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

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Game Preview: NMBR 9, or Stretching Your Digits

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Some games are so influential that they become part of our shared vocabulary shortly after their release and continue to make their presence felt for decades to come, with anything even remotely similar being lumped into the same stew, despite whatever differences might exist. Tetris is one such example, with nearly any game in which you fit blocks together being referred to as having Tetris-like gameplay.

Not one to flout tradition, I'll say that Peter Wichmann's NMBR 9 — which debuts from German publisher ABACUSSPIELE in early 2017 and which will, I am positive, end up being recommended or nominated by the Spiel des Jahres jury — offers simple, inviting Tetris-like gameplay in which each player tries to piece together blocky numbers from 0 to 9 into a high-scoring pile of digits.




NMBR 9 is a true multiplayer solitaire game along the lines of Take it Easy!, with each player building their own structure and with your only interaction possibly being to eye an opponent's number pile enviously and decide you need to take a few chances if you're going to catch up to them.

At the start of play, each player receives two sets of number tiles from 0 to 9, with each digit being a blocky creation that you could mistake for the appropriate numeral if you held it at arm's length on a foggy night after a few drinks. Someone shuffles a deck that contains two sets of cards numbered 0 to 9, then you reveal the top card, grab the appropriate tile, and start to build. Well, not much building happens with only a single tile; it just sits there on the table, looking like everyone else's tile and you feel kind of silly, like you're copying one another and not being original, but you have only one tile to work with, so how different can you be anyway?




With each card revealed, you add a new number to your creation, touching any previously laid tile on the same level along the edge of at least one square. You can lay one tile on top of others as long as you don't cover any holes in your structure and the covering tile has at least two different tiles underneath it. Easy peasy lemon squeezy – except of course it's not since the numbers have been carefully constructed to frustrate the bejesus out of you due to their general lack of smoothly interlocking sides. Sure, the 4's peg nestles into the 7's divot, and the 5s lock together arm in arm like reunited lovers on a Parisian train platform, but most other combinations leave you muttering "If only, if only" over and over again, especially the stupid 3s.

Once you've all placed the twenty digits in your structure, it's time to score your creation, and since this is a European designer and publisher, they use European-favored scoring. All of the tiles on the lowest level of your structure — the ground floor, as it were — are worth zero points as they comprise the 0th floor. (In case you didn't know, while the ground floor of buildings in the U.S. is considered the first floor since, you know, when you count things you start with 1, in Europe the ground floor is considered an entryway of sorts and not part of the real building that starts immediately above it. Thus, it does not merit a number and is dismissed from the count, just as your tiles on the lowest level will be dismissed, whatever numerals they might be.)

Tiles on the second level — the first floor in European terms — have their value multiplied by 1, while tiles on the third level — the second floor — have their value multiplied by 2. This multiplying effect continues, but I've seen a tile on the fourth level only twice in five games, so don't worry about needing to multiply too much. Players sum their points, and whoever has the highest total gets to shame the losers as the losers that they are.


The cards fit in the center slot, making this a superbly designed, yet still superfluous storage tray


I've played the game five times so far on a review copy from ABACUSSPIELE, and NMBR 9 feels like nothing at first because of that copying effect I mentioned above. You place the second tile, trying not to look at what everyone else is doing because you're going to do your own thing, dammit, and not be like everyone else — only to look around after placing it to discover that you've all done the same thing. Baa baa!

Over time, though, the buildings start to differentiate themselves. You place a stupid 3 in a possibly terrible situation with the hope that an overdue 1 will appear to allow you to close the canyon and build a solid foundation, while someone else is content to place the flat side of the 3 against other tiles to give them a little more room on which to spread out when building the next higher level. You weigh the 6 in the hand for the immediate 6 points and a narrow foundation for future growth versus the 6 in the bush for a wider foundation that will enable a better range of placements in the future. You hesitate to place a 9 on the ground floor since those points will turn to dust, but as the largest tile in the game (with no holes in it, mind you) that expanse sometimes needs to be buried.

The vacuform tray in the box allows for possibly the quickest game-starting time ever since you need only shuffle the cards and reveal one, with everyone then grabbing the tiles out of the box one by one as they need them. As for games #2 and 3, which inevitably follow the first, you can simply separate your tiles, push them to the side, then get ready to start building 1s again…


Stupid 3s...
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Tue Feb 7, 2017 2:45 pm
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Game Previews from Spielwarenmesse I: Gentes and The King's Will

W. Eric Martin
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• BGG sent a small crew to the Spielwarenmesse 2017 trade fair in Nürnberg, Germany this past week, and given that I'm also headed to shows in New York and Cannes this month, I aim to publish all 90+ videos that we recorded before the middle of February. Need to clear the docks before more material arrives for publication!

To start, here are overviews of two games overseen by developer Uli Blennemann, with Gentes from designer Stefan Risthaus coming from Spielworxx in mid-2017. Blennemann notes that Gentes is lighter than the previous Risthaus/Spielworxx title Arkwright, which was released in 2014, but do not mistake "lighter" as meaning "light".





The King's Will from designer Hans-Peter Stoll and publisher ADC Blackfire Entertainment challenges players to figure out what the king wants or gives them the opportunity to wing it and just hope that their efforts end up looking good in the king's eye.

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Mon Feb 6, 2017 5:01 pm
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Game Preview: Century: Spice Road, or Splendorous Trades on the Path to China

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Plan B Games came to be following Asmodee's purchase of most of F2Z Entertainment. In addition to holding onto the Pretzel Games portion of the F2Z business, former F2Z owner Sophie Gravel kept one title previously announced as a Z-Man Games release — Caravan by Emerson Matsuuchi — and with this title she's launched a new game publishing company that will see its first release hit the market in Germany in March 2017.

When first announced in early 2016 as a Z-Man Games release, Caravan was presented as a publishing experiment. The game would be released in two versions — one set during the time of the spice trade in the 1400s and 1500s, while the other would have a fantasy setting — but the gameplay in each version would be identical. Z-Man Games had already released Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 with two different covers, but otherwise identical contents, and now gamers would be presented with a pair of separated-at-birth twins instead of identical siblings and be able to vote with their dollars as to which one they preferred.

However, as Gravel told me at Spielwarenmesse 2017, when Z-Man presented this publishing experiment to their licensing partners, no one else wanted to participate, with each partner wanting only one version, almost exclusively the spice road setting.

Gravel says that following this feedback from their partners, Matsuuchi and the developers started playing with the design to think about other ways of having a "similar but different" approach, and over time they developed a trilogy of titles in which the gameplay would be similar in all of them with trading at the core, but with some differences across the three games. Each title would each be playable on its own, but they could also be combined to splice the different elements into each game. (The only hints that Gravel would give right now is that Century: Spice Road, the first release, will most resemble the original design, while Century: Eastern Wonders (set in the 1600s and due mid-2018) would include a game board and Century: A New World (due mid-2019) would allow players to trade with Native Americans in the 1700s.)




In many ways, Century: Spice Road resembles the streamlined, quick-play nature of Marc André's Splendor, which debuted in 2014. In both games, players start with very little and accrete tiny actions over many turns into a robust engine that ideally propels them to wealth.

More specifically, in Century: Spice Road you start with only two cards in hand: one card that grants you two cubes of ginger when played (with the cubes being placed in a storage cart that holds at most ten cubes) and another card that allows you to upgrade two spices by one level each or one spice by two levels. On the table before you lie bowls of four spices — ginger, saffron, cardamom, and cinnamon — along with two rows of cards; the top row consists of order cards that you can purchase with spices to earn points, while the bottom row has spice cards that you can "purchase" and place in your hand for later use. On a turn, you take one of four actions:

• Play a card and take the action on it, either earning spices from the reserves or trading spices you already hold for different spices; when you trade, you can trade multiple times as long as you have the goods.
• Pick up a spice card, paying nothing for the card on the left and placing one cube on each card you pass over should you take a card from elsewhere in the row; when someone takes a card with cubes on it, they place those cubes in their cart.
• Pay spices to the reserves to fulfill an order card, earning a bonus coin worth 3 or 1 points if the card is leftmost or second leftmost in the row.
• Pick up all of the cards you've played.

That's it! The game consists of tiny actions that vanish instantly like potato chips at a summer picnic, but as you start piling them up, you find them turning into something larger and tastier, with combos developing organically (or not) as you add spice cards to your hand. You grab three ginger, then upgrade two ginger to two cardamom, then trade one cardamom for two saffron and a ginger, leaving you two (better) cubes up in the process. I'm not sure how these fool traders stay in business, but that's their concern, not mine.


Set-up for the first turn


If you want a shorthand description, Century: Spice Road is a hand-building game along the lines of a more straightforward Concordia. You want to collect cards that all work well together, then chain them to get the most out of your tiny actions, with each turn spent picking up cards feeling like a lost opportunity, a pause in the momentum before you hit the trading stalls once again.

Aside from Splendor, the other influence evident to me is Sid Sackson's Bazaar, which also uses the design chestnut of trading stuff for other stuff in order to buy cards, but in each game of Bazaar, you lay out two cards showing a number of bidirectional trading equations, and all the players use these equations in order to swap two As and a B for a C and a D. In Century: Spice Road, you're solely responsible for the cards you put into your own hand, and if you can't make efficient trades, well, you have only yourself to blame.

Century: Spice Road debuts in Germany in order to be available for consideration by the Spiel des Jahres jury, then Plan B Games will have soft releases of the game at a few conventions, such as the Festival del Gioco in Modena, Italy in April 2017, before its U.S. launch on June 14, 2017 at the Origins Game Fair. (Note that the playmat shown in these images won't be included in the box, but is instead a bonus item for those who preorder the title from Plan B Games. The plastic spice cups, on the other hand, are included in the box.)


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Mon Feb 6, 2017 2:25 am
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Game Preview: Professor Evil and The Citadel of Time, or It Takes a Thief to Catch a Thief

W. Eric Martin
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Given how many games I look at, I often appreciate it when a publisher puts a game on the table and I can't fathom how the thing even works. Yes, I'm a jaded soul and I crave newness and unpredictability, so it was a nice surprise at Spielwarenmesse 2017 when Philippe Nouhra of Funforge showed up at our appointment to talk about Professor Evil and The Citadel of Time from Brett J. Gilbert and Matthew Dunstan.

Sure, the game board somewhat reminded me of Kill Doctor Lucky, what with the labeled rooms in a mansion-type environment and a black pawn that represented the automated character of Professor Evil while everyone else had a token that started the game outside the house, but what are the Magna Carta and Dead Sea Scrolls doing in the mansion? And what are these strange gear-like devices? Why does everyone have their own character deck? And what is this giant clock in the center of the board?


Prototype artwork and components; nearly final cover design


Turns out the Professor Evil owns a time machine, and he's been ripping off all the best historical items from times both past and future. Your team has been charged with confiscating these items and returning them to their proper locations in time, so you now need to infiltrate the mansion and abscond with four items before Prof. Evil can secret four of them in locations inaccessible to you. Thankfully the old soul is a bit daft and won't evaporate you should he catch you lurking through the mansion, but simply scoot you out the front door where he'll forget about you immediately.


Main character card on left; other character cards in center and on right


On a turn, you first draw and reveal two cards from your tiny deck, then keep one of the cards based on what you think will help you this turn. You then take three actions, such as open a door in the room you're in, move from a room (or outside) to another room (assuming the door is open), disable a trap, or grab a treasure; using a card isn't an action unless it says otherwise. You can repeat actions as desired or needed, but you can't enter a room with Prof. Evil and you can't exit the house on your own (in order to run across the grounds to another window) once you enter. You're now committed to grabbing those treasures!


Prototype artwork


After you finish your turn, Prof. Evil now moves, but again he's not all there, so he doesn't necessarily move in a logical manner. To move him, you roll three dice: One die advances the secondary Prof. Evil figure on the clock on the board either five or ten minutes; the other two determine where Prof. Evil moves and how far. What's more, as he walks through rooms, he closes the doors through which he travels and reactivates any inactive traps he encounters. If you roll a blue and a 1, for example, he moves through the blue doorway into the next adjacent room; a red and a 3 will move him through three rooms, walking through the red doorway each time. A color and a particular signal will teleport him immediately to the treasure bearing the same colored marker.

Let's look at these treasures in more detail: Each treasure shows a time value and one or more traps on it. Three treasures are placed on the board, then a blue, red and green token are placed on the treasures, with a matching blue, red and green token placed on the game board clock on the time matching what's on the treasure. The Magna Carta might say 45 minutes, for example, and after placing a blue token on the Magna Carta, you place a blue token on the clock 45 minutes away from where the Prof. Evil figure is located. If Prof. Evil moves onto this token on the clock, then that treasure is lost — and if you lose four treasures, then you've lost the game. Remove it from play and replace it with a new treasure, marking the proper time on the clock.


Final artwork for some of the traps


Note that you can't just grab a treasure, however. Professor Evil can't be in the same room (of course), but you also must ensure that all the traps shown on the treasure are currently deactivated. The game board starts with eight traps on it — half active, half not — and you'll play tug-of-war with Professor Evil over keeping them in this status. Collect a treasure, and a new one will be added to the game board; collect four treasures before Prof. Evil does, and you all win the game.


Time to get a special power — before you most likely lose a treasure, alas


Aside from re-stealing and re-stashing treasures as he moves around the clock, when the Prof. Evil token on the cloak reaches 3:00 and 9:00, one of the players reveals the flip side of their character card, which grants them both an ongoing small advantage and a one-time larger power that once used will return their card to the face-down position.

That's it for the game, with a game of tug-of-war taking place between what is surely a noble group of characters and a clueless bandit meandering about his house content to look at the goods he's nicked. Don't let him get away with it when Professor Evil and The Citadel of Time becomes available in Q2 2017!


Final artwork for two of the player characters
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Sat Feb 4, 2017 1:00 pm
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Game Preview: Valletta, or Deck-Building Meets Building-Building in Malta

W. Eric Martin
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German publisher Hans im Glück tends to release one or two big box titles annually, old-school German games of a type that seem hard to find elsewhere on the market. Their release for the first half of 2017 — March 2017 to be specific, with Z-Man Games releasing the title in English sometime later since the manufactured games then need to travel across the Atlantic — is Stefan Dorra's Valletta, with the game's setting being as follows:

Quote:
In 1566, Jean Parisot de Valette, 49th Grand Master of the Order of Malta, laid the foundation for Valletta, the future capital of Malta. Players are builders who also want to contribute to the building of Valletta, preferably under the eye of Jean de Valette since he'll reward them when he sees work being done.

In game terms, Valletta is a deck-building, resource-management construction game. Each player starts with a deck of eight cards, and on a turn, you start with a hand of five cards and you can play at most three cards. If you acquire a new card, it goes to your hand immediately, and you can play it as one of your three cards for the turn — but you acquire a new card only by constructing a building (which typically takes both resources and money) and to construct a building, you need to play a builder card, which means you've already played one of your three cards for that turn.


Your eight starting cards


To set up for four players, you lay out the central game board, which serves as a point tracker for the players and a path for Jean de Valette, who's going to walk down the street to see what players are doing, but only when someone plays a Jean de Valette card that prods him along. You shuffle the yellow, blue and green building cards, then lay out thirty of them in six rows as shown in the image below. You then shuffle the yellow, blue and green people cards, and lay out a person of the matching color on each building. Yellow items tend to give victory points, green items tend to give money or resources, and blue items tend to do special things. (With fewer players, you lay out fewer rows of cards.)

On a turn, you play your three cards one a time and do their things. If you pay the cost for a building, you add the card on it to your hand and mark that building as yours. At the end of the game, you'll score points for it, and each turn during the income phase you'll earn something for it: money, resources, points, etc. If Jean de Valette is in the same column as the building you constructed, you get a bonus; if you build something adjacent to another of your buildings, you receive a discount. Later in the game you can use an action to upgrade a building — flipping it to the other side to indicate this — doubling both the point value and the income.




One card in your starting deck allows you to cull cards from your deck to a central discard pile in order to increase your odds of getting the cards you want — but this same card allows you acquire cards from the discard pile, thereby allowing you to grab stuff that others have discarded.

The game enters its final phase when Jean de Valette reaches the end of the street (as he's ready to go cool his heels at home), or when a player has placed all of their building tokens on building cards, or when a player has reached the end of the point tracker for points scored during play. After any of those things happen, each player takes their entire deck and goes through it all one more time, thereby giving you a final chance to use everything that you've acquired over the course of the game, after which you tally points to see who wins an invite to the de Valette home as apprentice par excellence.




That's it! I keep thinking there's more to the game, but Hans im Glück lists a playing time of twenty minutes per player, and that seems accurate as the flow of gameplay is straightforward, with all the twistyness of play coming through the variety of building and people cards in the game (since not all are used each time) and whatever you add to your deck in order to make things happen.

(Please note that some details below might be inaccurate. BGG recorded a video overview at Spielwarenmesse 2017, and I'm reconstructing how to play from memory. I've updated this post since publication to add more images and ideally help clarify the explanation.)


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Fri Feb 3, 2017 1:05 pm
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Game Preview: Carcassonne: Manege frei!, or Gather One, Gather All in This Tiny Tent

W. Eric Martin
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BoardGameGeek has a small crew in Nürnberg, Germany to record game overview videos of several dozen titles that will be released in the first half of 2017 — and later in the year, too, since we're looking at whatever we can and some publishers already have SPIEL 2017 titles to show off.

In any case, I didn't make it to the Spielwarenmesse today to start taking photos of the games on display, but I did look at a few upcoming titles during a dinner event, with one of those being Carcassonne: Manege frei!, the tenth expansion for the long-lived and still quite popular Carcassonne series from Klaus-Jürgen Wrede and Hans im Glück. Here's my summarization of the rules, which likely won't use the right terms as I was translating from German on the fly. (My game German is often sufficient to do this. German for other purposes...not so much.)

Carcassonne: Manege frei! consists of twenty landscape tiles that are mixed with whatever assortment of tiles you're using, along with one wooden tent, one ringmaster figure in six different colors, and 16 animal tokens. During set-up, shuffle the animal tokens — which are mostly numbered 3-6, along with a single 1 and single 7 — face down and leave them on the side. Give each player a ringmaster figure along with their other meeples.

Whenever you draw a tent tile, place it on the board legally, then place a face-down animal token on this tile without looking at it. Place the wooden tent on top of this token to make it easy for others to spot where the circus is currently taking place. When another tent tile is drawn, place a new face-down token on this tile, move the tent, then reveal the token just exposed. Each player with a meeple on that tile or any of the eight surrounding tiles scores the listed number of points for each such meeple. Yay, you got to see something at the circus!




Whenever you draw a pyramid tile, place it on the board legally, then choose whether you want to place a meeple on one of the two spaces. A player who places any subsequent tile in one of the eight surrounding spaces can either place a meeple on that newly-placed tile as usual or place a meeple on the pyramid tile. When the third such meeple is placed on this space — thus forming a pyramid of acrobats — all three meeples are returned to their owners, who score 5 points for each acrobat returned.

Finally, you can place your ringmaster on a tile as if it were a knight, robber or monk, and when that feature is scored, you receive both the points for the road, city or cloister as usual, along with a 2-point bonus for each circus tile in the eight surrounding spaces.

What's next for the Carcassonne tile monster? Something with traveling musicians? Bears on pogo sticks? Traveling ice cream wagons?!
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Thu Feb 2, 2017 1:05 pm
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Game Preview: Crazy Race, or Running on All Fours

W. Eric Martin
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If you boil games down to their winning condition, you can usually describe them as being a First, Last, or Most — that is, games in which you want to be first to some goal (racing games), games in which you want to be the last one still in the game (combat games), and games in which you want to have the most of something (economic games).

These are broad terms, and not every game fits one of these categories, but they're helpful to think about when you describe a game to new players. If you lead off with the goal of the game, then they can cement in mind what they're trying to do and ideally you can relay everything else in terms of the goal so that they can piece together the possibilities of the game and how it relates to being able to win.

Now when is a racing game not a racing game? When the race is over but you can still move toward the finish line, possibly surpassing whoever got there first. While described by the publisher as a racing game — and look, the title even includes the word "race"! — Crazy Race, released in early 2017 by Alessandro Zucchini and Ravensburger is actually a Most in disguise. Here's why:

Each player starts the game with a vehicle of some sort that's being pulled by a donkey. Why is the vehicle being pulled instead of driven? Because you're a lion who's escaped from the zoo, and while you've seen people driving these vehicles around, you can't figure out how to get one going on your own. Thus, you've coerced some of the other escapees — possibly through their respect for your position, but more likely through intimidation, an underlying threat that you'll eat them should they make you get out and walk — to pull you in the vehicle so that you don't have to get your feet dirty.


Sample donkeys and one of the vehicles


Each donkey has a starting position as well as a speed limit in the upper-left corner and a bonus number in the lower right that comes into play at the end of the game. You draw one of the five donkeys at random no matter how many lions you have at the table.

The game lasts multiple legs (as if it were a race!), and in a round of play, each lion attempts to spur their chauffeur to action once, starting with whoever holds the king's crown, which is given to the lion at the front of the pride at the start of a leg. On a turn, you're going to roll dice to see whether you move, but to determine how far you'll move, well, you get to decide that on your own. You look at the multi-colored path in front of you, figure out where you might like to be at the end of your turn (whether the space is occupied or not), pick up one die of the appropriate color to match each space of that desired distance, then roll. Is the sum of the dice no higher than your donkey's speed limit? Great! Move ahead to that space, using the rolled dice as colored markers to indicate how far you travel in case you received a phone call offering mane insurance just as you rolled the dice and can no longer remember where you meant to go. Pesky telemarketers…




If the sum of the dice broke your speed limit, well, you attempted to push your donkey too hard too fast, so instead of doing what you wanted, the donkey moves you backward one space. Don't eat it out of spite, though! You're trying to escape the zoo, after all, so keep your blood lust in check for a few moments and try to move forward again next turn.

Why is this tricky in any way? Two reasons: First, the six-sided dice aren't standard! No, they come in five colors and the faces are set up so that they average 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, and 3 with at least one blank face and one 1, while the highest numbers of the dice range from 2 to 6. Second, the game board has some fixed spaces, but thirteen three-space arcs are placed at random in the game board each play, thus making for different combinations of colors, which means different combinations of dice depending on how far you want to go, which means different odds for moving or busting.

Rounds continue until one or more lions have passed the first checkpoint: a wooden tree token that feels superfluous and was perhaps included because the price of the components brought the retail price above €30 but not high enough to merit the next highest price level. Thankfully Ravensburger had a spare seventy thousand wooden trees from an earlier game in the warehouse, so now they can rid themselves of trees while also justifying the retail price. It's a win-win situation!




Once you finish that round, the donkeys need a breather from pulling your fuzzy butt, so you each recruit a new animal that awaits you there. These animals were revealed at the start of the leg, giving you time to make moves based upon which animal you might want as the lions draft new animals from the back of the pack forward. Animals let you reroll dice of a certain color, count a die of your choice as 1 no matter the pip count, roll one of each die and move as many spaces as the highest die, roll one die at a time until you bust or decide to stop, count each die as at most 2, move ahead two spaces if they start on a brown space, and so on. Not all animals have a power, but they do have a speed limit and a bonus number.

You crank through multiple legs this way, ending after the round in which someone passes the fifth wooden tree token while still marveling that they even exist. Each lion has collected a total of four new animals along the way, and now you sum the bonus numbers on these animals and advance that many spaces along the track. After doing this, whichever lion has moved the most spaces wins. Yes, it's a Most game, as promised.

I've played Crazy Race twice on a review copy from Ravensburger, once with three players and once with two, with the two-player game having two twists in that (1) new animals aren't revealed until someone passes a tree (to keep you both in suspense) and (2) you reveal two animals, plus one additional animal for (roughly) every three spaces that separate the leader and the non-leader. Whoever is behind in this race chooses an animal for both themselves and the leader, so the farther back you are, the greater your chance of sticking the leader with something useless — but you're also farther back, which is not a good thing to be.


Before the final reckoning...


Everyone's weighing the odds constantly, debating whether to add one more die to a roll, and the lion wagon cards list the averages of the dice to let you estimate things easily and keep the game moving. The special powers on the animals mix well with the randomized track as sometimes the discount on blue won't matter, so you might attempt to move less than normal so that you're not stuck with something you don't think is useful — but while you're playing it safe, someone else is taking chances and possibly widening the lead.

The powers let you customize play both to the randomness of the track and to your personal play style. Want to take crazy chances? Then grab the chameleons (which let you roll one of each die and pick the highest) or the squirrels (which have you roll the three beige dice and move the sum of the pips, which will be 0 to 6). Want to roll lots of dice? Grab the cheetah that has a speed limit of 12, but no bonus. Want to be a jerk? Take the hyena, which moves forward one space any time another player busts on a die roll.

You might have an animal for two to five turns depending on how risky/lucky players are, then you're grabbing the reins of something else, rushing to the finish in a way that might have you thinking Crazy Race is a race — even though it isn't.
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Wed Feb 1, 2017 2:05 pm
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Days of Wonder Offers Public Services and A Ticket for Another First Journey

W. Eric Martin
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In addition to the new strategy game Yamataï (covered here), Days of Wonder has two other titles in the offing for 2017, one of those being a small expansion for François Gandon's Quadropolis.

The Quadropolis: Public Services expansion, which debuts in Europe in April 2017 and in North America in June 2017 and retails for $15/€13, consists of 24 public service building tiles, four helpers, and rules. Here's how those buildings come into play:

Quote:
With Quadropolis: Public Services, players can add new public service buildings to their cities. As Mayor, will they choose to increase the population by building a maternity ward or protect their citizens with a new police station? Perhaps a reprocessing plant would be a good investment to decrease pollution... Whatever you choose, competition will be fierce, and being able to build the right public service at the right time will not be made easy by the other players.

Each round, a selection of public service tiles are revealed and placed face up next to the board. Players will then be able to build these in their city, with each of these new buildings offering in-game bonuses and scoring options to newly challenge you as Mayor of a modern city.

• In the middle of 2016, the U.S. retail chain Target unveiled Ticket to Ride: First Journey, a scaled-down Ticket to Ride for younger players played on a map of the United States, with players racing to complete six tickets before anyone else.

Just as Ticket to Ride was succeeded by Ticket to Ride: Europe, Ticket to Ride: First Journey has now been succeeded by, um, Ticket to Ride: First Journey, with the only difference being that (1) players are completing tickets that connect cities in Europe and (2) eleven editions will be released with rules in roughly fifteen languages. Here's an explanation of the gameplay:

Quote:
Ticket to Ride: First Journey takes the gameplay of the Ticket to Ride series and scales it down for a younger audience.

In general, players collect train cards, claim routes on the map, and try to connect the cities shown on their tickets. In more detail, the game board shows a map of Europe with certain cities being connect by colored paths. Each player starts with four colored train cards in hand and two tickets; each ticket shows two cities, and you're trying to connect those two cities with a contiguous path of your trains in order to complete the ticket.

On a turn, you either draw two train cards from the deck or discard train cards to claim a route between two cities; for this latter option, you must discard cards matching the color and number of spaces on that route (e.g., two yellow cards for a yellow route that's two spaces long). If you connect the two cities shown on a ticket with a path of your trains, reveal the ticket, place it face up in front of you, then draw a new ticket. (If you can't connect cities on either ticket because the paths are blocked, you can take your entire turn to discard those tickets and draw two new ones.) If you connect one of the westernmost cities (Dublin, Brest, Madrid) to one of the easternmost cities (Moscow, Rostov, Ankara) with a path of your turns, you immediately claim a special cross-continent ticket.

The first player to complete six tickets wins! Alternatively, if someone has placed all twenty of their trains on the game board, then whoever has completed the most tickets wins!


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Tue Jan 31, 2017 11:30 pm
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Following Trademark Conflict, Knizia Says Farewell to Ingenious and Introduces AXIO

W. Eric Martin
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In November 2016, designer Reiner Knizia tweeted this:



Few people noticed the tweet, including me (despite the BGG Twitter account following him), but Knizia überfan László Molnár did notice and asked: "Why the rename?"

Rename indeed for if you visit online gaming site Triqqy, you will discover a listing for AXIO Hexagonal, the rules of which will be familiar to anyone who's played Knizia's award-winning game Ingenious, which debuted to great acclaim in 2004 from German publisher KOSMOS under the name Einfach Genial and which in all likelihood would have taken home the Spiel des Jahres award that year if Ticket to Ride hadn't hit the market in the same timeframe.

So why the rename? Because of this trademark filing in September 2016 by Sophisticated Games:




Yes, while we might think of KOSMOS as the originating publisher of Ingenious, the actual publisher of origin (contractually speaking) is Sophisticated Games as Knizia had signed a license with them for the game design, and Sophisticated Games subsequently licensed the game to KOSMOS and other publishers. The trademark on its own was not the problem, though. As Knizia told me via Skype, "I had a very good relationship with Sophisticated Games for a long time. Then came a demand that if I wanted to use the name 'Ingenious' for my game, I should pay Sophisticated Games a royalty. Sometimes trademarks are registered by the publisher and sometimes by the designer, but to have this used in an internal relationship is outrageous. To register the trademark without my knowledge is not very nice."

I asked Robert Hyde, managing director at Sophisticated Games, about this claim for royalty payments, and he answered: "I cannot discuss any confidential matters between Sophisticated Games and Dr. Knizia with a third party. I am sure you will understand that." (Editor's note: I've added a follow-up note from Hyde at the bottom of this post that he sent after publication. —WEM)

As for the filing of the trademark itself, Hyde explained that "Sophisticated Games has long held the UK trademark on Ingenious and the filing of a US mark in addition is just an extension of that process concurrent with our moving to a different distribution partner in the USA as from January 1st this year." Fantasy Flight Games was the most recent publisher of Ingenious in the U.S., with an edition released in 2012, but Thames & Kosmos — the North American branch of KOSMOS — has announced a new edition of the game due out in the U.S. in 2017 with a new graphic design and a new plastic game board.

Hyde added, "NB: Sophisticated Games owns the exclusive publishing rights to the Ingenious family of games in all countries and languages, regardless of trademarks, and has done so since first publication in 2004. The game was first published under the name of Mensa back then, but we subsequently changed it to Ingenious."

Knizia confirms that the game was originally named Mensa following its design — and an edition was released under that name (or Mensa Connections, depending on whether you view that secondary word as part of the title) in 2004 by Sophisticated Games. KOSMOS didn't think the Mensa organization had enough of a following in Germany to merit using that name, so the publisher brainstormed new names and ended up with "Einfach Genial", with that name coming courtesy of a television program with the same name that has run on television network MDR since 1996. It's from "Einfach Genial" that most of the other names (Ingenious, Genial, Genius, Helt genialt!, Просто гениально, インジーニアス, etc.) under which this design has been published originate.

How did Sophisticated Games end up with the ability to trademark Ingenious? Knizia explained to me that while his contracts normally detail the use of a name, his first contract with SG was for Lord of the Rings, his ground-breaking cooperative game based on the fantasy series from J. R. R. Tolkien, and since that design was for a licensed title with a well-known name, Knizia had no say over the game title in that contract. When he later signed with SG for Mensa, apparently they used a similar contract, so once again the issue of the name was left out of his hands.

However the name originated, Knizia says that the idea of paying a royalty to use it "is immoral and damaging for the business", the reverse of the normal relationship between publisher and author. "I'm not going to promote a situation in which I lose ownership," he says, "so as far as I can, I'll rename the games. Electronically I've already done that, with Triqqy and with other outlets." (United Soft Media still lists Ingenious as being available for Windows, iOS, and Android devices.)

While Hyde claims exclusive board game publishing rights to the Ingenious family of games, Knizia says that he has "the rights back for some of the games in the family", and he plans to get them to market under the new AXIO brand when possible. Why the name "AXIO"? "It was important to find a name that isn't an insult in any language," Knizia jokes. "More importantly, we want something which can stand globally that isn't too complicated as well as something that represents the spirit of the family." While he can't vouch for the insult-free nature of "AXIO", Knizia makes a case for it letter by letter, with each of them being fundamentally simple and akin to the symbols in the game: a triangle, a cross, a line, and a circle. What's more, he could file a trademark on it himself. "It's not going to go step on anyone else's toes."

As best as he could, Knizia says that he's tried to put a positive spin on this development. "This family of games is published under seventeen different names. In our global world, that's not always the best approach to promote a brand. Now that we're moving to one name, and the only name I'll promote, it will become easier to promote the brand. I'll develop the brand and add new games to the family." Knizia has already debuted AXIO Octagonal on Triqqy, with gameplay being nearly identical to Ingenious/AXIO Hexagonal except that the game board is octagonal, the domino-shaped tiles feature one or two of eight symbols (instead of six), and the maximum score for a symbol is 13, with players receiving a bonus turn when a symbol reaches that level.



"The point is you can be angry about it or disappointed about it, but that doesn't help," says Knizia. "It's a great family of games. In the long run, the game will be there and merge to this [new] name. To take this opportunity to grow the brand, I have developed a new flagship title for AXIO and that will be shown by Pegasus Spiele" at the Spielwarenmesse game fair in Nürnberg, Germany in February 2017. Knizia explains that AXIO plays similarly to the original design, but is "more modern and more accessible", with a 3D element to the gameplay. "I see Pegasus as my lead partner for AXIO. They will carry it not only in Germany but worldwide, and as new games are added to the brand, they will be added by Pegasus."

Knizia stresses that he has no grievance with KOSMOS or any other publisher of Ingenious: "This was not done at KOSMOS' initiative. They are good partners." As for Sophisticated Games, Knizia says, "My intention is not to wash their laundry in the public. My main purpose is to explain what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. I will accept [this situation], but I will not promote it."

He adds, "The wonderful thing about our industry is that we do cooperate on games and share ideas. Sometimes it's a tough business, but it's an honest, fair business, and because everyone knows one another, the black sheep are identified quickly..."




•••


Update, Monday, Jan. 30: Christian Beiersdorf, managing director of Spiele-Autoren-Zunft (the German game designer association commonly abbreviated SAZ), has issued the following statement on this topic:

Quote:
World renowned game designer Dr. Reiner Knizia, a member of the Game Designers Association, informed us that he will continue the family of games known by titles such as EINFACH GENIAL or INGENIOUS under the new brand name AXIO. This is motivated by a legal dispute with Sophisticated Games in England, the licensor of some of his publishing rights, who have registered the former title for themselves and from whom Kosmos, and its software publisher USM, have sublicensed the German language rights.

The dispute mainly arises from Sophisticated Games' demands towards the designer to pay licence fees if he wanted to use the former title in publishing forms which are not covered by their licence agreement. Dr. Reiner Knizia perceives this demand as an "immoral and business damaging reversal of the usual Licensor-Licensee relationship". He strictly rejects any licence payments to his publisher in relation to the use of his own game.

The Game Designers Association (SAZ) equally condemns such demands. Such examples highlight the importance for authors to include respective clauses in their licence agreements. The title of a game — irrespective of whether it originates from the designer or from the publisher — should always be, and remain, an integral part of the game, as long as the title is not based on third-party rights (e.g. movie, book or character licences) or part of a series title of the publisher. This is particularly important if the publisher only licences partial publishing rights — restricted by territory or publishing form.

The change of the brand name will be accompanied by the addition of a new game to the family. The new flagship game of the AXIO series will be published by Pegasus Spiele and will be exhibited for the first time on the Nuremberg Toy Fair.

•••


Update, Tuesday, Jan. 31: After the publication of this article, Robert Hyde, managing director at Sophisticated Games, sent me the following statement regarding this situation:

Quote:
When BGG asked us last Friday to comment on some statements made by Reiner Knizia in a skype interview they had conducted with him, we said that that we did not comment on confidential contractual matters between us and our authors. We believe this to be a sound business principle as well as a legal obligation. So we were surprised to read the contents of this interview which you published yesterday.

The actual facts of the matter (but we will not disclose any contractual matters) are these:

1. The dispute regarding our asking Mr Knizia for a royalty concerns an app not a board game.

2. The app is Ingenious, which USM in Munich and ourselves in partnership have developed over the last seven years involving a considerable investment.

3. Last autumn we decided to withdraw from being a partner in the app because we judged that this was not our core business and that three royalty mouths to feed (Sophisticated Games, USM and Reiner Knizia) was probably one too many given the need for future investment in the app.

4. Therefore we decided to gift our share in this venture to Reiner. Not sell, even though we had invested a great deal of money in the app….gift. In good faith. The sole condition we attached was that he would only use the name Ingenious under license from us and pay us a nominal royalty. I think we all understand the meaning of “nominal”. We were not looking for any financial reward, but we were looking to safeguard our investment in the brand Ingenious.

5. What BGG readers were not told by RK was that the original board game was commissioned by Sophisticated Games from Reiner Knizia, the parameters of which were prescribed by us to be an abstract game to go with the brand of Mensa which we had previously acquired for use in boardgames. NB: The majority of games that we create are commissions. Lord of the Rings, Beowulf, The Hobbit and Ingenious. All of these are games that we commissioned from Reiner Knizia.

6. We invented the name Ingenious (after we had had little success with selling the game as Mensa) and we have vigorously promoted the game and the name- and its variants- throughout the world for over 12 years and made it the success that it now is.

7. We registered the trademark in the UK 6 years ago to protect the game from being copied by others. Trademarks are not infallible ways of protecting authors and publishers from copiers …..but they do help. Our filing of a US copyright in September was a part of the same process. We were asked by our new distributors whether we had protected the name Ingenious in the USA. It turned out that our last partner had not filed this protection, so we went ahead and filed. Following this filing and at the time that Mr Knizia was clearly objecting to our claims that we owned the brand for the app, we had eminent IP law firms on both sides of the Atlantic investigate our claim that we own the brand. They both agreed 100% with our own opinion in this matter. Mr Knizia has previously been shown the relevant parts of this written opinion.

I am sorry if the above will disappoint those parties wishing to see some kind of anti-author conspiracy, but as Mr Knizia knows, as he has been kind enough to point this out to us on many occasions over the years, we are a very transparent and pro author company and we have always, always, acted in good faith with him, and with the many other high profile games designers and leading board game publishers with whom we have worked over the last 19 years.

I had asked United Soft Media whether the "Ingenious" name would remain in use for its programs, and Michaela Schultheis with USM responded as follows: "Due to ongoing discussions and negotiations about the topic, at the moment we cannot publicly comment any further than Robert Hyde has already done this morning. However we'd like to stress the fact that we've successfully been working with all parties involved for years now and hope that the current situation can be resolved for the benefit of all parties."
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Mon Jan 30, 2017 5:35 am
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Game Overview: C-Cross, or Get Into the Groove

W. Eric Martin
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The goal of Ludovic Gimet's C-Cross, released by German publisher Clemens Gerhards in late 2015, will be familiar to all who have played abstract strategy games: Connect opposite sides of the board with a chain of your pieces. (The "cross" in the name literally explains what you need to do to win, but it also calls back to the earliest titles in this genre — Hex and Twixt — since "cross" can mean a mark like an "x".)

In C-Cross, players take turns placing pawns in the grooved spaces of the board, and when someone has three pawns in a space, they remove their pawns and install one of their permanent C-bricks — but if an opposing pawn would be squashed by that brick, the active player must give that pawn a new home by swapping it for one of their pawns that lie elsewhere on the board. Yes, sometimes you must relinquish territory elsewhere to establish footing for yourself, another element familiar in abstract strategy games.

This minimal ruleset creates a delightfully troublesome game in which you can lose in almost any direction, especially when you make one terrible move, as I did in the video below...

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Sat Jan 28, 2017 5:05 pm
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