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W. Eric Martin
• 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:
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:
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.
Thu Jul 23, 2015 12:15 am
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...
Warning: The following game contains , a lot of — 35 in three colors, in fact. If you have a 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!
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
W. Eric Martin
Well, well, well. After years of rumors and false starts, Martin Wallace's Princes of the Renaissance will appear in a new edition from Mercury Games, with the publisher planning to launch a Kickstarter funding campaign for it before the end of 2015.
Princes of the Renaissance first appeared from Wallace's own Warfrog Games in 2003, and like many Warfrog releases, the game had a single print run, then vanished from the market. Mercury Games has obtained worldwide rights to the design, and notes that it "has further refined the game with gameplay improvements, new tiles, and other items sure to appeal to fans of the game or those who will get to experience the Wallace-classic for the first time".
Details of those "improvements, new tiles", et al. will be released by Mercury at a later time. In a press release announcing this new edition, Richard Diosi of Mercury Games said, "We know how important it is to treat the product with the respect it deserves, while ensuring that the game benefits from the many thousands of plays over the past few years."
Near-final cover artwork
For those not familiar with the design, here's an overview:
In Princes of the Renaissance, players take on the role of a Condottiere and attempt to influence the major cities of Italy. Using money and power, players take a stake in one or more cities and use their resources to ensure that their chosen city gains prestige at the expense of others. Each city attempts to attack or defend itself by hiring the players to lead their armies, but the outcome is not always as important to the Condottiere as gaining wealth or influence. Players will discover that even the Pope can be swayed...for the right price, of course!
The cover artwork shown above and the image below are "near final", according to Mercury's Kevin Nesbitt, "There could still be changes, but it definitely gives your readers a real sense of the direction we're taking with it."
I left for Japan in 1994 as a 26-year-old bachelor with degrees in law and Eastern Asian studies. I came back to Canada ten years later in 2004 with a Japanese wife, two kids in tow (I clearly chose the "total immersion" package), and one more diploma, a master's degree on the Japanese political economy.
Beyond the Japanese skills and the scholarly pursuits, my ten years in Japan had allowed me to live an extended youth and to pick up a few hands-on skills: I became reasonably adept at assembling my own computers. The ability to do my own upgrades (new CPU, new video card, new mobo) allowed me to maintain machines that were powerful enough to run the latest and most demanding first person shooters. I played them all in Japan: Quake, Quake II, Quake III, Unreal Tournament, Half-Life (and its many "mods"), Battlefield 1942. I also played the addictive "just one more turn" games like Sid Meier's Civilization – which goes to show there are designer games in the computer world, too. This last game had a great influence on some of the board games that helped spearhead the board game revival of the late 1990s.
Eventually my growing family and the demands (time, financial) that came along with it forced me to put aside what was mainly a solo hobby to focus instead on my wife and kids. Whatever hobby I would find next needed to be a bit more inclusive...
My gaming set-up in Japan, c. 2000
Cold Canadian Nights
I returned to Alberta, Canada in 2004 with two young kids ages 5 and 2. I would put my Japanese experience to good use as a provincial civil servant in charge of developing export markets in Asia for Canadian agricultural products. Dad (me) adapted to his new job and the family slowly adapted to its new life in dad's home country, Canada.
Now, winters in Canada are generally long, but they're even longer in Edmonton, Alberta. Edmonton has the distinction of being the northernmost city in North America with a population of over one million people. Cool distinction, cold city. As the kids were getting older, the family soon settled into traditional weekend activities such as game night, which is a very fitting indoor activity when the thermometer is in negative territory, often double digit negative.
My wife and I both had a history of playing card games, so we taught the kids a few of our favorite games. When my wife taught us all how to play "Babanuki", it certainly felt familiar. In fact Babanuki is the Japanese name for the card game Old Maid. Goes to show that some classics travel well.
Once the thrill of card games was starting to wane, my wife and I started looking for something new, something that could provide the family with entertainment while helping our kids build their social and analytical skills. My wife would find it at Winners (the Canadian equivalent of Marshalls) in Calgary, c. 2006. While stopping at Winners for a quick fix of bargain hunting, my wife stumbled upon an intriguing board game in the toy section. That game was That's Life! (the English title for Ravensburger's Verflixxt). Different people have different games they can point to as "the game" that got them started on board gaming. Ticket to Ride and Catan often come up among gamers. For me it was That's Life!
Well, that's not exactly true. That's Life! didn't get me started on board gaming, but it did bring me back to board gaming after a hiatus of over fifteen years. Not long after that, I discovered the BoardGameGeek website, which led me to a string of purchases that would severely lighten my wallet: Ticket to Ride (the family calls it "the train game"), Thurn und Taxis ("the Germany game"), Finca ("the fruit game"). Within a year or two, I'd bought about 25 games. I'd buy close to one hundred more after we moved to the U.S. in 2011 where games are much cheaper...
Jean and Sakura in Edmonton, c. 2006; in Edmonton you get to
wear spiffy warm clothes as early as September! (Accentuate the positive goes the song...)
Flashback to the 1980s — Before Japan
As an adolescent in the 1980s in Montreal, I played a lot of role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. I enjoyed playing the packaged adventures that publishers would put out – I remember they were called "modules". It was great fun, but even then I remember wanting to be more than just an actor in a story someone else had created; I wanted to become the storyteller. I remember trying my hand at designing modules and I started to create a few, but I would never finish them. I simply didn't have the discipline. In hindsight, it's probably better that way. There's a time for playing and a time for creating. Years of passively playing (and reading, and watching movies, and watching TV) aren't all bad; in fact they're necessary because they allow you to fill up on hundreds of mechanic and thematic references. You need to fill up on references before you can make anything yourself.
Role-playing wasn't my only gaming pursuit in junior high and high school. Those years also saw me play many classic board games. I remember playing Cosmic Encounter. Anyone remember the name of the alien that can silence other players? It was just a hoot trying the different aliens. Eric had Cosmic Encounter. I also played Squad Leader. Nicolas had Squad Leader plus a few of the expansions. (His parents spoiled him a little.) I think I remember that some of the tanks even had turrets that you could direct. And the game had many different scenarios, too. It was a pleasure simply to go to Nicolas' place and open his boxes of Squad Leader and just hold the pieces in your hands and look at them. The tactile "hands on" part of playing games is something I really enjoyed. I was taking notes subconsciously...
I remember we played Diplomacy. (Mark had that one.) I remember that on more than one occasion I ended up in a solid alliance with my friend Philippe. In a cutthroat game like Diplomacy, even a single solid alliance can often get you pretty far in the game. (There might be an analogy to be made about the strength of a good marriage...) We also played The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, a complex simulation of the Second World War. Third Reich fascinated me so much that I saved up my money to buy the game. Again, I felt a strong pleasure just in laying out the armies on the board — which is often the only thing we could do since playing a full game required ten hours and there was no table available at my home that I could monopolize for that long. You needed a basement game room for that one, which is something I didn't have as an adolescent.
So cool that I just had to save up enough to buy myself a copy
I was still gaming in the late 1980s and early 1990s when I was in college pursuing a law degree. There weren't many gamer types in law school, so I was the guy who would come up with board games for the others to play. It had to be light and easy to jump into. I bought Nuclear War and a few expansions at my FLGS and brought it to the table. It was a hit, and we must have played it forty times over my four years of law school; remember that these are non-gamers, so forty sessions made it a bona fide "crossover hit". Nuclear War is a grisly game when you think about it, but it's so absurd that it always got a laugh. I last played it over 25 years ago, but I still clearly remember your odds were significantly better when you had a few of the bigger population cards. (The biggest ones were what, 25 million people?) Predictable but still fun.
I even got the non-gamers to play relatively more complex games like Junta, a hilarious banana republic simulation that centers mostly on negotiations over the country's budget. The game also allowed disgruntled players to start a revolution to settle scores. One of the few games in which disgruntled players are part of the core mechanisms. A riot! I think I got the group to play this two or three times.
And thus, sometime in the early 1990s after graduating from law school, the first phase of my gaming career ended unceremoniously. After articling and being called to the bar, I soon left my budding legal profession behind, deciding to go back to college to study about Asia. It would be at least fifteen more years before I played another board game...
Fast Forward to 2010
I'd end up living six years in Alberta, from 2004 to 2010. The first three years I worked for the government of Alberta and the next three as vice-president of the Canada Beef Export Federation, peddling Canadian beef around the world. That last job was one of those "pinch me" moments in life. As a young French Canadian growing up in Montreal, not in your wildest dreams do you foresee ending up on the leadership team of an Alberta-based trade association promoting beef. Life just sends you on wild tangents sometimes, but I loved the job.
Towering Canadian selling beef in Macau, c. 2008
After three years with the Canadian Beef Export Federation, I got an opportunity to join the Canadian Foreign Service, something I'd always wanted to do. I headed to Ottawa in 2010 and after a single (and painfully bureaucratic) year at headquarters, I learned that I would soon leave on a four-year posting to Houston, Texas. Yeehaw! (Utterances of the word "Texas" in eastern Canada are very often accompanied by a lively cowboy interjection like "Yeehaw!" Then again the word "Alberta", where our family had lived for six years, generally gets a similar reaction in Ontario and Quebec, so we'd be in familiar territory and I was sure we'd love it there.)
The whole family arrived in Texas in the summer of 2011. On the way from the airport to our rental house, we observed the city that would be our home for the next four years. Houston was definitely the quintessential urban sprawl metropolis, a city of freeways, long avenues, and lots and lots of strip malls — a shopper's paradise.
Another thing we noticed on the way from the airport was that the parks and green spaces were all empty. This offered a strong contrast to Canada where green spaces are full of life during the summer. Canadians are very conscious of how fleeting that gorgeous season is. Now where did Texans go during the summer? The answer was that they stayed indoors because it was simply too hot to go outside. I have to admit that we were greeted by a scorcher of a summer in 2011 with temperatures above 100º for thirty days in a row, possibly a record. If it's too hot in the evening for a BBQ, I guess we'll just have to stay inside and play games — and play games we did. Beyond the too-hot-to-play-outside weather, the sudden Canadian-U.S. dollar parity coupled with the much lower price of board games (and pretty much everything else) in the United States saw dad literally go nuts. Our collection of games probably doubled over our first year in Houston and would double yet again soon.
Now playing new games is loads of fun, but pretty soon we'd played all the "gateways" dad's petro dollars could buy. Thus, it wasn't too long before dad would be bitten by the creative bug again, and this time — with the family's help (and some early PR support from a friend in Vietnam) — he'd have the discipline to see it through.
I'd be lying if I told you the family "collectively" decided to create a game. My kids were 12, 9 and 2 when we set out on our creative adventure, so it was more a case of dad enlisting the family – a.k.a., conscription. By the time Blue Orange signed the game in the middle of 2014, my family had played over two hundred recorded and annotated sessions of what would become New York 1901. Although the game would eventually benefit from the input of over ten playtesting groups both in Houston and across the world, and from a creative hands-on product manager at Blue Orange, Stéphane Maurel, in terms of number of games played, my family was clearly the core playtesting group.
Knowing Too Much
Now here is where I could microanalyze every little decision made during the development of the game — and there were literally hundreds of such decisions made for both mechanisms and theme. (The theme would (happily) remain untouched after the acquisition by Blue Orange.) I could write a long list and cover each of these decisions and tell what the concerns were and how they were solved — but how much do people want to know?
I always wondered how much should be revealed about the process behind the development of a game — or a movie or video game for that matter. I personally love to know about the creative process, and when I pick up a gaming magazine, the only articles I systematically read are the interviews with creators because I just love a good story. However, I'm not sure I want to find out too much about the "guts" of a movie, book or game. I always thought that knowing too much about something might somehow make it a bit less magical. Does anybody agree? I guess that's my excuse to streamline the last few pages of this diary. I won't expound on all the decisions and the stories behind all of them — there are just too many — but I'll identify a few core ones and share some insights into how I saw them and how they evolved.
Because It's New York
"Theme or mechanisms — which comes first?" the question is often asked. Sometimes it's asked just to determine a designer's preferred approach. Sometimes it's asked to try to determine a best practice - which is rather pointless. But the various responses are still entertaining and it's just fun to find out how different creators approach their craft. The answer is, of course, "to each his own". But one thing is for certain, New York 1901 the game and its mechanisms evolved and flowed from New York the city. The theme informed mechanisms.
There are many reasons why I chose to make New York the theme. The first one is simply because New York is a special city. Very few cities in the world have so rich an imagery that they leave almost no one indifferent. Paris and London are such cities, and New York is another — but New York has a modern and dynamic "new world" ring to it, a ring it keeps to this day. New York is the New World's Paris or London. And even today, many still call it the world's greatest metropolis. If board games are little playgrounds — little sandboxes if you will — and if you're choosing your playground, what better playground than New York.
I've always liked games that have a historical backdrop. I'm not referring to historic simulations, which tend to be heavy, but rather to the aesthetics, to the immersive "stage" that history provides. As a historical stage for a board game, New York had been done many times before. More often than not, the chosen period is the late 1920s and early 1930s with its beautiful art deco imagery filled with the Empire State and Chrysler buildings. Although clearly a beautiful period to explore, I wanted to do something different. Through my research, I discovered the first wave of New York skyscrapers at the turn of the last century and chose that period for my game. The game would first be called "New York 1899" since starting in the 1800s made the setting feel that much older. It would eventually change to New York 1901 to ease in the use of a turn counter that would start in 1901. Turn 1 in 1901, turn 2 in 1902, easy no? The turn counter would be dropped later in development but the name would stick.
An early prototype (Sep 2012) when the game was still called New York 1899;
the game included an action point system (bottom right) that would later be dropped
When I like something, I tend to do it a lot, maybe too much. Turn-of-the-century New York became a bit of an obsession. The turn-of-the-century period has been elevated to special status in many countries around the world. In France it's literally called "the Beautiful Period" (la Belle Époque) and I think the French name is used "as is" in the German language. In England, the turn-of-the-century period straddles the Victorian and Edwardian eras, both very evocative eras. The period also saw the United States grow at tremendous speed during its "Gilded Age". It was a period of great technological and artistic achievement around the world. That era's early days even inspired the Steampunk movement, which goes to show how deep and seductive its imagery is. The "Beautiful Period" ended with the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 by the end of which the World greeted a new world power, the United States.
I devoured book after book on the subject, and since it was imagery that I was after, it was fine to be intellectually lazy and prefer books with lots of pictures. Of course my efforts focused on New York City of the period. I discovered hundreds of beautiful skyscrapers with elaborate facades. I got so enamored with the period that I started collecting vintage New York City postcards. The turn-of-the-century was the heyday of postcard collecting, so cards are very easy to find on eBay. It's also a relatively cheap hobby, and a few dollars will buy you a nice 100+ year old postcard. No half measure for me, so my collection continued to grow and eventually reached well over two thousand cards. I got so enamored with the period that I created a Facebook page devoted to vintage New York City postcards and to this day, I still update it daily.
I find lots of pleasure in knowing that the aesthetics in New York 1901 are based on authentic imagery, and I'm happy my publisher bought into this obsession wholesale. However, and you might find this strange, on more than one occasion I've refrained from telling people too much about the research behind the visuals when I introduce the game. The reason being that New York 1901 was always meant to be a family game and in my mind — tell me if I'm mistaken — I fear that if I mention all the historical sources behind the imagery, namely that every single skyscraper tile in New York 1901 was inspired by an actual building from that period, the game might come across as one of those heavy historical simulations which it simply isn't. Maybe I think too much.
Now the vast majority of the skyscrapers from the first wave were built in Lower Manhattan, in New York City's financial district. I'll admit that a game like Ticket to Ride and its familiar geographic theme (a map of North America with its biggest cities highlighted) showed that geographic familiarity would truly help ease players into a board game. It was definitely one of the creative process' Eureka moments to identify the financial district, and its familiar streets like Broadway and Wall Street as the ideal setting to use as backdrop for New York 1901.
The almost final game board (above) and a vintage 1916 map of Lower Manhattan (below) with the game's play area outlined
Now if you're going to build skyscrapers, you need to acquire the land to build them on. Here again, a bit of research would be the inspiration for some of the core mechanisms. Lower Manhattan was the oldest part of the city, and the size of the lots was determined when New York was just a small city in a young British colony; therefore, the lots were very small. Turn-of-the-century real estate developers had to acquire many small contiguous lots of land before they could finally build a "big" footprint building.
Moreover, it wasn't uncommon for pesky real estate holdouts to ruin a developer's grand plans. When confronted with a holdout, the developers often built around them. This gave us quite a few skyscrapers with very peculiar footprints. The fact that such Tetris-y structures actually existed gave me the freedom to use these shapes in the game. I didn't start with Tetris-y shapes in mind; in fact, the skyscrapers in my first prototypes were square or rectangular. If these Tetris-y buildings hadn't actually existed, I wouldn't have used these shapes since they would have felt somewhat "forced" onto the game. History dictated the shape of the tiles, or rather, it allowed me to "go Tetris" on them.
The City Investing Building of 1908; a real estate holdout (lower left)
forced the developers to change their plans and build around the holdout
City Investing tile in New York 1901
Some more historical tidbits: Turn-of-the-century construction technology was advancing rapidly, making structures obsolete very quickly. These advances were making it possible to build better and higher skyscrapers. It wasn't rare for buildings that were just ten or fifteen years old to be demolished to make way for better ones. This is also one of the concepts that I used in the game. Many of the game's concepts were "revealed" (sounds quasi-religious) by New York City history. I was just there to push it along and make it fit into a nice, efficient and, hopefully, fun format. I borrowed so much from New York that I feel that I owe the city. Then again, I am feeding the New York City myth by creating a game around it, right? So I guess I'm even with New York!
Study using only two-square lots; in the final version, I opted for a mix of two- and three-square lots
which makes the evolving landscape more unpredictable
Some of the prototype boards; I must have made thirty variants throughout development,
and it's actually relaxing to make a prototype on a Sunday afternoon
My bathtub serving as archive. Can you spot the old (and moldy) copy of Machiavelli in there? A leftover from my teenage years
I'm off to Gen Con this year for the first time! I'm just thrilled to be able to attend the Mecca of North American gaming, and I'm pinching myself that all of this is happening to me. My family will be there, too, on the convention floor on the first day. It's not dad's game; it's the family's game. I went to Japan and immersed myself in the culture and brought back a Japanese wife for the "full experience". When our family (re)discovered board gaming, our passion culminated in the production of our own game. No half-measures at our house.
Chénier La Salle
• Kickstarter veterans Mayday Games are back with its latest offering, Mow Money, which was one of four finalists in a Protospiel design contest back in 2011. In this game from designer Matt Saunders, 1-6 players are running competing lawncare operations (how's that for an original theme!), bidding on jobs by trying to offer the most competitive price without pricing themselves right out of business — a reverse auction, in gamerspeak. Will you bring all the boys to the yard or wind up a sod? (KS link)
• In Get Off My Lawn, the legacy of the phrase popularized by David Letterman lives on. Designer Andrew WC Brown is self-publishing this small card game that lets you live out your curmudgeonly fantasies by trashing the lawns of your fellow suburbanites while transforming your own into the talk of the town. The cartoony art belies the take-that soul hidden underneath. I'm reminded of "A Vigilante Ripped My Sports Coat", that classic episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show in which crabgrass leads to violence. (KS link)
• Get your asteroid mining fix in Michael Eskue's Darkrock Ventures, a co-publication from Magic Meeple Games and Gamelyn Games, with the former handling KS campaign duties. The game features art from Naomi Robinson, who is building an impressive resumé in board game illustration. The volcanic eruption of worker placement games from the past several years has cooled, leaving space (heh) for this new entry in the genre. Fortunately, the asteroid has no indigenous lifeforms — Na'vi, necromorphs, or otherwise — to prevent the extraction of the mineral MacGuffins. (KS link)
• If you're really feeling the need for some hostile xenos, maybe take a look at Alien Labyrinth from designer Robert Huss. Originally available as a print-on-demand production from The Game Crafter, the game now has an all-new look (goodbye, sweet ambigram!) and a new publisher in Foam Brain Games. This is Foam Brain's first solo venture into publishing a board game, but they're not exactly KS greenhorns, having run a handful of campaigns for tabletop-related paraphernalia over the past several years. (KS link — update, Jul 19: Cancelled!)
• One-man operation Dr. Finn's Games is back foraging for funding on KS so that Steve Finn's latest design Foragers can see the light of day. Finn is well-known for his "fillers", but promises that this design breaks that mold, with heavier thematic integration and a 60-minute playing time. The food spoilage tracking mechanism is nifty; if that was around in the Paleolithic, I can't believe it's not standard issue for modern fridges! Certainly would have helped Tom Cruise in The Minority Report... (KS link)
• Some of the hottest products in geek culture right now are licensed vinyl figures. Funko is leading the charge in that department, but Chase and Sean Layman have their own line of indie vinyl toys and have now created a companion game for them called Rivals: Masters of the Deep, in which asymmetric forces battle for supremacy undersea. Given the theme and toy-like nature of the game, I'm instantly transported to the mid-1990s when LEGO produced its "Aquazone" theme. And no, I definitely did not just spend an hour nostalging on Brickipedia. (KS link)
• Although not as popular as that other zombie survival franchise, Zpocalypse from GreenBrier Games and Jeff Gracia has been successful in its own right. The newest addition to the product line, dubbed Zpocalypse 2: Defend the 'Burbs, is a co-operative tower defense game. If you're wondering for how much longer zombies will rule pop culture, read this Wall Street Journal article arguing that zombies are a manifestation of cultural unease and therefore "thrive during times of recession, epidemic and general unhappiness". So it might be a while! I say we go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for this whole thing to blow over. (KS link)
• The new Emma Expansion for Marrying Mr. Darcy is notably zombie-less, as long as you don't count some of the droller suitors. Designer and self-publisher Erika Svanoe has tapped into another of Jane Austen's classic works so that you can continue to roleplay genteel life in the British Regency era. Surely this game would be a sensible addition to your estate. That's what I'm going to call my board game collection now: my "estate". You see, I don't buy games for me; I'm building a family legacy. Yeah, that's it. Think of the children! (KS link)
• 100 Swords might be the next hit microgame from Samuel Strick and Clayton Grey of Laboratory Games, the publisher behind 2014's Province. To stay true to the "micro" label, the content in this deck-builder has been divided into two separate 54-card decks that will function as standalone products. The illustrations have an Adventure Time flavor that certainly won't hurt the game's mass-market appeal. Do the math (25 swords per deck) and you'll get a hint about their future plans for the game. That's right — I've got a mind like Valyrian steel. (KS link)
• As further proof that deck-building is not a dead-end genre, BATTALIA: The Creation is exhibit A. The game, developed by Bulgarian studio Fantasmagoria, is one of those kitchen-sink thematic designs, combining map construction, deck-building, and area control. Designers Alexandar Guerov and Ledha Guerova seem to be channeling Heroes of Might and Magic, and that probably tells you all you need to know about whether it's a game for you. If the glamour shot below is any indication, it's the kind of game you can play at the Winchester while having cold pints and waiting for the zombie apocalypse to blow over. (KS link)
Editor's note: Please don't post links to other Kickstarter projects in the comments section. Write to me via the email address in the header, and I'll consider them for inclusion in a future crowdfunding round-up. Thanks! —WEM
Let's start with a little anecdote: On an evening in summer 2014, I was playing Lewis & Clark with my family. At the end of the game, we ended up talking about the details of the expedition that I was beginning to know quite well since I had illustrated it several times in games or books.
At that time, I realized that in Lewis & Clark, I mostly represented the characters in the context of an epic trek — but we didn't develop the discovery and exploration sides of the expedition.
I was keeping this thought in the back of my mind to talk about it with the Ludonaute team. The next morning, I received a message from them, telling me that Cédrick Chaboussit had just designed a whole new game dedicated to the journals brought back by the explorers, journals describing the tribes, the cartography, and the studies of the animals and plants! That game would become Discoveries.
Dances with Lewis & Clark
It is not that simple to work on a theme and a story several times. Moreover, Lewis & Clark and Discoveries are two very different games but with a similar theme and approach: The players have to manage the expedition members to achieve their goal.
I must admit that the idea of working on it again scared me a little bit at first. The design had been thought out in-depth for Lewis & Clark, and it was necessary to obtain the same result — but in a new light — in order to avoid comments like "It's Lewis & Clark 2", "Lewis & Clark: The Expansion" or "Lewis & Clark: They Are Back".
The Designer, the Publisher, and the Artist
After some very interesting discussions, we decided to focus on the representation of the journals written by the explorers. The next step was to research documents and references to be able to do realistic and credible illustrations. My main researches were on the different tribes, their environment, their lifestyle, the hunters, fishermen, the encountered natural species...
Then I set up a framework for the cards considering some distinctive features. First, the cards are played horizontally, which is an important detail because, physically and visually, it gives a different sensation from Lewis & Clark.
I have thought up two different treatments for the cards. For the Tribes, I have chosen to use ochers and browns to create warmness and to be reminiscent of the colors of the Rocky Mountains, the leather, the wood — everything that is lively.
On the contrary, the Discoveries sides bear a pale and cold background to enhance the visibility of the tracks and the illustrations of the encountered species.
Then I organized the cards so that the mechanism and the indications fit the best amongst the other elements in order to avoid a patchwork effect. Actually, I have drawn the symbols, numbers and pictograms by hand so that we can find the same graphic aspect as in the illustrations. My goal was to create coherent and harmonious cards that remain easily readable.
Wild Wild West
I tried to give the players the feeling that they are really about to do the work of an anthropologist and to study different cultures.
For the Tribes cards, I figured out pretty soon that it wouldn't be that easy to represent the fifty or so tribes who live in the areas explored while giving personality to each card. Some tribes have similar environments (tepees, wooden houses or huts), lifestyles or clothes. For some other tribes, I had a hard time finding descriptions or representations.
To create variety, I have chosen to represent the environment only if I had documentation, to depict a character if I didn't have references, and to include a specific element inly if I had an accurate picture of it.
This work allowed me to create landscapes, characters more or less closely represented, costumes, objects, everyday life scenes, links between nature and men, animals...
For the Discoveries cards, it was easier. What was more important was the mechanism and the tracks that needed to be clear and perfectly readable once the card would lay on the table. In Discoveries, none of the cards are kept in hand, which influences the treatment of the illustrations that are to be seen from a distance.
On the lefthand side are the rivers and the mountains, painted as two small icons so they fit perfectly in the card, and on the righthand side, the illustrations of plants and animals.
For the two kinds of cards, I have tried to give the sensation of a travel diary with illustrations like colored sketches as if they had been taken on the spot, like lively memories. Finally, I have added some writing marks, ink traces and stains to give the ideas of journals that are carried around in a backpack, whenever it is raining or snowing.
On the Board Again
In the very first versions of the game, there wasn't any central board. It was during a test at the 2014 Spiel fair that Sébastien Pauchon (from Gameworks and Space Cowboys) suggested adding a main board in the center of the table instead of just designating a zone to stock the dice.
I liked the idea right off, as did the Ludonaute team, because at this stage the game lacked immersion, a frame, a decor to get really involved in the adventure.
The illustration of the central board shows a panoramic view of the expedition during a break, some men meeting the Native Americans, the others buzzing around the crafts and the horses.
I have rigorously composed the illustration to give it balance and strength. The strong lines all converge to the center of the image to create deepness, and the mountain is like a pyramid on the top of the scene. I aim to enhance the feeling of being a small man at the feet of nature.
The central board facilitates the organization and the structure of the game zone with the cards on each side. I personally think that Discoveries (as with Augustus, which I also illustrated) is a game with a "Wow" effect. There aren't many elements and we start the game with not so much on the table — and then, step by step, the table gets full; we develop the game by spreading the cards. At the end, we get a feeling of achievement, visually reinforced.
The individual boards tend to be not so fun because they're full of indications about the mechanisms of the game. Here, I have tried to use this space to layer various textures and colors and enhance the immersion of the player with paper pieces, a notebook, a little portrait, a colored stone...
Once Upon a Time
The cover illustration has been designed with the same spirit as Lewis & Clark. The idea was to present what the players are about to do in the game, to put into pictures the actions of it.
In the picture, we can see the head of the expedition, the proximity with the Native Americans, the work on the journals and Sacagawea indicating the path. Actually, she is pointing at the part of the decor that we find on the board inside the game. The goal is still to tell a story, with the mountains looking like those from Lewis & Clark and the eagle watching the expedition.
On Lewis & Clark's cover, I put the stress on the explorers, with a cold decor, closed by the steep walls of a defile, to enhance by opposition the warm colors of the characters on the crafts as they go into the unknown.
Here, I have done the opposite, being willing to show the wide spaces and use nature's colors to create a warm atmosphere. I also wanted to change the atmosphere, enhancing the blues and the greens for more softness and the pinks and creams for the peaceful feeling. Thanks to my graphic treatment, the players will be able to make a link between the two game boxes, but we wanted them different nonetheless because Discoveries is a whole new game.
As always, I made the illustrations the traditional way with my pencils and brushes on paper. Sometimes, I did it on separate parts in order to recompose the pictures on the computer.
This Was Just the Beginning
Being able to rework a game thematic is not usual in a career, and I have been really happy over this wonderful opportunity offered by the Ludonaute team. I do thank them for this.
At the same time, it has been a complex challenge. I have just received the first sample of the game (which is particularly well made with an accurate printing) and I was really happy about it.
I have appreciated the opportunity to work again on this universe and develop new ideas that I couldn't do on the first game, I have appreciated working again with Ludonaute and Cédrick Chaboussit, and I appreciate the chance to share my path a little longer with the players in this universe. Enjoy!
Sat Jul 18, 2015 10:36 pm
W. Eric Martin
When I prepare the Gen Con Preview each year, one company that surprises me annually is Flying Frog Productions — not because they deviate from history in the type of games they create, but because they function something like a black box, springing all this stuff on me at once out of nowhere.
FFP did not disappoint my expectations in 2015, starting with the announcement of Dark Gothic: Colonial Horror, which both serves as an expansion for its 2014 Dark Gothic deck-building game and as a standalone game for 2-3 players. Here's an overview of the game:
In Dark Gothic: Colonial Horror, each player takes on the role of a unique monster-hunting hero who collects allies and gear to aid them in their journeys while they root out evil and hunt supernatural creatures back to their lairs. Players must hunt down a series of increasingly difficult villains that are terrorizing the countryside before the land is consumed in shadows. Though the heroes must generally work cooperatively as a group to stop the villains from overwhelming the land, there can be only one top monster hunter amongst them when the dust clears and the final victory total is gathered.
In addition to this larger standalone game, FFP has two Dark Gothic mini-expansions: Curse of the Werewolf Game Supplement and Smuggler's Den Game Supplement. This latter title is nothing more than a name and image at this point in terms of available information, but I do have a short description of the former title:
Dark Gothic: Curse of the Werewolf Game Supplement is a 15-card expansion for Dark Gothic that introduces a new "Werewolf's Curse" Secret card, which is similar to the Dark Secret cards from the main game but acquired in new ways. You can contract the new curse from a totem or a deadly face-off with a lycanthrope.
FFP's Jack Scott Hill notes that the company is flying in the titles mentioned above — in limited quantities, of course, although such quantities are always limited since the number of protons in the universe is finite, not to mention the available space in the Indiana Convention Center, but I think you know what I mean — but in addition to that trio of Dark Gothic titles, Flying Frog plans to have fifteen expansions and add-ons available (in limited quantities) for Shadows of Brimstone. Here's the list of those titles:
-----• Shadows of Brimstone: Caverns of Cynder Expansion
-----• Shadows of Brimstone: Caverns of Cynder Artifacts #1 Game Supplement
-----• Shadows of Brimstone: Doorways into Darkness
-----• Shadows of Brimstone: Badlands Expedition Game Supplement
-----• Shadows of Brimstone: Serpentmen of Jargono Deluxe Enemy Set (Gen Con Preview Version)
-----• Shadows of Brimstone: Masters of the Void Deluxe Enemy Set (Gen Con Preview Version)
-----• Shadows of Brimstone: Guardian of Targa XL Enemy (Gen Con Preview Version)
-----• Shadows of Brimstone: Scourge Rats / Rats Nest Enemy Set (Gen Con Preview Version)
-----• Shadows of Brimstone: DarkStone Brutes Enemy Set (Gen Con Preview Version)
-----• Shadows of Brimstone: Trun Hunters Enemy Set (Gen Con Preview Version)
-----• Shadows of Brimstone: Harvesters From Beyond Enemy Set (Gen Con Preview Version)
-----• Shadows of Brimstone: Trederran Raiders Enemy Set (Gen Con Preview Version)
-----• Shadows of Brimstone: Burrower XXL Enemy (Gen Con Preview Version)
-----• Shadows of Brimstone: SECRET Enemy Set #1 (Revealed at Gen Con)
-----• Shadows of Brimstone: SECRET Enemy Set #2 (Revealed at Gen Con)
Whoa. So many things not listed in the BGG database or pictured or described in any way. Still, they're on their way to Indy!
W. Eric Martin
• Double Mission: Beyond the Object is one of two titles coming to Spiel 2015 from Korean publisher Deinko Games, and I'm not sure why you're going "beyond the object" since you're all thieves who are trying to steal objects, but perhaps that's a subtle reminder that you're after more than the objects themselves; you want fame and glory and victory and the most awesome brokeback pose ever. Here's an overview of the design from Evan Song:
Double Mission: Beyond the Object is a light game with a heist movie theme, à la Ocean's Eleven. It is basically a competitive game, but with a dose of semi-cooperative element.
Each player personifies a "professional thief" who attempts to retrieve valuable objects (tokens) from various cities of the world. Each city has its own security level, which is represented by the number of dice a player has to roll. The special d6 die has one "fail" side and five "success" sides. For instance, if a player wants to penetrate a level 4 city, they roll four dice and all four dice must show "success" sides.
There is a unique semi-cooperative aspect here. If a player wants to penetrate a city, they can ask for other players to join the heist. If they do, each player rolls the dice, and the theft succeeds if any one of them rolls all "success". The main player takes the valuable object from the city while the collaborator receives points for compensation. If the heist doesn't succeed, the main player and the collaborator(s) receive investigation tokens (potential penalty points).
Players continue to gather valuable objects, which can be sold for immediate points or displayed to claim "fame titles". Whoever earns the most points wins the game and is declared the greatest thief of the world.
• The other title from Deinko Games is Chronicler, and admittedly the game is something of a blank slate right now with the only description I have being that it's a card-based civilization game. In fact, the game was first shown under the title Cardvilization, which left nothing to hide. Obviously more details will come to light in the 2.5 months we have left before Spiel 2015 opens.
• U.S. publisher Rio Grande Games has posted information about two upcoming releases, one of which is a new edition of Rudi Hoffmann's Café International, which won the Spiel des Jahres in 1989. In this tile-laying game, players try to seat customers at tables that match their nationalities, but most tables are shared by two nationalities and you must keep the number of males and females at each as equal as possible!
• The other Rio Grande Games release is from Alan D. Ernstein, who has published much of his own material in the past under his Hangman Games label. This new design, Alan's Adventureland, is another take on the amusement park theme that has been showing up in recent years, e.g., Steam Park, Arcadia, and Parkies. Here's a rundown of this design:
In Alan's Adventureland, players are a part of the design team for a new amusement park. There are four themed neighborhoods within the facility, and each player is responsible for constructing the attractions in one of those neighborhoods: Animal Kingdom, Tour America, Sky World, and Foreign Lands. Each turn represents the passage of one week.
During the game, players draw cards representing purchase orders (POs) for different types of attractions. These cards have two uses: first, as POs approved by the finance office to expedite construction of specific types of attractions each turn, and second, as the actual financing to construct the attraction represented on the card. At the end of each month, the review board meets, evaluates the progress of each neighborhood, and awards bonuses for meeting a set of predetermined preferences. These preferences relate to how attractions in a park are arranged. Points are awarded to the players who meet the review board's preferences.
At the end of the game, the owners of the facility come in and award points to the finished themed neighborhoods. These points are awarded based on four criteria:
1. Excitement Level — size of the rides
2. Parking Lot View — curb appeal to visitors upon arrival
3. Main Entrance View — attractiveness to patrons waiting in line for their tickets
4. Themed Attractions — number of matched types of attractions in a neighborhood
The player who earns the most points wins the design contract for the owners' next project.
W. Eric Martin
Has it been five years already since the release of the second edition of War of the Ring? Well, not quite as the second edition of that game debuted in December 2011, but it's close enough for publisher Ares Games, which has announced that in Q2 2016 it will publish an Anniversary Release of War of the Ring (Second Edition) to tie into the game's fifth anniversary and (perhaps more importantly) the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Return of the King.
Details on this edition of the game from Ares' press release:
This new edition of the game will feature a set of 205 figures, hand painted in a high quality style; a hot-foil stamped game board, about 20% larger than the board included in Second Edition; a unique hardcover strategy guide, the War of the Ring Companion, written by Kristofer Bengttson and featuring beautiful artwork by John Howe. The game board, cards and rules will be updated to reflect all the changes introduced by the Second Edition and to incorporate the latest rulings and frequently asked questions.
The Anniversary Release of War of the Ring Second Edition is scheduled to release in Spring, 2016, with a print run of 2000 copies in its English version. Due to the limited print run, it will be sold by preorder only, at a price of $369.00 (about €330) plus postage and packing. Preorders will open on the Ares Games web site on July, 20th 2015 and will be serviced on a first come-first served basis, with a strict limit of one copy per customer's address.
Update, July 20, 2015: Preorders have opened for the Anniversary Release of War of the Ring Second Edition and will remain open until July 22nd at 6:00 p.m. UTC.
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