundred Knizia titles, he's translated some of Knizia's books into Japanese, and his BGG jersey (which we gave him as a "thank you" for the translation help) bears the name KENIZIA. Naturally, Ken and I played a lot of Knizia games together during BGG.Spring: Karate Tomate three times, 13, Rummy 17, Seimi in the Super Crazy World, and lots of the 2019 Spiel des Jahres nominee LAMA.


Ken takes a shot in Tal der Wikinger
while wearing his shirt backwards for some reason


I had played LAMA four times previously on a review copy from AMIGO, but mostly with three players. Ken said, oh, you need to play more with four players to see the differences — and you really need to play with five or six players as it's like a different game.

I wasn't surprised to hear that as most of Knizia's designs require different approaches to gameplay depending on the number of players. Amun-Re with five players, for example, is quite different from Amun-Re with 3-4 players given that not all the provinces will come into play when you have fewer than five, which then changes how the bidding process plays out and what people compete for due to how the harvest will differ. Nothing changes with the rules, mind you — only with what you need to consider while playing. You can say this for most of his designs, which is a short way of saying that Knizia designs have a lot of player interaction that affect how games play out.

In any case, we played LAMA a fair amount with both four and six players, then after getting home from the show I played four games with only two players — which feels like a completely different animal. (Speaking of which, some people have stated that the cover shows an alpaca, not a llama, but that doesn't seem to be the case.)


We both failed Selfie 101


Now with sixteen games under my belt and in my head, I felt ready to take on a video overview, which ends with a 14-minute, single take exposition on this game, the experience of gaining experience, and how good Knizia is at what he does. While editing the video, I realized that I probably could have said twice as much as I did, given that I didn't cover, for example, how a player's approach to playing in a round changes depending on their current score — and how you can use that to your advantage. I also didn't talk about the joy I get from multi-round games, that is, games that "finish", then start over, giving you a chance to respond to how the previous round(s) played out and to react to how others played out their hand. I love trick-taking games for this behavior as they're not just one-and-done like a larger board game, but more like chapters of a larger story.

Finally, in the video I didn't shame AMIGO for its inconsistent naming practices, specifically using "L.A.M.A." on the cover, with the acronym standing for "lege alle Minuspunkte ab" ("Get rid of all the minus points"), while using "LAMA" in every other mention of the game on its website and in its press material, so I'll do so now. I try to be consistent with my usage of game names, convention titles, and so on, but it's hard to do that when a publisher isn't consistent in the first place!

As for the game itself, I said quite a lot about it in this video:


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Fri May 31, 2019 1:00 pm
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Game Overview: Second Chance, or Fill 'Er Up!

W. Eric Martin
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Uwe Rosenberg's Second Chance debuted from Edition Spielwiese and publishing partner Pegasus Spiele in Germany in February 2019, with the game reaching the U.S. in April 2019 courtesy of licensing partner Stronghold Games. Editions have also been licensed in France and Italy, but you could play this game no matter what language you speak given that you could pantomime the rules in a couple of minutes and lose almost nothing along the way.

In many ways, Second Chance is more minimalist than The Mind: You're given a shape, then you draw it in your 9x9 grid, then you're shown two shapes and draw one of them, then you see two more shapes and draw one of them, etc.

Second Chance is like a hypnotic melody of a game, with you nodding along peacefully outside the one or two cymbal crashes that sound when the puzzle pieces fit together perfectly and you momentarily imagine yourself a spatial wizard that can pack anything in the best way possible. Then things go awry, and you think, yeah, I guess that was bound to happen. C'est la vie. At least my drawing looks neat!

•••

[I've realized that in my write-ups accompanying these video overviews, sometimes I approach the game from a second angle, which then provides a secondary entry point into how one might perceive the game, but sometimes I simply repeat some percentage of what I say during the video itself — which is a waste of time should you be someone who both reads these writes-ups, then watches the video (or vice versa). With that in mind, for some of my future game overviews, I'll post the video in this space and leave it at that. When I have more to say beyond what I already said in video format, I'll do so.

[I know that some folks prefer written game overviews to recorded ones, but in the time that I save from not writing out what I've already spoken, I'll be able to write a BGG News post on a completely separate topic, or edit a designer diary, or work on a convention preview, or otherwise provide something standalone that is more useful than me repeating my own words. I apologize for disappointing you should you fall into that category, but ideally you'll find value in the other things I do instead.]


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Tue May 28, 2019 1:00 pm
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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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