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Links: Nominations for the Origins Awards and Dice Tower Awards, Card Smooshing & More

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• Nominations have dropped for the 2015 Origins Awards, and arguments about which games have been overlooked or unjustly elevated are already underway. Here are the nominees from a few of the categories:

Quote:

Members of the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design now vote on the nominees in each category — with many more categories shown at the link above — with the winners being announced during the 2015 Origins Game Fair, which takes place June 3-7, 2015.

• Nominations have also been announced for the Dice Tower Awards, with the nominees being decided by more than fifty reviewers and bloggers, and the winners will be announced June 26, 2015 at the Dice Tower Convention. From the many categories that exist, I'll highlight the nominees for the one category that subsumes most of the others:

Quote:

• A BBC article by Chris Baraniuk on placebo buttons — buttons that do nothing when you push them — tickled me for some reason. I was reminded of the frequent comments from game designers that when creating a game, you should remove options that players rarely or never choose in order to streamline the thought process required to play. Why confound people with options that aren't real options, the thinking goes — yet here's a purposeful reason for why such options exist in the real world.

One game-related excerpt from the article:

Quote:
To understand [the effect of such placebos on] people you have to go back to the early 1970s. At that time, psychologist Ellen Langer, now a professor at Harvard, was a graduate student at Yale. During a five card draw game of poker she dealt one set of cards in a haphazard order.

"Everybody," she says, "got crazy. The cards somehow belonged to the other person even though you couldn't see any of them." Langer decided to find out more about the way people regulated the playing of such games. She went to a casino where, at the slot machines, she found gamblers with elaborate ways of pulling the lever. At another time a "highly rational" fellow student tried to explain to her why tossing a pair of dice could be done in a certain way to affect the numbers which came up. "People believed that all of these behaviours were going to increase the probability of their winning," she comments.

Naturally they were wrong and for many people a simple objective proof of the matter would have been enough. But not for Langer. The strength of the gamblers' convictions was, to her, not trivial.

• Purple Pawn reports on BoardGamesMaker.com, a new game manufacturer in Hong Kong that has a huge price list that lays out the costs for everything up front, allowing a designer or publisher to choose components from the provided lists, upload artwork, and start publication — kind of like taking The Game Crafter model and converting it to an actual manufacturing run, although tokens, dice and other common game elements are not included on the price list.

• In March 2015, I linked to a video of Persi Diaconis, Professor of Statistics and Mathematics at Stanford University, explaining the best and worst ways to shuffle cards. Diaconis has now been featured in an article in Quanta Magazine about his efforts to study the randomness of the shuffling technique that he refers to as smooshing. An excerpt:

Quote:
This toddler-level technique involves spreading the cards out on a table, swishing them around with your hands, and then gathering them up. Smooshing is used in poker tournaments and in baccarat games in Monte Carlo, but no one actually knows how long you need to smoosh a deck to randomize it. "Smooshing is a completely different mechanism from the other shuffles, and my usual techniques don't fit into that," Diaconis said. The problem has tantalized him for decades.

Now he is on a quest to solve it. He has carried out preliminary experiments suggesting that one minute of ordinary smooshing may be enough for all practical purposes, and he is now analyzing a mathematical model of smooshing in an attempt to prove that assertion.

Fascinating stuff in that article...
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Wed Apr 22, 2015 5:43 pm
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Links: How Not to Name Your Game, Why We Won't Back Your Crowdfunded Game & More

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• On the Hyperbole Games site, designer Grant Rodiek laments past choices on the name of Hocus Poker and offers advice for other designers:

Quote:
Despite it being a key component of our origin story, Poker has really become a liability for our little game. For those not aware, Hocus began its life one afternoon when I asked, "would Poker be more fun with Spells?" I have immense respect for the game of poker, but I don't often enjoy my experience playing it. There seemed to be fertile ground as a designer to manipulate. Plus, it seemed easy. You shouldn't be surprised to find that I'm stupid...

Poker has been a problem at almost every stage of the pitch for us. I've had doors closed in my face as soon as the "ckkkk" leaves me lips, but we've also seen wild, angry men rage when they discover what they've done to "their" game. The problem with an elevator pitch is that you only have a floor or two, then your listener is either holding the door open or escaping that rapidly ascending box car.

Sort of along those same lines but not quite, I've had discussions with a couple of people who play only chess, and they find the idea of chess variants or chess-related spinoffs abhorrent. They say, "I don't want to play some chess-like thing; I want to play chess!" Perhaps not all chess players fall into this frame of thinking, but that anecdote came to mind while reading Rodiek's article.

• Speaking of chess, CNN reports on a chess grandmaster who went to the bathroom frequently to cheat in a tournament. How's that for a clickbaity summary?

• Jason Kotarski of Green Couch Games gets nice coverage from The Flint Journal about his success on Kickstarter with Scott Almes' Best Treehouse Ever. Reach out to those local news outlets, designers!

• To coincide with the debut of the fifth season of Game of Thrones on HBO, Owen Duffy of The Guardian talks up Fantasy Flight Games' line of board and card games based on A Game of Thrones and hits a few other winning licensed games as well.

• On Examiner.com, Michael Tresca offers "10 reasons why we won't fund your crowdsourced game", including pixel everything, cards against whatever, and "weird proposals that reveal awkward things about you".

• On NPR, Robert Smith explains "How Success Almost Killed A Game, And How Its Creators Saved It", with the game in question being Magic: The Gathering. Seems odd as the article covers old news and isn't connected to anything new at Wizards of the Coast, but here it is anyway.
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Sat Apr 18, 2015 9:08 pm
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Links: Legal Trouble for Cards Against Humanity, Thirty Years of Knizia & Haiku Winners

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• On Bangor Daily News, Abigail Curtis reports on apparent zoning violations by the owners of Cards Against Humanity for "installation of a platform, shed and safe within 22 feet of the lake’s normal high-water line" and the issuance of "250,000 'licenses' that grant the exclusive use of 1 square foot of land" on Birch Island in Lake St. George in Maine.

• On League of Gamemakers, designer Scott Caputo explores the pluses and minuses of using dice or cards as randomizing elements in your game design.

• Also on League of Gamemakers, designer JR Honeycutt admits that he was wrong about Splendor — or does he? He writes: "I'd played Splendor twice, and panned the game while being generally dismissive of its popularity. It's very light, the theme is tacked-on, and much of its appeal is based on the heavy, high-quality poker chips that represent gems in the game. It's not a 'gamer's game', it's not deeply strategic, and it doesn't engender any kind of special interaction between players."

He goes on to say, "Splendor is undoubtedly guilty of the above things, and yet, it's wildly popular", and when he played the game again, he found himself enjoying it. So he wasn't wrong about Splendor as much as he was wrong about the things that mattered to him in a game design, or rather the things that he felt were important for a game to be (objectively?) good. The game is still light, the theme is still tacked on, it's not deeply strategic — and yet here I am having fun? What's wrong with me? Why am I enjoying this thing that's not good? Could I be mistaken about what I actually enjoy? (As longtime readers of BGGN might know, I answer this last question in the affirmative.)

• "Don't play your new game with me unless you want to go home angry", warns designer James Ernest in a blog post railing against "derivative" game design. "Maybe it's because I play more prototypes than published games, but even after seven years, every new deckbuilding game still feels like an expansion for Dominion... Look, you could start where Dominion started, with the basic idea of turning a Magic draft into a boxed game, and end up in a thousand different places, none of which feel anything like Dominion. Right? But nobody does."

• A Reuters article from Daniel Kelly claims that "Consumers [Are] Turning To Tabletop Options In Backlash Against Video Games", but that article doesn't support this headline. I did learn, though, that "the games are not just for children".

• In The Wall Street Journal, Christopher Chabris reports on "The Rise of Cooperative Games", but the article can't be viewed unless you subscribe to the WSJ, so don't bother clicking through. Sorry! Just wanted to highlight the presence of Pandemic in an unexpected location.

Reiner Knizia celebrates his 30th year as a published designer in 2015, and to encourage others to play along, he's offering a special package of signed games and winner certificates for anyone who runs a Kniziathon, a Kniziathon being an open gaming event at which people play lots of games designed by Knizia, winning position points based on how well they do in those games.

• In early April 2015, I threw down a haiku challenge and it's time to choose the winners from those who commented on that BGGN post, with those three winners receiving a copy of Hipster Dice courtesy of Steve Jackson Games. I'll start with runners-up, such as this metacomment on the prize from Douglas MacIntyre:

shadowruin wrote:
Only you can use
rolling six sided dice
ironically

I thought highly of jflartner's haiku, but it broke rhythm, so I couldn't consider it for the prize:

jobin13 wrote:
Time marches onward
Gears are what happen
When you're making other plans.

Phil Alberg wins the suck-up no-prize for taking a comment that I left on Facebook about his game-playing session and building a haiku around it. I really need to record a video about Deep Sea Adventure at some point:

Spielfreak wrote:
I have no treasure
Deep Sea Adventure awaits
Dive, dive, dive, die! Ooops...

And now for the winners, starting with the first haiku on that post, which took the contest in a direction that I hadn't considered:

Chris Schreiber wrote:
The game I needed,
The game I wanted, and the
game for free shipping.

For some reason I had imagined the haiku each relating to a single game as with my own example that I had included, but I didn't make that a requirement and Chris' haiku said a lot about gratification and addiction in a few words. The other two haiku that struck me most, though, did each relate to a single game, but without naming them in the haiku. First up is Rick Senki:

airydisk wrote:
If only she knew!
I rend my soul in missives;
Cruel guard mocks my pain.

And the final winner is Mike DiLisio, who gets props for this existential question on a recent controversy:

Sizzla wrote:
What is a fakir?
A man on a bed of nails,
or a compromise?

I've sent Geekmail to the winners with an explanation of how to claim your prize. Don't brag about it in public, though, or else you'll throw away whatever hipster cred you might have...
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Tue Apr 14, 2015 4:15 pm
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Links: Lessons for Designers and Publishers, Obscure Hot Games & Do That Haiku That You Do So Well

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• Looking to pitch a game to a publisher? Perhaps you should check out Daniel Solis' "5 Pitching Lessons from Tabletop Deathmatch (so far)" in which he elaborates on lessons such as these:

Quote:
—Present the game you have on the table right now.
—Public information slows down decisions. Decisions slow down a pitch.

Perhaps this advice seems obvious, but better that you learn the obvious things beforehand instead of afterwards.

• On College Humor, Ryan Creamer and Dennis Flynn suggest that you sympathize with — or perhaps mock? I'm not sure — "7 Childhood Board Game Characters With Horrible Shitty Lives".

• On Polygon, Charlie Hall asks "Is Exploding Kittens, the most heavily funded game in Kickstarter history, any good?" And since the gameplay pretty much matches the description presented during the KS campaign, I'm not surprised by the answer.

• Want to find "the hottest new board games"? Then you had best check out this write-up from Ross Hyzer in The New Yorker to get all the details on Great Houses of Europe, How Splendid! and Invite Your Friends: A Board-Game Adventure, which is described below:

Quote:
Experience the excitement of playing a board game in this incredibly accurate simulation of what it's like to be a board-game player. First, struggle to establish an elusive Quorum of Players. Then, use your Player token to place your player's Tokens on the board's Board while you roll dice to gain your player Points and spend points to determine your player's Dice Rolls. Features exquisitely detailed fractal miniatures. Winner is the winner who Wins without making the other Players decide never to play board games ever again.

• In a postmortem of his Bad Medicine Kickstarter campaign, designer/publisher Gil Hova offers a few lessons for those running crowdfunding games, such as "Have most of your art done, but not all of it" and "It's not enough to offer a good game; you must offer a good product" — and this second one is kind of funny because from my POV many Kickstarter campaigns seem to be nothing but product. Perhaps I'm just being cynical though...

• On her Twitter account, Brittanie Boe of GTS Distribution and GameWire launched a #BoardGameHaiku hashtag on April 7, 2015, and many people have taken up the suggestion/invitation, including yours truly:

Quote:
Investment mocks me;
Poor color choices in hand,
Lost cities await...

And now this fun activity has turned into a contest of sorts as Rhea Friesen, community manager at Steve Jackson Games, has offered prizes of Hipster Dice to six haiku creators, with Brittanie choosing three and me choosing three. If you want a chance to win, please submit your #BoardGameHaiku in a comment below and feel free to tweet it with the hashtag so that Brittanie will see it, too.

Please recall that haiku consist of 17 syllables in three lines, with a 5-7-5 pattern. Deadline for entry is midnight EDT (GMT -4) on Sunday, April 12, 2015.
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Thu Apr 9, 2015 3:53 am
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Links: Planning Your Game Design, Surviving in Pandemic & Settling in Brooklyn

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• I haven't played Magic: The Gathering in a long time, but I still read head designer Mark Rosewater's "Making Magic" column each week because I enjoy reading about Magic design and because Rosewater often talks about game design in general — or at least about Magic design in a way that can be translated to game design in general. His March 30, 2015 column "Nuts & Bolts: The Three Stages of Design" is one such piece, explaining how Magic sets go through "three distinctly different yet equal-sized stages — what we have since named the vision stage, the integration stage, and the refinement stage". An excerpt:

Quote:
The Vision Stage

This first stage is about creating a vision for the set. What exactly is the set about? What are its themes? What are its mechanics? What emotional impact is the set supposed to create? What story does the set have to reinforce? This first stage is about defining what the set is up to, crafting its structure, and building its foundation.

Now, before design begins, we have something we call exploratory design... The role of exploratory design is not about finding answers but rather asking questions. It is important for us to walk into a design with a good understanding of all the constraints being put before us. Exploratory design allows us the luxury of scoping out problems we're going to have to solve before we have to actually solve those problems. The exploratory design team also comes up with a lot of ideas of mechanical directions we could explore. Thus, when we start design we're not starting from ground zero...

Pandemic and POX: Save the People show up in a MindShift article by Matthew Farber titled "Three Games About Viruses That Teach Interconnectedness".

• Speaking of Pandemic, publisher Z-Man Games has announced hosting sites for "Pandemic Survival" events on TableTop Day as well as the location of some national events. If you win a preliminary round, you make it through to the National Championship and the winners of those events can participate in the World Championship at Spiel 2015 in October. The prize? "The winning team will be able to use the ability of the Airlift card and fly to the city of their choice – that appears on the Pandemic board – limit of $ 5,000 per winner, 1 week vacation. The city chosen by each winner may be different."

When I spoke with Z-Man owner Sophie Gravel about this competition, she noted that visa clearance, valid passports, and other details are the responsibility of the winners — and she seemed hesitant about the idea of signing off on a trip to Baghdad, but I'd assume the winners would probably head to another location.



• On Slate, Chris Berdik writes about MIT Education Arcade director, Eric Klopfer and creative director Scot Osterweil and why they promote the use of games — but not gamification — in schools.

• Can you get ants to solve a knight's tour on a chessboard? How about ant-based algorithms? Now you're talking! (HT: Graham Kendall)

• Are you ready to play — no, live — The Settlers of Brooklyn, courtesy of Above Average?

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Thu Apr 2, 2015 7:08 pm
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Links: Hippodice 2015, How to Shuffle & Eggert and Allers on Design and Publication

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Man, it's been a while since I last ran a links round-up since I started posting most of them on BGG's Twitter feed, but here are several that either don't work well in that format or are otherwise hanging out in an open tab on my browser.

• The results of the 2015 Hippodice game design competition were announced in late March 2015 with the three standout titles being:

Lancelotto Malocello, by Martin Schlegel, DE
Das geht schief, by Timo Diegel, DE
Kallipolis, by Bjoern Ebeling, DE

Descriptions and prototype images of these three games, along with other recommended games, are available on the Hippodice website, and with contest winners having a somewhat decent chance of advancing to publication, you might even see them on game tables in the years ahead.

• On his Failnaut blog, in response to the logo of the digital game TAPHOBOS Christos Reid explains that "Greek is not a font".

• Do you want to see coverage of modern games on a Norwegian television program? Now you can.

• F2Z Entertainment, owner of Filosofia Édition and Z-Man Games, is looking for an English-to-Dutch translator. Notes communications contact Kalinda Patton, "We are looking for someone who would accept a mix of money and games as remuneration for their work. People can send their information over to communications@f2zentertainment.com."

• On March 5, 2015, Leuphana University of Lüneburg in Germany held a board game workshop in its Gamification Lab that included talks from Peter Eggert of eggertspiele, (HT: Sebastian Wenzel at Spielbox) and designers Christoph Cantzler, Jeffrey D. Allers, Bruce Whitehill and Uwe Rosenberg. The video starts in German with Cantzler, then Eggert presents in English starting at 46:00, followed by Allers, then the video cuts off. Sorry, Uwe fans!

Persi Diaconis, Professor of Statistics and Mathematics at Stanford University, is also a former magician, and in this video from Numberphile, he explains the best and worst ways to shuffle cards. He has a very professorial style that works great on video in my opinion.

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Mon Mar 30, 2015 7:00 pm
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More on the Asmodee, Ystari, Pearl Games Connection; Asmodee by the Numbers (Image Heavy)

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On Jan. 21, 2015, I published an article titled "Asmodee Has (Apparently) Acquired Ystari Games and Pearl Games", with the article pointing out (courtesy of a head's up from Swiss blog Gus and Co) that Asmodee had (apparently) done that thing I just said earlier in this sentence.

Given Asmodee's recent activity along these lines — buying Days of Wonder in July 2014 (with an August 2014 announcement), then acquiring Fantasy Flight Games in November 2014 — along with the statement from a Marabunta press release that "Space Cowboys, Days of Wonder, Ystari, Pearl Games and Fantasy Flight Games [are] in the [Asmodee] family" and that those publishing brands are "the core Asmodee studios", that conclusion would not be surprising — but it turns out that "acquisition" is not the right word based on responses to my questions from Cyril Demaegd at Ystari Games and Sébastien Dujardin at Pearl Games. (I've yet to hear back from Asmodee.)

Demaegd notes that Ystari is "part of the Asmodee family", but not in the way that Days of Wonder or FFG is, that is, not owned by Asmodee. "You will probably be surprised, but I think it goes back to 2007. (Sorry, I can't recall the exact date.) To be honest, I'll call it a kind of 'sponsorship' from Marc Nunes", with Nunes being one of the three founders of Asmodee along with Philippe Mouret and Croc; those three started Space Cowboys in 2013, and Demaegd also works with Space Cowboys.

Says Demaegd, "[Nunes] likes what we do and offered to help, so Asmodee invested in Ystari, asking me just one thing: 'Just do what you do usually. Keep producing good games. We won't interfere in any way.' After all those years, I think we can assume that he was telling the truth."

Demaegd continues, "In fact, this financial help really was a good thing for us. Being a 'one man company' is complicated when things gets bigger (and it happened quite quickly for Ystari)." Those who were gaming in 2005 when Caylus dominated the gaming scene will know what he means. "At some point you reach the limit and either you find some help or you quit. I choose the former and I'm glad I did! Now things are easier. For example I hired Thomas [Cauët], who helps me a lot. Now I can concentrate on what I like: games and game design. It's really important for me to try 'new things' each time and to release heavily tested games. I can choose to develop 'risky' games, like Witness (which is a good thing because I honestly think one part of our job is to propose new concepts and not just trendy ones) because Ystari is more financially secured than it was seven years ago."

As for Pearl Games, that publisher's connection with Asmodee came far more recently — October 2014 — but the arrangement between them mirrors that of Ystari's. Says Pearl's Sébastien Dujardin, "I am still responsible for publications and game development. I keep my entire editorial independence, and nothing changes in my operation. (I'm working alone in my office in Belgium.) Or rather, I now have a lot more tools to work more efficiently. Thus I can offer a French version of La Granja, and I study the possibilities to re-edit Troyes and Ladies of Troyes, for example. Upcoming releases will be The Bloody Inn and an extension for Deus, as planned."

If nothing else, these statements from Demaegd and Dujardin should remind you of what was stated following the Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight acquisitions, as with this statement from Mark Kaufmann at Days of Wonder: "We'll still be doing games that fit with our mission, and will be branded that way." And this from FFG CEO Christian T. Petersen: "None of FFG's product plans are affected by the merger, and we anticipate that none of our licensing partnerships will be affected... The merger will allow FFG's design and development staff to continue work on games that are true to FFG's unique vision for hobby games. In fact, it will allow us to dedicate more resources and focus on the 'large and ambitious' games that are the core of our DNA. Other companies in the Asmodee Group will explore games aimed at the mass [market] and other game categories (such as abstract games), allowing FFG to concentrate on what we do best."

In the comments on the Jan. 21 post, someone from the Spanish game blog Jugamos Tod@s pointed to a November 2014 "Investor Day" report (PDF) from Eurazeo, owner of Asmodee since January 2014, that spelled out the current state of Asmodee in fine detail. One thing repeated over and over in this report is that for all of the studios within Asmodee "[r]epeated success lies in the full independency granted to these studios, to keep innovating" because "[e]ach studio has its own DNA".

That Investor Day report has lots of interesting information — Asmodee made a partnership deal with Italian distributor Asterion Press in November 2014; Asmodee had €201 million in sales in the twelve months ahead of September 2014; the U.S. market grew from 5% to 18% of Asmodee's sales in less than one year; the Star Wars: X-Wing miniatures line moved 1.39 million units in 2013 — but rather than quote the entire thing, I highly suggest that you read it yourself. To make that process easier, I've uploaded all of the pages as images:

























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Asmodee Has (Apparently) Acquired Ystari Games and Pearl Games

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Marabunta, for those who don't know, is a publishing brand within Asmodee that was founded in 2012 and that debuted with the release of Paolo Mori's Libertalia. As I noted in 2012, Marabunta is "run by those who qualify as hardcore gamers within Asmodee". Why was Marabunta founded? Despite the associations that many people have for Asmodee — 7 Wonders, Seasons, Eclipse, and so on — most of the titles released at that time by Asmodee itself were mainstream or family titles such as Jungle Speed and Barbeque Party. (Asmodee distributes in France, Germany, the U.S. and elsewhere many titles developed by other publishing houses, but distribution is not the same as development and publication.) Rather than send out mixed messages to customers who had developed an association between Asmodee and a certain style of game, the company founded Marabunta in order to create a brand for the more-involved games that it wanted to publish.

Marabunta released a few more titles between 2012 and today — French versions of Ascension and Mage Wars, a more attractive version of Masters of Commerce under the name Panic on Wall Street — but it never seemed to be the focus of attention from Asmodee, which instead highlighted the many titles that it was distributing.

On January 21, 2015, as first noted by Swiss gaming blog Gus and Co, Marabunta posted a press release announcing that it would be going into hibernation. Sales of Mage Wars hadn't met expectations, the company no longer has publishing rights to Ascension, and then there was this:


Roughly translating: "Marabunta has always been a little apart as a publisher. Marabunta is a label more than an actual publishing house, created at the initiative of Croc during a passionate meeting within Asmodee to translate and publish games that we love. Three years later, with Space Cowboys, Days of Wonder, Ystari, Pearl Games and Fantasy Flight Games in the family, space for Marabunta projects is somewhat restricted." Ystari and Pearl are now part of Asmodee? That's news to me, but that appears to be the case given that detail and this closing line from the Marabunta press release: "The passion is still there, but now we'll put our passion in the projects of our friends and colleagues of the core Asmodee studios." I've contacted Asmodee for confirmation that it purchased these two publishers and will update this post once I have more information.

Croc, by the way, is one of the three founders of Asmodee as well as one of the founders of Space Cowboys, and the Space Cowboys team also includes Ystari Games' Cyril Demaegd. Asmodee has distributed Ystari Games in the U.S. since 2013's Prosperity and it became the U.S. distributor for Pearl Games only with 2014's Deus, but my understanding is that Asmodee's relationship with these companies dates back much further in France.

I'll close with this aside from the May 2012 BGG News post that introduced Marabunta:

Quote:
("Marabunta", for those who don't know, is a term describing a swarm of army ants, which tend to engulf whatever they run across. A very evocative name compared to those adopted by many other game publishers!)

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Spiel des Jahres Jury Chairman Tom Felber on Choosing Germany's Game of the Year

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Spiel des Jahres jury chairman Tom Felber has been touring North America to talk about the Spiel des Jahres — Germany's "game of the year" award — at various conventions and game stores, and as part of that outreach effort he visited BGG.CON 2014 and spent an hour discussing the origin of the Spiel des Jahres, how one game won the award twice, how the Kennerspiel des Jahres came to be, the requirements for being a SdJ jury member, how long it takes to play all the games under consideration, how many times he plays the three SdJ and KedJ nominees, why he appreciates the 2014 SdJ Camel Up, and much, much more.

To summarize for those who don't watch the video — although I encourage you to do so, given this opportunity to hear about the gaming industry's biggest award from someone who knows about it better than almost anyone else — the bottom line is that if you're active on BoardGameGeek, then the Spiel des Jahres award is not intended for you. Most likely, you know more about games than the "average" person; you know how to interpret rules; you have experience with dozens or even hundreds of games. Spiel des Jahres, as noted on the SdJ website, is "intended to promote games as a cultural asset to encourage gaming amongst family and friends and to provide an aid to selecting the best games from a wide range of products on offer", with "best" meaning best for the average person on the street.

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Mon Dec 8, 2014 6:00 am
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Asmodee to Acquire Fantasy Flight Games

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Three months after the merger of Days of Wonder into the Asmodee Group, another big deal in the games industry is going down, namely the merging of U.S. publisher Fantasy Flight Games into that very same Asmodee Group.

As announced today by FFG, Asmodee and Fantasy Flight Games have a "pending merger of the two companies", and while the terms of the deal weren't disclosed in the announcement, the press release does mention that FFG CEO Christian T. Petersen "will continue as the CEO of Fantasy Flight Games while also becoming a significant shareholder of the combined entity". Petersen explained the nature of the merge in a bit more detail via email: "All existing shareholders of FFG will be selling their shares to the Asmodee Group. I will be reinvesting the majority of my personal proceeds into Asmodee, taking a significant position in the group."

While this announcement will undoubtedly come as a surprise to most in the games industry, FFG and Asmodee have been talking about this possibility on and off since 2010, according to Petersen. "It was very important to me that such an event be a win for FFG's shareholders, for our staff, for our partners, and for the customers — the gamers without whom FFG never would have been," he wrote. "Last February [2014], at the New York Toy Fair, Stéphane Carville (Asmodee's CEO) approached me with a very compelling vision for how to positively merge the two companies that achieved these goals."

That vision works along the same lines as the Asmodee/Days of Wonder deal, with Fantasy Flight Games operating as an independent brand and publishing entity within the Asmodee Group. According to Petersen, "None of FFG's product plans are affected by the merger, and we anticipate that none of our licensing partnerships will be affected. I'm hugely excited for customers to get their hands on games like Star Wars: Imperial Assault, XCOM: The Board Game, Star Wars: Armada, The Witcher, and Eldritch Horror: Mountains of Madness (not to speak of the future releases we're developing for X-Wing, our LCGs, etc.). We've worked hard on these games, and I'm really proud of the FFG teams and of the product."

"The merger will allow FFG's design and development staff to continue work on games that are true to FFG's unique vision for hobby games," Petersen continued. "In fact, it will allow us to dedicate more resources and focus on the 'large and ambitious' games that are the core of our DNA. Other companies in the Asmodee Group will explore games aimed at the mass [market] and other game categories (such as abstract games), allowing FFG to concentrate on what we do best. This is quite liberating."

As for what might be different under the FFG label in the future, Petersen noted, "You'll probably see a few suitable games from FFG's catalog find their way to other publishers in the Asmodee Group, and vice versa."

So if FFG is going to remain independent, aside from small changes like, say, Ingenious bearing the Asmodee label or Claustrophobia migrating to FFG — and I'm just gassing here, not identifying changes that will actually happen — why make the deal in the first place? What benefits will emerge from the merge?

The press release notes that the "Asmodee Group of game companies will gain access to Fantasy Flight Games' strong sales, operational, and marketing infrastructure in North America, as well Fantasy Flight Games' almost-20 years of expertise in game development and multi-language game manufacturing". What does that mean in more practical terms? "After the merger, I believe that FFG will be the largest, oldest, and most experienced game publisher in the Asmodee Group," Petersen explained. "FFG produces hundred of new SKUs every year, and we coordinate manufacturing and localization across dozens of languages. Over the years FFG has developed and invested in many processes, manufacturing techniques, and propriety software applications to handle and oversee operations unique to the business of global games publishing.  We hope to make many of these tools, processes, and know-how available to the other companies in the group, which in turn should enable them to pass more value along to gamers."

And speaking of other languages, the press release notes that FFG will benefit from Asmodee's "distribution and marketing reach in Europe, greatly improving its product placement and organized play initiatives across the Continent." As Petersen explained, "We are able to do a great deal of support in English for our games (especially our LCGs). This merger will allow us to invest more in European organized play (OP) so there's more, and faster, tournament support (via localized tournament and game night kits), judges, and special events. Our hope is, sometime in the future, to have dedicated Asmodee staff in Europe that can provide great OP experiences for players across the Continent."

But what about FFG's products in other languages? Right now Fantasy Flight Games licenses titles to Edge Entertainment for release in French and Spanish; to Heidelberger Entertainment for release in German; and to Wargames Club, Game Harbor and Swan Panasia for release in Chinese. The Asmodee Group has multiple subsidiaries around the world — Asmodee GmbH in Germany, Asmodee France, Asmodee China, Asmodee Ibérica in Spain, Asmodee US, etc. — with those subsidiaries releasing titles in those very languages, so what's the future of those existing relationships? Petersen says that Heidelberger and Edge Entertainment "will continue to localize and represent FFG" for those markets and "will work with the respective Asmodee divisions to increase marketing and organized play support for those countries". Heidelberger, for example, will "work hand-in-hand with Asmodee to increase FFG's marketing presence in Germany, such as greatly expanding FFG's visibility at shows like Spiel in Essen". (Asmodee had already enlarged its presence at Spiel 2014 to occupy approximately one-quarter of Hall 3, thanks in part to the Days of Wonder acquisition, so perhaps it'll have one-third in 2015 — or, why not, all of Hall 1?)

Petersen added this note about these publishing companies: "The questions regarding partners like Edge and Heidelberger are actually very pertinent. FFG could not have been the company we are today without the work, support, collaboration, and friendship of people like Harald, Heiko, Gilles, and Jose. It was vital to me that those partners find a positive place and future in the context of this merger. I believe we've achieved this." (My translation: Don't be surprised should Asmodee acquire Edge and Heidelberger in the near future. Again, speculation, but I will point to this line in a January 2014 Reuters article about Eurazeo's acquisition of Asmodee at that time: "The acquisition debt was provided by European Capital and Tikehau, which have also made a dedicated debt facility available to the company to finance its external growth." That said, I put the question to Asmodee and company rep Kevin Brown reported the following answer: "For the foreseeable future, it is anticipated that current and upcoming FFG products will continue to be localized and sold by FFG's existing international partners. Asmodee intends to work with those same distributors to broaden product availability, marketing presence, and organized play support where possible.")

As for China, Petersen wrote, "Only a few of our products are available in Chinese — legally anyway." While FFG will continue to partner with Wargames Club, Game Harbor and Swan Panasia "on those products that make sense for them", wrote Petersen, "Asmodee's China offices will allow significantly more FFG games to be localized and available in China which will be a great thing."

What's more, added Petersen, "other than publishing, Asmodee's China office should allow us to do an even better job in our compliance monitoring of product and workplace safety/ethics of factories, a point that is very important to FFG and its licensing partners, and increasingly to gamers."

Asked for closing thoughts on the deal — why this partner, why now — Petersen wrote: "From time to time over the last twenty years, we have experienced interest from outside parties — some very cursory, and some serious. None have balanced all the considerations as carefully and positively as Asmodee's offer. I believe the merger will be a tremendous positive for our staff, our partners, and most importantly, the players who want to see FFG's brand of game products prosper into the future."
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Mon Nov 17, 2014 6:00 pm
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