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Plaid Hat Games Bought by F2Z Entertainment

W. Eric Martin
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North Carolina
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During set-up day at Gen Con 2015, Canadian company F2Z Entertainment — parent company of Z-Man Games, Filosofia Éditions and Pretzel Games — announced that it had purchased U.S. publisher Plaid Hat Games.

Plaid Hat Games will continue to operate as a design and development studio, with the newly formed F2Z USA Corp. managing logistics, sales and marketing. In a press release announcing the deal, PHG studio manager Colby Dauch wrote, "Plaid Hat Games has always put a strong focus on the design and development process of making board games and the skill set of the team at Plaid Hat Games reflects that focus. As Plaid Hat Games has grown, the other aspects of the board game publishing business have devoured more and more of the team’s time and attention. This acquisition by F2Z Entertainment allows the Plaid Hat Games’ team to turn their attention back to what they do best..."

The press release noted that "[s]ome titles currently in the Plaid Hat Games catalog will also be gradually integrated into the F2Z Digital Media branch". F2Z Entertainment has an in-house digital media division responsible for its Pandemic iOS app, and at Gen Con 2015 F2Z marketing and communication manager Lyne Bouthillette told me that the digital media group is involved with additional work on Pandemic right now — more news on that from the iOS Board Games blog at a future date — but after that certain PHG titles might be good candidates for a digital transformation.

Starting in 2016, all titles from Plaid Hat Games will be released in French by Filosofia. (Summoner Wars and Mice and Mystics have previously appeared in French editions from Filosofia, but no other PHG titles have done so.) Bouthillette told me that F2Z is also working directly in-house to create simultaneous releases in both German and Dutch for titles from Z-Man Games and Plaid Hat Games, based on the strength of those two markets worldwide compared to other countries.
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Thu Jul 30, 2015 3:31 am
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Designer Diary: Suburbia 5★

Ted Alspach
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While designing/developing Suburbia Inc, the first expansion to Suburbia, I was dead set on providing a five-player version of the game as it was something that several people asked for when Suburbia was released. Suburbia Inc was initially tested with five players, and during that time one of the critical discoveries was that the Market board — the big triangle that has the tiles priced below it — needed at least one extra slot for five players.

Five players worked, but it tended to be slower than I was comfortable with. Given that, the production cost of adding wood bits to a non-boxed expansion, and Lookout (the German publisher of Suburbia) questioning the concept of five players — it seems that this isn't so much an issue in Germany; I'll have to look into the cultural reasons at some point — the five-player portion was scrapped from the expansion.

Suburbia Inc was released, people seemed pretty happy with the new borders, bonuses, and challenges, as well as the new set of tiles, but I kept hearing requests for two things: (1) the ability to add a fifth player and (2) even more tiles to keep cities more interesting and unique — and that's what Suburbia 5★ ended up delivering, in a way that combined the two features but allows them to exist separately if players want to. The five-player part was kinda done, but there was this nagging feeling that it could be better. However, I put that aside and focused on the other aspect of the expansion: new tiles.

Tourism Tiles

In this particular case, the theme of the expansion (tourism) was at the forefront. I thought it would make cities much more interesting, if, as in real life, they had a few notable destinations that were unique to each of them, actual reasons you'd want to visit those cities, and as a result, might end up settling there. With that in mind, I set out to create fifty new, unique building tiles that would keep gameplay fresh and even more fun than the base game. For reference, both the base game and Suburbia Inc have at least two copies of each tile, so having unique tiles is indeed something quite different.




I started by listing all of the interesting kinds of tourist traps and landmarks that would be fun to have in your cities. Most of them were real world locations, and a few were amalgamations of some, while others were simply made up because they sounded interesting. As I looked at the list, I realized that having real world buildings next to fake ones just wasn't working, and there's always the possibility that some government bureaucrat would see their local landmark in the game and demand a licensing fee (since we all know they are busy web surfing at work anyway). So the decision was made to rename everything to new names, some of which are puns.


When figuring out the attributes of the tiles, the first thing to do was to assign them a color. (In Suburbia, each color represents a major "kind" of building: Blue for Commercial, Green for Residential, Yellow for Industrial, and Gray for Civic.) I had to be a little bit flexible in doing this eventually as tourist destinations are likely to be commercial more than not.

After that, it was time to assign benefits to the tiles. Most tiles have two benefits: an instant benefit and a conditional benefit. (Occasionally they don't have one or the other.) Because these tiles would be replacing existing base game (or Inc) tiles, some of the standard benefits had to be available, such as adding income and reputation. However, about one-third of the tiles have new functionality, such as the Dollar Arcade's instant ability that gives the player who builds it $1 for each population they currently have. It's in the B stack, so the player's population is typically between 15 and 30 when it's initially purchased...but if they invest in it towards the end of the game, it can be worth $70, $80, even $100!


At this point I had a lot more than fifty ideas for tiles, and decided that some of them would actually work better as Borders (which were introduced in Inc). I started with an additional twelve borders (same as Inc), but by the time the game was completed, that number was whittled down to six.

Stars

I liked the idea of rating all of the tiles from 1 to 5 tourist stars, with the 5-star tiles being the best ones, and the 1 star ones being just slightly more interesting than a standard building. I arbitrarily assigned star values to each tile, just to give me a place to start from, and realized that nothing quite reached 5-star status — partially because people have different tastes, and if I were using stars as the overall attractiveness of these destinations, even the traditional 5-star resort isn't really 5 stars for everyone because some people just aren't that interested in those resorts.

Now that I had the stars on the tiles, what would they do? Initially, I thought it could just be a collection thing where there would be a new Star goal, or maybe even a permanent Star goal that was worth double which everyone was vying for. On the subject of goals, one of the nagging criticisms of Suburbia is that if you have a fewest/lowest kind of goal, it can be difficult to win if an opponent just doesn't purchase a certain tile for no other reason than they don't need any of them, resulting in you missing out on your goal because you're tied, so the second use of stars could be for breaking ties in goals. Still, neither of those sounded all that compelling, and since stars were sort of the focal point of an expansion around tourism, they had to have more meaning. That's when I came up with the Star track.


There was some internal debate on the Star track about having it be an additional row on the players' borough boards, but because the actual number of Stars you have is irrelevant compared to how many more or fewer stars you have than your opponents, a new community track was put in place. And that's when the Star Track started to fall very nicely into place, doing the following:

1) Setting the turn order based on your position on the Star Track, with stacking order breaking ties. This, combined with the tie-breaking of goals for the leader, works amazingly well. In Suburbia, going last towards the end of the game is a distinct advantage because it allows you to move on goals without anyone being able to affect you. However, since ties are broken by the most stars, it presents an interesting decision point when you're close to other players with various goals.

2) Providing an extra population for the players who are furthest along the track, and removing a population from the players who have gone the least far on the track. This simulates the popularity of a town over time as people move into the places that are more interesting and have more to do than in less interesting towns.

3) Breaking ties for goals based on your position on the Star track at the end of the game. The last few spaces on the Star track limit the number of tokens that can be placed there to encourage a bit of a race towards the end of the game.

4) A little bump in income early in the track and a +1 bump in reputation later give players mini-goals to reach.

One of the things that naturally worked out was the use of Investment markers on tiles with stars; as with other benefits, Investment Markers double the number of stars on a tile, so if you want to jump ahead on the star track and no star tiles are available, you can simply invest in one you already have.

The goals for stars remained, but they are for the number of star tiles, not your position on the Star track. Black stars are used to indicate Star tiles, while Gold Stars are used for moving on the Star Track.

Several of the new tiles have star tile interactions, such as the Starry Sidewalk, which provides $2 for every star tile in play.


Five Players

Flexible turn order with the Star track is what really makes five players work in Suburbia. It potentially reduces the downtime between turns and keeps all players engaged at the end of each round (once all five players have gone) because that's when turn order switches and when some players gain or lose population.

From previous testing with five players in Suburbia Inc, I knew we'd need an additional spot on the Market board, which meant that 5★ would have to include a new Market board. That's okay because the new Star track needed a home, and that was a perfect place for it. To accommodate the needs for five versus two/three/four players, the board is double-sided (something I stole from Castles of Mad King Ludwig).

Five players also required a new borough board and set of wood tokens, which by popular demand are green. In addition, two copies of the base tiles — Suburbs, Heavy Factories, and Community Parks — were needed. Why two? Because in addition to the fifth player needing a set, the supply of extra base tiles was increased from four to five.

Tile Tweaking

As the game was in development, benefits and prices of tiles were constantly in flux, but the longest and probably most tedious portion of the development process was getting the prices right. The stars add value to tiles, but how much? How much more is a player willing to pay for a Star tile with the exact same benefits as a non-star tile? This part is that 20% of the work that takes 80% of the time.

Then there's the testing of the tiles with all of the base game tiles and figuring out what the correct mix of tiles is. With any Suburbia expansion, there's the risk of dilution for some of the tile icons, like Airports and Schools; adding in too many new tiles results in less interaction for the remaining tiles with those icons. There are ways to get around this, but they're really cumbersome and require super long set-up times. In the end, it was decided that a simple random mix of tiles was fine, and if players want to customize their stacks to avoid dilution, they may do so.

Production

Most purchasers of Suburbia Inc were very happy that it didn't come in a box since they would be storing the expansion in the original box anyway. I didn't know if that would be possible with the new expansion due to the wood pieces, but I was able to do it with some clever packaging.

Using the rules and the "back of the box" info sheet as the top and bottom of the expansion, I created a hole in every punchboard where the wood pieces sit. Manufacturing inserts a baggie with the wood pieces into the holes, covers the punchboards with rules, shrinkwraps it, and voilà! A boxless expansion that has wood pieces in it.


The resulting expansion adds just enough of a twist to Suburbia to be fun for all players, regardless of player count, and if you have five in your game group, you'll all be able to play!

Ted Alspach
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Wed Jul 29, 2015 1:40 pm
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Vampires Prepare for Their Ultimate One Night

W. Eric Martin
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Apex
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Designer Ted Alspach has a long history with werewolves, dating back to 2007's Ultimate Werewolf: Whitebox Edition in which he took the familiar party game Werewolf, a.k.a. Mafia, added new roles, and gussied up the system in a fancier package. UW:WE was succeeded by Ultimate Werewolf: Ultimate Edition in 2008, then Ultimate Werewolf: Deluxe Edition in 2014 — and along the way he branched out from werewolves to include other classic monsters from the night, including the Blob, Frankenstein's Monster, and (of course) The Count.

In 2014, Alspach also released One Night Ultimate Werewolf, a licensed and revamped version of Akihisa Okui's One Night Werewolf that boiled down the Werewolf experience to lots of nighttime activity followed by a single vote that determined the fate of the village. This was followed by the standalone expansion One Night Ultimate Werewolf Daybreak in 2015, and for 2016 Alspach is stretching out from werewolves to vampires once again, this time with One Night Ultimate Vampire. Here's the story background:

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Your sleepy little town has a problem, and this time it's not the furry kind. Vampires are roaming the streets looking to add to their numbers, while the village braces itself against the fanged assault. Some of those vampires have special powers, like the Master who can't be killed if a fellow vampire protects him, and the Count who prevents other villagers from waking to do their night actions. A lone Assassin carefully chooses a target and attempts to coerce the village into doing his dirty work for him.

But things aren't quite so desperate for the village, for they have several residents with special abilities: A Priest can remove vampirism from anyone who is attacked (and is himself immune). The Marksman can uncover information about two different residents in a single night. The Pickpocket steals, the Gremlin switches things around, and Cupid causes two people to fall madly in love...all things that somehow manage to help the village.

One Night Ultimate Vampire plays along the lines of ONUW and ONUWD, with each player taking a hidden role card, taking some action at night, then strongarming one another to try to get people to vote the "right" way — but in addition to the role cards, players now have "Marks" and these Marks move around during play. In more detail from Alspach:

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At the beginning of each game, each player receives a Mark of Clarity, which is placed face down near your role card. During the game, many of the roles have the ability to exchange your Mark for another one: The Vampires give a player the Mark of the Vampire, adding them to the Vampire team but leaving their original ability intact. The Assassin gives a player the Mark of the Assassin, which identifies their target. The Diseased gives one of the players adjacent to her a Mark of Disease, which will cause anyone voting for that player to lose.

All of this takes place as soon as the sun goes down...at dusk. Just before night, players get to examine their Marks to see if they have changed. Then other roles like the Marksman, Pickpocket, and Gremlin do their night actions (some of which involve viewing and switching marks).

ONUV can be combined with ONUW or ONUWD or both, and the app assistant that runs through the roles and serves as an automated moderator will be updated to facilitate play this way.

Alspach notes that while ONUV is due out at retail stores in January 2016, backers of the forthcoming Kickstarter campaign will have their copy shipped to them months earlier.

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Mon Jul 27, 2015 6:00 am
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Munchkin Consumes Oz, Kittens, Christmas, Hipsters and More

W. Eric Martin
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Apex
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More is coming for Munchkin from Steve Jackson Games, but you probably already knew that, didn't you? Munchkin is like oxygen, constituting 21% of the gaming atmosphere and providing the means to start fires in gaming forums whenever it's raised as a topic.

Whatever your feelings, though, lots of people love Munchkin and SJG is only too happy to introduce new titles to that universe, such as Munchkin Oz, which allows players to travel with — or become — characters from the L. Frank Baum books, and Munchkin Hipsters, which is a thirty-card booster of non-hip hipster things that can be added to any standalone Munchkin game.

Strangely (or not), both titles are exclusives with particular retail partners. Munchkin Oz is available solely through the Target retail chain in the U.S., with some stores carrying the game now and August 2015 being the chainwide release date, and Munchkin Hipsters is with online retailer ThinkGeek. SJG has done such exclusives previously, with Munchkin Legends debuting in Target in 2013, then becoming available to the entire market in 2014.

Additional Munchkin titles in the offing include Munchkin Christmas Lite, a scaled-down standalone introductory game for 3-4 players that retails for $10; Munchkin Kittens, a thirty-card booster pack for any standalone Munchkin game; and Star Munchkin Cosmic Demo, which is both a 17-card booster for Star Munchkin and a rigged demo to lead others through how to play the game.

Finally, in May 2015 folk rock band The Decemberists handed out a promo card for Munchkin titled "Hireling: Cavalry Captain", the design of which is based on a song on one of their albums. As SJG's Brian Engard explains, band member Chris Funk is a fan of Munchkin, so he contacted the publisher and this promotional card, which the band handed out at concerts, is the result of their collaboration.

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Sat Jul 25, 2015 6:00 pm
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Publisher Diary: Mysterium, or What's the Difference Between Mysterium and Tajemnicze Domostwo?

Libellud Team
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This article covers the differences between Mysterium and Tajemnicze Domostwo. It is aimed at inquiring readers and fans of the version published by Portal, who already know the game.

Some lucky players may have already had the opportunity to play Mysterium during conventions where Libellud or Asmodee were present, and others are already acquainted with its cousin, Tajemnicze Domostwo, which was first released in 2013 by Ukrainian publisher IGAMES, and subsequently from the Portal Games crew, where the game had already made for itself a reputation thanks to its rules, which were translated into English online.

And now, following a long wait — and lots of pressure — for the new Libellud release, Mysterium will be arriving on the shelves of your favorite hobby and specialty stores this coming October 2015 (with a pre-release at Gen Con 2015 in August). We've decided to clarify things for you by comparing Portal's Polish version, Tajemnicze Domostwo, with Mysterium, the Libellud version. Is Mysterium a translation, an adaptation, or a whole new edition?

Don't worry! Mysterium and Tajemnicze Domostwo share common DNA, notably for their game mechanisms and that they are both investigation games that use cards. Players enter a mysterious manor in which a crime took place several years earlier. In this fantastic and supernatural ambiance, players have to reveal the truth about this tragic event, identifying the culprit, the location of the murder, and with which weapon the crime took place.

Mysterium is an asymmetric game, meaning that the players won't all play the same way. The player who takes on the role of the ghost is the unofficial game master and guides the other players, the psychics, who will use their gifts to advance in their investigation ... but there is only one way to win: together! Mysterium is also a cooperative game: All of the players, no matter what their role, have the same goal — free the ghost's soul. Everyone loses or wins together, and so everyone must help each other!

The ghost cannot speak and can communicate with the psychics only through illustrated cards. The psychics have to discuss the interpretation of these images between themselves, while hoping that their intuition is spot on!

An overview of the game: Many combinations to find, but only one will be the right one! In a first phase, each psychic has to guess one combination of three elements: a character, a location, and an object. The ghost already knows all of the combinations and has to guide each psychic by giving them illustrated cards in order to put them on the right track. When all of the combinations have been found (the number will be equal to the number of psychics), then the second phase begins. From all of the combinations, the psychics must determine which combination is the right one, meaning which one points at the one and only culprit.

At this point, it should be clear that we kept the elements which made Tajemnicze Domostwo a unique game which has already successfully enticed players! Following many playtests, the Libellud team felt that parts of the game could be changed to make the Mysterium experience even more immersive. Thanks to our gifts as psychics, we had the intuition that one element had to be preserved: the crystal ball tokens! While present in the IGAMES version, you will also be able to find some in the Libellud version. But that’s not all — you'll also be able to download from the Libellud website a soundtrack that will further immerse you in the dark and supernatural ambiance...



Tokens from the IGAMES version


Intuition tokens in Mysterium


Enter Warwick Manor

To develop Mysterium, we've also re-worked some of the gameplay elements, but took special care with the world. Tajemnicze Domostwo already offered a mysterious ambiance, but we wanted to go further. The story surrounding the game, as well as the artwork, has been redone in order to offer a more thrilling experience.

In Tajemnicze Domostwo, the haunted manor is located in France and the ghost is its former owner. Wrongfully accused and executed for a crime he didn't commit, he enters the dreams of the manor's inhabitants to reveal what really happened to them. The psychics were called by the current owner of the manor to bring peace to the house. For seven nights they receive the ghost's dreams and use them to reveal to the world who the real culprit is.




In Mysterium, we chose to move the manor to Scotland, a land known for its many haunted castles! In addition to that, Libellud is a French publisher who loves to travel into mysterious realms. The ghost is a servant from Warwick Manor who was murdered in 1894 during the birthday evening organized for the owner's daughter. The facts were troubling, but none of the guests present caught the attention of the police. Following a hurried investigation, the authorities ruled it as an accident. The Warwick family moved, and the case was quickly forgotten...



Conrad MacDowell, new owner of Warwick manor


In the 1920s, the new owner, Conrad MacDowell, a brilliant astrologer, feels a supernatural presence and invites the greatest psychics of the time to solve this mystery. They choose to gather on the night of Samhain (which is the origin of Halloween) in which the border between the world of the living and the great beyond is thinner. As they are brilliant psychics with powerful gifts, they manage to make contact with the ghost haunting the manor. Very shocked by his death, he can communicate only through the use of visions. The psychics have to resolve the mystery in seven hours, that is, before sunrise and the end of the night of Samhain for otherwise they'll have to wait a full year before attempting it again.



Tick, tock, time is running short for Conrad and the other psychics


Two Game Phases, Revisited

Tajemnicze Domostwo contains two game phases. In the first one, the psychics must attempt to reconstruct the events using the dreams projected by the ghost. Each psychic attempts to discover their combination of three elements, starting with the item, then the location, and finally the character. Once all the players are successful, they get a more precise vision of the events and will, in a second phase, get new dreams which will tell them, from among the suspects, who is the true culprit.

Mysterium also has two phases of play, but they are different. The first phase is the reconstruction of events, in which the psychics each follow a lead and begin by identifying the suspect to then retrace their evening. (Where were they? What weapon did they have at hand?) The ghost guides each psychic with visions. The first step is to interpret the visions. The psychics express their opinions and debate on the significance of the images before indicating their intuition. In a second step, the ghost manifests to identify whether these choices were good or not. These two steps are repeated until either all psychics have recovered all three elements of their combination or seven hours have passed.

Once all of the combinations are assembled, the psychics have identified all of the potential suspects, but the night is well on. The second phase then begins, so it's time to reveal the true culprit. All of the combinations discovered by the psychics are reconstructed: it's the suspect line-up. The ghost remembers the identity of his killer, and with the last of its strength, sends a final vision during the shared vision step. The psychics have only a single chance to find the solution! The novelty is that this step (called the straw poll) is silent and the vote secret: After a full night of spiritism, each psychic must use all of their concentration to receive the last message from the ghost.




A New, More Harmonious World of Art

Many artists have worked on Tajemnicze Domostwo: Igor Burlakov did the dream cards, and Mariusz Gandzel and Karolina Węcka did the character, location, and item cards. Many talented artists were involved in the creation of these illustrations that contribute to the Tajemnicze Domostwo's distinctive ambiance. We created a new story, and as such we chose to rework the game's visual world. Stéphane Gantiez, art director at Libellud, searched at length to create a coherent whole. All of the game's elements had to anchor themselves in the story we wanted to tell: that of a séance in an old Scottish manor at the beginning of the twentieth century.



In addition to being useful to the game, the screen (described later) allows us to establish a supernatural ambiance


The 84 dream cards have become vision cards, but we kept all of the artwork; only the back of the cards has been changed. All created by the same artist, they are at the heart of the game and were not changed.



The artwork of the dream cards, now vision cards, hasn't changed...


...but the backs have, with Tajemnicze Domostwo on left and Mysterium on right


Those who have played Tajemnicze Domostwo are very attached to the artwork of that version, which creates a dark and anguished atmosphere. We wanted to keep a disquieting ambiance in Mysterium, but also give it its own identity while maintaining coherence with the storytelling and the Libellud's editorial line. The art style we were looking for in Mysterium had to be more accessible for a family audience, but it remains uncanny, supernatural, and fantastic. To put in place such a specific ambiance as this, we chose Xavier Collette, with whom we had previously worked on Dixit Journey and who is also known for his work on Abyss. He's the one who gave life to the characters, to the various rooms of the manor, and to the objects you will discover in Mysterium.



First sketches of the characters by Xavier Collette


For the character, location, and object cards, we attempted to get the most coherence possible. All of the characters, locations, and objects present in Mysterium must be able to find their place in a manor; this is why adjustments were made. Some elements were discarded for being too exotic or far-fetched for a Scottish manor! But they were replaced with others which better matched the storytelling.




The lighthouse and beach cards from Tajemnicze Domostwo have been discarded...



...in favor of the garden shed and the pantry, which were added in Mysterium


The shuriken from Tajemnicze Domostwo have given way to a small chest in Mysterium


These adjustments also broached the approach and the style of some cards. Many themes on cards in Tajemnicze Domostwo were kept, but the style and the ambiance were completely changed to add mystery.




On top, the attic in its Tajemnicze Domostwo version, and below, the Mysterium version;
some elements have been added or modified, and the atmosphere has become more disturbing


On many other cards, most of the elements were kept but were slightly adjusted by Xavier Collette's creative flair, such as a different angle or another way of looking at the same object, location, or starting character.




The point of view is angled differently, but it's the greenhouse in both cases



Gloves and magic wand are present for both versions of the magician


The reworked visuals for Mysterium help create an immersive ambiance colored by the supernatural. The changes made to the game's art bring a coherence to its ambiance and its world. All of these esthetic changes go in hand with work on the contents and on the adjustment of the game mechanisms.

Reworked Gameplay and Enhanced Player Experience

In Tajemnicze Domostwo, the game's difficulty could be adapted by using four different game modes ranging from "easy" to "very difficult". It's possible to change difficulty by adjusting the number of discards allowed for the ghost, but also the number of cards present on the table. In the hardest difficulty and with seven players, the psychics could have up to twelve different cards of each type: characters, locations, and weapons.

In Mysterium, it's still possible to change the difficulty level but according to three modes. Even with seven players, the number of cards of the various types is never higher than nine, which allows for an easier set-up, limits the number of red-herrings, and makes the game area easier to read — but nothing keeps players from making the game harder by adding more than nine cards if they so wish.

The number of times the ghost is allowed to discard vision cards remains unchanged. In Tajemnicze Domostwo, when discarding, the ghost has to give up all his dream cards and draw seven new cards. In Mysterium, when the ghost discards vision cards, he chooses how many cards to discard and how many to keep, drawing the appropriate number of cards to make up his hand to seven. Crow tokens have been introduced to keep track of the ghost's discards. When the ghost discards his cards, he places a crow marker on the screen (which we'll tell you about shortly). This prevents the ghost from giving in to any temptation to cheat, but it's also a way for the psychics to know if he's having trouble with his vision cards or not.



Crows perch on the game screen, providing the ghost with another means of indirectly communicating with the psychics


The game's difficulty can be adapted depending on the number of players in Mysterium


An Easier Set-up

Tajemnicze Domostwo has two sets of character, location, and object cards: one for the ghost and one for the psychics, each differentiated by their backs. During set-up, the same cards must be sorted into each set.



The cards with blue backs are for the ghost, and those with brown backs are for the psychics;
in both cases, the character, location and object cards have different back designs


In Mysterium, the two sets of cards also have different backs (and different from Tajemnicze Domostwo's), but they also can be differentiated by their size and their numbers. The ghost's cards have all identical size in order to fit more easily into the screen. The character and location cards are larger for the psychics, while their objects are smaller. The colors (brown and blue) are still the same. The back of the cards are also numbered, which allow players to match the ghost cards and the psychic cards: the cards are identified more simply and set-up is facilitated.



To facilitate game set-up, ghost and psychic cards have numbered backs, enabling pairs to be formed at a glance


The Screen

In Tajemnicze Domostwo, during set-up, the ghost determines different combination of three elements (character, location, object), which each psychic has to find. To do this, he places in front of himself the three corresponding cards face down under a token of the color of the psychic; the ghost can then deal dream cards to each psychic. The ghost cannot see the cards of the combinations and must rely on his memory or manipulate them, which can cause the game to run longer (especially with seven players).



In Tajemnicze Domostwo, the ghost cards forming each psychic's combination
are placed face down under the player's marker


The addition of a screen in Mysterium is a real improvement for all players. The actions of the ghost are hidden, which adds more mystery, and he is more free with his movements. This disposition is more comfortable for the ghost, and reminds others of his position as game master.

During set-up, the ghost composes all of the combinations and sets them up in the screen. Therefore, he no longer has to remember the cards or needlessly handle them. He has a direct visual access to all the combinations the psychics must find. The ghost can focus on the dealing of adapted vision cards.



Set-up of the ghost cards in the screen in Mysterium


The combination of three elements that the purple psychic must identify is shown highlighted in purple on the play area;
the player must determine the character, the location and lastly the object, always in that order


In addition to the screen, we added ghost tokens, in the color of each psychic. When the ghost hands cards to the psychics, the ghost move the token towards the screen. When he manifests, after having validated (or refuted) a psychic's answer, he pulls it back towards him. The ghost knows at any time to whom he has dealt cards. When a psychic discovers an element of their combination, the ghost flips the matching card in the screen: He knows at all times at which point of their investigation each psychic is at.



When the ghost has given cards to a psychic, he moves the ghost token of the matching color towards the screen


Other than the ergonomic improvement it represents, the screen also allows for a considerable time savings. The games are more fluid for the ghost, even when the psychics are numerous. All manipulations are made during set-up, which allows us to reduce the average time of the games to 42 minutes for Mysterium while it was around 1h30 for Tajemnicze Domostwo. Players focus only on the investigation during the game!

Timed Rhythm

One of the central mechanisms of the game is the debate of the psychics around the interpretation of images given by the ghost. This can create endless discussions, as each psychic has their own subjectivity. In Tajemnicze Domostwo, discussion time is not limited, which can sometimes result in longer games and lulls in gameplay. This obviously depends on the type of players around the table.

We added a timer in Mysterium to give more rhythm to the discussion phases between psychics. The ghost deals vision cards to the psychics, one after the other, and as soon as they receive them they can freely debate about their interpretation. It's only when all psychics have received vision cards that the two-minute timer is started. It can seem restrictive to some, but it's when the timer is not there that it becomes vital to add dynamism and tension to the game.

Progress on the Boards

In Tajemnicze Domostwo, the character, location, and objects cards of the psychics are sorted on the play by type, but don't have a clear area they must be in. For games with seven players, there can be up to 36 cards on the table (twelve per type), which is considerable, and can make the game complex visually.



Example set-up (with nine cards of each type) for Tajemnicze Domostwo (photo: BoardGameGeek)


In Tajemnicze Domostwo, each player has an individual progress board and uses a token to track the progress of his investigation.



Individual boards and tokens symbolically represent the players' progress (photo: BoardGameGeek)


Mysterium has no individual boards, but individual sleeves for the psychics, with the cards being separated by four progress boards.



The character progress board


The location progress board


The object progress board


The epilogue progress board


The purpose of the character, location and object progress boards is to define areas containing the various types of cards used during the first phase of play (i.e., the reconstruction of events, during which each psychic attempts to identify a combination of three elements). They also give players an overview of the group's overall progress. They allow to us to clearly limit the cards, but also show the advancement of players. When a player has completed a section, they place their token on the next progress board. The progress of the psychics is more visible, the play area clearer, and players have the feeling that they're really progressing in the investigation.



The play area is better delineated and easier to read


The three character, location, and object progress boards are set aside for the culprit revelation phase. The play area is totally modified to recreate the groups of suspects discovered during the reconstruction of events. Each group is identified thanks to the back of the ghost tokens (which we previously told you about). On his side, the ghost has culprit tokens (also numbered), which allow him to designate the group containing his murderer. The culprit token is placed face-down on the epilogue progress board and is flipped over only at the complete end of the game, guaranteeing suspense until the very last moment.



Reverse of the ghost tokens used to number the suspect groups


The suspect groups are formed, then numbered


The culprit token revealed at game's end shows the number of the group that the ghost has chosen as the culprit


Clairvoyancy Tokens to Balance the Roles and Phases

Mysterium, like its cousin Tajemnicze Domostwo, is an asymmetric game in which the players are either taking on the role of the ghost, or that of a psychic, and thus aren't performing the same actions. In Tajemnicze Domostwo the role of the ghost appears to us richer than that of the psychics. The latter had fewer actions to perform in the game and had to wait during the distribution of the vision cards. To rebalance it and make it more fun to play the psychics, we've put in place a system of clairvoyancy tokens.

In Tajemnicze Domostwo, the players who were faster in finding their combination of three cards weren't rewarded for their efficiency. They could help, but had no real actions left to perform until the other psychics discovered their own combinations.

In Mysterium, the faster a psychic fulfills their task, the more clairvoyant they are, the more clairvoyancy points and moves on the track of the same name they get. Even after successfully discovering their three-card combination, psychics continue to play and score points. In particular, they can express their opinion on other psychics' choices by playing any remaining clairvoyance tokens.



The double-sided clairvoyance track, along which the psychics progress by scoring points;
the number of players determines which side is used


In Mysterium, each psychic has a limited number of clairvoyancy tokens which allow them to express their agreement or disagreement with another player’s intuition. A psychic has four or six tokens (depending on the number of players) to give their opinion.



A psychic has an equal number of agreement and disagreement clairvoyancy tokens


The tokens can earn points on the clairvoyancy track in both cases: agreeing with an intuition which turns out right, or disagreeing with an intuition which turns out false. Disagreeing in a cooperative game can finally earn you points! Moving up on the track allows us to measure the efficiency of a psychic, their level of clairvoyancy during the game. This progression is individual, but will help all psychics during the final phase.



Example of clairvoyancy point scoring


During the event reconstruction phase, the clairvoyancy tokens allow players to avoid one of the pitfalls of cooperative games: the leader or "alpha player" effect. Even if a player didn't express themselves orally during the debates, they can still make their opinion known using the tokens and their thoughts will have weight in the game. They also allow us to strengthen the cooperation between players. Psychics have a vested interest in the cards received by other players throughout the game, as they must express their opinion in order to score points and maximize the whole group's chances of finding the true culprit at the end of the game! The clairvoyancy tokens allow us to involve the psychics more deeply and each of them now takes an active role in the debates.

Psychic Sleeves for Smooth Transitions

In Tajemnicze Domostwo, the psychics had individual boards to represent their progress in their investigation.



Each psychic has his own sleeve, in which the three cards forming the required combination will be stored


In Mysterium, the ghost cards are held behind the game screen and cannot be used for the final phase, leaving only the psychic cards arranged on the table. Each psychic has his own sleeve in which to store the psychic cards collected during the reconstruction of events. For the final phase of the game, the character, location and object progress boards are cleared to one side. The suspect groups are easier to form as the cards for each combination are held directly in each psychic's sleeve. The sleeves also serve another purpose, holding the clairvoyance tokens used for the straw poll during the final phase.



The cards collected by each psychic are arranged in groups during the suspect line-up


A New Final Phase

In Tajemnicze Domostwo, the ghost cards that form the combinations are placed face down at the start of the game and are revealed as the investigation progresses. When all of these ghost cards have been revealed, they are re-used for the final phase. Psychic cards, on the other hand, are returned to the game box as they are played.

In Mysterium, once the suspect groups have been identified, the ghost will send a shared vision to the psychics. Made up of three cards — one being a reference to a character, one to the location, and the last one to the object, but be careful, the cards will have been shuffled! — the psychics will not have access to them the same way, depending on their clairvoyancy level.

The players with the fewest points on the clairvoyancy track will have access only to a single card, without knowing if it refers to the character, location, or object card. They will secretly, and without consulting each other, vote first by placing a clairvoyancy token, numbered on the back, in their personal sleeve. Then it'll be the turn of the moderately clairvoyant psychics to secretly vote while having access to two cards. Finally, the most effective psychics (who will therefore have access to all three cards) will also vote individually and in silence. Even though players vote individually, Mysterium remains a cooperative game as the culprit is designated by the majority. When revealing the culprit, the ghost's vision is formed, transmitted and voted on in total silence, adding extra tension to this special phase of the game.



The level of access to the final, shared vision may vary between players, based on their progress along the clairvoyance track


The more accurate a player's intuitions during the reconstruction of events, the more clues they see
before voting in the straw poll, potentially increasing their chances of voting for the true culprit


The clairvoyance tokens have numbered backs; psychics vote by placing the token bearing the number
that matches their chosen group of cards into their sleeve


In Tajemnicze Domostwo, the psychics had many chances to discover the culprit if they had enough rounds left. In Mysterium, the shared vision sent by the ghost is also the last, and the psychics have only a single chance to discover the true culprit. Therefore, the tension reaches its highest point for the psychics as well as the ghost. Unlike the rest of the game, he has only a single chance to get his message across and he can't afford to miss it! The occasion to check that the spiritual bond between psychics and ghost was truly clear!

Mysterium: Simple Adaptation or New Game?

The development has lasted for almost two years, with almost everything wll having been reworked, from artwork to game mechanisms, but the Portal game's identity has been kept. It's therefore not just a simple translation of Tajemnicze Domostwo or a new edition, but a whole new game. All of the changes within have been motivated by improving the ease of play and for a more intense immersion. The duration of the game has been reduced, which means less dead time and waiting, but no less action for the players. The changes in the Libellud version have been made to offer a more coherent, more balanced, and more exciting game experience to the players. Those who liked Tajemnicze Domostwo will not be bewildered by Mysterium, but they will be as surprised by this new edition as those who are discovering the game for the first time, at least, we hope they are!

For all the details, the rules for Mysterium are available on Libellud's website.

Léa Moinet

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Sat Jul 25, 2015 12:57 am
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New Game Round-up: Gen Con 2015 Last-Minute Edition – Attack on Titan, King of Tokyo: Draccus & Fury of Dracula?

W. Eric Martin
United States
Apex
North Carolina
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• Wow, how did I miss this item from nearly three weeks ago? I'll blame Gen Con 2015 prep work as that's probably the cause. What am I talking about? In early July 2015, Cryptozoic Entertainment and French publisher Don't Panic Games announced the acquisition of the Attack on Titan anime license to create board games. (Attack on Titan started as a manga series, and anime, novels and live-action films have been developed subsequently; Cryptozoic specifically mentions "anime" in its press release.)

Antoine Bauza and Ludovic Maublanc are the designers of the first Attack on Titan board game, scheduled for release in 2016 and (as I discovered today) available for demo games during Gen Con 2015. I've scheduled time at the show to record an overview with Bauza, but for now here's a short description of the game from Cryptozoic:

Quote:
In the game, one player takes on the role of a Titan while the others represent the human heroes fighting it. The game features a revolutionary game mechanic, the Titan piece is a vertical game board element and the hero game pieces climb in an effort to take him down.

• At Gen Con 2015, IELLO will release a new monster character that can be used in either King of Tokyo or King of New York. Draccus comes from Patrick Rothfuss's book The Name of the Wind, and all proceeds raised from the sales of this character go toward Rothfuss's charity Worldbuilders, which as a press release from IELLO notes "has to date raised over $3.5 million for Heifer International to help end hunger and bring families and communities out of poverty". (After the show, this promo character can be purchased from Rothfuss's online store, The Tinker's Packs, again with all funds going to Worldbuilders.)




Fantasy Flight Games' Fury of Dracula has been out of print and selling on the secondhand markets at prices that make one contemplate self-staking. Early in the a.m. U.S. time on July 23, FFG posted the following game page on its website:



Thanks to Jason Paterson for the screen grab!


That page is no longer present on the FFG site, but speculation is now rampant among some gamers that a new edition of Fury of Dracula will spring to light at Gen Con 2015. (I've asked FFG about this and will update the post when I receive a reply.) Update, July 23: FFG has now announced that this new edition of Fury of Dracula will be released in Q4 2015 and can be demoed at Gen Con 2015.

For those who disdain squinting, here's the text from that page:

Quote:
The most notorious vampire of all rises again in this third edition of Fury of Dracula, a board game of deduction and gothic horror based on Bram Stoker's classic novel. One player takes control of the legendary Count Dracula as he stealthily crosses Victorian-era Europe, spreading his diabolical vampirism everywhere he goes. Up to four other players govern Mina Harker and her determined companions as they try to locate and destroy the fiendish Count before he plunges Europe into horrific darkness. But in this heated game of cat and mouse, the hunted prey may also be preying on his hunters. Any day's travel might bring the hunters to Dracula's location. On any night the Count may attack.

This edition features all-new art and graphic design crafted to complement the game's intuitive, thematic mechanics. Rounds are now broken into day and night: hunters take actions during both, but Dracula can only act at night. Combat is now more streamlined and decisive, and new rumor tokens allow Dracula to mislead hunters and extend the terrible reach of his influence. Count Dracula triumphs if he advances his influence track to thirteen; if the hunters can defeat him before then, they save the continent of Europe and win the game.
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Thu Jul 23, 2015 7:49 pm
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Designer Diary: Clockwork Wars, or Intricate Gears

Hassan Lopez
United States
Saratoga Springs
New York
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I had been playing around with game design for years, but Clockwork Wars represented my first serious attempt at designing a complex strategy board game. The idea for it originally stemmed from my love/hate relationship with most traditional "dudes-on-a-map" conquest games. I love how these games feature beautiful maps, multitudes of units, and a grand theater on which to play — but I despise the long playing times, the over-emphasis on dice to determine critical outcomes, and the tedious downtime between individual player turns. If the modern board game "revolution" has taught us one thing, it's that players crave elegant, fast-moving games that still provide an epic feel.

I also have a great fondness for computer games, and I started to envision how certain elements from real-time strategy games could be infused into a cardboard design. I wanted to model fog-of-war, simultaneous movement, and the surprise (dismay!) that ensues when you discover that the enemy has unexpectedly cut off your supply lines. During this early stage of design, I hit upon a mechanism by which players would make their unit deployment decisions in secret, hidden behind a play-screen, then reveal them simultaneously prior to resolving battles. At first, I used a "mini-map" of the war theater – something akin to what you see in hidden movement games like Fury of Dracula. This eventually got replaced by a more efficient and flexible pen & paper system that allowed for maps of any shape and size.



Early prototype, circa 2009


The original design was two-player only. There was a modular map made up of hexagonal tiles, different territory types that provided resources, and a tiered technology tree that opened up as the players advanced through the game.

From the beginning, I wanted my theme to be fantasy-steampunk. At the time, I was reading China Miéville's Bas-Lag novels and coming to realize that steampunk was an infinite and largely unexplored creative space. I envisioned a world where magic and steam-era technology intertwined, where a golem could be brought to life through a combination of esoteric science and techno-sorcery. Since I needed a third "method of inquiry" to fill out my tech-tree, I introduced religion and a dogmatic subculture. It was surprisingly easy to generate discoveries in science, sorcery, and religion that both brought life to the world and created unique strategic pathways in the game. At this point in my design process, I felt I was on to something. The game felt fun and evocative and unique.



Sample science discoveries


After I crafted a solid prototype and playtested Clockwork Wars many, many times, it was ready to show to people in the business. I contacted a number of well-known publishers in early 2010, and Eagle Games expressed significant interest after reviewing the rulebook and prototype. I was absolutely thrilled, but this also began a long, slow period (around three years!) of waiting and, eventually, development.

During this time, Eagle first asked me to consider expanding the game to accommodate 2-5 players. I was hesitant since I had never envisioned it as anything other than a two-player game. But Eagle pushed, and I'm glad they did. After all, the simultaneous deployment system eradicated downtime, so why not take advantage of this by allowing more players to join?

It took major revision of some of the core systems, but a lot of great stuff happened during this phase. I built a more fully fleshed espionage system that gave players more ways to interact with each other outside of the combat arena. I created more ways to earn victory points so that there were multiple strategic pathways to winning. And maps became infinitely flexible in shape, size, and composition.



Sample espionage card


It was also during this phase that Eagle suggested I design unique "powers" for each of the player factions. In retrospect, this was a critical point in the development of Clockwork Wars. Over a period of around a week, I sketched out a world where five races were competing for supremacy: the dogmatic and exploitative human "Purebreeds", three hybrid races (à la The Island of Dr. Moreau), and a race of sentient clockwork machines that mimicked spiders and insects. I also honed in on the idea of a racial unique unit. Clockwork Wars had always featured simplistic (and non-random) combat resolution; the unique units added some much-needed flavor and variety on the battlefield.




Front and back of the Mongrels playscreen


With the theme and setting in place, we began the long process of commissioning illustrations for the game's 80+ cards and components. We ended up hiring over a dozen illustrators from around the world, and every one of them produced extraordinary work, including some truly astounding concept art for the game's plastic miniatures: the Guardian, Steamtank, and Leviathan. If you want to download a free digital artbook that shows off all the fantastic illustrations in the game, you can find it on our official website.



Sample science discoveries


Eagle launched the Kickstarter for Clockwork Wars in September 2014. Since I'm a pessimist at heart, I assumed we wouldn't raise a dime and Eagle would trash the project. Instead, we met our funding goal in under twelve hours and doubled it in two days! I was shocked. (I still am.)

I then worked with the fantastic graphic artist Karim Chakroun to finalize our components and get everything to the printer ahead of schedule. I can't thank Karim enough for the absolutely stellar job he did refining every last detail and making the game truly "pop". Clockwork Wars started shipping to backers in June 2015 and is now available through retail outlets (including the Cool Stuff Inc. booth at Gen Con 2015).

If you like the idea of a confrontational area control game with infinite replayability, no downtime, light civilization building, and a gritty steampunk setting (no bowler hats here!), please check out Clockwork Wars. The game turned out absolutely gorgeous, with stellar production value and vibrant colors that pop off the table. I can assure you that it doesn't play like anything else out there and should appeal to a broad array of strategy game enthusiasts.

Hassan Lopez


Final production copy in all its glory!
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Thu Jul 23, 2015 6:00 am
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New Game Round-up: Experience Wrath of the Dragons, Explore Labyrinth, Expand Nations & Englishify 6 Nimmt

W. Eric Martin
United States
Apex
North Carolina
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• At just over a week until Gen Con 2015 opens, I'm still running across news of games that will debut at the show and adding them to BGG's Gen Con 2015 Preview. The latest entrant is Wrath of the Dragons from Keith Rentz and Catalyst Game Labs, and I have little information about this self-described "resource destruction" game other than the following:

Quote:
In Wrath of Dragons, each player assumes the role of a dragon that, over the course of many centuries, flies into different regions of the Old World to lay waste to settlements, scorch fields, snatch livestock, take gold, and capture nobles. After six centuries have passed, the devastation, destruction, and fear that the dragons have caused is scored, and the dragon that earns the most victory points wins!

• Another surprise Gen Con 2015 appearance comes courtesy of Mayfair Games, which has signed a deal with German publisher AMIGO Spiel for the release of four titles in English: 6 nimmt!, No Thanks!, Saboteur, and Saboteur 2.

Charles Rice with Mayfair says that these editions are identical to the AMIGO versions, other than the rules being in English and the boxes bearing the Mayfair logo. (I'm not sure whether this will be the anniversary edition of 6 nimmt! or the regular one; in either case it's keeping the 6 nimmt! name.) Mayfair says it will have a few hundred copies of each title at Gen Con 2015, with the games reaching U.S. stores not long after the convention.

• Via the Muppet fan site Tough Pigs comes word of a game license for Jim Henson's 1986 film Labyrinth, which is remembered mostly for the scenes of David Bowie in tight pants — or at least that's what my wife tells me. The publisher in question, River Horse, offers this statement about the game license: "We can't, at time of writing, tell you much more about it at the moment, but rest assured that the film is a firm favorite here at River Horse and we are very excited to be making the game."

Lautapelit.fi and designers Håkansson x2 and Rosén x2 are working on Nations: Dynasties, a large expansion for Nations that adds twelve new Nations with Dynasties to the base game while including Dynasties for the B-sides of the base game Nations. Furthermore:

Quote:
Two additional new concepts are included: Turmoil (which makes Stability more dynamic) and Natural Wonders (which creates very hard choices and new types of interaction). Together with the new, more advanced Progress cards, the replayability is increased significantly. This expansion is recommended when you are experienced with the Expert cards of the base game.

Co-designer Rustan Håkansson has posted rules and card texts for Nations: Dynasties on BGG and invites feedback and proofreading. Says Håkansson, "When I did the same for the rules of Nations: The Dice Game, the quality of the rules were greatly increased. My hope is that with help on this we can get it ready for Essen; it is starting to get tight." He notes that this expansion fits inside the base game box, so it will be sold shrinkwrapped instead of in a box to keep the cost down.

• And speaking of Nations: The Dice Game, Håkansson notes that an expansion for this game has been making the rounds of blind playtesting. "It makes the game a lot harder and increases variation significantly", he says.
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Thu Jul 23, 2015 12:15 am
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Designer Diary: Co-Mix, or How an "Easy to Develop" Game Idea Turned Out to Be Not So Easy to Develop

Silva Lorenzo
Italy
Milano
Italy
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The original idea for what would eventually become Co-Mix came to me around three years ago, as one of the many small personal side-projects I start when I have an idea haunting my head, but I'm not sure whether it can be made into a proper game. The idea: "Can I create a storytelling game that makes you play cards not only to introduce plot elements, but to actually create the full story in a graphical way?"



Something like this. Looks easy, hunh? Well, think again.


This may not seem that different from a "normal" storytelling game, but if you think about it with more attention, it's a rather unique approach, and it was never attempted before (at least to my knowledge). The ultimate goal was to give players a tool to create comics (or storyboards, if you're more familiar with cinematic terminology), to give them a game with "panel cards" depicting not only characters, objects and settings, but also "connection images" — things like shot changes, details, and actions — to fill the gaps you would usually fill with your words and storytelling skills. It doesn't sound like a difficult thing to do, right? You just have to draw those "connection images" and a bunch of the other more regular stuff and call it a day, right? Riiiiight.

But surprisingly (?), problems are always waiting for you around each corner, and I had to turn many corners before Co-Mix could eventually be born...

Problem #1: "What If the Game Developer Can't Draw?"

Answer: The development of the game abruptly faces a sudden halt. With many other projects to follow, and with my lack of drawing skills making it difficult to create a decent prototype, the "storyboard generator" project was archived as "a nice idea to investigate when there's more time for it" and put into the metaphoric drawer (and maybe also in an actual one, I'm not sure).



In all its ugliness, I think it still actually looks kinda cute. C'mon, look at that wolf! Adorable.


It was only after I met Matteo Cremona that new life could be brought into the project. Being a professional comic artist, Matteo could surely do a better job with those illustrations, I thought, thereby helping me to finally create a working prototype, right? Right? Well, it was right this time. Matteo turned out to be really talented, which helps a lot. Add to the mix that some time after I met him, Horrible Games was born, and you can see how the timing was perfect for the development of "The Game That Will Be Known As Co-Mix" to start again with renewed energy and enthusiasm.



Okay, maybe the final result is slightly better than mine, I admit it. I even put a lot of time and effort in it. Sigh...


The first prototype born out of this cooperation worked surprisingly well right from the start. (It turns out that years of study and practice of drawing techniques is more helpful than an amateurish effort and a lot of good will. Who would have thought?) After six months of hard work, the game was really starting to take shape. After a lot of tweaking, we had more than three hundred illustrations, with twenty different characters recurring in many of them, sometimes even interacting with each other.



Just a few examples of the various character design styles we tried


Each character also had a set of related stuff, like settings, peculiar objects, actions, and details, and all of this stuff also appeared in relation to the other characters. This gave each panel card a lot of versatility. Ideally it would be quite easy to use a panel with any other panel, even if the character it was created for was not being used in the player's story.



Sample detective panels


In addition to that, we also put into the mix a lot of "generic" panels that depicted specific actions or items or details without being associated with any other specific elements. They would work like a "joker" card; you could place them anywhere, and with the right idea, they could fit into any story.



It took Matteo a whole... like... ten seconds to draw this full page!!!
Okay, maybe a little bit more than that, but it's still... humiliating.


With so many different illustrations, the decision to make the panel cards double-sided was an early and easy one. I just needed to put a lot of thought into which illustrations would be on the back of which other illustrations to avoid a situation in which a player didn't have the kind of panels he would need for his story. If, for example, we made cards with a character on the front and another one on the back, with an unlucky draft you could have found yourself in the not-so-pleasant situation of having a lot of characters in your hand, but no action to make them do, stuff to interact with, or place to be in. It would not be a pleasant game experience, trust me. But after all, it was not that big of a deal.



When I think of how many times I had to cut and paste different combinations of these, I still get shivers down my spine


At this stage, as you can see above, all panel cards were still drawn in black and white. That was to save time and effort while still in the prototype stage, of course, but it leads us straight around the next corner just in time to smash our faces onto the next big problem.

Problem #2: "How to Color This Thing?"

Or even, "Do we need to color it at all?"

Some of you may need a little bit of context to make the above question not sound crazy. Traditionally, even to this day, Italian comics are mostly in black and white, just like Japanese manga and some other Asian comics. Tex Willer, Dylan Dog, Nathan Never, many of the Italian comic heroes you may have heard of — and if not, you should do some research — are published without any coloring (excluding the art on the covers and some special issues). We know and love a lot of color comics, of course, but it's not strange at all for us to read and enjoy a black-and-white comic.



Even without colors, this looks gorgeous, you have to admit it


And if you think about it, a black-and-white art style gives a lot of versatility to the illustration. An image of liquid pouring out of a bottle can depict anything; paint the contents of that same bottle red, and all you've got is wine, blood, or red orange juice. There's some variety, yes but you get the point.

After long and intense meditations, to give the game a broader international and age-independent appeal, I finally opted for colors. (Even in Italy, most children's comics are in color.) And that opened a whole colorful valley of possibilities! Should the colors be realistic? Dreamy? Artsy, like watercolor or something?



From sketch to final coloring, the evolution of our grumpy vampire girl!


The style I eventually settled for was not the one I planned for during the early stages of development — although to be honest, the game started as a noir-themed game, so my initial ideas were no longer accurate anyway — but it had the right balance. It had its own identity, it suited the game well, and it may appeal to the broadest audience possible. Max Rambaldi's contribution to the coloring process was key — that, and her patience with the many slight changes, and sometimes U-turns, in art direction that she was occasionally put through.



...and when I say "U-turns", I really mean it


While all of this was happening, it was quite clear that the storytelling mechanism in the game — which by this time, even though as a working title only, was already being referred to as "Co-Mix" — was working rather well. I was facing another problem though and a more difficult than expected one...

Problem #3: "How Do You Win This Game?"

The problem with any storytelling game is this: What if a player is no good at storytelling? Most of the time, the answer is that he won't be able to play in a satisfactory manner, and he won't have much fun. For most people, that's a given of the genre itself, and the one reason it's so polarizing: Some people love storytelling games, some people plainly hate them. There are not a lot of people living in the broad, desertic gray area between these two extremes. I wanted to find a way to make the game enjoyable even for people who lacked storytelling skills — that was one of the main goals — but I needed some sort of voting mechanism, so it was a bit of a Gordian knot.



A trip to Transylvania was luckily not necessary


When you leave judgement in the hands of players (i.e., you let players vote), you're always leaving room for people's feelings to get hurt if their efforts are systematically belittled or given a bad score — and that can happen more often than what I initially thought.

Moreover, if you happen to have at the table one of those hideous people who would give a bad score to the story that's clearly the best of the bunch just because its creator is winning — there's no hell-equivalent in any afterlife you may believe in that's harsh enough for these game-spirit-ruining fellas — and your scoring system allows those people to do that, you've got a serious problem, a problem that can totally ruin the experience of the game for a lot of people, and this is exactly what I wanted to avoid when the Co-Mix project was started.



An early version of the cover illustration — gorgeous art, but it wasn't really working


I'm not going to summarize all the different — and differently flawed — scoring systems I tried; the months of doubts, pain, and suffering; the endless debates; the group psychotherapy and anger management session; the aborted pluri-homicidal plans and the attempted pagan and/or voodoo rites aimed at the eradication of the evil breed of good-story-downvoters from the entire globe once and for all. (I'm still tinkering with this last idea, though.) Out of frustration, I was very close to giving up and releasing the game without any voting mechanism at all, releasing it as a tool to tell stories and have fun. This was a version that playtesters, both old and new, enjoyed a lot, but even I felt that something would have been missing should I have gone through with that decision. Like the legendary Gordian knot, all that was needed was thinking a little bit outside of the box.



Oh, scoring, wherefore hath thou caused me so many problems?


Suddenly, and luckily, the right idea came to me. The scoring mechanism that made the cut and went into the final game solved all of the problems I mentioned above, almost magically. It was a wonderful feeling, like seeing all the pieces of a really complicated puzzle that was going to completely ruin your life, forever and ever, finally fit together in a joyous, harmonic picture of cohesion and unity. (Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating just a tiny little bit.)

By making players say only what they liked about a story, and not how much they liked it, the problem of consistent down-voting was eliminated once and for all. It's the consensus between the players, not the players themselves, that determines the score. And by rewarding people who vote honestly — by giving bonus points to any player giving to a story the "right" vote, i.e., the one the majority of people gave — king-making was obliterated, too. With this system, it's simply not a strategy that rewards you. Yes, I'm really proud of this voting mechanism. Is it very noticeable?



The final game in all its glory...


And They Lived Happily Ever After?

I'm still recovering from the PTSD any bumpy game development causes a game developer, but I'll be fine eventually, thanks for asking.

Most of all, me and my crew sincerely hope that all of our efforts allow a lot of people to have half the fun we had creating and telling crazy comic stories. That's who we are — we just want to selflessly give joy to the whole world, so feel free to buy this little thing we created, and if you already did, share it with your friends and family! And convince them to buy it, too. It can be useful in many different ways! It's the Swiss Army knife of board games! Think of a rickety table, some annoying air flowing through your window, a very cold winter and an empty fireplace asking for something to burn in it...

Lorenzo Silva
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Wed Jul 22, 2015 6:00 am
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Designer Diary: Going on My Star Trek: Five-Year Mission

David Whitcher
United States
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Michigan
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Warning: The following game contains 3, a lot of 6 — 35 4 in three colors, in fact. If you have a 2 allergy, you should stop reading now.

Most games take many years to develop. You start with an idea. You flesh out that idea. You prototype and test it over and over in what often seems like an endless cycle until the game is ready to show a publisher. If you're lucky, you find one right away, but more often than not you show your game to numerous publishers before it's accepted. If it's accepted, the publisher often requests changes to be made to fit their vision of how the game will best serve the audience they are trying to sell to. This is the process I have become accustomed to as a freelance game designer, and Star Trek: Five-Year Mission is no exception except for a few minor details.

From its conception, I designed "Star Trek / Cooperative Dice Game" for Mayfair Games. The game design community normally advises you to stay away from IP, especially big IP, because they are expensive and difficult to get the rights to, thereby making them a big risk. That is why so few publishers deal with them. I have been on the Mayfair Games demo crew for nearly a decade now and had the good fortune to find out that they were interested in doing another Trek game after Star Trek: Catan was released in 2012. I figured the odds of someone approaching them with such a design were a 1 in 10,000 chance, so I decided I would design one for them.

My first ideas were nonstarters: basic card games, board games with star maps to explore, etc. — nothing that hadn't been done with this license. It was several months after Origins 2012 when the idea came to me. I was sitting in a waiting room and quickly scrounged up paper and pencil to make notes for later. This would be a cooperative dice game in which you play the crew of the Enterprise completing dilemmas to score points. A cooperative game lends itself well to the crew of a ship, especially in the Star Trek universe, and since there are many main characters I could design it to be played with a large group.

Unlike most games I have designed, it was a long time between concept and first prototype. The original prototype had three decks of 24 cards each, with each card needing a unique set of requirements in order to complete it. I first had to create the 72 dice sets and a rubric to determine the difficulty of each card. This was not just a matter of calculating the odds of rolling the numbers needed to complete the dice set. There are other factors involved, such as urgent events that must be completed in three minutes. I also had to take into account card effects that hamper play, such as crew injuries and ship damage. Once that was finally done, I made my first prototype and did solo testing. As usual there were changes to be made before moving to testing with the public.

In the game's third iteration, I was ready to take it to one of my local game groups to get feedback. I set up the "H.M.S. Victory" prototype and found a group of four willing to give it a try. "H.M.S. Victory" is a cooperative dice game for 3-7 players in which you play the crew of a ship working together to complete events drawn from decks of varying difficulty. I tested the game in public gaming groups using this alternate theme so that fandom would not play a factor in the feedback I received.

I kept the real theme a secret until I showed it to the Mayfair Games Minister of Product Acquisitions, Alex Yeager, in June 2014. His advice allowed me to finalize the design over the next few months with the help of numerous testers, including dozens of game designers at the 2014 Protospiel held in Chelsea, Michigan, all of whom played it with the "H.M.S. Victory" theme. After several delays, which gave me more time to refine the cards further, the game was pitched to Mayfair by Alex since I was unable to travel to where they were the board was meeting.



Captains old (above) and new (below)



The game was accepted, and since then I've been working with the Mayfair team to get it ready for market. To my surprise, they chose to make Star Trek: Five-Year Mission so that you could play as either the original series crew or the TNG crew. This required another seven player abilities be devised. We also needed new titles and scenes for the additional TNG cards.

Using a later prototype with proposed graphics, we previewed the game at the 2015 Origins Game Fair, which was our last major testing opportunity. With only seven weeks to go and a promise to deliver at Gen Con 2015 — not to mention holding a charity event with actress Marina Sirtis, we had much to do. As of writing this diary, we are on schedule and expect to have plenty of copies of Star Trek: Five-Year Mission on hand for Trek fans to get Marina and me to sign on Saturday, August 1 at Gen Con 2015. Hope to see you there!

David Whitcher

Editor's note: For an overview of the gameplay in Star Trek: Five-Year Mission, head to my ST:5YM preview, which is based on a demo game that I played at Origins 2015. —WEM
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Tue Jul 21, 2015 6:46 pm
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