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The Magic of the Discworld
Back in September 2011 Leonard Boyd and I (David Brashaw) who run Backspindle Games had recently published Guards! Guards! A Discworld Boardgame in conjunction with Z-Man Games. Both being from Ireland we thought, where was the best place to be just after its release? The Irish Discworld Convention, of course! This venture was not without its challenges as it took us five hours "by car" to get there, while many others who had traveled from across Europe got there in less than four hours...
We were mostly delayed by a Post Office van that was broken down at the Mad Cow roundabout. Funny how this later impacted subliminally in our game Clacks! (darn Post Office).
Funny How Things Come About
The convention itself was magical, the location was the superb Falls Hotel in County Clare, the staff were charming, and the delegates delightful. We spent our time demoing our Guards! Guards! board game and ran an occasional crazy run-around-the-convention game of it with chocolate dollars and beer as the prizes.
On the final day when we were all packed up and relaxing in the lounge, we talked with other delegates about the Sky TV adaptations of Discworld books. I had just said that my favorite one was Going Postal and the great race when Leonard came out with the statement, "I'm sure there is a good game in there somewhere." Hence we started talking about how many lamps were on a Clacks tower, the type of alphabet, semaphore, and transmission of words, and in no time at all had come up with an initial idea of a board game in which players would compete to transmit words.
Playing Around With Ideas
Once back safe and sound in County Down we developed the idea further, agreeing on how many lamps should be on a board, and Leonard devised the Clacks alphabet. We dug out our respective copies of Going Postal for reference purposes. Leonard then created a simple board and tile lamp stickers while I got some wooden blocks cut and painted them black with the interference of our cat — they became his plaything while drying on the windowsill — and we had a demo game ready to go.
Then we thought, "Do we want to be board game designers that create only Discworld-based games?" Much as this is totally wonderful, we felt that no, we'd like to do other games, too. Hence we put the idea of Clacks on hold and we used the sixteen tile idea instead to develop a different simple strategy game called Codinca.
We took demos of Codinca to the UK Games Expo in 2012 and it was loved. Following this response to save time, we self-printed a very small quantity of Codinca and took them to Spiel in Essen, Germany, where we sold out.
The Lights Came Back On
However, Clacks had not gone away. We were aware that for any product to be granted a license by Sir Terry Pratchett, the fans had to like it first and foremost. Subsequently, we made better quality demos of Clacks and took two copies to the Discworld Convention in Birmingham in 2012. The critical question was, "Did we have a good reaction from the fans to this early version of Clacks?" Oh, yes!
We particularly remember going into the Games Room at 11:45 p.m. on the Saturday evening to make sure everything was set-up for the next morning only to discover to our horror that one copy was missing. We set off to hunt it down. We were delighted to find it in the after-hours area being played by four girls who in unison said, "Please let us finish this game!"
Being Granted a License
Throughout the whole convention, both copies of Clacks had been played "non-stop all day every day" by delegates. It was very pleasing, but still a long way from being the complete game and securing a license from Sir Terry.
The positive feedback from the Discworld Convention went back to Terry Pratchett's team and on 8 February 2013 I received an email from Rob confirming Sir Terry was pleased with the feedback and he would be granting us a license for Clacks! Awesome...
Delivering a Quality Game
Now the pressure was on to make it a really good game, quality rules, attractive board, themed playing cards and pieces, and of course an appropriate box cover. Keeping the high standards of Discworld is a challenging proposition, one that we had managed successfully before with Guards! Guards! and were very keen to do with Clacks.
At this time we had "Fault Report" cards in the game. These enabled players to play them against their opponents or use them themselves to help win in the "player versus player" game. Ongoing playtesting was challenging as we wanted some type of cooperative game within the rules, but game balance and mechanisms for this were proving difficult to say the least. As in all our games, not only must the game mechanism work, but it also must feel right, i.e., fit with the theme of the game.
Success Can Be a Distraction
Meanwhile, another of our game publications had taken off in 2013; Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice came to life and became a HIT in every way, so once again Clacks development had to take a temporary second place. By early 2014 Luchador! had become a big success for us via Kickstarter and the pressure to deliver Clacks in 2015 was increasing.
Securing the Right Illustrator
At the 2014 Discworld Convention in Manchester we further playtested Clacks with the fans of Sir Terry's books and chatted to The Artful Nudger, a.k.a. Amber Grundy, about the possibility of her working as the illustrator for Clacks. We had previously worked with Amber on a charity card game for the Irish Discworld Convention and were very aware of the fabulous artwork she could produce, particularly her dragon illustrations.
In addition, Amber is a big fan of Discworld and very knowledgeable about the subject matter. This is, of course, critical to a branded game.
Funding the Game Development
Shortly afterwards we (Backspindle Games) secured some substantive financial support from the Creative Industries Innovation Fund, the Northern Ireland Arts Council, and DCAL. This enabled us to bring Amber on board as our illustrator, invest money in additional playtesting and promotion, and print high-quality prototypes for showing at trade fairs and to others in the industry.
Lots More Playtesting
We investigated the idea that we could also make Clacks playable by blind and partially sighted gamers. This was possible, but unfortunately would add substantially to the costs and was likely to make the retail price prohibitive.
In addition, we started playing around with a new approach to the cooperative game that linked in nicely with the idea of recreating the race between the Clacks and the Post Office in the novel.
This idea was developed further with more playtesting and a balance of movement for the Post Office around the board being created in conjunction with the flavor text cards later to become known as "Incident Report" and "Operators Log" cards. This mechanism was then driven by using the Stress Points spent by players operating the Clacks system. We created two routes for the Post Office: one easier for the Clacks Operators (players) to win and a harder route.
Ensuring the Game Was Balanced
There had also been challenges with game balance for a three-player game, but we overcame this with the introduction of a Deep Dwarf Marker. This not only balanced the competitive three-player game, but also added a little bit more Discworld theme, which is always a good thing.
Not One, But Three Games in One
Then at one of our playtesting sessions at local gaming club Wee Gamers, which is based in a local Primary School, it was suggested that we could perhaps introduce a junior introductory race game within the rules. We played about with this idea, and after more playtesting incorporated a two-player simplified game to Clacks which is mainly aimed at children.
Everything Has To Be Approved
At all stages of a Discworld licensed game, all content and artwork has to be approved, so we were delighted in late January when we received approval from Narativia for the box cover. Shortly after that we agreed with Polish board game publisher Phalanx that a Polish-language version of Clacks would also be produced.
Once both English and Polish contents and artwork had been approved, we went to print. The board looked superb, the pre-order was launched in early May 2015 for shipping around the globe and collecting at Spiel 2015 in Essen.
The official release launch for Clacks is set to take place at theIrish Discworld Convention taking place from 2-5 October 2015 in Cork.
More Fun at the UK Games Expo
In June 2015, we also took the good quality demo copies to the UK Games Expo in Birmingham, the biggest board gaming event held in the UK annually. We were snowed under with demand to play Clacks. Some gamers enjoyed the player versus player game while other loved the cooperative race game. Once again the fact that the gamers loved playing Clacks reassured us we had once again found a good mix of fun, strategy and sneakiness in our game, just what we like in most of the games we play.
Back to the Post Office Van
Funnily enough when we were at the 2015 UK Games Expo we were asked, "Was the Post Office not the good guys in the book and The Clacks the bad guys?" Darn, was this the subliminal message of disgruntlement from our 2011 delay by a Post Office van? Perhaps it was. However, we do know that the Clacks operators were everyday workers and not necessarily the baddies. This made us smile, of course, and adds to a lovely story.
At the time of writing we are on schedule with production and relying on our printers, the shipping agents, and our distribution agents to deliver all games in early October 2015.
Thank you for taking time to read our notes.
W. Eric Martin
In October 2014 in the run-up to Spiel 2014, I posted an overview video for József Dorsonczky's Six MaKING from Mind Fitness Games, one of the few abstract strategy games that has reworked Chess into anything approaching a new and brilliant design.
For Spiel 2015, Dorsonczky and MFG have a new game to show off, the equally brilliant card game Hack Trick, a minimalist design that challenges two to four players to dash out the right numbers on a number pad in order to crack a machine and score. Admittedly, you're unlikely to feel like a hacker while playing the game, but that's par for the course with most games.
Draw and I win; play a 0 and I win; anything else and...?
In the life of every boardgamer comes a time when you start asking yourself, "Maybe I should design a game?" For me it was in early 2013. I gave it a deep thought, and I still wasn't sure whether I should do it. After all, there are sooooo many games on the market and the people behind them are professionals with years of experience.
All those doubts resulted in one simple conclusion: If I were to design a game, it had to be something special. As a result, I started thinking about what I was missing in other games. Two things popped out: very interactive games in which the focus isn't on negative interaction and small scaled space sci-fi games. All of the other space games are about conquering galaxies and fighting to save the universe, but I wanted a game about a single, small ship, so I started designing two games.
Two Games, Two Beginnings
When I started thinking about game design, I read a lot about it — and I really mean a lot! During that time I've learned that there are couple of ways in which you can start your design process:
• From the mechanisms (I imagine most famous German eurogames here)
• From the theme (e.g., BSG, Warhammer)
• From the components (e.g., Tzolk'in, Loopin' Louie)
• From the player experience (e.g., Robinson Crusoe)
But when somebody asks me how I started designing Andromeda, my answer is "with all of them at the same time".
As already mentioned, in late 2013 I was designing two games at the same time. I thought maybe at least one of them could become something interesting.
For the first one, I'd even written the rules, but the rules and mechanisms weren't as important to me as the player experience. There is a lot of things in games that I like, but I really love two: "meat" and "elegance". Think about "meat" as the amount of cool and interesting dilemmas offered to you, while "elegance" is how easy it is to teach and comprehend a design.
So I wanted as much meat and as much elegance as I could get. I wanted players to feel like they are solving a mystery each game, with the next play going to be different and just as exciting. Pretty ambitious, I know.
The second game was set in space. A couple of peacefully coexisting factions are disturbed by the arrival of a mysterious ship. Each race desperately wants to examine this thing as everyone thinks it's important. Whoever is the fastest to unveil the riddle will win.
As you probably have already guessed two games quickly merged into one. The first swallowed up the second, or maybe it was the other way around? Today I can't even tell.
Components, Mechanisms, and Cosmic Player Experience
As for the components, I knew that my game must include dice. I'm a big fan of risk management and the variability (even randomness) that dice can provide. Most of my favorite games have dice, so naturally I wanted them in my game. I think that you must love the game you are designing. It's impossible to create a great product without a passion for it, and in this field you need it more than anywhere else. After all, you are going to spend a couple hundred hours playing your game with other players.
As far as the mechanisms are concerned, I longed for something good and less-known that I could tweak for my needs. Once again, ambitious, I know. Nevertheless, I found what I was looking for by combining the "I split you choose" mechanism with dice! After a few tests I knew that it was a great choice. It allowed me to provide players with the experiences I wanted: a lot of cool interactions that allowed you to start deciphering the opponent's plans while at the same time hiding your own strategy.
Theme came from my non-board game hobby: watching American TV shows. At the time my friend recommended Stargate Universe, a show about humans exploring an ancient alien ship. I was having a blast watching it, so I decided to make something like that but in reverse. In my game, the aliens were going to explore an ancient human ship.
I made the game, and it was ready for the first set of tests...
First Few Tests and Breath of Monsoon
The first couple of games that I played with my friends went pretty well, but I honestly didn't know what to expect. I improved the game and started tests with my dad. My game was constantly improved, but then I encountered a problem I hadn't thought of before. Aside from my family and friends, it was really hard to get someone to play my prototype. Naturally people don't like to play games without cool graphics, especially games that may or may not work. I knew I had to test my design with strangers to *really* test it and it was becoming a serious issue.
Luckily I'd heard about a group for designers and testers, based in my city, called Monsoon. I have to say the first test there was really stressful. I feared they might trash my game completely, but on the contrary the feedback was very positive. It motivated me to work even harder. I think it was the first time I thought I might publish this game someday.
Testing in progress
With even more help from our Warsaw group I was developing and testing my game every week for a couple of months. Finally, the game was as ready as it could be at that time. In Andromeda players were exploring a space ship. Each one of them controlled an alien race with a unique power. Every room on the ship was different, and in each game, players had different set of special actions available to them. Even so, my variation of "I split, you choose" was the most unique part. I was pretty happy with what I'd done and started looking for a publisher.
Once again I got help from the Monsoon Group. Łukasz Pogoda (designer of Basilica and Savannah) persuaded me that I should send them to a contest held by Polish publisher Galakta. I made a prettier prototype, wrote a full rulebook (you can't imagine how hard it is!), tested the rulebook over a dozen of times (the best idea I've had), and sent it all in the mail.
Then I waited.
Waiting is hard, guys. Two-and-a-half months was a long time. I honestly didn't expect to do well and thought the other designers would have something better — but when the results came and I discovered that I had won, I was thrilled! After a quick phone call, I got on a train to Cracow to discuss further cooperation.
Improvements, Improvements, Improvements
What surprised me the most is how professionally they tested my game. My future publisher was well aware of the strong and weak sides of the project. As a result, a couple of their ideas for improvements became a vital part of the game. I had a lot of work to do to make sure my game "would jump from good to great" (my publisher's words). We had a deal, and we worked hard to complete the game for Spiel 2014, but unfortunately even working on it 110% we couldn't do it. We decided to go there with an almost finished prototype to gather more information and get some buzz.
Spiel 2014 and Waiting
I think Spiel is a true boardgamer's dream. It was my first time, and I was going with my own design! How cool is that. I didn't know what to expect at all. The fair starts on Thursday, and I arrived at 6 a.m. after an all-night car journey. I slept for maybe an hour, so I had my natural zombie cosplay on when it all began.
Happy designer showing off the prototype at Spiel 2014
But I quickly forgot about exhaustion and just went with it. It was amazing. Seeing other people playing your game and having fun – that is the ultimate designer's experience in my opinion. Even now, when I remember faces, smiles, and all the kind words, I immediately begin to smile. From Germany I returned with very positive feelings, despite the fact I lost my voice for over a week.
The publisher decided that we needed to improve the production: new graphics, better components. I couldn't be happier with the decision, but it also meant that the game was going to be further delayed. Writing this diary now in September 2015, I must say that waiting is the hardest part of designing a game. You have no influence over it; you just need to learn to be patient. But it's worth it. It really is. I know it will be magical when I'm back at the fair this year where I'll see my beautifully produced game and all those people having fun playing it. I can't wait! See you all there!
Dice (above) and miniatures (below) from the final version
W. Eric Martin
When considered in tandem, designers Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling might be best known for Tikal, Java, and Mexica, a.k.a. the "Mask Trilogy", three games that allow players to explore a land that starts almost completely empty and is developed through the actions of those players over the course of the game.
Superficially, the 2015 release Adventure Land from HABA resembles the Mask Trilogy, with players spreading out from one section of the board into a land mostly devoid of features. Once you get into the details of play, though, you find a design that's doing something different, a design that allows players to jump across the land as quickly or as slowly as they desire, but with no backtracking.
At heart Adventure Land challenges players to clear the land of enemies, but to do so, they need to pick up supplies across the land, racing others for these items while also competing for positioning in order to bring battle to those foes first.
In September 2009, I was still looking for a new game concept to present at the Spiel game fair in October. Usually, I'm the most creative when there is some time pressure. The short delay to imagine a brand new game concept is always a real challenge and that gives my inspiration a great boost.
The first step for me is finding a suitable theme. I've always been a fan of wargames and I have imagined a few. Unfortunately, the market for this kind of game is rather small, and I never managed to put any of these games on the market. Besides, I'm less interested in the historical component of wargames than in a nice game mechanism, so my games tend to rather simple and fun rather than complex and historically accurate. This time, the challenge that I imposed on myself was to imagine a "wargame" that doesn't look like a "wargame".
To start, I checked a few possible themes and I came up with a game about ants. A quick look on BoardGameGeek told me that the number of games on these insects is rather few, so that was a good starting point. After some research, I found out that termites would be a perfect match. The insects are very well organized. They have different classes, each with their own task and special ability. Above all, they build impressive mounds and are constantly on war. So I found an original theme; now I had to find a game mechanism.
Finding a Nice Game Mechanism
At that time, I knew that the game Batt'l Kha'os, which I designed with Eric Hanuise, was going to be launched in a few weeks. Although I liked that game a lot, it's in fact a static two-player tile-placement game. This time, I was planning to make a more dynamic game for two to four players.
The goal of the new game could be very similar: Control some central spots, which were towers in the case of Batt'l Kha'os and are termite mounds in the case of Termity. Defining a clear goal for a game is important as it helps focus all rules around one central objective.
In contrast to Batt'l Kha'os, I wouldn't use tiles to form a board, but a classic game board with hexes. Using hexes is common in wargames and visually more appealing than squares, which is too much Chess-like in my opinion. The board of the prototype was originally rectangular, but the publisher proposed using a hexagonal form which avoids players being able to play in their corner. A nice improvement.
To make the board tactically interesting, it was necessary to add some different terrain types. Keeping in mind the target player group which I've chosen, I wanted to keep it simple. Therefore, I limited the terrain to three special types: boulders, lakes and trees.
From the game Go, probably the best strategy game ever imagined, I used the brilliant (and simple) mechanism of adding each turn one piece on the board. Instead of adding identical pieces, I chose to create much variety among the pieces: the infantry would be represented by workers, the elite troops by warriors, the cavalry by alates (i.e., mature termites), and the archers by nasutes (a type of soldier termite).
Each termite type would get one special ability, which would reflect their strength and use in combat. Limiting it to one ability per type makes it easy to remember for players and keeps the rules simple.
After placing a piece, the idea was to allow one movement. Although most wargames allow multiple moves, the problem is always remembering which units have already moved and which have not. Besides, as I was designing a multiplayer game, it's important that a game turn remains short and fast.
Along the same lines, I would limit combat to one single attack. All of these restrictions force players to think twice which piece to move and which attack to make. To avoid using dice and to make the game more tactical, combat would be resolved by determining majorities. To win, the attacker would simply need more points than the defender. Finally, to make combat less lethal, a successful attack would result in a retreat. Only when the retreat is blocked would a termite piece be eliminated.
Each piece would have a certain value, which should be visible on each counter. Therefore, I opted for the simplest solution of giving each individual small termite one point. Warriors, which are a little bigger, would get two points each.
For the individual mounds, I had to use another system. Printing the value on the counter appeared to be the most convenient solution. Quickly, I noticed that using flat game pieces and flat mound pieces would give a visually rather flat game. Therefore, I skipped the mound counters and replaced them by pyramidal mounds.
As you can notice, the core rules were imagined by making a choice among a vast number of options to solve problems which emerged during the design process. In fact, this is what game design is about: making choices and hoping to make the right ones.
Playtesting the Game
The next and most important step in designing a game is the playtesting phase. This is a little bit the moment of truth. Your game can look fantastic in your head and on paper, but if players don't like it, you have to start it all over. During the years, I've developed a simple feedback system which works very well for me: I take notes during each playtest on a pre-printed feedback form. This allows me to compare different rule changes and its effect on the game experience. More importantly, I keep a written record of each playtest, which is useful when I want to improve an old concept after several years.
Playtesting proceeds a little bit in a trial-and-error way. I change a few rules, then check the effect, then I make a few other changes and test it again. In the meantime, I try to gather as many suggestions as possible and check whether they improve the game or not. This process can continue very long, but mostly after some time the number of improvements and suggestions start to decrease. At that moment, you know as a designer that your game is finished and ready to present to publishers.
In the case of Termity, I've performed a lot of playtests in a very short time. The bulk of improvements were ready for Spiel, as planned, and I could show it to the publishers.
Finding a Publisher
For each game you need to find the right publisher, and this quest can be long and frustrating. So many new concepts are conceived by other designers, amateurs as well as professionals, that you need some luck before reaching your goal.
Regarding my own success ratio, I've figured that from five new game concepts I manage to sell only one, so my expectations are always a little tempered when imagining a new game concept. In the case of Termity, I had to be patient for several years (four years to be precise).
By chance, I got into contact with Polish publisher REBEL.pl at Spiel 2013 in Essen. In fact, we were both waiting for an appointment in front of another publisher, and I got the opportunity to present myself, exchange business cards, and fix a meeting for the next day. The publisher was interested in several new concepts, but Termity in particular caught their attention. After playtesting it in Poland, they informed me in January 2014 that they would like to get the license to publish the game.
Nevertheless, it took nearly two extra years before the project could be planned in the publication schedule of REBEL.pl. A funny anecdote is that the publisher first wanted to change the theme to caveman wars, then to WWII, and finally decided to keep the original termite theme as it offered the best match with the game mechanisms.
Finding the Way to the Customer
This is the final step for a new game. Unfortunately, my task is nearly finished and now, it will mainly depend on you, as a customer, if you like the game or not. The more people who like the game, the easier the game will become a success.
Thanks for reading these notes.
• The hobby is experiencing a mini Nordic renaissance it seems, with more than one-quarter of all Viking-themed games in the BGG database having been published since 2013. Saga of the Northmen, from designer Scott W. Leibbrandt and publisher Minion Games, is a classic area control game — something of an endangered species these days — and a throwback to the heyday of the not-quite-euro "strategy game". I think the publisher missed a trick by not planning to have their campaign conclude on a Thursday, though. (KS link)
• Rome: Rise to Power from Elad Goldsteen and Golden Egg Games is the second title from this designer/publisher to hit KS in as many months. The game's central conceit is a dice-placement system which the publisher believes is innovative enough that they have given it a name, "Rise to Power", and trademarked that name. (And why shouldn't they? Great empires are not maintained by timidity, after all.) Perhaps this means the dice system will show up in future Golden Egg titles. (KS link)
• Another dice game on KS is Dicenstein from Chris Fernandez and Tom McGinty, back for its second run. The first campaign in June 2015 was canceled by the publisher, Petersen Games, because backers pointed out that engraved dice are vastly superior in longevity and feel to the heat-printed dice that were originally planned. Creating classic horror monsters is the draw here; if you're into body stitchery and playing Gene Wilder, this might be a good add for your Halloween game bag. (KS link)
• David Lankton and CMX Games have created a game with a little less morbid form of assembly. Brick Work is a two-player dice placement game in which players build objects out of KAZI bricks as part of the gameplay. The game would make an interesting gateway to the hobby for young fans of construction toys like LEGO and K'NEX. If you're the Special, it's up to you to go back this game and thwart the Kragle! [Disclaimer: I assisted with rulebook editing for this game.] (KS link)
• Gritty crime noir is severely (criminally?) underrepresented in board games. Designer Matt Stockwell has set out to change that with Charm City Blues, his debut design that he's publishing under his own Mobtown Games label, in conjunction with Breaking Games. This cooperative, narrative-first game was one of eight finalists featured on Tabletop Deathmatch at Gen Con 2015. In the game, players are members of an elite Vice Squad, Charm City's own collection of Philip Marlowe and Harry Hole types, working against the clock to solve crimes. (KS link)
• Level 99 Games, the publisher of the BattleCON series, continues to expand its brand as the leader in card games meant to replicate classic arcade duelers with the EXCEED Fighting System, once again designed by Brad Talton, Jr. Level 99's plan is to partner with other game publishers so that each new EXCEED release features a set of crossover characters; the initial release pulls from Jasco Games' Red Horizon franchise. (KS link)
• The latest release from The Game Crafter to go the Kickstarter route is Super Hardcore Hamlet Builder Pro 5000 of the Stars: 1599 AD (or Hamlet Builder Pro for short), from the design team of Julian Harris, JT Smith, and Jamie Vrbsky. Players are magistrates expanding their sleepy little villages by purchasing and laying hexagonal tiles. The game throws negative events, like orc attacks and dwarven larceny, at players, forcing them to plan well in order to mitigate the damage. Hamlet building isn't for the faint of heart! (KS link)
• Desnet Amane's Heroes' Gold is a light card game of wagering and hand management from Queen Games. The game's theme flips the bog-standard dungeon crawl on its head; players are monsters raiding a castle, conquering guards and stealing gold along the way. Some poetic justice, no? It may be worth noting, for you Stefan Feld completionists out there, that there's a pledge level that will net you his 2010 design It Happens. (KS link)
• Back in May 2015, W. Eric covered the first KS campaign for Cabals: The Board Game, a physical port of the digital card game of the same name. Now this game from KYY Games and designer Mika Rosendahl is back, with a lower funding goal and the new confusing title Cabals: The Board Game, An Expandable Card Game (XCG). How long before the rest of the non-Fantasy Flight market settles on a single term and acronym for games of this ilk? (KS link)
• If you have a penchant for schadenfreude, you've likely spent time chuckling at some of the strategy games attempting to simulate political electioneering that clueless carpetbaggers have brought to KS over the years. That's why it's refreshing to read about Campaign Trail from Cosmic Wombat Games. The Cornelius brothers, Jeff and Nathan, have developed the game from a rough concept their father David taught them decades ago into a slick modern design that supports up to six players. (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
Gordon and I are always trying to push the boundaries of what components can be included in a game (sometimes unintentionally...Spellbound anyone?), but still managing to keep the cost lower than most "collector editions".
However, for the past few years there has been a greater itch that we needed to scratch. We have been talking about a gnome game for a while, but only if we could include a mountain that would form part of the game world. Since it is usually me who deals with the actual realities of production, I would turn a bit white at the thought and try to change the subject. (Gordon always compares me to Scotty from Star Trek, constantly yelling "The engines won't take it, Captain!" down the phone.)
So this year, there was one of those moments, just like Robert de Niro in Heat: Two roads lay ahead of us; one was comfortable and easy and in no way a poor choice, but the other just might scratch our itch. We uttered a profanity and swung the wheel hard right.
Making a Mountain out of a Gnome Hill
Now preparation for our game each year starts right after the previous Essen. You may not realize that we need to order the pieces from China in April, so the sculpts and painting have to be agreed before this. We also have to make sure that whatever we are ordering can physically be put in a game box.
So our first stop was China:
1) What could they come up with?
2) Could a mountain be adequately packaged?
3) How eye-watering was the cost?
1) Believe it or not, this was the easy part. Yes, they could make a mountain to our specs and very quickly produced some mock-ups of what would become Gnome Mountain.
2) It was obvious that a huge hill (around 25cm high and the same width) would have to be adequately protected inside the game box. Polyresin is very resilient, but our games must put up with a lot of traveling 'round the world. Various suggestions went back and forth, balancing protection against box size. Finally, we agreed on a three-section foam packing that would keep all the figures and the hill in one box.
Gnome Mountain face down in its cosy bed
This fits on top of Gnome Mountain; final figures are, of course, painted!
Then a rather dull lid, fits on top
3) Sorry for another movie reference, but this one strikes a chord. In White Christmas, Danny Kaye asks Bing Crosby how much it is going to cost to mobilize their whole Broadway production during Christmas and put on a show in, basically, the middle of nowhere. Bing Crosby replies "Somewhere between 'ouch' and 'boooooiiingggggg!'"
It turns out that the mountain was also going to cost between "ouch" and "boooooiiingggggg"! Other companies would be spending the same on their entire game as we were planning on one component, but hey – we're Fragor!
Germans and Their Inadequate Shrinkwrapping Machines
We have a great relationship with Ludo Fact, who have made our games every year since 2006. (We handmade them in 2004 and '05, but decided if Gordon was going to keep ten fingers, we had to outsource.) We dropped them a quick letter about rough box sizes and got the usual incredulous reply of "Are you sure your dimensions are correct?"
After assuring them that we were serious, they confirmed they could make a box of this size, albeit we would have to (as usual) pay to have a custom box-cutting tool. To quote their response, "Your level of silliness is still unsurpassed." There was one further tiny little issue: It would not fit in their shrinkwrapping machine. We absolutely loved this! When we finally stopped laughing, we asked for options on how we could keep the individual boxes closed. The best solution would be to individually carton each game. To explain this better, think of when your local game store gets in a consignment of games. They open up a cardboard box and how many games are inside? Six? Sometimes four? For A Game of Gnomes it will be one game. One.
So...How Big Are We Actually Talking Here?
So with everything in place, we went for it! We gave the go-ahead and longingly waited for the day we could announce it all to you guys to see your reaction.
By now you are thinking that it must be the biggest box you have seen in your life, but this is not actually the case. You see, the length and breadth of the game are reasonably standard sizes; it is only the height that is a bit...well, Fragor. Bear in mind that the box will contain the following:
• Gnome Mountain
• 4 Gnome player figures
• 1 Frog riding Gnome figure
• 2 Doors
• 4 Montane Mushrooms
• Over 74 gems
• 30 wooden mushrooms
• 5 wooden markers
• 102 cards
• 19 cardboard tiles
• A selection of cardboard tokens
• A game board almost 50cm x 50cm
So without further ado I can announce that the box size for A Game of Gnomes is:
30cm x 35cm x 16cm
See! Two of the dimensions are fairly reasonable, and who really cares about the height anyway?
With great people like you, we needn't have worried. We have had over 650 orders in ten days and still have to post the final rules! Maybe, just maybe, with your help Fragor can pull off the most ludicrous game piece (besides giggle pants) that you have ever seen!
Fraser and Gordon
The Lamont Brothers
W. Eric Martin
• I'm privileged to state that Edward Gorey now has an artist listing in the BGG database thanks to the announcement of Bruce Glassco's Mystery! Motive for Murder from Mayfair Games. Here's an overview from the publisher:
When a body is discovered in the courtyard of a stately English mansion, the weapon and location are obvious; the only questions the investigators need to answer are who and why. Every guest may have a motive, and every one of them has secrets they're trying to hide!
Your reputation as a detective will be assured if you're the one who makes the final arrest in Mystery! Motive for Murder. One by one, you interview and re-interview suspects to establish the strengths of their relationships with the victim. Which of the guests had the greatest motive to commit murder?
In a BGG thread from before this announcement, Glassco said the following about the game: "[M]ost of my game designs revolve around an attempt to tell a story in game format, and the new one will be no exception. This one will be based on a different literary genre other than horror – I'll have to keep you guessing on which one for now, though. It doesn't share any major mechanics with [Betrayal at House on the Hill] – no more scenarios! – other than the fact that it's also character-driven. Instead of being an adventure-type game where you experience the world vicariously as a character, though, in this game the characters literally become the board which you play upon as you build their world. The game will be a lot more strategic, and it's competitive rather than cooperative."
Mystery! Motive for Murder, due out in mid-October 2015, is for 1-5 players and carries a $35 MSRP. Mayfair Games notes in its press material that the Mystery! name is licensed from WGBH for its television anthology series of the same name, and that series featured Gorey's illustrations in its opening shots:
• Another forthcoming title from Mayfair Games is King Chocolate from Stefan Alexander, due out in November 2015. Here's an overview of the setting and gameplay:
You know there is money in chocolate, but it doesn't just grow on trees. You need to control the links in the production chain to get your cut of the cash, to make sure the cocao flows through your businesses instead of your competitors'.
Sometimes you need to help your customers and suppliers to help yourself. If you are wily, you can figure out a way for your competitors to do the work for you. Create monopolies, cut off the supply chain, disrupt other players' finely honed plans — do whatever it takes to become King Chocolate.
The fruit of the cacao tree goes through six steps to become chocolate. You can control only a few of these steps, so you must work with your fellow chocolate makers to keep the chocolate flowing through the production chain. It sounds cooperative and friendly — but did we mention that the chocolate maker with the most money wins? Things always get complicated when money is involved.
To ensure your portion of the production process is used the most so that it earns you cash, occasionally you'll help your customers and suppliers. At the same time, you will attempt to crush your competitors, force others to help you, and manipulate the supply chain.
You'll do whatever it takes to become the king of chocolate.
This description of the prototype, then called "Cacao", from the 2013 Protospiel event in Ann Arbor, Michigan sounds reminiscent of Container: "Because of your limited reach as individual players, you must work together to get the cacao through the production line. For example, let's say player A has control of the most roaster spaces and player B has control of the most grinder spaces (which is the next location on the production chain). You only earn points when the cacao is removed from the location they are on. Therefore, player A must move her pieces to player B's spaces in order to earn points and thus the balance of where to move pieces begins."
Lovely cover, by the way...
• Publisher IDW Games has told me that more details will come for the Matt Riddle and Ben Pinchback title Back to the Future: An Adventure Through Time in October 2015, but for now we know that this design is a "role-selection, time travel, hand management kinda thing", which is good enough to get us started. Yay, time travel!
W. Eric Martin
Designer Rüdiger Dorn has designed three well-regarded, thinky strategy games — Traders of Genoa, Goa, and Louis XIV — but the newest of those games dates to 2005. In the past decade, though, his designs have ranged from titles on par in terms of complexity with his 2004 release Jambo (Diamonds Club, the Jambo follow-up Asante, and Kennerspiel des Jahres winner Istanbul) to family-friendly titles such as Dragonheart, the excellent Las Vegas, and now Karuba, which HABA plans to release in the second half of 2015 as part of a new line of family games.
Karuba fits in the category of multiplayer solitaire with games like Take it Easy!, games that almost entirely live up to the "solitaire" in the description as each player has an individual game board and (almost) everything you do is on that board. You're racing to move adventurers on your team to temples on an island, and whoever gets to each temple first scores the most points — but you won't necessarily follow the same paths as anyone else to get there, and you'll likely be distracted by other treasures along the way...
Midgame in Karuba
W. Eric Martin
Reiner Knizia's auction game Medici has been released in a few different versions since its debut in 1995, and while the game design itself is brilliant, the published forms of this game have been...well, less than brilliant, with "near-disastrous" perhaps being a more appropriate description. The card numbers are hard to read, the colors can't be distinguished, the pieces don't fit on the scoring track or the goods tracks, the cards are super tiny, the scoring track leaves out numbers for artistic reasons — you name a sin of graphic design functionality, and you can probably find it in one or more editions of Medici.
Thus, I trepidatiously offer the news of a new version of Medici due out in Q2 2016 from Australian publisher Grail Games, which to date has primarily published small games consisting mostly of cards, such as Matcha, Elevenses, and Too Many Cinderellas. In what is perhaps a good indicator of things to come, artwork on this edition of Medici comes from the more-than-able hand of Vincent Dutrait, as can be seen on the cover below:
For those who don't know Medici, here's an overview: Each player is a merchant who wants to acquire and sell goods. Goods are represented by cards that come in five colors (types of goods) and are valued 0-5; an additional card is valued at 10, but has no type.
On a turn, a player reveals 1-3 cards from the deck one at a time, stopping when desired. Once the player stops, each player in clockwise order, starting with whoever is to the left of the active player, can make a single bid on this lot of goods; the active player can make the final bid. Each player bids with their points, so you're giving up current points to build toward more in the future. Each player has a boat that can hold at most five items. When you win an auction, you place the goods on your boat, moving up markers on goods charts that track how often you've dealt in a particular type of good.
Once everyone has filled their boats (or you've run out of goods in the deck, since players are not forced to bid), whoever has the lead or has placed second on each goods track scores a bonus. In addition, the player who has the "heaviest" boat — that is, the boat with the highest sum of values — receives a large bonus, with the other boats receiving smaller bonuses based on their "weight" (except for the lightest boat, which receives no bonus at all).
You then shuffle all the cards and complete two more rounds the same way. If you reach certain positions on the goods tracks, you receive bonus points, thereby giving you an incentive to specialize in particular types of goods — but usually at the cost of trying to create a heavy boat. And every time you bid, you're throwing away points, so you're constantly fighting against the tide (and the other players) to move ahead.
Grail Games notes this edition of Medici will contain "rules and component additions" that will allow the game to be played by only two players, whereas the player count on all other editions has been 3-6.
In a press release announcing this edition, Knizia writes, "Celebrating my 30-year anniversary, I am very excited to announce that Medici will once again be made available to board game enthusiasts. The new artwork and expanded rules will do nothing but add to the gaming experience Medici provides. It is one of my favorite games, and I am glad to see it back."
Me too, although my fingers will be crossed until Q2 2016 in the hope that this edition will finally turn out to be the one good enough to ship home to mother...
Thu Sep 17, 2015 11:00 pm
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