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To submit news, a designer diary, outrageous rumors, or other material, please contact BGG News editor W. Eric Martin via email – wericmartin AT gmail.com

Archive for Industry News

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Links: Funding, Broadcasting, and Designing Tabletop Games

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• In old news that I forgot to link to months ago, tabletop games raised nearly twice as much financial support on Kickstarter in 2015 as video games ($88 million to $46 million), according to SiliconANGLE, with ten percent of the tabletop funding coming from the Exploding Kittens campaign. An excerpt from the article:

Quote:
Perhaps one of the most interesting statistics to come Kickstarter’s report is the fact while tabletop games raised twice as much money as video games and were nearly three times as likely to be funded, the total number of backers was not significantly different between the two. Tabletop campaigns were backed by 522,061 people, whereas video game campaigns were backed by 480,382 people, a difference of only around 8 percent.

• MCM Central, organizer of MCM London Comic Con, plans to broadcast the 24-hour-a-day show Strategy: The Table Top Gaming Event from the Telford International Centre starting Thursday, August 25 and ending Sunday, August 28. From the press release: "Positioned after Gen Con Indy, Strategy provides an ideal opportunity for a European platform to showcase upcoming games and new releases. The show will feature board games, card games, miniatures games and roleplaying games — plus dedicated tournament and playing space." The show will be hosted by Rob Hooley, former organized play manager for Upper Deck International and former events manager for Konami Europe's Yu-Gi-Oh! card game.

• The River Falls Journal in Wisconsin profiled Booty designer Alexander Cobian in Dec. 2015, and it's the type of local press that designers should always seek out as it introduces the idea of modern games to people who aren't already in the know, in turn creating an audience for the very thing being featured.

• I ran across a post on Facebook in February 2016 that announced a new service for Spiel 2016 that will package and ship your games so that you can avoid playing luggage Tetris or make travel easier on yourself should you be wandering around Europe — but the link that I sent myself no longer works, so we'll just have to keep our eyes out for news of this service in the future.

• I've linked to many posts from designer Grant Rodiek recently, but he keeps writing things that stick with me, so here's another article from him, one that separates flavor from theme and boils theme down into two principles:

-----—The experience has a narrative arc.
-----—Player actions are indicative of the theme, and you do things in character.

(This article is #9 of Rodiek's The 54 Card Guild series in which he writes about creating a game that consists of at most 54 cards, while inviting readers to join the process and create something themselves, too.)

• Speaking of thematic, in Feb. 2016 the Israeli game blog Pundak published a long interview with Roberto Di Meglio of Ares Games. Di Meglio details the fall of Nexus, discusses the focus of Ares Games ("create beautiful thematic games"), and tells a few great stories, such as this detail about the design of War of the Ring:

Quote:
Another key feature of the game — the original system used to move the Fellowship — started as a "crazy idea" in one of the earliest brainstorming sessions, which was immediately embraced by all the three designers. We had a very tough challenge to achieve to provide a "realistic" experience. In the books, Sauron has no clue about the fact that the Free Peoples want to destroy the Ring; in the game, the Sauron player knows this perfectly well! How to deal with such a contradiction, and at the same time create a good simulation of the books?

This was achieved through the combination of the Hunt system, the Fellowship movement system, and the action dice system in general. Sauron cannot "attack" the Fellowship; he can just "hunt for the Ring" and decide how much attention is given to that, and how much attention to the war — allocating Hunt dice. But he is obsessed by the Ring — so he does not have perfect control of this choice. And the hidden movement system (somebody says it's the Schrödinger's Fellowship — you never know where it is, until you find it) makes the Fellowship somewhat "out of sight" for both players.

And regarding the tenth anniversary edition of War of the Ring, Di Meglio says, "Warriors of Middle-earth is going to have a painted edition. And we are planning a third — and final — expansion after that, and we want it to have a painted version, too. After that, I like the idea of getting everything together in one box — but maybe such a 'monster edition' will be impossible to create and sell, so that's far from a sure thing."

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Sat Mar 26, 2016 1:00 pm
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Links: Balancing Designs, Testing Art, and Staying True to Your Work

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• On League of Gamemakers, designer/publisher Jeff Siadek offers advice on the topic of balance in game design: "Our first task is to recognize that balance is unattainable. Our second task is to obtain it. (All right, we'll approximate it)." He then goes on to offer suggestions on how to do this.

ToyNews deputy editor Billy Langsworthy writes about designer credits on toys and games, highlighting the discrepancy that occurs between mainstream and hobby games:

Quote:
Pandemic, Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride all list their creators on the box, and sometimes even the title's artist, and it makes sense. The games are closer aligned to literature in detail and the audience for these sorts of games are passionate fans who, and I'm generalising here, are more invested in these titles than casual gamers are for something like Hungry Hungry Hippos.

• I love reading Brian Bankler's thoughts on games, such as his write-up/non-review of Food Chain Magnate. His write-ups are always engaging and personal, especially since he's not racing to cover everything in the world but instead simply digging into whatever hooks him the most.

• Designer James Ernest reminds game publishers to test their final art:

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This sounds obvious, but I think a lot of publishers don't do it. There are too many games out there where the art seems to interfere with playing the game. And sometimes you just can't see the problem on the computer screen.

• Designer Grant Rodiek explores how to go from that important first step — figuring out the core gist of your game concept — to staying true to that concept as the design progresses toward completion:

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Firstly, you need to understand what your game is trying to accomplish. I think far too many designers are hyper focused erroneously on mechanism or theme. Noting you wish to make a worker placement game isn't sufficient. This is a well-established formula. A far superior goal would be to focus on a unique worker placement experience, and to hypothesize how that will come about...

Many years ago, I was trying to make a deck-building game. That was my goal. Guess what? I accomplished precisely that, and relatively quickly, too! But I also realized I had made a lousy version of Ascension.

He details this process with his current work-in-progress Gaia:

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For Gaia, I wanted to make a game about pre-constructed decks that felt satisfying in a limited card pool. I wanted a head to head experience that had a strong spatial component, particularly leaning towards tiles...

For Gaia, I needed to slowly verify the following elements:

• A limited card pool can support a variety of play styles.
• The spatial element is integral to the experience.
• There is sufficient complexity to provide legs, but not so much that people cannot dig through the pieces.
• The victory condition drives interaction.
• As a player's deck is limited (9 cards), how you play your cards is compelling.
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Sat Mar 19, 2016 1:00 pm
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Links: Hippodice Winners for 2016, Stinging Criticism & Escape Room History

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• The winners of the 2016 Hippodice game design competition have been announced, with Fabio Lopiano taking first place for Calimala, Veli-Matti Saarinen second for Sapa Inca, and Sean Rumble third for The Ritual. While these names aren't household names, many of the designers who made it to the finals or the recommendations list are, such as Steding, Schlegel, Keller, Racky, Odendahl, Dan Keltner, and Wolfgang Lehmann. Overviews and pictures of the winning and finalist games are on the Hippodice website (PDF). Given that the judges all work for German game publishers, you will likely see one or more of these designs in print in the years ahead...

• Designer Scott Caputo encourages other game designers to remember that "your games are not you":

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[O]n some level, your worse critics are absolutely right. Unless they are insane, their anger was triggered by some real concern. If you dare, dive through the harsh language and polemic tone, and try to understand the root complaint.

In the case of my Secret Game X, I realized the players at the table didn't feel like they had enough strategic control in the game and they didn't like the lack of interaction with other players. If I thought back to my other playtests, I heard some of those same concerns before, though with nicer words. As the game wasn't published yet, I took on the challenge to answer these concerns and one year later, I can say I've made major changes to the game, adding new strategic choices I never considered. I will freely admit the current version is definitely better in every way.

• On the One Thousand XP blog, Chris Rowlands encourages game designers "to be shamelessly inspired", relaying his experience of re-using the dice-placement mechanism from Stefan Feld's Bora Bora in a design of his own:

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Whether or not Cordelia ends up using the Bora Bora dice mechanic, it was undoubtedly influenced by the mechanic. It was built to embrace the mechanic but will take those influences and become something unique on its own. I could never recreate Bora Bora. Even if I set out with the expressed purpose of remaking the game, there is a good chance I would simply fail at doing so. In the same way, I could have never created this version of Cordelia without being inspired by Bora Bora.

Scott Nicholson was one of the pioneers of using video to present board game reviews and rule explanations, and he's currently Professor of Game Design and Development at Wilfrid Laurier University in Brantford, Ontario and the director of the Brantford Game Network game lab (BGNlab). Over the past couple of years he's spent a lot of time researching escape rooms, and in March 2016 for Analog Game Studies, Nicholson compiled an overview of six precursors of escape rooms — such as point-and-click adventure games, adventure game shows, and live-action role-playing — that have fed the recent growth of escape rooms as mainstream entertainment.
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Tue Mar 15, 2016 6:00 pm
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Links: Researching the Past, Sabotaging the Present, and Pricing Games for a Successful Future

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Randy Hoyt from Foxtrot Games details why a game's MSRP should be five times the cost of the game and why violating this rule could jeopardize the future of your publishing efforts. An excerpt:

Quote:
If you have been around the publishing side of the board game industry for any time at all, you've probably heard that a game's MSRP should be five times (5×) its cost. Yes, five times! I heard this when I first started, but I couldn't really understand how that could be necessary. ("I'm not making board games to get rich or anything!") I still hear from many Kickstarter project creators who question this multiplier, but I finally have a good enough understanding of all the numbers to explain it. Here's how I would state the advice:

If you plan to sell your game through distribution and if you hope to sell out of your first printing and do a second one, your MSRP must be at least 5× your total landed costs.

In a second post, Hoyt examines this question from the point of view of someone running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the first printing of a design.

• If you want to risk burning hours at a time looking at games of the past — and you might given that you're on BoardGameGeek right now — I suggest you head to The GAmes Research Database (GARD), or even more specifically the publication database, then start checking out the gamenames to see what wacky stuff you can find. The Infants' Cabinet of Fishes, anyone? Credit for this find goes to designer Tony Boydell, who wrote in his BGG blog about an exhibition of vintage board games that subsequently led to this discovery.

• The more I look at sales numbers for games, the more I realize that most of the activity in the market takes place invisibly, far away from the watchful eyes of geeks. As another example of this, I point to Fréderic Moyersoen's Jan. 2016 post (which I've edited slightly) about sales in the Saboteur line:

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The past year 2015 was amazing for Saboteur. The annual sales have reached 300,000 copies per year, which is an increase of 50%. The total sales are now 1,400,000 copies. Saboteur Duel, the lastest version, is also selling good with 40,000 sold copies. The game is now also available in the Turkish language.

• I'm late to the party on covering this, but U.S. bookstore chain Barnes & Noble will hold "Casual Game Gatherings" each Thursday night in March 2016 in 56 B&N stores to introduce one "light strategy game" to newcomers and established gamers. From the press release: "Barnes & Noble store employees will be running demos for new players and providing a place for fans to play as well. Promotional items for four of the featured games will be given to those that participate in a demo of the featured game (while supplies last)." The remaining games to be featured in March are Splendor (March 17, with a playmat for participants), Codenames (March 24), and Lanterns: The Harvest Festival (March 31, with four promo tiles).

Which stores will be featuring these events? You can see the list in the press release for this event, which you can download from the Splendor: Playmat page.

• Designer Christian Strain suggests how "to put the right type of fun in your game" by detailing the pros and cons of things like the gamble, the sacrifice, the character, and so on. This assumes, of course, that you want to create a game strictly for fun, something Strain doesn't question in his opening lines: "Game designers approach games in their own way. The goal, however, is essentially the same: make something fun." Not necessarily, says I.
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Sat Mar 12, 2016 1:00 pm
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Links: Publisher Get-Togethers, Games in Mainstream News, and Bandsaw Catan

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• Okay, this is old news — something that took place while I was in Germany — but worth noting anyway: On January 29, 2016, Cool Mini Or Not announced that it had "secured US$5.3 million for its Series A Financing Round, in order to continue meteoric growth in the tabletop games space". To quote from the press release:

Quote:
CMON pioneered the use of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter to generate funding while creating demand for its games. With over US$20 million funded via Kickstarter thus far, CMON is one of the fastest growing companies in the industry.

"CMON's goal is to create great games," says Chern Ann Ng, CEO of CMON. "This capital gives us the ability to expand quickly by bringing in more talent, acquire established titles from other publishers, as well as pursuing licenses that have mass market appeal."

Further financial terms of this deal have not been disclosed.

The press release includes a short profile of Quantum Asset Management, a Singapore-based Registered Fund Management Company that "manages the fund investing in CMON".

• More old news, but let's keep working through the inbox: In December 2015, MAGE Company signed a deal with Ninja Division for the latter to be the North American publisher of the former's line of games, including 12 Realms, Raid & Trade​​, and Aether Captains​ (which had an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign in Feb. 2016 and which will likely be relaunched in April 2016).

• Another end-of-2015 item: Eye-Level Entertainment has closed its doors and is moving its remaining stock at closeout prices. ELE's Mark Anticole notes that by dropping the work involved with running a company, he and his brother Matthew hope to have more time to focus on game designs that they'll try to place with other publishers.

• Ontario-based toy and game manufacturer Spin Master has agreed to "purchase the library of board games owned by Editrice Giochi SRL, one of the oldest privately-held toy game companies in Italy", according to a press release via PR Newswire. An excerpt from the press release:

Quote:
The strategic acquisition enables Spin Master to expand its award-winning selection of games and licensed products in the Italian market with such well known games as Risiko, Italy's most popular strategic game, and Scarabeo, the leading word game in Italy...

With a rich legacy in the games category, the Editrice Giochi brand compliments Spin Master's recent acquisition of Cardinal Games , a US-based company whose large library of games and puzzles Spin Master has commenced marketing and selling across Europe.

• Jak Hutchcraft at VICE invites everyone to relax since "It's Official, Everyone: Board Games Are Cool Now". Phew! I was starting to get worried that someone would mock me for having fun in a socially unacceptable manner.

• As a counterpoint to all the kudos that modern games receive in mainstream publications, such as the item directly above, I present "The Five Board Games You Should Definitely Play as an Adult" from The Daily Utah Chronicle, which seems like a random list of game names pulled out of a hat.

• Can you make a Catan base game from a single 2x4? Yes, you can!

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Sat Mar 5, 2016 6:00 pm
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Links: The "Z" in WizKids Now Stands for Zev, and Hasbro and Mattel Talk Merger

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• On Feb. 3, 2016, WizKids Games announced that Zev Shlasinger will "head up its expanded Board Game operations".

Shlasinger, for those who don't know, founded Z-Man Games in 1999, and as noted in the WizKids press release he had an "eclectic publishing philosophy" that led to Z-Man releasing a wide variety of material over the years, from widely-regarded titles like Pandemic and Tales of the Arabian Nights to more obscure releases such as Castle Merchants, Gheos, and (one of my favorite light card games of all time) Escalation. He was willing to take chances by throwing lots of titles at store shelves all at once to see what stuck, and while that led to many titles disappearing under the waters with little fanfare, he also gets credit for introducing the classic Japanese games Fairy Tale and R-Eco to the U.S. market.

Shlasinger sold Z-Man Games to Sophie Gravel, owner of Filosofia Editions, in 2011, but he continued to work for Z-Man — which over time became a brand within the larger F2Z Entertainment — as someone who would acquire and develop new titles. Shlasinger left F2Z in early 2016.

At Spielwarenmesse 2016, I spoke with Gravel about Shlasinger and F2Z Entertainment parting ways. In general, as the years progressed his desire to publish all types of games all at once all the time contrasted with her more reserved approach to long-term development of individual games and game lines. Shlasinger wanted to do more along the lines of what he had done in the past, so in the end they decided to part ways. To quote from the press release:

Quote:
"I plan to continue to bring original and unique ideas to market with the help of the WizKids team," said Shlasinger. "They are very serious about building a board game business and are not afraid of good, fun, original ideas. In addition, WizKids has an amazing portfolio of licensed properties to enhance their board game presence in the industry. I think our combined qualities make a formidable team."

BloombergBusiness reports that Hasbro and Mattel "have held talks about merging". In more detail: "Hasbro approached Mattel about a potential transaction late last year [2015], and the companies have held on-and-off-again talks about a deal, the people said, asking not to be identified as the situation isn’t public."

Okay, that's still not much detail. Any deal might be subject to antitrust review given that "If combined, the companies would have probably about one-quarter of the market in the U.S." There's no truth to the rumor that I just started that the combined company would be called HazMat.

• Following the (possible) ruling of chess being forbidden by Islam, we have a report of 32 "foreigners" being busted for playing bridge in Bangkok. As noted by the Bangkok Post:

Quote:
Finding score books, but no money, police initially speculated that the foreigners were gambling, but transferring cash later between bank accounts. Bridge club officials tried in vain to explain bridge is played only for points...

While they found no financial evidence of gambling, police charged the group with possessing more than 120 playing cards that were not produced by the Excise Department, in violation of Section 8 of the Playing Cards Act of 1943.
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Sat Feb 6, 2016 8:38 pm
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Links: Selling Yourself to Gamers and Publishers, and Knowing When to Kill a Game Design

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• On his Hyperbole! blog, designer Grant Rodiek suggests how game designers can sell themselves — and by extension their games — at conventions:

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When I play my games with people at a convention, I do my best to break down walls as quickly as possible. I immediately start playfully talking shit (pardon my crudeness), I poke fun at people, I crack jokes, and I highlight the cool things happening in the game.

Many publishers say you should let the demoers win, and there's value to this, but I've often found value in executing high level strategies or subtle combos, then explaining it so that people could see how cool the game CAN be beyond that learner's game.

• Designer/publisher Jason Kotarski of Green Couch Games tackles the same topic from the reverse angle, that of designers trying to sell a game — and by extension themselves — to a publisher:

Quote:
As an independent publisher in the tabletop gaming space, I'd much rather work with calm, collected people that I feel like I can be friends with than needy, draining, smelly geniuses. I want to spend time making something I love with people I actually like being around.

Andrei Novac of NSKN Games lists reasons why he killed "one of my beloved projects", W: The Board Game, which includes this gem: "Asking our play-testers if they'd buy the game, less than half said yes while 90% said they'd love to play it." Seems like a decent question to ask all playtesters, although what would move the needle from "play" to "buy" will likely differ from person to person.

• Following Gen Con 2015, Eric Teo from Push Your Luck Podcast had a nice write-up of "Five New Board Games You Should Play" on Kotaku, and I'm only linking to that article just now.

• More recently, Teo has presented Pandemic Legacy to the Kotaku audience: "Pandemic Legacy is all about the decisions that you have made during the game. Etching the results of these decisions into the game reminds you of what you have done. It will feel like you are crafting a game experience that is uniquely yours."

• At Spiel 2015, German podcasters/reviewers Hunter & Cron invited me to appear on their round-up of designers, publishers and ne'er-do-wells, and thankfully they did not require me to speak in German or else I would have been restricted to saying things like "Ich bin eine Ente" or "Die Wasser braucht eine Tasse". What did I say instead? Hopefully things more intelligible than that...

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Sat Jan 30, 2016 1:00 pm
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Links: Asmodee and Z-Man Redistribute Distributors, Nature Explores Evolution & Computers Learn Go

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• Continuing its acquisitive habits, the Asmodee Group announced on January 27, 2016 that it has purchased Bergsala Enigma, a board game and collectible card game distributor in Scandinavia and the Netherlands. A press release from Asmodee notes that "The company will operate from now on under its original name, Enigma Distribution." An excerpt from the press release:

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The synergy between Asmodee's catalogue and Enigma Distribution's operations in the Nordics and in the Netherlands is a great opportunity to bring new games, from the Asmodee Group studios and from all Asmodee partners to these markets.

Thanks to this operation, Asmodee will have a direct access to two of the most important game markets in Europe of a combined size of €240M.

• In other distribution news, F2Z Entertainment has stated that as of March 15, 2016, Z-Man Games will no longer be distributed in the U.S. exclusively by Alliance Game Distributors, but will instead also be available from ACD Distribution,GTS Distribution, Peachstate Hobby Distribution, and Southern Hobby Supply. F2Z brands Pretzel Games and Plaid Hat Games were already available from multiple distributors in the U.S., and this will continue to be the case.

• In the Dec. 10, 2015 issue of the science journal Nature, Stuart West discusses three games based on evolution: Evolution from North Star Games, Evolution: Random Mutations from Rightgames, and Terra Evolution: Tree of Life from Mindwarrior Games. An excerpt on Evolution:

Quote:
The gameplay is simple to grasp, but can get very tactical. In particular, as with real evolution, the best strategy depends on what everyone else is doing. If there are a lot of herbivores, there is an advantage to being an efficient forager, with traits such as cooperation, but lots of herbivores also means a big advantage to becoming a carnivore. When carnivores appear, herbivores need defences, which carnivores try to get around — and so on, in a co-evolutionary dance.

• Remember all those articles stating that computers have beaten Chess but haven't come close to being on par with masters of Go? Well, that's no longer the case thanks to Google DeepMind and its computer program AlphaGo, which bested European Go champion Fan Hui in five straight games. As Will Knight explains on MIT Technology Review:

Quote:
The researchers built AlphaGo using an extremely popular and successful machine-learning method known as deep learning combined with another simulation technique for modeling potential moves. Deep learning involves training a large simulated neural network to respond to patterns in data. It has proven very useful for image and audio processing, and many large tech companies are exploring new ways to apply the technique.

Two deep-learning networks were used in AlphaGo: one network learned to predict the next move, and the other learned to predict the outcome from different arrangements on the board. The two networks were combined using a more conventional AI algorithm to look ahead in the game for possible moves.

• Speaking of chess, in Saudi Arabia Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh "has ruled that chess is forbidden in Islam, saying it encourages gambling and is a waste of time", according to The Guardian. That said, the article notes that chess probably isn't really forbidden:

Quote:
It is unlikely that Sheikh's ruling will be enforced, and more plausible that chess will be relegated to the status of other minor vices, such as music, which many in the clerical establishment frown upon. Moreover, since the ruling was in response to a specific question, it was probably meant as an advisory opinion rather than a formal edict.

Okay, well, nevermind then...
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Wed Jan 27, 2016 9:46 pm
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Links: Car Wars Revs Up, Toronto Cafés Serve Even More Games & Cards Against Humanity Gives People Time Off Work

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• For the last three years, the people behind Cards Against Humanity have run one or more holiday promotions in which they sell...something (or sometimes nothing), then use the money to do all sorts of unexpected things. For 2015, they used part of the money raised from sales of Eight Sensible Gifts for Hannukah to give the employees at its printer a week's paid vacation:

Quote:
Our printer in China has grown with us from a small business to a huge operation, and it's important to us to go above and beyond our obligation to the workers who make our game. While our factory provides excellent wages and working conditions, Chinese working conditions are generally more strict. This year, we used the money from one day of our holiday promotion to give our workers something very uncommon in China: a paid vacation.

The printer didn't have any formal procedures for paid vacations, so we bought 100% of the factory's capacity and paid them to produce nothing for a week, giving the people who make Cards Against Humanity an unexpected chance to visit family or do whatever they pleased.

CAH posted pics and notes from the employees that show what some of them did with their time off.

(While not holiday related, CAH's Max Temkin has also sent a small gift to the militia group occupying the wildlife refuge in Oregon: a 55-gallon drum of lubricant.)

• Seven employees of television station WTOL in Toledo, Ohio also find themselves with time on their hands courtesy of Cards Against Humanity, but that's because they were fired for playing CAH "while at the station on New Year's weekend". As for why they were fired:

Quote:
Station officials declined to comment on the firings other than to release this statement from station vice-president and general manager Brian Lorenzen:

"WTOL takes seriously its employment policies and our obligation to provide an environment in which all employees are treated with respect and dignity. As a result, WTOL had to take personnel actions this week related to several employees. Due to personnel matters being involved, we cannot comment further."

Steve Jackson Games has published its 2015 stakeholders report, and it's always an interesting read, given the inside look at one of the largest hobby game publishers in the U.S., and this time it also provides hints of future releases, namely the intention to ship Car Wars Sixth Edition "to distributors before Black Friday" (a.k.a. the Friday following Thanksgiving in the U.S.), "which means the game must go to print before July 2", which means that if all goes according to plan the Car Wars Kickstarter project won't be too far in the future. (SJG's Phil Reed has been posting sneak peeks at the new Car Wars in his BGG blog.)

• Designer Evan Derrick has joined Van Ryder Games in the role of Vice President and Creative Director. Derrick has already overseen the graphic design of two 2016 releases from Van Ryder — Salvation Road and Saloon Tycoon — and his next design will be announced by Van Ryder later in 2016.

• Dice & Mystics — a board game group in Bochum, Germany (next to Essen) that has a BGG guild — plans to open its gaming room in Bochum on Saturday, October 15, 2016 for those who want dedicated space to play since Spiel is more of a looking convention than a playing convention. Says Alexander Urbanek, "We can provide 18 tables with 8 seats per table. There are delivery services and takeaways and a kiosk nearby." Space is free, but appointments should be made given the limited space available. Details are in the "more information" section of the BGG guild. Start planning for Spiel 2016 now!

• Dagmar and Ferdinand de Cassan, editors of WIN The Games Journal, have released issue 485 — its October 2015 issue covering all the games of Spiel 2015 — and this 164-page beast contains "1338 new games by 929 designers from 448 publishers, illustrated with 1308 pictures"! This PDF from the Austrian Games Museum is free for all. (Ferdinand de Cassan has been ill, so the editors have been playing catch up with WIN for some time. I have no such excuse.)

• If you attended BGG.CON 2015, note that Hyatt has now disclosed that approximately 250 of its properties were infected with malware, and "[t]he investigation identified signs of unauthorized access to payment card data from cards used onsite at certain Hyatt-managed locations, primarily at restaurants, between August 13, 2015 and December 8, 2015". The Hyatt Regency at the DFW International Airport, where BGG.CON takes place, is one of the hotels affected by the malware. Check your credit card statements!

The Toronto Star highlights the city's role as "king of board-game café culture in North America". An excerpt:

Quote:
Soon after it opened in 2010, Snakes & Lattes began hosting monthly gatherings — often into the a.m. — for designers to sound-board ideas and test-play their fledgling games. It became a hive of ingenuity for hobbyists.

Designers such as Stephen Sauer and Daryl Andrews workshop their products in bull sessions that have helped yield two games now on the market, The Walled City and Caffeine Rush. The duo expects the release of half a dozen more in the next couple of years.

"You're seeing a lot more Canadian-designed games on shelves," says Sauer, who lives around the corner with his partner and two children.

More than anything, it's Toronto's cafés — none more than six years old — that incubate fresh ideas, sow innovation and feed the creativity mill for board-game designers, says designer Sen Foong-Lim.

"There's this critical mass of hardcore gamers, casual players and designers there, and now they have all these dynamic venues," says Foong-Lim, who is based in London, Ont., but is a frequent TO gamer.
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Asmodee Acquires English-Language Rights to Catan; Mayfair Games to Continue on Its Own

W. Eric Martin
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Since Asmodee's acquisitions of Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight Games in 2014 (covered here and here), many people have joked about what Asmodee will acquire next.

Today we have that answer: Catan — more specifically, "worldwide English-language publishing, commercial and brand rights to Catan", with Asmodee acquiring those rights from U.S. publisher Mayfair Games. (Steve Horvath, CMO at Asmodee North America (ANA), has stated to me that this deal does not affect the license for Catan in any other language or with any other publisher.) Mayfair Games will continue to distribute Catan during an as-yet-publicly-undefined transitional period, after which Asmodee North America (ANA) will take over distribution of Catan within the U.S. while its partners will handle distribution outside of that country.

The English-language rights to Catan will be handled by the newly created Catan Studio, which Asmodee North America describes as an "independent, flexible and creative unit within the Asmodee Group [that] is dedicated to the development of a broad array of Catan content as well as growing, supporting, and nurturing the Catan community". To quote from the press release: "Led by Peter C. Fenlon, former CEO of Mayfair Games, this experienced and talented studio team will work closely with Catan GmbH and their partners to grow a vibrant global brand." (Catan GmbH, based in Germany, "specializes in the development and licensing of entertainment concepts", with Catan designer Klaus Teuber and his sons Guido and Benjamin Teuber all serving as Managing Directors.)

Why does the Asmodee Group want to acquire the rights to Catan? For anyone familiar with modern games, the answer should be obvious, but let's quote from the press release to put some numbers into the conversation:

Quote:
The award-winning Catan board game, invented in 1995 by Klaus Teuber, has sold more than 23 million copies (including expansions) and is translated into 35 languages. For 20 years, this game has been bringing modernity to the classic gameplays through developing innovative game experiences and social interactions. This long-lasting success enables Catan to be recognized as an internationally established brand, with English-language today representing over 50% of the worldwide yearly sales.

In line with the recent acquisitions of Dobble/Spot-It! and the board game publishers Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight Games, this acquisition is a principal part of Asmodee's strategy of expanding its intellectual property portfolio and international presence to continuously offer the most innovative and leading games to the international gaming community and broaden access to games to the largest possible audience. Over the last two years, the Asmodee Group has accelerated its international growth, now representing 67% of the group sales (of which more than 30% in the US), versus 48% in 2013.

Mayfair's first edition
To get a better understanding of how this deal came about, I asked Peter Fenlon, now CEO of Catan Studio, about Catan's standing within Mayfair Games, specifically whether a Catan team operated independently within Mayfair or whether it was integrated with all other aspects of the company. "Catan was the best-selling brand in the Mayfair portfolio, but it didn't become especially distinct until 2007", he wrote. "It was then that I took over as CEO; we reorganized, Larry Roznai [currently Mayfair's President and COO], Bob Carty [Vice President of Sales and Marketing], and Coleman Charlton [game developer and editor] became empowered, and we refocused. Soon, we released the fourth English-language edition and began devoting dedicated resources and programs to Catan brand development. The brand gradually took off, and we remained focused on its success. Our Virginia-based game development team, our Florida-based sales and marketing staff, and our Illinois-based operations crew all came to understand Catan's special standing and value. Everyone helped build the brand as they labored to strengthen Mayfair. Nonetheless, Catan was never fully independent."

As for how Catan came to be part of the Asmodee Group and who approached whom, Fenlon wrote: "Many larger firms sought Catan, especially in recent years. All made multiple inquiries. Many friends sought us out. Still, we felt the brand needed careful and steady development, for we always felt Catan could become an enduring global brand. We believed that it would ultimately become the world's preeminent analog game brand. Once we focused on Catan, that became even more evident. It also became clear that a traditional toy company or brand development house, despite great resources, might not understand Catan's special value. They might not act with the patience and care necessary to build and nurture Catan's great community. Nor would they understand the need to treat it as a 'premium brand', not just a mass market fad."

He continued: "Stéphane Carville, Asmodee's CEO, understood these challenges. He approached us in 2014, learned what we wanted, and came back to us last spring [2015] with a very creative and serious offer. His mission to build the world's strongest 'game company' — as opposed to toy company — excited us. With an opening from our mutual friend, Luc Mertens, Stéphane flew to Charlottesville, Virginia on short notice in late spring 2015. There, he sold Coleman Charlton (Mayfair's Product Director) and I on his vision. His vision complemented and underpinned ours. Soon, our other partners at Mayfair (Larry, Bob et al) and Catan GmbH bought into the proposal."

Many Mayfair employees will transition into new positions at Catan Studio: Charlton will become Catan Studio's Managing Editor, Mayfair Art Director Morgan Dontanville will be Catan Studio's Chief Creative Officer, former Catan brand manager Ron Magin is now Chief Operating Officer for the Catan Studio, and Bob Carty will serve as special marketing and merchandise counsel.

In a separate press release, Mayfair Games (MGI) noted that Larry Roznai will remain as President while also assuming the CEO position held by Fenlon, while Alex Yeager will become Vice President of Acquisition and Development to handle the former responsibilities of Charlton. In addition to distributing Catan during its transition to ANA, Mayfair Games will continue to promote "the Catan brand including but not limited to the continued coordination of the 2016 Catan tournament schedule, Catan Day 2016 and the 2016 Catan World Championship". To add more details from the Mayfair press release:

Quote:
MGI continues to retain a controlling interest in Lookout GmbH and Mayfair GmbH, providing a wide range of games worldwide, and distribution to the European marketplace. These efforts will be expanded with a new focus on multi-language and international products.

MGI is also pleased to announce the acquisition of several Martin Wallace games as permanent additions to the Mayfair game library. Those titles include Steam, Aeroplanes, Automobile, Test of Fire and Clash of Wills.

More from Fenlon about why Catan is leaving Mayfair Games: "Asmodee could never have sold us on the idea of joining Catan to their portfolio if we didn't believe that: (1) they were a content-driven company determined to create and support truly great games; (2) they understood and supported the diverse and growing game community; (3) they understood that event- and story-based marketing need not be cynical, and in fact should offer its own substantive entertainment value; (4) they embraced all levels of the game community and game trade as game consumers; (5) they understood that service-oriented brick-and-mortar retailers had a special value as forums, community centers, etc.; and (6) that each game, each line, each brand offered unique value. This balanced perspective, this diverse perspective, this commitment to great content is a very healthy philosophy. It will help us build and support a healthier and happier game community — and thus market."

As for what will change with Catan as a result of this deal, Fenlon stressed that people will continue to see all that they've seen in the past, but in all likelihood more people will be seeing it: "The Asmodee Group provides Catan with a host of additional resources. In addition to the capital necessary to carefully and deliberately grow the Catan content portfolio and reach new markets in a steady, deliberate, and fair fashion, Asmodee offers Catan access to a strong, diverse, and global operations program and a very talented international team. While we will operate as an independent studio, we'll be able to tap into a lot of new perspectives, thoughtful experiences, and diverse perspectives. Most importantly, we'll be part of a group that understands that we need to think globally and act locally." (As mentioned above, Asmodee North America will take over distribution of Catan at some point. Mayfair Games currently has an exclusive distribution deal with Alliance Game Distributors. I asked whether distribution will expand to ANA's five authorized U.S. distributors, as detailed in this BGG News post, and Horvath said that no distribution details are being made public during the transition period.)

As for the look of the game itself, Mayfair Games has historically done its own thing regarding the Catan games, whereas many of the other licensees have adopted the look and design of the KOSMOS edition, but with the local language replacing the German text. Will this practice continue with the formation of Catan Studio? Wrote Fenlon: "First, please understand that, especially in recent years, Catan GmbH, Mayfair, and Kosmos have worked as a team to develop the Catan brand and its products. Mayfair and Kosmos varied components and presentation to suit their markets. As we developed the latest 'global' edition of Catan — the fifth English-language edition — we worked to improve and synergize the brand. This team approach will continue and no doubt improve as we move forward. All partners within the Catan family should participate more, not less. Like the whole Catan team, Catan Studios' approach to product creation, manufacturing, etc. will remain rooted in the idea that we won't make any change unless it is a substantive improvement. We will also remain committed to the fact that Catan is a values-based brand. Those values — curiosity, cooperation through trade, indirect competition, creative building, and fun — are anything but destructive. We'll never manufacture in a way that harms our environment or the people that labor within it." (Mayfair Games currently manufactures its titles within the U.S.)

Fenlon added: "Catan Studio carries Mayfair's entire mandate, especially content, into the Asmodee Group. In fact, our mandate grows. We'll be working with Catan GmbH, our fellow Catan licensees like Kosmos and USM, to carefully create a host of great new game, merchandise, and story programs. We'll continue to support the Catan World Championship, other tournaments, the Big Game, and other event-based programs that are as much fun products as they are entertaining marketing. There will be new games, scenarios, variants, and special editions, but we'll continue to take great care to avoid diluting the Catan experience. Every Catan game, every product, every event should be substantively fun and worthy."
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