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Game Preview: Codenames Duet, or Searching for Agents in All the Right Places

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We've already published two preview videos about Codenames Duet: one from the 2017 GAMA Trade Show when the game was still being developed, and another from the 2017 Origins Game Fair when the design was pretty much complete and just waiting to be sent to production before the game's debut at Gen Con 2017 in August. Thus, I thought I'd avoid creating another video about the game and instead write something up.

Vlaada Chvátil's Codenames is only two years old, but the game already feels like an established classic, something that will be with us for decades. The game design is so minimal — teams take turns trying to identify their hidden secret agents, which are known only by their visible codenames — that its framework can be filled with almost any content, and the gameplay itself will still work just fine; designer Bruno Faidutti, for example, has noted that he's played the game with people guessing rubber ducks, empty beer bottles, board game boxes, novels, Dixit cards, Cards Against Humanity cards, Unusual Suspects cards, and actual people. Multiple versions of Codenames exist or have been announced, and many more are sure to come in the years ahead.

Codenames Duet already functions as another version of Codenames. The box contains two hundred new double-sided word cards, so even if you ignored the new way to play the game, you'd have four hundred new words to use when playing Codenames. (You're on your own when it comes to acquiring rubber ducks as publisher Czech Games Edition doesn't sell them!) These words are a bit more out there than in the original game, with "Joan of Arc" and "Hercules" showing up amongst more common words like "soup" and "hose". I've spoken with CGE's Josh Githens at multiple conventions this year — including at PAX East, where we played a still-in-development Codenames Duet — and he said that they tried to assemble a mix of words in which some serve as hubs (with tons of potential connections) while others have a smaller range of connections.




In practice, some of those more limited words can still be guessed the old-fashioned way: creative clue-giving combined with the process of elimination. In one game, my partner gave the clue "queen - 2", and it was easy to guess "King Arthur" as one of the two words matching "queen", but I scanned fruitlessly for its partner — until I suddenly realized that she probably meant "Joan of Arc", simply because this card was the only one in play with the name of a female human. Success! (After the game, she confirmed that line of thinking. Joan of Arc wasn't a queen, but that clue would likely get me to that card, and in the end that's all that matters.)

Codenames Duet differs from Codenames in that this new game is fully cooperative instead of being played with competing teams. You lay out 25 word cards in a 5x5 grid like normal, but you place a double-sided code card (one side shown at left) between the two players. I see the nine agents (shown in green) that I want my partner to guess and three assassins that I want my partner to avoid (in black). Either player can give the first clue, then players alternate after that, trying to identify all fifteen agents within nine turns.

The tricky part is that my partner's side of the card also shows nine agents and three assassins, and of those three assassins, one of them is an assassin on my side of the code card, one of them is an innocent bystander (shown in tan), and one of them is an agent. This last one is a double agent, I suppose, since I'm trying to get my partner to guess this card, yet if I choose the card on my turn, we lose the game.

Thus, Codenames Duet often puts you in a bind. You know that at some point you'll need to correctly identify one of the three assassins you see as an agent — but which one? The cool part about this bind is that once you do guess the right assassin, you know that the other two assassins shouldn't ever be guessed since they're worthless to you. Your partner doesn't know that you know this since you're not supposed to share info, but you can feel satisfied internally and leave it at that.




You each have nine agents depicted on your side of the code card, but three of those agents are shared; each of us knows those three agents, but we don't know that we both know. This (unwitting) sharing of information gives you another chance to interact in subtle ways. Your partner gives a clue that might work for a few different cards, but one of them is an agent on your side, so that gives you an incentive to choose it — although one of those agents is an assassin, so hmm...

Another challenging aspect of Codenames Duet is that you want to track guesses and information in a way that records who did what. We place the agents and bystanders on the cards so that they face the person who guessed them. If someone is facing me, that means I discovered their identity on my partner's side of the code card; my partner, however, knows nothing about their identity on my side of the code card. Is this revealed agent also an agent on my side? I know it is, which means I have one fewer agent to clue, but that's my info, not theirs. The person I see as a bystander might actually be an agent that they have to guess.

I've played more than twenty games so far on four-fifths of a copy that Czech Games Edition gave me after the 2017 Origins Game Fair. One strong difference from the original game is that Codenames Duet is a lot quieter. When playing Codenames, teams trying to guess words tend to discuss things openly, which gives information to both cluegivers as well as the other team, but in Codenames Duet you know information that the other player doesn't, so you can't say, "Well, it can't be 'scarecrow' because that's an assassin on my side and I've already guessed the 'fog' assassin." You just sit and stare and eventually guess.

And sometimes you die. In Codenames when a team guesses the assassin, the other team breaks out in huzzahs and cheers; in Codenames Duet, you both slump in the chair, defeated. If Codenames were Star Wars, with two factions facing off against one another with one sure to win in the end, Codenames Duet is Rogue One, with the two of you in a race against time, often cowering on the beach as the world blows up around you.

Then you flip over the word cards and try again.

•••




One new addition to Codenames Duet — something not in the original design from Scot Eaton (which was heavily developed by CGE) or in the original Codenames — is a campaign mode that allows you to increase the difficulty of the game. In my 20+ playings, we've won only 3-4 times, with two of those wins coming in sudden death. (If after nine rounds you haven't identified all fifteen agents, then you enter sudden death. Either player can finger one of the word cards, and if it's an agent from the other player's perspective, then you mark it as such and continue or win; if it's not an agent, then you've lost the game.) Thus, we've stayed away from the campaign mode so far.

How campaign mode works: If you've won the normal Codenames Duet set-up, which starts with nine bystander tokens on the side of the playing area with players having nine rounds, then you can mark off Prague on the map and travel to an adjacent city. Maybe you'll go to Moscow where you start with only eight bystander tokens and have only eight rounds in which to identify the fifteen agents. If you survive Moscow, you can travel to Bangkok where you have only seven of each — or you can head to Yakutsk, where you have eight tokens, but only four bystanders.

During the normal game, if you voluntarily stop guessing after one or more successes, then you take one of the bystander tokens and flip it over to show a file. (Thus, whether you hit a bystander or stop on your own, one token is removed from play.) The number of tokens thus indicates how many turns remain in the game. If you go to Yakutsk, then you start with four bystanders and four files. If you stop voluntarily, then you take a file; if you finger a bystander, then you place a bystander; if you can't place a bystander token (because you've already placed them all), then you must take two file tokens, flip them to the bystander side, and place both of them on the word card. Boom — two turns lost in one go.

Maybe I'll get to travel the world of secret agents at some point, but I need to improve my clue-giving before that can happen!
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Sat Jul 15, 2017 3:30 pm
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New Game Round-up: Campaign for The Grizzled, Lay Palace Tiles in Azul, and Speak English in Kashgar

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• Australian publisher Grail Games has announced that it will release an English-language version of Gerhard Hecht's Kashgar: Händler der Seidenstraße in Q1 2018 under the name Kashgar: Merchants of the Silk Road. Kashgar was first released in 2013 by KOSMOS in a German edition, and while the game received a fair amount of praise, the cards contain a lot of German text, so folks in other countries decided to wait for a release of the game in their language — after which no one else released the game. *sad trombone*

Now Grail Games is stepping up to the plate, licensing a game that one might have expected to appear in English from Thames & Kosmos, the U.S. branch of KOSMOS, but representatives of T&K have told me (in the past and not related to this announcement) that they have a huge number of titles available to them in the KOSMOS catalog, and they can't possibly do everything. As for the gameplay in Kashgar, here's an overview:

Quote:
Kashgar is a deck-building game in which players build three, "open" decks at the same time. The card at the front of each deck (or caravan) determines which actions are currently available for the players. Cards let you acquire spices or mules, make deliveries for points, or acquire new cards for your caravans.

CMON Limited was already publisher of the English-language version of The Grizzled from Fabien Riffaud and Juan Rodriguez, but in late June 2017 it bought all rights to the game from original publisher Sweet Games.

So what's next for the World War I game? The Grizzled: Armistice Edition, which includes a campaign mechanism to give "more structure to the story of friends surviving World War I", to quote from CMON Limited's press release. I tweeted a pic of this game's prototype in February 2017 after meeting Riffaud and Rodriquez at the Festival International des Jeux, but apparently I forgot to also mention this item in this space until now. Oops.

The press release describes The Grizzled: Armistice Edition as an expansion, but Riffaud and Rodriquez had told me this would be a standalone game, something that essentially starts with everyone meeting at training camps, then learning how to rely on one another to survive all the travails of war. The game is still under development, of course, so things might have changed from that earlier description. They also mentioned that this would be the final Grizzled title since original artist Tignous died in the Charlie Hebdo shooting in 2015, the year that the original game debuted, and no more art from him exists for the game.



• At SPIEL 2017, Plan B Games will release its second title following Century: Spice Road, a tile-laying game from Michael Kiesling titled Azul. According to Plan B's Mike Young, "It's a fantastic follow-up to Century (easy to learn, full of clever strategic decisions, and addictively fun!) and helps confirm Plan B's line." Here's a short description:

Quote:
Introduced by the Moors, azulejos (originally white and blue ceramic tiles) were fully embraced by the Portuguese when their king Manuel I, on a visit to the Alhambra palace in Southern Spain, was mesmerized by the stunning beauty of the Moorish decorative tiles. The king, awestruck by the interior beauty of the Alhambra, immediately ordered that his own palace in Portugal be decorated with similar wall tiles. As a tile-laying artist, Azul brings you to embellish the walls of the Royal Palace of Evora.

In the game, players take turns drafting colored tiles from suppliers to their player board. Later in the round, players score points based on how they've placed their tiles to decorate the palace. Extra points are scored for specific patterns and completing sets; wasted supplies harm the player's score. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

• In 2018, Alderac Entertainment Group plans to release a second Smash Up expansion that contains factions submitted by and voted upon by fans of the game — but to do that, AEG first needs to receive your submissions, so they invite you to submit faction ideas for "Oops, You Did It Again!" before the end of July 2017. Voting on these nominees will open August 1, 2017.

• At San Diego Comic Con, which runs July 20-23, 2017, Renegade Game Studios will debut Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Card Game, a Keith Baker deck-building design that features artwork by Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O'Malley. What's more, copies at that show — which are limited to fifty per day on Thursday, Friday and Saturday — feature a convention exclusive variant cover. After all, what's a San Diego Comic Con release with some exclusive element?

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Fri Jul 14, 2017 4:04 pm
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Game Preview: Sentient, or Dieing to Assemble Awesome AIs

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Renegade Game Studios had advance copies of a number of upcoming releases at the 2017 Origins Game Fair — Flip Ships, The Fox in the Forest, and the game I'm talking about today, J. Alex Kevern's Sentient.

As I note in the video below, Sentient feels like one-third of a Stefan Feld game. It features a solid drafting and dice-manipulation system, with each player drafting four AI cards each round, with each card being placed between two dice on your individual player board. The values of those dice determine whether you score points for the card, but the cards themselves often change those values unless you spend one of your handful of assistants not to make that change.

As you use agents to draft cards, you're also trying to use those agents to gain control of investors that will (possibly) give you extra points at the end of the game. Can you combine the right investors with the right AI, while also triggering all of the AI to score? Sometimes things just fall into place for you — the perfect AI triggering massive points while you simultaneously sway just the right investors — but that's the beauty of the future. You never know exactly what will happen...


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Thu Jul 13, 2017 3:00 pm
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New Game Round-up: Donning the Mask of the Pharaoh, Investigating Arkham Noir, and Exploring Cosmogenesis

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• In April 2017, I wrote about the Hasbro Gaming Crate, a quarterly release from Hasbro that would contain three party or family-themed games (depending on which you choose) for $50. My write-up included this line: "Hasbro Chairman and CEO Brian Goldner referred to the Hasbro Gaming Crate as 'profitable experimentation' since those who buy the Crates are encouraged to give feedback on the titles, which might then make it into general distribution depending on the results."

Given the recent emphasis by Hasbro on viral video-inspired releases such as Pie Face, Egged On, Flip Challenge, and Speak Out, I didn't expect much, but some details on the first two crates have now been released, and some of the items are completely unexpected. To begin with, the main title of the Family Crate is an English-language version of Takashi Hamada and Kenji Shimojima's Mask of Anubis, which debuted in 2016 from GIFT10INDUSTRY before being brought to SPIEL 2016 by Japon Brand. This new version is renamed Mask of the Pharaoh and will reach subscribers in August 2017.

For those not familiar with the game, here's a short description:

Quote:
Mask of Anubis is a mixture of "VR (virtual reality)" and a board game, with a free application included that converts your smartphone into VR goggles!

The purpose of the game is for players to cooperate to create a map of the maze. On a turn, one player lands on one point of the maze and gets a 360º view of the maze by wearing VR goggles with a smartphone inserted. This player explains to the team members what they see and their teammates attempt to use this description to create part of the map of the maze.

Each player gets one minute to explain what they see, then the play passes to the next player (who will be presented a different view of the maze). Repeat this seven times, then players win the game if the complete map is connected from the entrance to the goal correctly!



Another title in the Family Crate is Leo Colovini's Leo Goes to the Barber, this being an English-only version of the Kinderspiel des Jahres nominee that ABACUSSPIELE released in 2016. The third title is Tricky Wishes, which sounds from the description like a repackaged version of Chris Castagnetto's 3 Wishes from Strawberry Studio: "To win this card game, players will need to find three kinds of wishes: one Superpower, one Gift, and one World Harmony. Players can take turns swapping, shuffling, and peeking at card wishes to collect the highest-scoring set." Amazing to see these three titles that originally appeared from publishers in Japan, Germany, and Romania be aimed at mainstream gamers this way!

As for the Party Crate, well, that one appears to be more typical as it contains Speak Out: Joe Santagato (with Joe Santagato apparently being a YouTube celebrity of some sort), Box of Rocks (this being a new edition of the Joe and Dave Herbert design released by Haywire Group in 2016), and Judgmental, which sounds familiar in a Who Would Win kind of way:

Quote:
Historical figures, fictional characters, and celebrities go head-to-head in this crazy "judgmental" tournament-style game. Choose a contender but keep it a secret, then have fun arguing who should win ridiculous contests before passing judgement! Get your contender all the way to the final round to win!

• Spanish publisher Ludonova has unveiled a pair of titles that it will feature at SPIEL 2017 in October. At first glance, Yves Tourigny's Cosmogenesis sounds and looks somewhat like Exoplanets from Przemysław Świerczyński, but the complete rules are available for download on BGG for those who want to go beyond this overview:

Quote:
In a game of Cosmogenesis, each player creates their own planet system, starting from a star and an asteroid belt. To do this, they use the elements available on the different sections of the central board. In each round, players obtain one element from each of the four sections over four turns and with these elements players form planets and moons. These then collide with each other, causing them to increase in size, develop rings, form atmospheres, and of course create life. Players do all of this in order to fulfill their own objectives, which like the rest of the elements of the game, are obtained from the central board; at the end of the game, these provide the victory points that determine the overall winner.

• The other Ludonova title is also an Yves Tourigny design, this being the solitaire card game Arkham Noir — more specifically, Arkham Noir — Case File 1: The Witch Cult Murders, which bears this description:

Quote:
Walpurgis Night, May’s Eve, is always a nightmare in witch-haunted Arkham. There are bad doings, and a child or two frequently goes missing. This year, Miskatonic University students engaged in occult studies have been turning up dead. Arkham Police, in deference to your unusual expertise, have asked for your help to get to the root of the matter. Time is of the essence because after Walpurgis Night, the trail will grow cold and the culprits will retreat to the shadows until the next Witches' Sabbat, when the next cycle of deaths will begin.

As private investigator Howard Lovecraft, you will investigate events based on the stories "The Dreams in the Witch House" (1933), "The Thing on the Doorstep" (1933), and "The Unnamable" (1923).

Arkham Noir is inspired by the interconnected stories of H. P. Lovecraft and other authors, re-imagined as noir detective stories. Each case stands alone. Gameplay consists of adding cards to open cases, creating lines of investigation in an effort to solve them. The ultimate goal is to score five "puzzle" clue cards in order to piece together the big picture before running out of time or mental stability. Each newly shuffled deck is the start of a unique challenge, with adjustable difficulty levels to accommodate all level of players.

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Wed Jul 12, 2017 8:38 pm
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Game Preview: Skyward, or Reaching for the Heavens One Card at a Time

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Gen Con 2017 is only five weeks off, so I plan to start posting several individual game previews in this space for titles that will debut at that show or otherwise be more widely available than they are now. Some will be written, some on video — depends on whether we already recorded videos at recent cons and whether I have more to say or show!

I will still be posting game round-ups and updating BGG's Gen Con 2017 Preview during this time, so if you know of upcoming games that aren't listed on the preview — or are publishing games that aren't listed — please contact me with that info via the email address in the header above. I plan to start contacting designers and publishers the week of July 17 to arrange demo time in the BGG booth during Gen Con 2017. Lots to do before that show opens, including more preparations for the Hot Games Room!


•••

Everyone is familiar with the concept of "I cut, you choose" in the real world, but few games have made use of this concept. Alan R. Moon and Aaron Weissblum's San Marco might be the best known example, with players splitting cards into piles as they fight for control of districts within Venice; the related Canal Grande card game ditches the game board, but retains the "I cut, you choose" mechanism. Jeffrey D. Allers' …aber bitte mit Sahne places the mechanism in its anticipated habitat as players split cakes and tarts onto different plates; as with San Marco, that game has similarly been reborn, with New York Slice now challenging you to slice pies of a different sort: pizza pies.

Brendan Evans' Skyward from Australian publisher Rule & Make, which will be distributed in North America by Passport Game Studios, takes "I cut, you choose" and makes that cutting and choosing the heart of the game. Each round, one player takes the role of the warden, then splits cards into as many piles as players (with the warden being added to one of the piles), then players choose cards and launch buildings into the stratosphere, trying to put together strong scoring combinations from whatever they manage to scrounge together during the game.

I've played thrice thanks to a review copy from Passport at Origins 2017, and in this video I show off several of the cards and share some of the challenges of the game.

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Tue Jul 11, 2017 6:36 pm
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Crowdfunding Round-up: Casually Trash Lucidity in a Green Box with Short Love

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As often happens during convention time, I've neglected to post crowdfunding round-ups for a couple of weeks, so the number of current c.f. projects not previously mentioned in this space is staggering. Perhaps I should stop being amazed by the amount of dollars being handed over to designers and publishers this way, but as long as I keep being amazed, I'll know that I'm still alive. In any case, let's look at some of these current projects:

• Designer Corné van Moorsel used to release one new title each year at SPIEL from his Cwali brand, and that was that, but over the past couple of years van Moorsel has migrated to using Kickstarter to sell games in advance to those who won't make it to the game fair in Essen, Germany (or to sell a title that otherwise might not make it to market, e.g., Factory Funner), and now he's using KS to make an out-of-print title available once again, with a second edition of his SPIEL 2016 Habitats on its way to funding right now. (KS link)

In Habitats, each player lays down tiles to build up their own animal park, ideally giving each animal the environment it prefers to make them happy and receive points in return.

• For a title coming at SPIEL in 2017, we can turn to Wendake from Danilo Sabia, Placentia Games, and Post Scriptum, with players representing the Wyandot People who lived in the Great Lakes region in the U.S. and Canada. The game is set in the mid-18th century, and players must manage all aspects of tribal life by choosing rows of action tiles in a grid, just as the Wyandot did at that time. (KS link)

• Till Engel's self-publisher Adellos is another potential SPIEL 2017 release, with players needing to manage their gold to hire twelve types of units to attack opponents and gain influence. (Startnext link)

Wibbell++ is a game system that originated with the title Wibbell from designer Behrooz Shahriari and was then expanded upon by others creating their own games from this deck with cards that each depict two letters on them along with one of six border designs. Shahriari is funding a new edition of Wibbell++ through her Stuff By Bez brand, and one of the rewards is for her to create a game with you. (KS link) For a sampling of the games playable with the deck, here's an overview video I recorded with Shahriari at SPIEL 2016:



• Similar to Wibbell++, Green Box of Games is a game system, with designer Jørgen Brunborg-Næss including 16 designs that make use of a boxed set of components that are designed to be "as versatile and flexible as a standard deck of cards", according to the designer. (KS link)

• To continue with a section devoted to solitaire-friendly games, Pepper & Carrot: The Potion Contest from Guillermo H. Nuñez amd Loyalist Games challenges 1-4 players — or more if you have additional sets — to use orders to manipulate the 18 ingredients in their 3x6 grid to complete recipes quickly. (KS link)

• Shannon Kelly's Lucidity: Six-Sided Nightmares from Fox Tale Games is a press-your-luck game in which dice drawn represent your entry point into a world of nightmares. You can discard two dice to guide yourself down a dream path, but then you're at the mercy of the whatever awaits on the die faces — ideally the power symbols that you need to collect before you transform into a nightmare. (KS link)

• While this next project isn't a game, I would be remiss not to highlight Geoff Engelstein's GameTek: The Math and Science of Gaming, this being a written collection of more than seventy GameTek podcast segments from the past ten years, with the book totaling more than three hundred pages. You'll just have to imagine Geoff reading them to you. (KS link)

• Year six of Casual Game Insider magazine, which is meant to promote casual gaming in mainstream outlets, is also looking for funding. (KS link)

• Also not a game is designer Kenechukwu Ogbuagu's efforts to fund a second African Boardgame Convention "to introduce people to boardgaming and break the stereotypes about general tabletop gaming in Nigeria and other parts of Africa". A 12-hour game convention that's free to the public is what's at stake in this project. (Indiegogo link)

Triplock from Adam and Josh J. Carlson and their Chip Theory Games sounds like an escape room game at first, but instead the players represent characters who are trying to manipulate tokens that collectively represent a lock box. The steampunk artwork is out of this world, and I wouldn't be surprised to find someone dressing as these characters at a future Gen Con. (KS link)



• Designer Yukinori Ohashi originally self-published Night Clan in Japan in 2014 through his Domina Games, and now new publisher Gamephilia aims to bring the game to market in a multilingual edition. In this bluffing game, players each have the same deck of thirteen cards, with which they try to use their trolls to capture the daughters and riches of the other players. (KS link)

• Similar sabotage efforts are required for Love Formula from Gwin Games and Japanime Games, with players in the role of matchmakers who want to couple up their customers to perfection while ruining the potential dates arranged by their competitors. (KS link)

• Yet more sabotage is the order of the day in Philip Loyer's Short Order Hero from Wyvern Gaming as you're working at a greasy diner with other hash-slingers and are determined to look better than them, whether through actually providing dishes that customers want or befouling the offerings of others. (KS link)

Damn the Man, Save the Music! by Hannah Shaffer is described as a "tabletop roleplaying game", but I think that's simply because you'll be playing it on a horizontal surface. No matter — this project struck a chord with me, so I'm including it anyway. The short description: "Damn the Man is a single-session game inspired by movies like Empire Records and Clerks, and by a love for bygone '90s music" in which you make "a last-ditch effort to save something you love. Play a ragtag group of underachievers, overachievers, street philosophers, and lovestruck artists united by one cause: to rescue your record store from the oppressive hand of The Man… and to keep the music playing." (KS link)

• In Rival Realms, Alf Seegert and Eagle-Gryphon Games return to the land of Fantastiqa for a head-to-head match of magicians who must summon lands, creatures, artifacts and more in order to complete quests and explore regions of the world. (KS link)

• Kwanchai Moriya has presented us with his spin on how raccoons like to party in Trash Pandas, coming from Michael and Lisa Eskue through their Red Rook Games studio. In the game, you need to tip over trash cans to try to acquire food and other things that raccoons adore, then stash them in a safe place so that no one else finds them. (KS link)



Editor's note: Please don't post links to other Kickstarter projects in the comments section. Write to me via the email address in the header, and I'll consider them for inclusion in a future crowdfunding round-up. Thanks! —WEM
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Sun Jul 9, 2017 1:05 pm
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New Game Round-up: Feld Summons Merlin, Atlas Holds Court, and Carcassonne Gets Big Boxed...Again

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• In mid-June 2017, Queen Games posted an announcement on French gaming site Tric Trac that it was returning to the French market, with Atalia and Oya serving as distributors of their games for that market. Kingdom Builder and Alhambra would be the first titles available, given that they're both Spiel des Jahres winners and well-known, to be followed by French versions of the newer titles Treasure Hunter, Captain Silver, Glüx, and two new big games: Immortals and Merlin.

We've already covered Immortals somewhat — for example, posting a game overview recorded at the 2017 Origins Game Fair with co-designer Mike Elliott — but Merlin wasn't on my radar previously, which is a shame since this will be a large game from Stefan Feld. Beyond largeness, however, nothing else was noted about the game — until Friday, June 7, that is, when Queen's Ulrich Fonrobert tweeted the following:



Okay, still not much to go on for now, but could this game look any Feldier?! People will be able to find out more at Gen Con 2017 in August, where this game will be demoed ahead of its release at SPIEL 2017.

In a separate tweet, Fonrobert mentions that Queen Games will also have an Emanuele Ornella design at SPIEL 2017, which is funny since this will be the second new Ornella title on the market this year — Okanagan: Valley of the Lakes from Matagot being the other — after an absence of five years. The Tric Trac article mentions another upcoming title — Pioneers, a "strategy game about the conquest of the Far West" — but Ornella's name isn't attached to it.

• In October 2017, Atlas Games will release Cursed Court from Andrew Hanson, a 2-6 player game in which you need to watch others to determine what you should do. In more detail:

Quote:
The intrigues and scandals of the realm's greater nobility are a subject of fixation, and even obsession, for the entire kingdom. Most especially for the minor nobility, whose fortunes can be elevated — or shattered — by what happens at court.

In Cursed Court, you must consider both public and hidden information, some of the latter shared among different pairs of players, when wagering your limited influence in each season of the year. As the machinations of the nine key nobles are progressively revealed, your fortunes rise and fall. After three years, a winner is crowned.

MAGE Company has picked up the 2-6 player dice-roller Goblin Dice from Russian publisher GaGa Games for re-release in English in Q2 2018. Your goal in the game is to reach the finish line first or avoid the giant rolling stone that will crush slow players, ideally leaving you as the lone player still fit to move.

• The sixth edition of Carcassonne Big Box hits stores in September 2017 — at least in Germany and the Czech Republic as the game has been announced in those locations so far — and this version of the game includes the Carcassonne base game, the Inns & Cathedrals and Traders & Builders expansions, the mini-expansions The River and The Abbot now included with the base game, and the six mini-expansions from 2012: The Flying Machines, The Messengers, The Ferries, The Gold Mines, Mage & Witch, and The Robbers (which collectively include the tiles for the Corn Circles II mini-expansion).

Hans im Glück also plans to release Carcassonne für 2 in September 2017, this being a small-sized version of the famed tile-laying game with only 48 tiles and 12 tokens in a travel tin.

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Sat Jul 8, 2017 1:05 pm
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Plan B Games Purchases Eggertspiele; Licensing Situation Currently Unclear

W. Eric Martin
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In February 2017, while previewing upcoming games at Spielwarenmesse in Nürnberg, Germany, I played a sample game of Century: Spice Road with Plan B Games owner Sophie Gravel. Gravel used to own F2Z Entertainment, which consisted of the publishing brands Z-Man Games, Filosofia, Plaid Hat Games, and Pretzel Games along with various distribution contracts, but in the second half of 2016 she sold F2Z to Asmodee, keeping only Pretzel Games and one title then under contract with Z-Man Games — the aforementioned Century: Spice Road, with which she launched Plan B Games at the Origins Game Fair in June 2017.

Aside from demoing the game, I talked with Gravel about her general plans for Plan B Games, and she mentioned that it was a relief to start over and be in charge of a small company once again. Thus, it was something of a surprise to hear (via Spielbox) that Plan B Games has acquired German publisher eggertspiele. I asked Gravel about the change of course for Plan B, and she said, "When an opportunity appears, it is almost impossible for me not to grab it."

To be precise, Plan B Games Europe GmbH has been founded in Germany, and this is what acquired eggertspiele. Spielbox notes that "Eggertspiele founder Peter Eggert intends to actively contribute to the development and distribution of new games for three more years", and Gravel confirms this. "The whole eggertspiele team is staying on board. We need them to continue developing great games!" The next releases from eggertspiele, which are scheduled to debut at SPIEL 2017 in October, are Heaven & Ale from Michael Kiesling and Andreas Schmidt and Reworld from Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling. Gravel notes that the design and development of these titles was completed by the eggertspiele team, but now "sales and marketing of these two titles will be entirely assumed by the Plan B team".

What does this new arrangement mean for eggertspiele's current licensing partners: Stronghold Games, which releases English-only titles in the U.S. and elsewhere; Gigamic, which releases eggertspiele titles in French; and Pegasus Spiele, which has served as a co-publisher and distribution partner to eggertspiele for many years? After all, Plan B Games is a Canadian company that serves the English and French markets. Regarding the first two publishers, Gravel says, "At this point, I am not entitled to answer these questions as these issues concern eggertspiele and must be dealt with by them." Mathilde Spriet, who heads the communication and editorial departments for Gigamic told me, "Discussion with eggertspiele, Plan B and Gigamic are happening right now, thus I do not have any official answer to give you. I hope we we will know more in the next days." (I've received no responses so far to questions sent to eggertspiele. Stephen Buonocore at Stronghold Games has declined to answer questions for now.)

As for sales in Germany, Gravel says, "Eggertspiele is looking into a few options for the German language market. A decision should be made shortly." Historically eggertspiele and Pegasus have released games with rules in both German and English, but it's unclear whether this practice will continue in the future. "As for the English version, Esdevium has chosen to pass on this opportunity, so they [i.e. eggertspiele] are evaluating other options for a localized European EN version," says Gravel.

Circling back to Century: Spice Road, that title is licensed to ABACUSSPIELE in Germany, and Gravel says there are no plans to change that arrangement at the moment.

Update, July 7, 2017: Mathilde Spriet from Gigamic has sent me this update on the situation: "We should keep our current eggertspiele titles in our catalog, and for the future titles it will be discussed game by game." (And I believe "we should" is a Frenchism for "we will". I know that I always blew modal verbs when I was studying French because it's tough to know exactly what to use when.)
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Westeros Meets Catan in A Game of Thrones Catan: Brotherhood of the Watch

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Fantasy Flight Games has a long history with author George R. R. Martin, having launched A Game of Thrones: Collectible Card Game in 2002 and published the A Game of Thrones board game in 2003.

In the fifteen years since that first title, FFG has released numerous games that represent various parts of Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, and now they're leveraging the power of their Asmodee parent company to do so once again, this time merging the tales of Westeros with the development of Catan, a fictional land that debuted in Klaus Teuber's Die Siedler von Catan in 1995, one year before the release of A Game of Thrones, the first novel in the A Song of Ice and Fire series.

A Game of Thrones Catan: Brotherhood of the Watch, co-designed by Teuber's son Benjamin and co-published by KOSMOS in Germany, takes the familiar elements of Catan and transports them to Westeros, with players doing the things that one would expect players to do in Catan — but now they face additional challenges in the game as well.

Here's an overview of A Game of Thrones Catan: Brotherhood of the Watch, which is scheduled for release in Q4 2017, with demos due to take place during Gen Con 2017 in August:

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The Brothers of the Night's Watch seek a new leader from among their ranks. Jeor Mormont wishes to promote one who can improve the infrastructure of the Gift, the bountiful and undeveloped area south of the Wall bestowed to the Watch by the Starks thousands of years ago. Drawing sustenance from the unforgiving landscape of the north offers enough challenges, but whomever takes up this task must also man and defend the Wall against the onslaught of Wildlings fighting their way into Westeros. Many brothers now compete to build, defend, and do what they can to protect Westeros, but only one shall rise above their brothers to become the new Lord Commander. But be wary — the north holds many dangers, and winter is coming.

In A Game of Thrones Catan: Brotherhood of the Watch, each area in the Gift supplies one of five resources: lumber, brick, wool, grain, and ore. The barren Ice Fields, however, produce nothing. Players take on the role of Brothers of the Night's Watch and use these resources to strengthen their hold on the north by building roads, settlements, and keeps; recruiting guards for their patrol; or buying development cards. Each of these acts bring players increased power and recognition through the awarding of victory points. The objective will be familiar to players of the original Catan; the first player to achieve ten victory points wins the game and becomes the new Lord Commander of the Night's Watch.

But this is not as easy as it sounds as the area surrounding the Gift can be treacherous. Wildings from north of the Wall have crossed over and follow their own rules of honor, which often conflict with the laws of Westeros. One of their ranks, Tormund Giantsbane, does not respect the Watch's claim to the land as he moves throughout the Gift, robbing resources from the Brothers sent to provide for their Order. While Tormund runs amok south of the Wall, Wildling forces gather in the Frostfangs, awaiting an opportune moment of weakness to breach the Watch's defenses and spread throughout the fruitful lands of Westeros. In addition to building within the Gift, players must strategically balance their resources to defend the Realm from Wildling raiders.

Each player may recruit up to seven brothers from the prisons of Westeros to don their specific color and man their section of the Wall. When the Wildings attack, each player must use their guards to fend off the onslaught. If there are more guards than Wildings, the Wall stands. If there are not, the Wildings invade the Gift and pillage the settlements and keeps therein. Yet loyalty only goes so far — guards are useless defending the Wall from Climbers who slip past them, and if they encounter a Giant, at least one guard is bound to desert his post.

Each player also has a hero to aide in their toil, based on the order of play. The first player will utilize the talents of the Lord Commander himself, Jeor Mormont, while the second player will enjoy the company of Samwell Tarly, the third will work with Bowen Marsh, and the fourth will employ the services of Master Builder Othell Yarwyck. Each hero offers a unique ability to each player which they can use up to twice during the game. Once a hero's ability has been used, players have a choice to keep that hero or choose another of the eleven heroes to aide them. Players should factor the heroes' abilities into their strategy to quickly earn victory points and gain renown within the Watch.

The Wildling invasion marks the truest test of the Brothers of the Watch and your own competency as a commander. A failure at the Wall has a devastating impact on the Gift, even if it does not destroy the players. A Game of Throne Catan: Brotherhood of the Watch has two forms of victory, though one may feel hollower than the other. Victory occurs when a player has both improved the infrastructure of the Gift and successfully kept it safe from invaders. This is shown when a player has achieved ten victory points by any combination of building keeps, roads, and settlements; hiring three or more guards to keep the Wall safe; and buying development cards to increase their prestige, all while safeguarding the Gift.

However, if the Wildlings breach the wall three times throughout the game, an alternate victory takes place. If this occurs, the game ends immediately as the Brotherhood of the Night's Watch can no longer delay their decision. The player commanding the most guards holding their posts on the Wall gains the title of Lord Commander and wins the game.

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Wed Jul 5, 2017 1:05 pm
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New Game Round-up: Superheroes Battle Debt, Pirates Battle Poor Memory, and A.R.K. Agents Battle Raxxon

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Debtzilla from designer Xeo Lye and Singapore-based publisher Capital Gains seems like an inspired mash-up of familiar game tropes, with superheroes fighting villains while also needing to manage their finances. Here's an overview of this design, which hits Kickstarter on September 19, 2017:

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In the fictional nation of Banana Republic, the incompetent government has caused a wave of financial crime. Players take on the role of heroes fighting the villains that scam ordinary citizens. However, the heroes are human beings just like anyone else, with jobs to perform, daily expenses to pay and crime-fighting gadgets to buy. Little do they know that their credit card bills are only feeding the ultimate monster of mass destruction: Debtzilla!

Debtzilla is a cooperative deck-building game with escalation mechanisms based on financial related concepts such as compounding interest and inflation. If the players are too stingy with their finances, they will find their heroes too weak to be any good in a fight. On the other hand, purchasing too many expensive gadgets will rack up debt, causing the final boss to become too powerful to possibly defeat. The players must work together to make smart financial decisions in order to save the citizens of Banana Republic.

• Designer Emerson Matsuuchi made a splash at the Origins Game Fair with the release of Century: Spice Road, and now he has another title debuting at Gen Con 2017 in August: Crossfire, a game for 5-10 players that plays in 5-10 minutes. How is that possible? Here's an overview of the setting:

Quote:
The Intel is solid. Raxxon will be transporting a VIP through a sector heavy with civilian traffic. This makes the mission a tricky one. You'll be working alone as they try to throw you off their tail. Don't be fooled. You need to get in and get the job done before the chance passes by. Just be sure to not get caught in the crossfire. Deception and negotiation are your greatest tools. Complete your mission, no matter the costs.

Introducing Crossfire, a game in the world of Specter Ops that takes players back into the dystopian struggle between Raxxon and A.R.K. This time, players compete in two teams to either protect or assassinate a Raxxon VIP, while trying to determine whether other players at the table are who they really claim to be. The clock is ticking...

Chris Leder's City of Gears first appeared in a self-published edition in 2012 via The Game Crafter, then in 2015 Arcane Wonders announced that the game would be part of its "Dice Tower Essentials" — only to part ways in 2016. Now Leder has announced that Grey Fox Games has picked up the game for release in 2018, with designer Daryl Andrews collaborating on the final design.

Memoarrr! is a very different game from Edition Spielwiese's first release (Cottage Garden in 2016), with this quick-playing game from newcomer Carlo Bortolini debuting at the Berlin Brettspiel Con in July 2017. What do you get when you combine pirates with a memory game? This:

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To play the match-and-memory game Memoarrr!, 2 to 4 players need the power of recollection and the luck of pirates. Only then can they make their escape from the island of Captain Goldfish, their pockets lined with rubies, before the lava swallows them up.

In turn order, players reveal locations that are connected via the animal or the landscape to the most recently revealed location. If someone reveals a location without any connection, that player is out of the round. The last remaining pirate grabs one of the valuable treasures. Then, all revealed locations are turned face down before the search can start afresh.

As the cards do not change position during a game, players collect more and more information each round, enabling them to reveal new connections — but sometimes a little bit of luck is all it takes to get that treasure.

For advanced players, each animal comes with an additional special action that is triggered when a connected location is revealed — and they make Memoarrr! even more exciting and fun to play.

Publisher Michael Schmitt notes that artist Pablo Fontagnier is "a very famous German graffiti artist", and his Instagram account has more than eighty thousand followers, which indeed qualifies as "very famous" in my ranking of all the German graffiti artists that I know.
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Tue Jul 4, 2017 9:23 pm
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