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Developer Diary: The Super Secret Story of Conspiracy! Exposed!

Diane Sauer
United States
Hamilton Square
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It's not surprising that Conspiracy! has an origin that is not only not straightforward, but is as shrouded in mystery as the Reptilian Overlords. It begins with my first game, Legends and Lies, which was all about cryptozoology in a rummy-based game. Legends and Lies had successfully been Kickstarted and even already had a mini-expansion called "The Skeptic" that had been a Kickstarter stretch goal for the main game. I was working on the first full expansion, Mysterious Locations, which would add a location for each player that would grant them some special cool ability — in short, a player power expansion with a theme that encompassed places like The Bermuda Triangle, The Roswell Crash Site, The Lost City of Atlantis, etc.

While creating Mysterious Locations, I had come up with about twenty locations I wanted to test. For me, as in all design, it is critical that pieces in my games not only make sense and work mechanically, but that whenever possible the theme they represent is tightly tied to how they work. For example, whoever controls The Bermuda Triangle in Mysterious Locations can make one card disappear, removing it from play for the hand. One of the twenty test locations was Chichen Itza, which for those not in the know is where the most famous of the crystal skulls were found. The way I envisioned the location working was the following: When Chichen Itza was in the game, a number of Crystal Skull artifact cards were added to the deck based on the number of players. The person drawing a Crystal Skull would be able to get any card they wanted out of the draw deck by playing it, but after they used it, they would hand the card to the owner of Chichen Itza, who could then use it on a later turn.

While playtesting, I fell in love with Chichen Itza and its Crystal Skull artifacts. This lead me down the path of brainstorming what other strange artifacts I come up with and what powers I would associate with them, things not that well known like the Kecksburg Object or the Voynich Manuscript as well as more commonly known strange/cursed artifacts such as the Hope Diamond. This spiraled out of control to the point where I removed Chichen Itza because I felt the entire artifact idea could easily be its own expansion. Mysterious Locations was successful, and though I did not immediately return to the artifacts, I instead did a direct sale expansion that added a fifth player to Legends and Lies called Headlines and Hoaxes.

It's not unusual for me to have several game ideas going at once, so I started developing another expansion for Legends and Lies along with the artifacts expansion idea. As with all my games, I spent a good deal of time researching, so this meant reading up on all the various strange artifacts — both real and imagined — that I thought would work well for the expansion I had envisioned. This is always a fun part of the design process and not surprisingly this little project spiraled even further off course to the point where it was clear that what I was working on was more than an expansion; it was its own game.

Once it was decided to make the strange artifacts their own game, I needed a theme that would work with it. My husband Nick (author of Looting Atlantis) and I brainstormed a bit, and it was not too long before I suggested and we settled on the world of conspiracy theories. As a theme, conspiracy theories are not often seen, and this choice not only fit, but it also allowed me to carry over what I think is the coolest mechanism from Legends and Lies: discrediting.

Discrediting, as far as I know, is a mechanism that I actually came up with. The way it works in both games is that at the end of each hand, the person who went out picks up the discard pile — the "Tabloids" in this game because it represents old tabloid newspapers such as Weekly World News — and "reads" the tabloids. Every "story" (card) in the tabloids that matches a conspiracy that a player is trying to "prove" discredits that conspiracy, thereby causing the person with the most cards in that conspiracy to lose a card from it. Discrediting is important because after the tabloids have been read, any conspiracy that still has ten or more points revealed scores double for any player that has it in front of them. Discrediting is, if I do say so myself, an interesting mechanism that gives both games a unique way to interact with the other players.

With a plan in place, Nick looked at a way to change and streamline how the suits were going to be laid out in Conspiracy! as opposed to Legends and Lies. In L&L, suits could have different numbers of cards in them, which made explaining the game more difficult than it should have been and in hindsight added an unneeded level of complication. We agreed on five cards for every conspiracy, along with one "Proof!" card.

While Nick was working on the deck layout, I was working on the conspiracies. In Legends and Lies, I had experimented with two of the expansion suits doing something when they were played, and each expansion added one such suit like this (with none being in the base game). I thought that a good way to bring the game engine to the next level was to have every conspiracy have an effect associated with it. This would add a whole other strategic dimension to the game in that the order you played conspiracies — which is called "revealing" in Conspiracy! — would often matter.

To keep it simple and streamlined, I limited the abilities that a given conspiracy could have to three categories: one-shot effects that would happen only when a conspiracy was revealed or strengthened (added to), continuous effects that grant you something as long as you have them in play, and scoring effects that matter only during the scoring phase.

Once the conspiracies were done and the action cards added, the artifacts were mixed in and we were ready to go. Since the original concept for the artifacts involved a player location, that was not going to work. These artifacts were built to be extremely powerful game-changing type cards, so I did not want them as random deck draws for the obvious reason. They had powers such as allowing a player an additional turn at the end of the round or having them reveal a conspiracy with two cards rather than three.

What was settled on was an auction mechanism, but I didn't want to add another element to the game as some form of currency, so instead I proposed that when an artifact was drawn, players could bid how many cards they would be willing to draw in addition to taking the artifact card. Since cards in your hand count against you at the end of the hand and you're restricted in how much you can play on a given turn, my thinking was that people would shy away from bidding too many cards. In practice, however, this turned out not to be true; no matter what kind of restrictions were placed on bidding or how the bidding worked, it turned out more often than not to result in large bids. Even though the cards counted against the player at the end of the hand and they always ended up with cards left, what they could get out of the artifact more than made up for this penalty.

While the conspiracy effects, action cards and game mechanisms were refined, we STILL were trying to make the artifacts work. This went on for about two months until I finally decided to try the game without the artifacts. This was not an easy decision as the artifacts were the original reason for the game's design. After playing just a few games on my own, I was 100% convinced that the artifacts had to go. I knew Nick would not want to remove them, so I prepared to present my case. If he was not on board, Conspiracy! would be dead. It took about thirty minutes for me to get him to very begrudgingly play a game with me without the artifacts. To his credit, after just two hands he agreed that I was right. I had to get up and hug him.

Once the artifacts were removed, the game worked flawlessly, which was confirmed by our various playtesters. It was amazing how perfectly the game worked at that point, and it was clearly our desire to insert artifacts into the game that had been holding us back. (Don't worry about the artifacts, though. We haven't totally given up on them yet and will soon be testing another game designed to work with a new bidding mechanism.)

That is the official story of how Conspiracy! came to be. I could go on and on about the selection process and mechanisms of each conspiracy, my love for inserting Easter eggs into my games, and how the Reptilian Overlords were indispensable in the design process — All Hail the Reptilian Overlords — but I'll save that for another day.
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Wed Jul 13, 2016 1:00 pm
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New Game Round-up: Spiel 2016 — HUCH! & friends Challenges You to Build, Sail, Coerce, Fight, Destroy Dragons, Gain Life Energy, and Devote Years to a Mystery

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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• Time for another look ahead at late 2016 releases from a German publisher that will be highlighted at Spiel 2016, this time showing off a few of the items from HUCH! & friends, starting with Skibe from Viking-lookalike Arve D. Fühler:

In Skibe, players assume the role of a tribal chief in the days of Erik the Red.

Erik has ordered the building of ships for the purpose of sending the bravest Vikings to Greenland. The players build longboats, supply them with provisions and equipment, and try to bring as many Vikings of their own tribe as possible on board. Will the ship stand up to inspection by all tribal chiefs? And which tribe will be best represented on the ships in the end?

Adrian Adamescu's Rival Kings — the cover of which is not final — presents us with a setting, but no gameplay details:

In Rival Kings, two royal families compete for the country and its people. High-ranking personalities prevent the members of the opposing family from using their subjects for their own purposes and from erecting valuable buildings — but everything comes at a price. Who will lead his family to fame and honor?

• I'm not sure whether Cards: Die Partie deines Lebens from Renè Haustein and Mathias Spaan qualifies as a game or not, but it's close enough from the description to merit entry, possibly simply from something that pushes the envelope of what a game might be. An overview:

Cards: Die Partie deines Lebens is an unusual card game, one in which you have to master crazy tasks and tricky riddles. You play on your own, and the game can take weeks, months, or even years to complete. Each card provides a new challenge that works its way into the player's life. Only when you fulfill the condition on a card may you reveal the next one.

Cards: Die Partie deines Lebens contains fifty cards, and as soon as you have fulfilled the last card, you have completed the game.

• Continuing in that vein of games about which we know v. little, let's look at all we know of Touria from Inka and Markus Brand and Michael Rieneck:

In Touria, Princess Tara has decided to marry – but not just anyone, of course. She expects a lot from her husband-to-be: Heroic deeds and precious gifts are a must.

A group of bold adventurers set out to pit themselves against dragons, dig up gems from the haunted mines of the country – and make a good deal from time to time, since the father of the bride demands an appropriate price for his daughter's hand. Touria's dancing towers show the heroes the way, so the brave men and women go from one adventure to the next. Brave women? Of course – or have we forgotten to mention that Tara's handsome brother, Prince Talan, is also of marriageable age?

Günter Burkhardt's Ulm offers even fewer peanuts with which to build a gameplay trail:

Ulm is at its heyday. The construction of the Ulm cathedral has not yet been completed, but the city is already wealthy and prestigious.

In Ulm, players try to expand their spheres of influence and to make optimal use of the hustle and bustle on the marketplace around the cathedral.

• The description for Dave Grigger's Ankh leaves much to the imagination, but it does posit a strange theory about gender politics in the afterlife:

The key to immortality: When the female pharaoh holds court in the dark chamber, even the toughest mummies become unhinged. The petulant ruler distributes her favor and, at the same time, also the prospect of new life energy. But even if you've just been highly esteemed by the old Egyptian monarch in Ankh, you might fall into disgrace in the next moment.

• Danger of a different sort awaits in Michael Xuereb's Clonk!, which once again defines dwarves almost entirely by a desire to get dirty:

The dwarves are loose in Clonk!, with many valuable crystals to dig up from the cursed mine, but a sinister danger is lurking in the dark corners. Who will manage to collect the most valuable load in their wagon and exit the mine unscathed?

Tatsu, which will also be released by designer John Yianni's own Gen42 Games, features backgammon-style dice rolling and piece movement with each player trying to eliminate all of one type of the opponent's pieces from the game or knock all of the opponent's dragons off the board. Amazingly enough, we have video overview of this game thanks to Yianni showing it in advance at Spiel 2015:

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Tue Jul 12, 2016 1:00 pm
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Origins Game Fair 2016 — Part 1

Mary Prasad
United States
North Carolina
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The Origins Game Fair was held June 15-19, 2016, in the Greater Columbus Convention Center, Columbus, Ohio. (They finally moved it to a more appealing date! Yay!) The next convention will be held June 14-18, 2017. The Origins Game Fair began in 1975 and is run by the Game Manufacturers Association (GAMA).

This year the registration line was extremely long — longer than I have ever seen it in previous years. Part of this was due to a Microsoft security update that was pushed through Tuesday night, causing some time to be lost Wednesday morning. The other reason was due to increased numbers. In 2016, 9,514 people had registered on Wednesday by noon (compared to 7,634 in the same time period the previous year). Origins had added 20% more people to the registration stations this year, so the delay wasn't as bad as it could have been. John Ward, Executive Director of GAMA, noted that the average wait time was about an hour.

This shows about a third of the line

Attendance was up from 2015 (the numbers they gave me from last year were revised):

• 2014: 11,424 unique badges
• 2015: 12,912 unique badges (43,791 turnstile)
• 2016: 15,480 unique badges (52,561 turnstile) or 19.8% above last year's attendance

This year’s prices:

• Full Show Badge: Pre Reg $55, Onsite $65
• One-Day Badge: Pre Reg $20, Onsite $25 (up $5 from last year)
• Family Day passes were available only for Sunday, June 19, for a family of up to two adults and four children (under 18) with limited access: $20 (up $5 from last year)

Origins and Families

Origins is a family-friendly event. Children 9 and under get in free but must be accompanied by an adult. A child's badge allows entry to Origins for all five days of the show. The back of the child's badge includes a place for parents to include their badge ID number and contact phone number at the show.

There were two new options for kids this year: the Origins Family Room and CritterCare. The Origins Family Room is for parents who want to spend time gaming with their children. Free games were provided by Pokemon, Breaking Games, and Origins. Video games, provided by Final Boss Gaming, cost two generic tickets per hour (generics cost $2 each) unless you had purchased an Electronic Game Room ribbon, which allowed unlimited play.

CritterCare is a place where parents could register their children for kid-friendly fun. Brought to you by KiddieCorp, CritterCare is Origins' new and improved childcare room. Children ages 5-12 could participate in tabletop games, card games, and crafts. Books and toys were also available. Origins offsets the cost of CritterCare at a reduced rate of two generics per hour, per child. Parents' contact information as well as their intended location at the convention is required for check-in. Children are required to stay in CritterCare until their parent or guardian comes to sign them out.

Check out the Family page on the Origins website for hours and information.

By the way, if you have children (or even if you don't!), be sure to check out HABA games (see below, in the Exhibit Hall section). Their games are as much fun for adults as they are for children – and the components are usually super high quality.

Fun Fact: At The Gathering of Friends, I caught Phil Walker-Harding, designer of Imhotep, wearing the same sweater (in Australia they say "jumper") as he did for his designer photo in the rules for Imhotep. He claims he really does change his sweaters/clothes! See Thames & Kosmos later in the article for more information on his game.

Phil Walker-Harding, owner of multiple jumpers

CABS Board Room

Board Room Ribbons were again $20. This year they sold out — 1,600 ribbons! The library received 118+ new games, making the library about one thousand games. (The entire CABS library is brought to the convention, minus some kids games.) There were 592 unique games checked out from the library. Here are the top 20 checkouts (number of checkouts listed after name of game):

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival 37
Splendor 36
New York 1901 35
Codenames 35
Imhotep 32
Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game 30
7 Wonders: Duel 29
Royals 28
The Networks 25
Quadropolis 24
World's Fair 1893 23
Valeria: Card Kingdoms 20
Animals On Board 19
51st State: Master Set 19
The Game: Are you ready to play The Game? 18
Odin's Ravens 18
Automobiles 18
Kitty Paw 18
Roll for the Galaxy 17

Fun Fact: Likely the only reason Tichu isn't right there at the top of the list is because real Tichu players bring their own decks!

Thanks to CABS member Ken Hill for providing the above information.

Origins Award Winners 2016

The Origins awards were held Saturday, June 18. The board gaming related category winners are below.

Game of the Year
Codenames (Czech Games Edition) Designed by Vlaada Chvátil

Best Board Game
Star Wars: Imperial Assault (Fantasy Flight Games) Designed by Justin Kemppainen, Corey Konieczka, Jonathan Ying
Fan Favorite: Star Wars: Imperial Assault

Best Card Game
7 Wonders: Duel (Repos Productions) Designed by Antoine Bauza , Bruno Cathala
Fan Favorite: 7 Wonders: Duel

Best Family Game
Codenames (Czech Games Edition) Designed by Vlaada Chvatil
Fan Favorite: Codenames

Best Collectible Game
DC Comics Dice Masters: War of Light (WizKids) Designed by Mike Elliott, Eric M. Lang
Fan Favorite: DC Comics Dice Masters: War of Light

Exhibit Hall and Gaming Hall Publishers Part 1

Exhibit Hall hours for attendees were: Thursday – Saturday from 10 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Here is your list for Gen Con shopping!!

Rio Grande Games

Tiffin was released at Origins. This game is about the Indian lunch delivery service, most commonly found in Mumbai. As a service, bicyclists, called dabbawallas, pick up and deliver hot lunches to workers, usually with help from the train system. Typically the pick up is from the worker’s own residence, although some use a meal supplier. There is a really nice movie titled The Lunchbox (available on Netflix) whose story revolves around this very thing. Tiffin is a somewhat light, area majority game that has a bit of luck and strategy. Players use cards to place cubes on tiffin tiles: first as lunch tin(s) — up to 3 — then to fill up the "route" (a block of squares, varying in size for shorter or longer routes). Each player starts with one card for a short cut (makes a route 2 squares shorter) and a flat tire (makes a route 2 squares longer), which may be played during their turn in addition to their action (then it's discarded). Actions are basically taking cards or placing cubes.

Dominion: Empires was just released. It adds a lot of new mechanisms, including split piles for kingdom cards of two different cards; debt tokens that allow players to buy cards with debt, which must be paid off before they can buy another card; more events (first introduced in Adventures); and landmarks, which work similarly to events but generally give players ways to score points during the game or at the end. One or two landmark cards come out at the beginning of the game and apply to everyone.

Fun Fact: Rael Dornfest, one of the designers of Tiffin, went to Mumbai to hang out with the dabbawallas — the people who deliver lunch boxes (called tiffins). The name of the prototype was "Dabbawalla" but it was later changed to Tiffin.

R&R Games

Swipe Out was pre-released at Origins and will be available in July. Each player has a 5x5 grid board with 25 chips on it. A pattern card will be flipped showing a similar 5x5 grid with dots in some of the squares. Players must match the pattern by quickly removing chips on their boards. There is squeaky duck in middle of the table. The first player to finish will grab the duck to stop play, then the player’s grid board is checked for accuracy. If it is wrong, the other players keep going. The winner gets the card. Play is up to five cards (there are variants for three cards and with teams). Designed by Oswald Greene Jr. – from Grand Theft Auto. Wiki: "Oswald Greene, Jr. is a voice actor, associate producer and a game tester who voiced a pedestrian in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories. He also worked as a game tester for Grand Theft Auto III and as an associate producer for Grand Theft Auto Advance."

Dan (L) and Frank (R) DiLorenzo, R&R Games Booth

Shiro is being tested for a future release (likely 2017). Designed by Ben Parmentier. The shogun is dying. Warlords are trying to gain control of the provinces of Japan to cement their claim to become shogun. This is an area majority, worker placement game using cards. Everyone has same deck of cards and a hand, from which a few cards will be selected each turn to put on display. Cards have 2 or 3 slots on which samurai may be played. Players may play their colored samurai on their own cards for free or on another player’s at a cost – with the limit of one samurai per color per card. Players may hire ronin, which are temporary workers for one turn, although they may become permanent workers if they pay a higher cost.

Fun Fact: Many of R&R games have treasure hunts hidden inside them. A couple weeks ago, someone solved the Face Chase hidden hunt and won $150 (grand prize). Other prizes may still be won.

I couldn't resist including this: Time's Up Title Recall is my favorite party game (although I love all Time's Up games). Earlier this year R&R released a Time's Up Limited Edition Expansion Set to celebrate the 20th anniversary of R&R Games! At Origins, four full expansion packs were released for Time's Up: Title Recall. Every Time's Up release has about 30% new cards from the previous edition (currently on the fifth release of Title Recall and 7th release of the original). On a related note: Smarty Party, the newest edition will have 100% new content, Gen Con release.

Thames & Kosmos

Legends of Andor: Journey to the North is an expansion for Legends of Andor that will be available Q4 2016. This cooperative game includes a new story that picks up from the base game, but moves on to another land (it includes a new map region of the north of Andor) with new challenges (legends), and new powers. This time the theme is water-based; for example, it includes storms, ships, and sea monsters.

Legends of Andor: Journey to the North, Thames & Kosmos

Imhotep was on sale for the first time at Origins. Imhotep was an Egyptian, considered by some to be the earliest known architect. In the game, players are Egyptian builders trying to emulate Imhotep by loading boats with stones (wooden pieces) and moving them to five monuments (board locations). Each area allows players to either take cards or participate in building (placing wooden pieces on the board). On a player's turn, they may do one of four actions: take new stones, load their stones on a boat, move a boat to a monument, or play an action card. Timing is key since other players are vying for their own interests. Nominated for the 2016 Spiel des Jahres award.

Fun Fact: Lili DeSisto, Marketing Coordinator: "The crew at Thames & Kosmos regularly has game nights at their offices so that everyone knows the ins and outs of all of our games (also, it's just fun!). Oftentimes these games nights happen after office hours, but one memorable day this spring, we lost power on the same day that we were undergoing some office renovations. With all the noise, we were happy to be forced to unplug, open the windows to let the light in, and have an impromptu game day. Things got pretty heated, thing we've learned is that we've got some competitive gamers on staff!"

CGE - Czech Games Edition

CGE was showing the final prototype of Codenames Pictures at Origins. It will pre-release at Gen Con 2016, with a full release in September. This is a picture version of the award-winning game Codenames. If you haven’t tried it yet, I highly recommend you do. Fun fact: The original Codenames has been published in 17 languages!

CGE was also showing a prototype of Adrenaline, which is being planned for a Spiel 2016 release. This is a Euro-style first-person shooter. Yeah, you heard me right. Euro-style. First-person. Shooter. I played the prototype last year and, I must say, I'm impressed. Somehow they pulled it off. Each player has an area control health bar that tracks damage from other players. When your character dies, whoever did damage will get points accordingly (i.e. most point for first, second most for second, etc.). A marker is put on the highest point value every time your character is killed so the next kill will not be worth as much. There is another area majority for the player who makes the most kills. There is also a resource management component: you need the right type of ammo for the types of weapons you have. Whenever you die, you immediately re-spawn, without losing anything (weapons, ammo). In a nice twist, there is a slight advantage for having damage.

Mayday Games

Quotes by Ryan Bruns, President Mayday Games

Garbage Day released at Origins. "Players take turns stacking garbage cards one at a time onto the overflowing garbage can, or stashing garbage cards in their rooms. But once a player's room gets too full, they must clean it by stacking all the cards from that room on top of the garbage can, very carefully, one by one. If garbage cards fall off the garbage can during your turn, place them in your overflow pile. If your overflow pile gets too big, you're eliminated from the game. If all other players have been eliminated, you win!"

Dungeon Busters was shown at Origins. "Dungeon Busters release is Gen Con 2016: In Dungeon Busters, the players take the role of heroes exploring dungeons and defeating monsters in search of treasures. In order to defeat a monster, every player simultaneously plays a power card face-down then reveals the values. If two or more players play the same value, they are all ignored. If players are defeated the player who played the lowest value should return some treasures as a penalty. If players succeed to defeat the monster, players can divide rewards but the player who played the lowest value will go first."

Fun Fact: Ryan Bruns: "Gen Con 2014, I was late returning from dinner and I had missed most of the designer speed-dating event (where game designers give a six-minute pitch to publishers). I was just going to skip the event since I was very late and I was walking towards the gaming hall. I ran into Seth Jaffee and Andy Van Zandt of Tasty Minstrel Games. They mentioned they were looking for me and said there was a game at the speed-dating event that Mayday Games is going to publish. They proceeded to tell me about Garbage Day and how much I needed to look at it. I went to the room where the event was being held and was introduced to Shane Willis, designer of Garbage Day. After a playthrough and discussion, we signed the game the next day. I love this industry that we all belong to — where publishers see games that would fit with other publishers and recommend them. I love it. Special thanks to TMG."

AEG (Alderac Entertainment Group)

Quotes by Dan Dineen, Major Events Manager, Alderac Entertainment Group

Mystic Vale: "In Mystic Vale, 2-4 players use the innovative Card Crafting System to create and personalize their own cards/decks to create a game experience unlike anything they’ve ever played before. Concise rules offer a deep gaming experience with meaningful decisions, along with tremendous replay value with each game being different from beginning to end." Mystic Vale will be released July 14th for brick-and-mortar stores or August 8th for all other retail outlets.

Guildhall Fantasy: (released June 20th): "In Guildhall: Fantasy, 2-4 players compete to create the perfect party by recruiting adventurers into their guildhall chapters. Collect sets of cards with unique abilities to control the table, and complete a full chapter to claim victory cards. Players do this by drawing cards, making their opponents discard cards, switching cards between their collections and others, or a myriad of other card effects." [Note: There are three listings for Guildhall: Fantasy - Fellowship, Alliance, and Coalition.]

Fun Fact: "Mystic Vale was actually created by its designer, John D. Clair, to teach the Card Crafting System for his game Edge of Darkness. Edge of Darkness will be released by AEG in 2017!"

AEG Major Events Manager Dan Dineen demoing Mystic Vale to attendees

Q Workshop

This one is a showstopper for me. I just had to get some photos of their beautiful dice! These ladies are super sweet, too. This company is out of Poland, but the website is really well done so there is no problem for English speakers; in fact three of the four choices – selected by currency on the left side of the home page – take you to websites in English but with the specified currency and adjusted shipping prices. Only the last one is in Polish.

They make incredibly beautiful and intricate dice in a variety of themes and games: Steampunk, Celtic, Tech, Elven, Deadlands, Call of Cthulhu, Kingsburg, Pathfinder, Arkham Horror, Shadowrun, Warmachine, and many more. There are really cool metal dice available in several choices, as well as dice towers, dice bags, and dice cups (e.g. Black Elven Leather Cup with stitched lid and bottom and debossed writing). They even have glow-in-the-dark dice!!

Fun Fact: This one is too good to be true: edible dice! OMG! I want the elven dark chocolate dice! Although, they look so yummy I might eat them before ever playing a game with them (probably just as well since they will likely make a mess on my hands/games). The description says: "Elven dark chocolate dice set: This set of dice is made of dark chocolate with a touch of almond and marzipan. Meticulously finished, the edible dice are D4, D6, D8, D10, D12, D20 and D100." YUM!

They also have white chocolate (with a touch of lemon), milk chocolate, red jelly, and blue candy! Check Candylize for more pics and info.

Plaid Hat Games

Dead of Winter: The Long Night was pre-released at Origins, with a planned July/August release. This is a standalone expansion for Dead of Winter, with all new characters, crossroad cards, and three new modules that may be played together or players may pick and choose among them. It's of course compatible with the base game.

SeaFall will pre-release at Gen Con with a general release later in 2016. This is designer Rob Daviau's new "legacy" game. It's a seafaring game of exploration and intrigue, with new things to unlock as you play.

Fun Fact: Artist Fernanda Suarez put several Easter eggs in the new Dead of Winter: The Long Night art. Examples include: the Ashes logo on Elijah's hat, and Emma's backpack has a Charm Die keychain on it.

Catan Studio

Catan Geographies: Tenn-Tucky is planned to be released July/August. This is another scenario for the base game, for 3-6 players. This version has horses as a commodity, producing on 7s in the pastures.

Catan: The Big Game is an infinitely expandable game of Catan. They plan to release this at the beginning of 2017. Bob Carty, Catan Studios: "Catan: The Big Game is a special product designed to allow scalable events to be economically executed by people who want to play Catan. These kits form the core of the materials used in 2013 and 2015 to set world records for the most people playing in the same game at the same time: 922 in 2013 at Gen Con, with that record being broken in 2015 with 1,040 people participating in the event at Essen. A kit contains materials for six players. Three maps accommodate two players each, micro-perfed cards form the resource decks, and development decks. Die-cut cardstock player pieces are provided as opposed to wood. A micro-perfed deck of dice is provided to take the place of dice. Every thing you need for six players and all for $20.00. The rules are nearly the same as regular Catan, with the addition of ships providing players the opportunity to create trade routes up to 30 segments long, and slightly different rules for robbers and knights. No monopoly card. Have more people? Just acquire more kits. Support materials for organizers are available, including a document for organizers, a video for rules instruction, and a timer/turn and Number software exists to assist in running larger events. A new way to play Catan, maybe with one thousand of your closest pals."

Fun Fact: Morgan Dontanville, CCO: "We are building a life-size sheep for photo opportunities at conventions. We are playing around with the color; currently we are debating whether we want it to have blue, green, red wool. Right now it is being carved out of Styrofoam and will end up being a fully-painted fiberglass sheep with a secret hatch in her belly for fun costumes."

Mayfair Games

Costa Rica pre-released at Origins and will be released in July. This is an exploration, set collection, and push-your-luck game. Players explore the rainforest of Costa Rica, looking for animals. There are six explorations starting around a hex tile board with five tiles per side (61 tiles of the 72 available are used per game). Each player has one explorer in each group (pawns in their own color). On a player’s turn they take on the role of expedition leader and may determine which tile to explore next, flipping it. Tiles may have one or two animals on it, and possibly a threat. The leader is first to decide if s/he wants to keep the tile s/he just flipped; if not, the choice moves clockwise to the next explorer. If a player takes tiles, that player also removes their pawn from the exploration. If no one takes the tile, the expedition leader flips another tile, adjacent to the last flipped tile, and can now choose to keep or pass all flipped tiles so far. If one threat is revealed, play continues as normal; if a second threat is revealed, the player’s turn ends and that player must take back their pawn and discard the threat tiles, but may keep any remaining tiles. The more animals collected in one type, the more points the group is worth. Players also gain points for collecting a full set of the six animal types.

Fight for Olympus will be released in July. This is a two-player game co-published with Lookout Games as part of the Lookout two-player line. It's a head-to-head card battle game with six areas of conflict in three different areas of play. One area is a tug-of-war battle with a 7-point swing, i.e. the player who gets to 7 points wins. The second area allows players to win tokens to help pay for cards. The last area allows players to pick up another card at the end of their turn (normally two cards, this bumps it to three). Players play cards on their side of the board, paying costs by discarding cards or tokens, and taking any actions as indicated on the cards, then the cards are evaluated in order. If a card is played across from an opponent's card, it starts a battle. The alternative way to win is to have six cards slots filled at the start of a turn.

Fun Fact: Even though the rights to Catan were sold to Asmodee earlier in 2016, Mayfair continues to manufacture the game and its expansions/extensions for Asmodee. At full speed, more than 1,500 games an hour come off the assembly line in Skokie, Illinois!

Eagle-Gryphon Games

SiXeS pre-released at Origins and is set to release in July. It is a party game for 4 to 40 players. There are six rounds; the game lasts about 20 minutes. There are three types of rounds. For two of the rounds there is a card with a category; players write down one or more words and, depending on the round, they may want to match or not match their opponents' answers. The last type of round is a lightning round. The card has six categories, and players write down one item for each category that must match an opponent's answer.

Vinhos Deluxe is a reprint of Vinhos, with a new box, art, and components.

Fun Fact: Ralph Anderson, who currently works for Eagle-Gryphon and is the designer of Chimera (a Tichu-like three-player game) lost the Tichu game against me and my awesome partner Zev Shlasinger (formerly "Z-Man", now working for WizKids). To be fair, his partner Ken Hill (Rio Grande Games) had to leave partway through the game, so Stephan Brissaud (Iello) took over; he wasn't quite as exprienced at Tichu...

Alex Soued, Eagle-Gryphon Games Booth


Schotten Totten: This reprint/reboot is due to be released at Gen Con. There will be new art and will be fit into the mini games series (small white box). The rules will actually be the Battle Line rules.

Oceanos is slotted for a Gen Con release. This is a new Antoine Bauza (7 Wonders) set-collection game with an original drafting mechanism that may be played in 30 minutes. It is set in the ocean. Players build their environments during three rounds of play: one at the ocean surface, one in the middle, and one at the bottom. Submarine customizations may be purchased each round, providing different strategies, e.g. more periscopes allow the player to draft more cards (increase hand size).

Fun Fact: IELLO licensed King of Tokyo to a mask company called Trick or Treat Studios. They already made Kong (the albino monkey in King of NY) and Pumpkin Jack (from the Halloween expansion, pumpkin face with witch hat).

Tom Vasel (L) and Kong (R)

Mr. B Games

Quotes are from Sean Brown, (a.k.a. Mr. B), President of Mr. B Games.

Spurs: Legends pre-released at Origins, with a full release July 5th. "The final expansion to the Spurs: A Tale in the Old West system. Spurs: Legends adds two female characters and a bunch of new challenge tokens as well as the introduction of the new Bandit Canyon Mini Game and the Train Heist! Fans of Spurs will find these challenges to be much tougher than previous challenges and will add hours of new content to try out!"

Prospectus pre-released at Origins, with a full release July 5th. "In Prospectus, players are apprentice-level mages who earn their tower rent by trading potions in the underground Kriztus potion market. Using their powers, they can peer into their crystal balls to predict prices and make their fortunes. But beware! Their prognostication is not perfect, especially when rival wizards cast spells to advance their own agendas! Meanwhile, the greedy, power-mad High Council demands potions as well. A timely sale will make a recipe fashionable, and raise its price in the market, but if the council does not get what it wants, they will retaliate, by telling the townsfolk that the potion is nothing but fizzwater and newt juice. The mage that is able to earn the most money through cunning investments, shrewd spell-casting, and lucrative sales to the council, will be the most successful potion trader and win the game! Heck, maybe you can even pay off your tab at the Drunken Dragon Inn..."

Fun Fact: "My Fun Fact this time is about Spurs. Originally my niece was going to unveil the first Female Character in a very big way. (She was working on a pilot for HULU set in the world of Spurs!) She has since been accepted to a big film school and that project is on hold, but it was such a cool opportunity for the game. We decided to do the Legends expansion to fill the void of women characters in the game as our last installment of expansions for the game. Never say never though, if my niece ever gets that pilot, it will be hard to stay away..."

Meeple Source

Meeple Source is the place to find awesome high-quality game replacements. If you have a favorite game (or two, or ten), you might want to upgrade the components to these beautiful pieces.

Cynthia Landon, Meeple Source

Blue Orange Games

The Boss pre-released at Origins, to be released July/August. This is a third in series of games orginally published by Blackrock Games (France), brought over to the North American market by Blue Orange. The most popular game in the Blackrock line of games, it's a mafia-themed bluffing and deduction card game.

Vikings on Board will pre-release at Gen Con, to be released August/September. This is the next game in the Blue Orange Games big-box series, which includes New York 1901. This is a familyweight viking-themed worker placement game by Charles Chevallier (Abyss). The game includes 3D ships (fully assembled) and viking minis. You need area majority to control a ship.

Fun Fact: In New York 1901, the artwork is based on historical postcards of real skyscrapers in New York. Additionally the four legendary skyscrapers were, at one time or another, the tallest buildings in the world. Check out these beautifully illustrated and interesting designer's notes by Chénier La Salle.

Vikings on Board

Stronghold Games

Piratoons was released in June. Stephen Buonocore: "Players are trying to build the biggest, baddest, best pirate ship on seven seas." There two major parts of the game. First turning a "chest" of tiles over and, in real time, placing pirate meeples on parts of the ship for an area majority. Players have a minimum of 15 seconds (timer) but they can go until one says stop. Then, after pieces are collected, the remaining pieces either "sink to the bottom" (larger pieces) or are auctioned off in a closed fist blind bid. Players score for sets of pieces, e.g. people, flags, etc. as well as how "pretty" the ship is (i.e. certain pieces are next to each other).

The Dragon & Flagon will be released at Gen Con. Designed by Geoff, Sydney, and Brian Engelstein, the theme is fantasy tavern brawling. You play one of nine fantasy archetypical characters who can throw mugs & chairs (wooden pieces), pull the rug out from under characters (paper rug), swing from chandeliers, cast spells, overturn tables (cardboard), fight with weapons, and roll barrels (wooden)... all in a 3D tavern environment. Players play cards to "program" two turns ahead. Cards contain movement, attacks, and special abilities, which are customized per character. Successful attacks gain reputation points. The player with most points at the end of game is the winner.

Fun Fact: There are at least a dozen Easter eggs hidden on The Dragon & Flagon game board. Examples include some rats looking down at a cat, a cask that has a Stronghold logo, and a wanted sign posted in the tavern, showing a picture of Stephen Buonocore, President (...and Chief Cook and Bottle Washer) Stronghold Games.

The Dragon & Flagon


Space Planets released April 2016. This is a tactical dexterity game in which players roll a large die, hoping to land it on a planet card in a 3x3 grid of cards. Planet cards each have a star point value and may also have a special effect (positive or negative). The game end is triggered when one player has collected five cards; the round is finished and the player with the most star points on their cards is the winner.

Go Cuckoo! is to be released August/September. It's a dexterity game in which players start the game with the same number of cuckoo eggs. The bottom tin of the game forms the base of the bird's nest. Players take turns drawing up to three bamboo-like sticks, with colors on each end that may or may not be the same color. They must stop if the ends match, in which case they try to use it to build the nest. Once placed, the player may try to put one of their eggs in the nest. If the egg falls in the can they must take an egg from the player with the most eggs; if it falls outside the can they take the egg back, in either case their turn ends. If they successfully play their last egg, they get to try to place the cuckoo bird; if they do so successfully they win the game.

Fun Fact: Lea Culliton, HABA USA, has been invited to attend and exhibit HABA games at the upcoming American Library Association (ALA) annual conference to speak to librarians about incorporating games into educational curriculums.

Space Planets


Artana is selling the "Best Damn Gaming Coins Ever" including seven new sets of coins: two English sets (Anglo-Saxon, Old English Kings) and five Asian sets (Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Persian, Mongol). They also sell the "Best Damn Gaming Money Ever" including three new sets (US Presidents, SciFi Credits, Fierce Women). All of their monies are interchangeable. These new sets were released at Origins. The cost is $6 per pack of coins, with the jumbo pack including 6 coins, the large 9, medium 12, small 15, and tiny 18.

Corrupted Kingdoms will be a Gen Con release. Players each control a corporation of evil monsters. The objective is to infiltrate the fair senate of the realm in order to pass nonsensical, destructive legislation. The corporation that does this most successfully will be rewarded by their special interests with ridiculous, unnecessary luxury goods that make the destruction of the entire realm well worth it. (Description from Nils Herzmann.)

Fun Fact: Corrupted Kingdoms is a collaboration with a first-time designer, Raymond Chandler III. Raymond has a degree in video game design from Full Sale University.

Nils Herzmann (R), Artana

Naturalist Games

The Lairs Kickstarter launched during Origins; it's slated for a Q4 2016 release. Patrick Roach, Sean Cutler, Zack Brown are the designers. This is a dungeon crawl with mini card games (encounters) in each chamber. For example, a duel may include a short trick-taking game of a couple rounds. It has asymmetric game play. First there is a build phase to find an artifact then becomes asymmetric dungeon crawl.

Fun Fact: All of the illustrations in Lairs were originally designed for a children's picture book about the end of the world. (There is a reason it's now in the board game.)

Sample artwork from Lairs

Stay tuned for Part 2, including food (yeah, I can't believe I didn't put it in Part 1 either!), The Dice Tower, and more!
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Mon Jul 11, 2016 1:00 pm
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Crowdfunding Round-up: Treasures from Taiwan, and Pages from Pierô

W. Eric Martin
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North Carolina
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• Let's lead off this crowdfunding round-up with a project that will probably expire before most people see it: Far East War 1592, from Imjin Creative, in which 2-4 players "are divided into Japan and China/Korea factions, with each side trying to conquer the target provinces of their rivals. Players alternate moving around the action rondel to perform different actions such as recruit forces, assign generals, march armies, initiate battles, etc. With careful planning on the action rondel, tactical movement and assignment of troops and generals, and a bit luck in dice roll during battles, players should revive the vivid history in the Far East War."

If nothing else, you now know about one more of the hundreds of new titles that will be available at Spiel 2016 — assuming that the game funds, that is. (KS link)

• If time has run out on the project above, perhaps you'd instead prefer another game from the same part of the world, such as Taiwan Monsters, which is on Chinese-language funding site and which is a complete mystery to me, although it looks purty and is already funded. (Zeczec link)

• No? Then how about Bubble Tea from Li-He Studio's Aza Chen, designer of Cat Tower, Doggy GO!, and other adorable games. In this real-time game, each player has nine bubble tea ingredient cards, someone rolls the ingredient dice from the bubble tea container, then everyone races to put the right ingredients in the right cup card. (Zeczec link)

• How about yet another Taiwanese project, this one being the more-accessible-outside-of-Taiwan Guns & Steel: Renaissance, a standalone expansion to Jesse Li's Guns & Steel from Grail Games and Moaideas Game Design. This game plays like the original, with players laying cards face down as resources or face up to use their developmental power, with the long-term goal of acquiring wonders, taking all of the space age cards, or stockpiling VPs. (KS link)

• Joost Das' Hylaria from FableSmith is a party game in which players divide into teams, then each receive two image tiles face down in front of them while three tiles are placed face up on the table to start a storyline. On a turn, you try to communicate what's on your tiles to your teammates — perhaps through a code you've created earlier — then you take a tile from in front of any other player and add it to the storyline. If the storyline now has three identical tiles in it, your team scores every tile up to the one just played. Collect enough tiles, and your team wins! (KS link)

• Designer Mitsuo Yamamoto and publisher Logy Games were on Kickstarter in 2015 with the stacking game Moon-Sun-Angel, and now they're back with a different stacking challenge under the name ACTOP: Ancient Construct Tower of Philosopher. In this 2-6 player game, players take turns adding a polycube and a balance stone on a 3x3 space (that must be kept clear in the center to create a chimney-like structure), with players scoring points based on the size of the piece they place and using the balance stone to mess with the next to place. When the polycubes have all been placed or someone knocks over the tower, the game ends. (KS link)

• The letters in the game title ABXY will likely trigger thoughts of video games past, and that's the intent of this design from Jack Rosetree and Broken Games, which pits two players against one another in creature combat with two of the A, B, X, and Y actions being secretly chosen by each player each round. (KS link)

• Designer Chris James of Stratus Games has used Kickstarter to fund the first four years of Casual Game Insider, a mainstream-friendly quarterly magazine about tabletop games sold in game stores and newsstands, and he's back to fund year five, with the focus once again being casual games that can be taught in ten minutes and played in under an hour. (KS link)

Bad People carries the tagline "The Party Game You Probably Shouldn't Play", yet here designer Mike Lancanster is, trying to get you to fund a party game in which you vote on which of the players involved would be a terrible phone sex operator or would have the fewest people at their funeral. I suggest that you probably shouldn't play it. (KS link)

• We'll close with a game-related item that might be of interest to a few folks on this site: Pierô's Artbook 10th, this being a tenth anniversary retrospective of the artwork of Pierô, who debuted with Une Ombre sur Whitechapel — which most people will know under its reprint name of Mr. Jack — then became a hot commodity in 2008 thanks to his eye-catching work on Ghost Stories.

Pierô's Artbook 10th from ilinx édition will include 80-120 pages depending on the final funding total, with text in both French and English and a foreword by Ghost Stories designer Antoine Bauza. (KS link)

Editor's note: Please don't post links to other Kickstarter projects in the comments section. Write to me via the email address in the header, and I'll consider them for inclusion in a future crowdfunding round-up. Thanks! —WEM
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Sun Jul 10, 2016 3:42 am
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Power Grid Gets Carded

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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The game industry has seen a wave of [Game Title]: The Card Games being released in recent years, with many popular titles being transformed into more portable games with smaller footprints (except for The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game).

The trick to these designs is that they need to feel like the original game, yet not fall so closely to the tree that people don't see a reason for them existing. Come October 2016, we'll have yet another chance to see whether one of these transformations is successful thanks to the release of Power Grid: The Card Game from Friedemann Friese and 2F-Spiele, with Rio Grande Games handling the release of the English-language version.

What's different in this design? In Power Grid, players compete in three arenas — the power plant marketplace, the resource pool, and the network of cities to which they're supplying power. This latter aspect has been removed in this new design, as explained below:

In Power Grid: The Card Game, the players represent CEOs of mighty power companies producing electricity.

During the game, the players bid for power plants at auctions and supply them with resources. Their income depends on the amount of electricity produced in each round. At the end of the game, the player who produces the most electricity wins the game.

Power Grid: The Card Game offers all the tension and tactics well-known of its two big brothers — Power Grid and Power Grid deluxe — without using the different maps. You get the full Power Grid emotions in an intensive playing time of sixty minutes!

To give two players an exciting experience, they will play with the Trust acting as a third player. While challenging the opponent, they must incorporate the schemes of the competing Trust in their plans and use these schemes against their opponent.

This game includes a small variant for the Demolition Contractor. This variant is playable with Power Grid: The Card Game, and all maps of Power Grid deluxe and Power Grid!

Power Grid: The Card Game will debut at Spiel 2016, and one other Power Grid item that people will be able to find there is Power Grid: High-Voltage DC Transmission Passage C, which was originally released as part of the 2015 Brettspiel Adventskalender. This mini-expansion is playable solely with the Power Grid map of Germany, and like most of the promos that 2F-Spiele produces, it will be available for a small donation that will be forwarded to an organization to be revealed later. Here's what this item does:

In future years, Germany plans a new high-voltage transmission line from North Germany to South Germany to deliver the electricity produced by wind power to the regions in South Germany with demand for that power. You are collectively building this transmission line, so step by step your power companies will not need to pay connection costs anymore between Cuxhaven and Stuttgart. Sadly, the construction of this transmission line is paid with tax money, so you must pay taxes to supply these cities with electricity.

Henning Kröpke from 2F-Spiele notes that other ways to get this promo will be revealed following Spiel 2016.

When passing along this information, Kröpke also added a footnote to the other 2F-Spiele game announcements for 2016. In that earlier post, which mentioned that 2F-Spiele's new Strategic Partnership with Stronghold Games would not include existing 2F-Spiele game lines currently published with other partners, I speculated that this referred only to Power Grid. Kröpke clarified that all games currently under license by Rio Grande Games will remain with that publisher, including upcoming reprints of Power Grid: The First Sparks, Power Grid: Factory Manager, Unexpected Treasures, Friday, and Fearsome Floors.
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Sat Jul 9, 2016 1:20 pm
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New Game Round-up: Fighting with Spells, Battling with Chibis, and Rolling Like a Hero

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Cool Mini Or Not has gone old school with the look of Steve Avery's Ta-Da!, which will debut at Gen Con 2016 ahead of the game's Q3 2016 release date. Here's an overview of gameplay:

This year's annual Wizard Talent Show promises to be an exciting event with skilled witches and wizards attending from far and wide. Players will attempt to prove they are the most talented and deserving spellcaster of the bunch.

Ta-Da! is played over a number of fast-paced, frantic rounds. Each player furiously rolls dice in an effort to collect the elements needed to cast their spell. With each roll, players can add one die to their spell, then must reroll the rest. As soon as they have completed their spell, they yell "Ta-da!" and they're one step closer to winning the Talent Show.

However, game-changing feats will be in play throughout the game, making players perform crazy acts as they play, such as making animal noises, keeping their heads on the table, and more!

• Another CMON title making its debut at Gen Con 2016 — one of many, all of which are covered in BGG's Gen Con 2016 Preview — is Krosmaster Arena 2.0, which adds eight new figures to the Krosmaster universe in a standalone game that's compatible with all of the figures previously released.

Alderac Entertainment Group has announced that it will release its own version of Seiji Kanai's cooperative 1-8 player dice game Eight Epics in October 2016.

• And here's a notice I should have seen earlier: AEG is closing out the Doomtown: Reloaded game line with the release of the Blood Moon Rising expansion pack in October 2016, after which it will return Doomtown to owner Pinnacle Entertainment Group. AEG notes that "Pinnacle does not have any immediate plans to continue with the Doomtown ECG product at this time, but may look to do so at some point in the future."

Heidelberger Spieleverlag has announced two more Justice League Hero Dice titles from Andreas Schmidt for the line that it launched in late 2015 with Superman and Batman.

As with those two titles, Flash and Green Lantern — available in separate English and German versions, but only in Europe — are both solitaire dice games in which the player tries to take out villains that appear in random order. In addition, any of the titles can be combined with one or more other Hero Dice sets to allow for multiplayer games.

Wonder Woman and Cyborg are depicted in the marketing images for these titles, so expect two more such games down the road.

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Fri Jul 8, 2016 2:12 pm
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Friedemann Friese, 2F-Spiele and Stronghold Games Feature Fabled Fruit and Fuji Flush

W. Eric Martin
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North Carolina
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German publisher 2F-Spiele and U.S. publisher Stronghold Games, who cooperated on the publication of Friedemann Friese's 504 in English in 2015, have announced a "Strategic Partnership" that will result in Stronghold Games co-publishing "all new future 2F-Spiele tiles in English globally effective immediately". The titles will be printed together at Ludo Fact in Germany, so according to Stronghold Games' press release about this announcement "this will also enable a virtually simultaneous worldwide release of the titles".

To go hand-in-hand with this announcement, 2F-Spiele and Stronghold Games have released info about two new Friese titles that will debut at Spiel 2016 in October: Fabled Fruit and Fuji Flush. Let's start with the larger of the two, called Fabelsaft in German:

Once upon a time there was a marvelous forest full of gorgeous fruits. These fruits came in vivid colors with the sweetest tastes, and the best part was that the fruits could be squeezed and mixed into the most delicious juices.

You are animals living in this forest, searching for the most savory fruits. You find them with the help of friendly forest-dwellers. They give you fruits, trade them with you, or help you in other ways. It is most advantageous to be the first at these locations. If you are already at a location, you get a fruit from the animals arriving after you.

You are greedy and thirsty. Who will be the first to satisfy their appetite for fabled juices?

2F-Spiele describes Fabled Fruit as a "Fable game", noting that a Fable game "is one where the gameplay changes over time", and while that sounds like a Rob Daviau-style Legacy game at first the longer description reveals differences:

The first time you play, the game starts in its initial state, which is a relatively simple state. But as you explore deeper into the game system, the mechanisms and gameplay experience will evolve. You play the game many times, and each play changes the game slightly. However, the game is never permanently changed. At any time you may easily restart a Fable game from the beginning, either after you have run through the entire game system, or at any time during the multiple plays you will get from this game system. The Fable game will remain just as playable on the twentieth play as it was on the first play of the game.

The other title — Fuji Flush, a.k.a. Futschikato — has an interesting history, despite it not yet being released on the market.

In March 2016, copies of a game titled Doppelt und Dreifach started showing up in the mailboxes of well-connected gamers in Germany, with the designer being listed only as "Der Bruder von Christian Anders" (the brother of Christian Anders). Then copies showed up at the Gathering of Friends convention as well. One recipient created the BGG listing, but the game didn't create a huge splash given that it was a simple card game, had no marketing, and was seen by only a few hundred people.

I skipped the Gathering in 2016 (as I'm already committed to nearly a dozen conventions for work this year, so the "just for fun" one takes a backseat), which means that I hadn't heard of the game until Chris Schreiber told me about it at Origins 2016, describing it in terms of Abluxxen (*little starbursts*) and thereby making me want it immediately.

As it turns out, Friese was pulling a Richard Bachman and trying to see what kind of reaction this unknown game from an unknown designer would get from gamers in the know. (Friese tells the complete story in a BGG GeekList.) The answer so far is "very little", but now that the Friese name is attachd to it, we'll see what happens from here. The BGG description, however, is scant:

Be the first player to get rid of all of your cards!

Join forces with fellow players to beat cards played by other players...or independently play the highest card to outdo all your opponents together, flushing their cards down the drain!

Fuji Flush is a fast, fun, easy-to-learn card game that will have you shouting as your cards are sent down the drain! let's turn to the Doppelt und Dreifach description instead:

Doppelt und Dreifach is an abstract card game by an anonymous author. It consists of cards numbered 2-15, with higher numbers being rarer. Each player holds six cards at the beginning. In clockwise order, players play one card each. If it is higher than any other card currently on the table, the lower card is discarded and the player who had played it has to draw a new card. However, if two or more players play the same number, the card values are cumulated. When it's a player's turn and their card is still in front of them, they can discard it without redrawing. First player(s) to get rid of their cards wins.

The press release concludes by announcing that "Additional titles will be announced at a future date", but I will circle back to an earlier line in the announcement, one that clarifies the "all new" phrase in the partnership for "all new future 2F-Spiele tiles". This line: "This arrangement does not include existing 2F-Spiele game lines currently published with other partners"; the only existing 2F-Spiele game line that I can think of is Power Grid, so if anything is coming along those circuits, we might have to wait a little longer to find out.
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Wed Jul 6, 2016 1:00 pm
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New Game Round-up: Spiel 2016 — KOSMOS Expands Andor, Invites Cunning, Revisits Luther, and Asks You to Leave the Room

W. Eric Martin
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North Carolina
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Spiel 2016 is still more than three months away at this point, but some companies have started to reveal their late 2016 titles, so expect more such round-ups like these from now through mid-October. (The Spiel 2016 Preview will go live August 8, 2016, the day after Gen Con 2016 ends. One con at a time!) That said, we can still take an early look at what KOSMOS will release:

• While Die Legenden von Andor: Die Letzte Hoffnung has been announced as the final title in Michael Menzel's Andor trilogy, this September 2016 release from KOSMOS is actually a standalone title (instead of simply an expansion) and it will be followed in February 2017 by Die Legenden von Andor: Dunkle Helden, a five- & six-player expansion that adds four new heroes to the game.

• The description of Martin and Erika Schlegel's Luther: Das Spiel is brief for now, so it's not clear what the nature of gameplay is like. KOSMOS does mention that an enclosed brochure includes background information on Luther's work, but other than that detail we have only the following for now:

For the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's Ninety-five Theses of 1517, players can now live as Luther's contemporaries, following in his footsteps, traveling the cities where he worked, and encountering important companions of the Reformer.

Michael Rieneck's Mit List und Tücke is billed as having "twenty cards with which to cut and thrust" and other than 52 influence crests that's it for game components. Here's an overview:

The King is dead; long live the Queen! Or vice versa, really, as in the intriguing game Mit List und Tücke it's hard to tell what everyone is up to and who will have the greatest impact until it all ends. Yes, the bishop's poison has been touched, but has it been administered to the abbot or is it still waiting to be used? What's happening with the witch? And the executioner is waiting for his next job...

At the beginning of a round, each player has four character cards in hand. On your turn, you play a card in front of you and follow its instructions. With some cards, you can carry out actions on your opponent and bring an end to the round's influence — but only if you don't fall victim to your opponent in the process.

• Four years after the release of the base game, Andreas Steiger's Targi gets an expansion in the plainly titled Targi: Die Erweiterung, which like the item above is due out September 2016. An overview:

The expansion of the tribe goes on in Targi: Die Erweiterung. With water as a new element, the tribe has more flexibility in how it will extend itself. To send a Targi to a drifting sand dune can be an advantage at the right moment, and whoever searches near the Tuareg woman — the Targia — will be rewarded.

Word Slam from the team of Inka and Markus Brand will likely be a hard pass for English speakers, but for those learning or already speaking German, I present the following:

In the communication game Word Slam, two teams compete against one another simultaneously.

In each round, one player on each team tries to get their teammates to guess a hidden word or phrase using only the 105 explanatory cards available in the box — no words! A player can use as many explanatory cards as desired, and whichever team guesses correctly first scores a point.

• The Brands are also responsible for a trio of "escape room" games from KOSMOS — EXIT: Das Spiel – Das geheime Labor, Die Grabkammer des Pharao, and Die verlassene Hütte — with each of them being a single-play experience for €13 that puts 1-6 players in a sticky situation with nothing more than a notebook and a spinning code dial of some sort to get them started on the path to freedom.

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Tue Jul 5, 2016 6:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Americanizing Terra into America

Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
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Background: Publishing Terra

In early 2015, Bézier Games, Inc. decided to publish the English version of Friedemann Friese's Terra. This was an easy decision once we found out it was available as I was a fan of Friedemann's Fauna (which was an SdJ nominee in 2009). While Fauna was focused on animals, Terra covered geography and history, two subjects I'm much more interested in than random animals (although I really liked Fauna despite that).

In Terra, players are asked three questions. One of them is always a location that corresponds to a region on the giant map of the world that makes up most of the game board. The other two questions are two of three possible categories: a year, a length, or some other number, which are all represented by segmented bars along the bottom of the game board. Each card has a full color photo on it, and the cards have a map/explorer feel to them. When it's your turn, you place a cube on the answer you think you know best from any of the three questions. Turns continue until you run out of cubes or decide to pass. (Answering incorrectly loses that cube for the next round, so you don't want to shotgun the board with cubes, or you'll be at a disadvantage in future rounds.) After everyone has passed, the answers are revealed and players score points: 7 points for a correct answer, and 3 points for an answer adjacent to the correct answer. The rules are essentially the same as in Fauna, with a few tweaks to simplify scoring.

Both games are sort of a cross between the variety of topics in Trivial Pursuit and the "get as close as you can" mechanism in Wits & Wagers, but the oversized board, full-color images on the cards, and additional mechanisms really set them apart.

So it's late spring 2015, and Bézier Games wants the English version of Terra out by Spiel 2015. Not a lot of time, though by using a German printer (piggybacking with other foreign publishers who were doing their own localization of Terra) it saved shipping time, which gave us an extra month to get the game ready. Initially, I figured we'd do a straight translation of the rules, cards, box, and the little text on the game board, and *boom* we'd have an English version ready to go.

Then reality set in. The U.S. is one of only three countries in the world that doesn't use the metric system, and all of the length answers on the cards (and the board) were in metric. Kilometers, millimeters, centimeters, whatevermeters — that just wasn't going to work in the U.S. While most game players can do some of that basic math to figure out the inches, miles, feet, yards, etc. relative to metric values, it's a pain simply because we don't think in metric, so playing would be a chore. Weirdly, pretty much all other English-speaking countries do use the metric system, though, so if we switched to good-ole imperial, they wouldn't be able to play (and they really *can't* do the math because they never need to convert unless they are dealing with Americans). The compromise was to make the board double-sided, with imperial on one side and metric on the other, and to have both imperial and metric units on the cards. Just that was a tremendous amount of work.

After starting the laborious process of adding imperial measurements to the cards, it was apparent that the English translation wasn't going to cut it; the translation was most likely done by a European who had an excellent command of the English language, but it was clear that English was not their native language. The phrasing was off, there were odd words and colloquialisms, and it was a little challenging to read, so every card, the entire rulebook, and the box were redone to make them more English-friendly.

During *that* process, we realized that while the game covered worldwide geography, many of the topics were things of little or no interest to most Americans, like soccer, various international organizations, and several other topics that were a result of either German or European familiarity that just didn't work for Americans. The U.S. is about 90% of the English boardgame market, so again, these things had to be fixed. In this case, it meant that we had to come up with dozens of new cards to replace the topics that didn't work.

Finally, there was the board. The German board (and the one used for all other languages) was very 8th-grade textbook-looking, which works great for Europeans who don't have a negative view of educational games. In the U.S., though, saying that your game is fun "and educational, too!" pretty much means that no one will even look at it. This isn't because Americans don't want to learn about things, but because there are so many crappy educational "games" made all the time that the word, when applied to games, has a different, mostly negative connotation. Thus, we hired an artist to redo the game board in a satellite-imagery style.

The game did (barely) make it out for Spiel even with all the additional work that had to be done.

During all of these changes, I kept wishing that there were more topics about things I was interested in, but then I realized that Terra just wouldn't work for most of those topics because the majority of them would have location answers based in the U.S., and they wouldn't be spread around the world evenly. Furthermore, while Terra's "year" answer track ranged from 5000 B.C. to the present day, most of the things on my want list took place in the last few hundred years.

America Is Conceived

By the time Spiel 2015 rolled around, I had already pinged Friedemann to ask whether I could do a new game based on Terra, but focused instead on America. Friedemann and HUCH! & friends (the German publisher that owns the rights to Terra) agreed, and I set to work. The first thing I did was write up all of the things I wanted this game to have that Terra didn't. Here's my initial list:

• Focus on America; all locations will be in the U.S. or in Mexico/Canada.
• Just two tracks: year and number. Every card will have the same three categories of questions.
• The location "regions" would be states, though some might be combined where it makes sense.
• The year track will be detailed for the last fifty years, then grouped in larger and larger increments to the B.C.s.
• The cards will fall into the following five categories: Entertainment, History & Politics, Geography, Technology & Science, and Games & Sports.
• The player to the right of the player with the box chooses a category, then the player with the box thumbs through the box to find a category card that matches it, moving all cards in front of that one to the back of the box. The player who found the card reads first.

As I look at this list now, the general direction was there, but pretty much every item above was tweaked at least a little. Here's how that happened:

• Focus on America; all locations will be in the U.S. or in Mexico/Canada. Well, Mexico and Canada went out pretty fast. (Americans don't know Mexican states at all and tend to have a very limited knowledge of Canadian provinces and territories.) On top of that, Canada is so freakin' huge it would have been two-thirds of the board. Because there's one ocean on each side of the U.S., each of which is adjacent to a whole lot of states, oceans went out as being an area to place a cube.

• Just two tracks: year and number. Every card will have the same three categories of questions. This is the only item from the original list that was solid from the start. In fact, this allowed me to change the design of the cards from Terra's to the three-column design in America, which allowed me to use labels for each column (State, Year, Number) right on the card box, so the questions didn't have to use those terms, thereby allowing the question text to be larger and more succinct. This set-up also prevented the need to have metric or imperial measurements on the board as the card asks specifically for a measurement type (which is usually imperial, due to the nature of the game), and you just answer with a number of that measurement.

The location "regions" would be states, though some might be combined where it makes sense. It didn't make sense to combine the smaller northeastern states where a lot happens and leave the bigger western states as single answers, so every state — regardless of size — was a possible answer for the location question. That decision allowed me to simply put "state" on the box in the column below the state question, so you know that the first (leftmost) question is always a state. The only problem that created was that the District of Columbia, where the city of Washington D.C. is located, is not a state, and a lot of historical stuff has happened there. In the end, the call was made to avoid questions for which D.C. was the answer. (Most of them were pretty obvious anyway.) Finally, what to do about Alaska and Hawaii, which have no adjacencies? Well, I made them adjacent to each other, and nothing else, for gameplay purposes.

The year track will be detailed for the last fifty years, then grouped in larger and larger increments to the B.C.s. Well, this sort of worked that way. The year track consists of five-year intervals from now until 1950 (sixty years, I was close), then gradually increases to 25-year intervals by 1700, then it makes a big jump to 1492, which is as far back as we go. (Sorry, native Americans!)

The cards will fall into the following five categories: Entertainment, History & Politics, Geography, Technology & Science, and Games & Sports. Close. The categories don't really matter (see below), but there are an even number of cards in the following five categories:

Entertainment (movies, television, music, books)
History & Geography (combined these two)

Products, Inventions, and Technology

Games, Sports, and Fun Activities

Food & Restaurants

Food turned out to be one of the most fun categories to include because there's so much stuff that originated in the U.S. or that was made popular by America. I had to be pretty creative with some of the location questions to avoid clumping in California, New York, and Illinois for all topics, but in the end there's a really nice variety of locations for the topics.

The player to the right of the player with the box chooses a category, then the player with the box thumbs through the box to find a category card that matches it, moving all cards in front of that one to the back of the box. This was a good idea in my head, but in practice it was difficult and confusing to players. This evolved until it ended up with the player with the box choosing which *side* of the box from which to read, and then the player to his left answers first, meaning the player who chose the question goes last at the table. Not quite I cut, you choose, but close!

Bonus points to me for coming up with a system to allow all the cards to be used once, with no repeats until all of the cards have been seen: After a card is scored, it is removed from the box and placed directly behind the "center" divider card. This works out so that the card you placed there will have its other side come out to the box end eventually. It's a slick system that seems very obvious in hindsight. <pats self>

Content Creation

Once the system was in place, it was time to create the cards. America ships with 168 double-sided cards, which (I'll do the math for you) is 336 topics, or 1008 questions — each of which needed to be thought of, written, formatted, researched, and tested. Games like America are very much dependent on the content of their cards, so a tremendous amount of time went into figuring out the topics and the questions/answers within those topics. After coming up with the 336 topics, I hired several writers to help research and write the questions and answers. In order to make that work, I had to develop a style sheet that listed all of the criteria, such as the questions being only so many words long, that every question and answer had to be focused on the U.S. (not just locations), and how long the "factoids" that appear on each card have to be — then I edited every single one of those, tested them, and had the cards proofed. Whew!

Solving the "I Dunno" Dilemma

During playtesting, one thing that I noticed — and this is true in Terra and Fauna, too — was that players were very involved in topics which most of them knew something about it, but that level of interest dropped considerable when they didn't know (or have any idea about) a topic or some of the questions. It's not fun to not know something, and random guesses can work in America, but they aren't that satisfying. Of course, there's no way to ensure that everyone who plays will know something about every topic. However, the way America works, you can always leech points from other players by placing next to their (likely correct) answers — but sometimes it seems like nobody at the table knows the answer to a question. Thus, what I refer to as the "don't pass" line (from craps) was born.

In addition to the standard answer spots, players can also place their cubes on the "No Exact" or "No Exact or Adjacent" spots, with a set each for States, Locations, and Numbers. If players get the feeling that no one knows an answer (maybe they haven't placed on that answer bar yet, or everyone is whining that they don't know anything about it), they can place a cube on one of these spots, and if they're right, they get points! Like all other spots on the game board, only one player can place on each of them, so there's some tension as to when to place (if at all) on those spots. It makes topics that otherwise would be an "it doesn't matter, none of us know that" into a fun little bluffing thing where you might place a cube out on a spot and state, "I remember that from a PBS special" when you really have no idea, then watch others pile up around you, then when everyone has used up their cubes, plop one down on the "No Exact or Adjacent" to scoop up a quick 7-point score.

These new spots underscore that there's a really solid game engine under the glossy trivia hood, which gamers will appreciate, and non-gamers will enjoy without realizing why.

Finalizing America for publication

One of the other concerns regarding the game was the price. America is a trivia game, and most trivia games are $25 games that are dropped off at non-gaming stores by the pallet around the holidays, hoping to score big and then be forgotten. (I'm sure they don't hope to be forgotten, but they usually are.) The goal for America has always been a little different; the idea is to redefine what a trivia game can be for Americans, with fun, engaging questions that are combined with elegant gameplay. I don't want America to be forgotten after a holiday blitz, but instead to be a game that can be pulled out time and again. The way the card replenishment system works, players will get more than fifty games out of it without ever seeing the same card twice — that's a lot of replayability.

But with an oversized game board, wood pieces (even though they are cubes, they're big, chunky cubes), and a ton of full-color cards, there's no way America could have bargain-bin pricing. It ended up at $45, which is still more than I would like it to be at, but the quality of the components and the gameplay make it a great deal (and if you do the math, that's less than 90¢ per game).

All sorts of other tweaks were made to the game during development, including adding a little icon behind the state question that indicates whether the answer is east or west of the Mississippi River (which just so happens to divide the country almost equally in terms of number of states, even though the amount of land on the west side is much greater than that on the east side).

There are a bunch of fun little in-jokes on several cards, a very meta card with the topic of "America the game", and the cube colors are red, white, and blue (as well as silver, black and light blue). And if you and your friends can handle it, you can also play with the "back" of the game board where the state names are blank...

America will be available at Gen Con 2016, and shortly thereafter in stores everywhere!
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Mon Jul 4, 2016 1:00 pm
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Crowdfunding Round-up: East to West and Lair to Nest

Dustin Schwartz
United States
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• A few years ago, the lone household name to emerge from the burgeoning Japanese hobby game scene was Seiji Kanai, but lately Hisashi Hayashi has been giving him a run for his money. Yokohama is yet another Hayashi title that’s being brought over for U.S. audiences, this time by Tasty Minstrel Games, one of a small group of publishers that attends Tokyo Game Market to scout for import prospects. This could prove to be a landmark moment, as TGM has historically been a sea of small card games, with relatively few (successful) designs of a more traditional euro bent. (KS link)

• I’ve noticed a trend with real-time games: more often than not they include a reference to their timed nature somewhere in the title. And titles don’t get more on the nose than Dungeon Time, a co-op game from Carlo A. Rossi by way of Ares Games. After their most recent half-million dollar KS campaign for a sprawling dungeon crawl, Ares is looking for success with sand timers. I’m reminded of a Bob Hope quip from 1942’s Road to Morocco, as he and Bing Crosby survey an endless desert: “This must be where they empty all the old hourglasses.” (KS link)

• In Joshua J. Mills’ Rocky Road à la Mode, you are put on the other side of your nostalgic childhood memories: in the pastel-colored driver’s seat of a Good Humor truck, pumping the strains of “Mister Softee” through your rusty loudspeaker and leaving sated kids grinning in your wake. One of my favorite mechanisms is the “time track” (first popularized in Thebes, but more recently evinced in Patchwork) that allows for variable turn order, and it’s put to good — even thematic! — use in Green Couch Games’ sixth release. (KS link)

• The ironic thing about the newest Queen Games project, the dice game Risky Adventure from Anthony Rubbo, is that it’s *not* a risky venture for potential backers. Queen’s production timeline is a well-oiled machine, with a new release falling off the end of the conveyor belt and into distribution every couple of months. The “risk” in the gameplay involves players having to mark the targets of their die rolls beforehand, not unlike the basketball trope of calling your shot. So maybe that means Steph Curry will be really good at it? (KS link)

• Only one more game to go before completists can have a full carton of E•G•G titles from the Eagle-Gryphon Games hatchery. Their current project features the trick-taking game Sluff Off! (known in previous incarnations as Zing, Wizard Extreme, and Die Sieben Siegel) from noted designer Stefan Dorra and the set-collection game Harald from rookie designer Rémi Gruber, as games #9 and #10 in the series, respectively. For the raised eyebrows in the third row, “sluff off” is a trick-taking term meaning to throw off suit, but artist Kwanchai Moriya has worked in some nice visual puns besides. (KS link)

Mayday Games is establishing their own relationship as a pipeline of titles from Tokyo Game Market to the U.S., this time partnering with nerdy inventor Chih-Fan Chen (of Flip City fame) and Homosapiens Lab for Nerdy Inventions. It’s a dice game with a light steampunk aesthetic, illustrated by the designer himself. You never know when a game’s going to catch on with audiences in a big way, and Mayday is hoping this is their next hit property. (KS link)

• Though the presentation is a bit more dignified than in Homestar Runner, burninating the countryside is a viable option in Whelps to Wyrms. After their sleeper hit Nautilus Industries turned some heads, Lamp Light Games is back with this tile-exploration game from Ricky Perez. Dragons don’t like to share, but this is mostly a “wyvern and let wyvern” affair, with the fiery streak coming from the game-controlled counter attacks. (KS link)

• It’s probably safe to bet that Tim Fowers won’t be absconding with the more than $100K in pledge loot, but that’s what one player is trying to do in his self-published Fugitive. This asymmetric two-player game of bluffing and deduction was inspired by the thematic trappings of his previous design, Burgle Bros. That game’s “Rook” is our titular fugitive here, hounded by a federal marshal who tries to outguess his moves and thwart him at every turn. A debonair charmer with sticky fingers or a lawful good type with a badge; which will you be? (KS link)

• Barely had Millennium Blades been released to the retail market when the game sold out at the distributor level. Brad Talton and the folks at Level 99 Games are scrambling to meet the unprecedented level of demand for this zany game that simulates competitive CCG play, so they’ve put the pedal to the meta and launched a new KS campaign. Newcomers can get the original goods, while current users can get a new hit — I mean, new promos, all with the recognizable illo work of L99 regular Fábio Fontes. (KS link)

• Back in early 2014, District Games, in collaboration with Eagle-Gryphon, successfully raised funds for a game called Warage (rhymes with “porridge”). Though the publishers only call it a “strategy card game”, it’s of the constructed-deck variety; a CCG-like without the collectibility. Now, designers Chiarvesio, Grasso, and Puglisi are bringing this game back from the void, as Warage: Reborn. The game wants to succeed in a scene that’s notoriously tough to make a dent in, but perhaps this time they’ve got the recipe juuuust right. (KS link)

Editor’s note: Please don’t post links to other Kickstarter projects in the comments section. Write to me via the email address in the header, and I’ll consider them for inclusion in a future crowdfunding round-up. Thanks! —WEM
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Mon Jul 4, 2016 5:50 am
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