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Links: Co-operative Designs, Small-Scale Card Production & Games for Dates

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• Designers Dave Chalker and Daniel Solis have both blogged about their publishing experience with DriveThruCards, a branch of OneBookShelf that allows designers to directly sell print-and-play and print-on-demand card games. Of Criminals, a Kory Heath design from 2007 that Chalker reworked for DTC, he writes, "To date, I’ve sold 39 copies total, with no sign of it picking back up" – which leads to this lesson learned: "[S]elf-promotion through my own channels can only go so far. I had incorrectly assumed that since I had a decent number of Twitter followers and elsewhere that I'd be able to translate that into a decent number of sales. Let's just say I don’t have 1,000 true fans quite yet."

Solis, who made an experimental move to full-time game designer in early 2013, has a more positive take on the DTC experience after 59 sales of Koi Pond in two months:

Quote:
Maybe I'm just too indie at heart, but I'm very happy with these numbers. I went into this experiment with a brand new game, an inordinately fast dev cycle, modest potential audience, and zero-to-minimal expenses. My investment of time and capital into this project has been quite met, I think. Anything more will contribute to further self-published card games.

Having the experience of Kickstarting three projects already, DriveThruCards offers me an appealing alternative. Yes, I have fewer sales over a longer period of time, but I also don't have the stress of stretch goals, income taxes, and fulfillment hassles occupying my time for the next year. Instead, I can keep blowing on this little ember until it lights another fire.

(Disclosure: Solis sent me a complimentary/press copy of Koi Pond after I playtested the game a few times and sent me a load of comments and suggestions. Still need to get it to the table again...)

• On his Mechanics & Meeples blog, Shannon Appelcline has a long interview with designer Matt Leacock about his experience designing co-operative games, namely Pandemic, Forbidden Island, and Forbidden Desert. An excerpt:

Quote:
The primary challenge is keeping the players in a good state of flow. That is, keeping them in that sweet spot where they're doing creative problem-solving that is neither boring and tedious (when the game isn't hard enough) nor overcome with anxiety or helplessness (when the game is too hard). I've found that players get the most enjoyment when things are just out of reach — that they can almost, very nearly, taste victory each time. And of course, you've got to let them win some from time to time or the game will be declared broken. So that said, I generally hope the players will lose their first round or two of the game but — here's the important part — they must both blame themselves and have some good ideas for what they'll try next.

And I especially appreciate this bit of advice from Leacock:

Quote:
It's hard to overemphasize this: Don't tell the player how to win. I roll my eyes when I see "helpful hints" in rules. You're stealing the game from the player! That's a good tip for teaching, too. Present an environment where the player or student is able to succeed or learn given the environment you've constructed for them. Telling a player how to win a cooperative game is like telling a student how to solve a problem and then telling them to solve it for you.

• In The New York Times, Andrew Adam Newman writes about dating site Match.com's efforts to facilitate meetings by "holding what it is calling Stir game nights, where singles gather at bars and restaurants to play games like Bananagrams, a word game, and Spontuneous, a music game. The company will present 30 events through the fall in its top 25 most popular markets." An excerpt:

Quote:
A game night held in December [2012] in Chicago sold out quickly, prompting [Luke Zaientz, vice president for events at Match.com] to attend the American International Toy Fair held in New York in February to meet with game makers about forging partnerships.

The goal was to find games that could be learned quickly and enjoyed in short rounds, which ruled out long-lasting games like Monopoly and Risk. The coming events will feature about a dozen different games made by six companies, which have agreed to supply games to be played and given away.

(HT: Tom McCorry)

• We've seen Settlers of Catan pizza, Catan cookies, Catan cupcakes. Have we seen Catan breakfast yet? If not, now's your chance:


(HT: Dale Yu via I Heart Chaos)
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Fri Jun 28, 2013 6:00 am
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Links: Nominees for the 2013 Diana Jones Award, Winners of the 2013 Origins Awards & Loss Aversion in Games

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• The shortlist for the 2013 Diana Jones Award, an "annual award created to publicly acknowledge excellence in gaming", has been announced, and it contains the usual mix of things that one wouldn't normally categorize in a single bucket. The nominees are:

-----Dog Eat Dog, a role-playing game from designer Liam Burke and publisher Liwanag Press
-----Love Letter, a card game from designer Seiji Kanai and publisher AEG
-----Metatopia, a game convention in Morristown, New Jersey organized by Double Exposure, Inc.
-----Playing at the World, a book from Jon Peterson and Unreason Press that "convincingly traces the roots of D&D's core mechanics all the way back to chess, its tropes through fantasy fiction and mythology, and its community back to the wargaming societies that formed at the turn of the last century."
-----TableTop, a web series hosted by actor Wil Wheaton that features a different game in each episode

The winner of the 2013 Diana Jones Award will be announced on August 14, 2013, the day before the Gen Con games convention opens.

• On Quartz, Leo Mirani summarizes the Glory to Rome black box Kickstarter saga under the subject line "Cautionary Tale" and the headline "This man lost his house because his Kickstarter was too successful". Well, sort of – the real culprit, as Cambridge Games Factory's Ed Carter points out himself in the article, is this phrase that appears in numerous places throughout the KS project: "Free shipping to any game store (anywhere in the world!)."

• Designer Grant Rodiek is collecting information on prototypes that designers will be bringing to Gen Con 2013 in August in order "to give the community an idea of what to experience". Shoot him an email if you plan to have a design on display or available for testing.

• Shannon Appelcline has started a new series on his Mechanics & Meeples blog titled "Psychology of Gaming" with the first article focusing on loss aversion and highlight designs from Reiner Knizia and Stefan Feld. I've recently learned both Rialto and Bruges from Feld, and both continue Feld's habit of using loss aversion in game design, with Rialto using a niggling minor penalty in only one aspect of the game while Bruges sics five threats on you, each of which carries a potentially harsh result. The man knows how to get players to jump...

• The 39th Annual Origins Awards were announced on June 15, 2013 while the 2013 Origins Game Fair convention was still underway. The winners in various categories are:

-----• Best Board Game – Lords of Waterdeep, by Peter Lee and Rodney Thompson (Wizards of the Coast
-----• Best Historical Board Game – Samurai Battles, by Richard Borg and Konstantin Krivenko (Zvezda)
-----• Best Traditional Card Game – Doctor Who: The Card Game, by Martin Wallace (Cubicle 7 Entertainment)
-----• Best Family, Party or Children's Game – Quarriors!, by Michael Elliot and Eric M. Lang (WizKids Games)
-----• Best Collectible Card Game – Legend of the 5 Rings: Embers of War (AEG)
-----• Best Roleplaying Game – Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Basic Game (Margaret Weis Productions, Ltd.)

While Lords of Waterdeep and Samurai Battles both had expansions that debuted at Origins 2013 – respectively, Scoundrels of Skullport and Ninja Attack – and Quarriors! has several expansions on the market with more to come, fans of the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Basic Game have bittersweet news from Margaret Weis Productions, namely that the publisher announced in April 2013 that it won't produce anything else for the line following less than hoped for sales.
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Wed Jun 19, 2013 6:00 am
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Links: Computed Card Games, Lines for Leisure Items & A Game Good Enough to Eat?

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• In early May 2013, I included Néstor Romeral Andrés's open-ended game system The Mystique Deck in a crowdfunding round-up, quoting him as saying, "I'm planning to run a design contest once the first print run is ready, and also generate future games with a computer system..." Well, turns out someone else is already working that whole "feed game rules to a computer and have it generate new games" thing. In a May 2013 issue of New Scientist, Douglas Heaven writes about efforts by Julian Togelius and colleagues at the IT University of Copenhagen to create new card games by taking apart and rebuilding other games. From the article:

Quote:
The researchers first had to come up with a way to describe rules that were general enough to capture games as diverse as blackjack and poker – and all the possible variations in between – while including number of players, actions taken each round, and winning conditions. The system searches through these possible variations, exploring sets of rules to see if they lead to a playable game. It chucks out games that end too quickly or lead to dead ends. It comes down to balance, says Togelius, who will present the work at the Foundations of Digital Games conference in Chania, Crete, later this month.

The New Scientist article includes rules for a computer-generated game titled "Pay the Price".

• Simon Schwanhaeusser from Korea Boardgames has posted details of that publisher's second game design competition, noting that two of the three finalists in the previous competition are being produced for release in Q4 2013. Head to this BGG thread for details on the 2013 KBG Design Contest.

• The Portland Tribune profiles a Beaverton, Oregon couple – Kyle Engen and Carol Mathewson – who have started the Interactive Museum of Gaming and Puzzlery, a non-profit board and card game museum "[f]eaturing a collection of more than 1,600 games, ongoing exhibits related to gaming culture and history, and a play area where members can try an old favorite or previously unexplored game". Hmm, I have the games already and folks sometimes force their way into my garage to look at them. I can haz non-profit status?

• Designer Tony Boydell shows how to cook up a copy of Snowdonia. (Note: I said "cook up" not cock-up – that's a different blog post completely...)

• On May 1, 2013, The Wall Street Journal published an article by Daniel Michaels on the Polish board game Kolejka, a.k.a. Queue from designer Karol Madaj. (HT: Jason Matthews) Two excerpts:

Quote:
Queue, introduced in 2011, paradoxically proved to be so popular that buyers had to stand in line for hours for one and a black market emerged.

It also inspired a competing game about frustrations of Polish shopping during the 1980s, called You Cut the Line, Sir. Publisher Jaroslaw Basalyga says his goal was to create a game "whose climate and emotions convey the absurdity of those years".

Quote:
[Konrad] Piasecki says his daughters, age 12 and 17, have no problem grasping Queue's convoluted rules. "They can understand the game, but it's harder for them to understand the world of this game," he says.

Unintentionally, the game is a living example of that world because it is produced by the Polish government. The Institute of National Remembrance, a state body created in 1998 to preserve memories of Poles' struggles against Nazism and communism, gets money to produce Queue from the national budget. Overwhelming demand hasn't induced bureaucrats to fund a production increase.

"It's like under socialism," quips Andrzej Zawistowski, the institute's director of public education, who is pushing for a market-based approach. One queue for Queue formed roughly four days before sales began, he said.

The shortage of the game about shortages has even prompted angry letters from consumers for whom it brought back bad memories, says Mr. Madaj. "Some people didn't appreciate the irony."
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Thu Jun 6, 2013 6:00 am
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Links: Kickstarting Plastic, Battling Trekkies, Playtesting Pandas & Germanizing Classic Children Games

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• ICv2 has posted a list of the "Top ten tabletop game Kickstarters", including stats on each for the number of backers and the dollar amount per backer. Kingdom Death: Monster, for example, took in more than $370 per backer, while Reaper Miniatures' Dark Heaven: Bones took in "only" $193 per backer, but more than made up that difference by having 17,744 backers compared to KD:M's total of 5,410.

On his blog, Matt Forbeck explores why those projects were able to take in what they did, and the short answer is one that people would likely be able to determine on their own: All ten games feature plastic miniatures. More specifically, says Forbeck, "It has to do with the economies of scale of plastic miniatures." In more detail:

Quote:
Casting metal miniatures is a labor-intensive process that involves pouring molten metal into a spin-casting machine that distributes the metal into hollow cavities cut into a vulcanized rubber mold. The molds wear out after a while, and you have to make new ones. The metal's a little pricey, but the rubber's cheap, so it’s a great way to make miniatures if you're making a few thousand or less.

However, if you can sell more than that many miniatures, you should make your figures in plastic instead, as the molds for these last virtually forever and the figures only cost pennies apiece. The trouble is that the injection molds for plastic figures are cut from steel, a process that costs thousands of dollars per figure rather than dozens. A small company can't afford to make hundreds of these molds at once, at least not without a huge cash influx.

And that's where Kickstarter comes in. If you can get your backers to pledge enough money to cover your steel molds, then you can give them lots of figures for their money. Better yet, if you bust through your initial funding goals, you can set stretch goals for new figures and toss them into the mix for either little cost (as low-cost add-on options) or bundle them in for free.

• U.S. publisher WizKids Games is holding a six-month-long "organized play event" for its HeroClix miniatures game line Star Trek: Attack Wing titled "The Dominion War". Here's a description of the setting and why players might want to participate:

Quote:
In "The Dominion War", the Alpha Quadrant is in a time of struggle and chaos. The Jem'Hadar and the Breen Confederacy have established a presence for themselves in the Alpha Quadrant, and with the help of their recent allies, the Cardassian Union, they plan to conquer everything in their path. This engagement proves to be the most devastating ever fought in the Alpha Quadrant.

In the Organized Play program, stores carrying Star Trek: Attack Wing will host tournaments for players to challenge each other for dominance of the Alpha Quadrant. Players will collect a participation prize each month as well as compete for a new playable ship that will be offered only via the Organized Play events. The player with the best record over the six-month event will be bestowed the title of Fleet Admiral and awarded a special grand prize at the end of the program.

As noted in a May 19, 2013 BGGN post, WizKids Games plans to debut Star Trek: Attack Wing and its first eight expansion packs at Gen Con 2013 in August, holding tournaments at the time so that players can compete on fresh, unbroken ground.

• Designer/publisher David Sirlin will be hosting a tournament of his own at the Fantasy Strike Expo, a convention run by his own Sirlin Games near San Francisco that will be held June 7-9, 2013. Sirlin notes that in addition to holding tournaments for Yomi, Puzzle Strike, and Flash Duel (along with the video games Street Fighter HD Remix and Puzzle Fighter HD Remix, he'll hold demo games with the beta versions of his upcoming games Pandante ("a panda-themed gambling game based on lying") and Codex: Card-Time Strategy. Says Sirlin, "I've been working on Codex off and on for over ten years now and polishing its current form for about 2.5 years. It's my (non-collectable) answer to Magic: the Gathering, and it's the first time that the general public is going to be able to play it!" Sirlin has posted details about the event in the Fantasy Strike Expo forums.

• U.S.-based ACD Distribution has announced an exclusive distribution agreement with Polish publisher REBEL.pl in which ACD will serve as the sole distributor of REBEL.pl in the United States.

• Dan Hopper and Matthew K! at College Humor present a pictorial titled "If Your Childhood Board Games Were German". One example:

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Sat May 25, 2013 6:00 am
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Nominees for the 2013 Spiel, Kennerspiel and Kinderspiel des Jahres

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The nominees for the Spiel des Jahres – Germany's "game of the year" award and the most influential award in boardgaming – were announced today by the jury of ten German journalists, and the three nominees are:

-----Augustus, by Paolo Mori (Hurrican)
-----Hanabi, by Antoine Bauza (ABACUSSPIELE)
-----Qwixx, by Stefen Benndorf (Nürnberger-Spielkarten-Verlag)


The goal of the Spiel des Jahres, as described on the SdJ website, is to "promote games as a cultural asset to encourage gaming amongst family and friends". Are these the best choices to make that happen? At least ten people think so, but personally I'm stunned as I thought Inka and Markus Brand's La Boca was a shoe-in and have been saying so for months. Instead the list includes two smaller games – Hanabi and Qwixx – and only one game of the more traditional size. I had initially included Hanabi on my list of nominees, but then pulled it in favor of Wunderland as that game seemed to have the right stuff in addition to being a larger game. Shows what I know, although La Boca does appear on the list of recommended games for the SdJ category:

-----Divinare, by Brett Gilbert (Asmodee)
-----Escape: The Curse of the Temple, by Kristian Amundsen Østby (Queen Games)
-----Hand auf Herz, by Julien Sentis (Zoch Verlag)
-----La Boca, by Inka and Markus Brand (Kosmos)
-----Libertalia, by Paolo Mori (Asmodee/Marabunta)
-----Mixtour, by Dieter Stein (Clemens Gerhards)
-----Riff Raff, by Christoph Cantzler (Zoch Verlag)
-----Rondo, by Reiner Knizia (Schmidt Spiele)
-----Yay!, by Heinz Meister (Noris Spiele)

This same jury also announced its nominees for the Kennerspiel des Jahres, an award that debuted in 2011 to honor games intended for connoisseurs and gaming experts, and those titles are:

-----Bruges, by Stefan Feld (Hans im Glück)
-----Legends of Andor, by Michael Menzel (Kosmos)
-----The Palaces of Carrara, by Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling (Hans im Glück)


The jury included only two recommended titles at the Kennerspiel level and they are the widely praised Terra Mystica, by Jens Drögemüller and Helge Ostertag (Feuerland Spiele) and Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar, by Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini (Czech Games Edition).

As for the Kinderspiel des Jahres – the children's game of the year – the three nominees for this award are:

-----Der verzauberte Turm, by Inka and Markus Brand (Drei Magier Spiele)
-----Gold am Orinoko, by Bernhard Weber (HABA)
-----Mucca Pazza, by Iris Rossbach (Zoch Verlag)


Well, hey, the Brands did end up on a nominee list, just not the one that I and many others expected.

The Kinderspiel winner will be announced on Monday, June 10, while the Spiel and Kennerspiel winners will be revealed on Monday, July 8. Congrats to all the nominees!
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Tue May 21, 2013 8:45 am
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Links: Making Games Mainstream, Finding the Villain & Guessing the Spiel des Jahres Nominees

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• Ben Kuchera at The Penny Arcade Report riffs on the 2013 stakeholder report from Steve Jackson Games, highlighting the successful entry of the dice game Trophy Buck into the U.S. retail chain Walmart, with Trophy Buck being a reskinned (ha!) version of Zombie Dice with some play differences. An excerpt:

Quote:
There is nothing stopping further versions of the game. Why not create a version that directly appeals to young gamers who like to play with princesses and place it near the dolls? One could imagine stores like Walmart stock four versions of the game in different portions of the store, selling them to different demographic groups, and no one realizing that everyone is playing the same game...

The fun bit is that, in digital versions of games, you can have your cake and eat it too. Imagine a digital version of a game like Zombie Dice, or Trophy Buck, that was designed for multiplayer. One player is enjoying eating brains, the other is trying to hunt deer, and they're both playing the same game against each other but on different screens. My kids aren't fighting over what game they want to play with each other due to mechanics, they want to play a game with certain characters or themes. Reskinning each game, and showing that version of the game's reality to each player is a powerful way to bring people together.

• On The Esoteric Order of Gamers, Peter Gifford (a.k.a. Universal Head) interviewed designer Martin Wallace about A Study in Emerald, due out in October 2013 in time for release at Spiel 2013. Kris Hall completed a Wallace interview of his own for Opinionated Gamers, and here's an excerpt:

Quote:
After reading all of the Discworld novels (at least those published up until then) I decided to move on to Neil Gaiman, as the two had co-written a novel, Good Omens. I then started reading other Gaiman stories, including Sandman. I'm always looking for ideas for a new game and initially I thought Neverwhere was the best place to start – empire building in a fantasy underground London. The idea for Emerald actually came from another book, called The World That Never Was, a history of anarchism at the end of the 19th century by Alex Butterworth. The book is wonderful, creating a picture of desperate assassins, revolutionaries, and secret agents.

My initial thought was to attempt to make a game around this theme. The problem was that I thought the Americans would not want to buy into a game where you spend most of your time blowing up people – too many parallels with modern life. The solution was to make the targets into monsters – given that they seem to have no rights whatsoever. As I had recently read A Study in Emerald that gave me the "in" to create a slightly different universe. The background to the game is firmly rooted in Neil's work, but many of the characters populating this alternative reality are actual historical figures.

• Robert Gifford from the specialty furniture manufacturer Geek Chic appeared on the May 17, 2013 episode of the (U.S.) ABC television show Shark Tank to look for funding. The Geek Chic bit starts in the third segment.

• In contrast with Geek Chic, the octet of designers behind Cards Against Humanity have been happy to go it alone, shunning wannabe investors. A profile in Chicago Grid notes that "In the two years since its commercial debut, the game has sold nearly 500,000 copies, according to its owners." An excerpt from the article:

Quote:
While would-be entrepreneurs chase venture capital funding and dot-com riches at incubators and startup boot camps around the city, the Cards team rejects investors, refuses to sell the game to retailers or license it to other manufacturers, and hasn't bothered to appoint a CEO, let alone create a management structure. Their business plan has the sophistication of a lemonade stand.

"Every time we sell games, we make more games," says co-founder Ben Hantoot, 26. The supply chain overseen by Hantoot, who manages Cards' manufacturing efforts and works as an animator in Los Angeles by day, has precisely three links: factories, Amazon distribution centers and customers.

• It's that time of year again, time to speculate on which games will be nominated for the Spiel des Jahres, the gaming world's biggest attention getter even though the award is based in Germany and "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". "Family and friends" – that's the key to keep in mind when guessing which games might be nominated. Anything too complicated – "complicated" being a relative term, of course – won't be considered for the award. My SdJ nominees are:

-----La Boca (which I've been calling the SdJ winner since January 2013)
-----Wunderland
-----Escape: The Curse of the Temple

For several months Hanabi, out in Germany from ABACUSSPIELE only within the past twelve months, was my third choice along with La Boca and Escape, giving me a trio of cooperative or partnership-based games. I've now played Wunderland a bunch the past few days and think that game's a shoe-in for a nomination given the solid mix of mainstream/gamer-friendly play and the cultural connection to Hamburg's Miniatur Wunderland. (That game also has a cooperative element in the gameplay, so I'm still focused on that apparently.) My take on Wunderland will be live on Opinionated Gamers in a few days, and I'll post an overview video once I've put one together.

Speaking of Opinionated Gamers, editor Dale Yu polled the writers on that site and La Boca was the runaway choice for SdJ. As for Kennerspiel des Jahres, that award being aimed at more experienced gamers, the OG writers collectively chose Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar, which I think is a ludicrous choice given the relative complexity of the game compared to previous KndJ winners 7 Wonders and Village. My choice, despite not having played the game, is Michael Menzel's Legends of Andor, partly due to the general co-op vibe of my choices and partly due to my understanding that the game has gone over well in German gaming circles. I don't have a good feel for what else might get a KndJ nomination, but I'll go with Keyflower and Suburbia just to put out a few choices.

The Spiel des Jahres jury will announce the nominees for these two awards as well as for the Kinderspiel des Jahres on Tuesday, May 21, 2013, so you have a few hours to make guesses before then. What say you?
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Mon May 20, 2013 8:03 pm
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Links: Open Source Lovecraft, Gaming in Greece, New Crusoe Scenario & The Most Complicated Board Game Ever

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• In a May 8, 2013 BGGN post, I linked to what I thought was the current issue of Portal Publishing's online magazine STORYonBoard. Turns out that wasn't the case due to the page layout on the STORYonBoard page of Portal's website, which hid the current issue in a tab I overlooked and didn't include that issue in its comprehensive list. Portal has now revamped that page, and to celebrate the improvement, let's look at issue #8, which is indeed the most current one. This issue includes a history of the Sharrash army pack from Neuroshima Hex! designer Michał Oracz, two NH! puzzles, and a new scenario for Robinson Crusoe from Robert Masson titled "The Naturalist".

• Game reviewers Greg Schloesser and Ben Baldanza have taken over as editor and managing editor for Counter Magazine, a quarterly print publication that features articles and game reviews, and in an article on The Opinionated Gamers, Schloesser details the challenges of keeping print alive.

• Jess Nevins' article in the Los Angeles Review of Books on The Classic Horror Stories, a 2013 collection of H. P. Lovecraft's major stories, is not specifically game-related, but it might still prove of interest as a way to explain the proliferation of Cthulhu-based games over the past three decades:

Quote:
Lovecraft was the first author to create an open-source fictional universe. The crossover, the meeting between two or more characters from discrete texts, is nearly as old as human culture, beginning with the Greeks if not the Sumerians. The idea of a fictional universe open to any creator who wants to take part in it is considerably newer. French authors like Verne and Balzac had created the idea of a single universe linked through multiple texts, and following them, the dime novels and story papers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had established the idea of ongoing fictional universes, but those universes were limited to magazines published by the original stories' publishers. It was Lovecraft who first created a fictional universe that anyone was welcome to take part in. Both during his lifetime and immediately afterward, other authors made use of Lovecraft's ideas and creations in their own stories and novels. Lovecraft's generosity with his own creations ultimately gave them a longevity that other, better writers' ideas and characters did not have.

And later comes this smile-snatcher:

Quote:
Lovecraft did not create cosmic horror. He recreated it. Lovecraft desacralized cosmic horror, reinterpreting it through the lens of modern scientific theory and removing its Victorian moral assumptions. What Lovecraft created was a specifically twentieth century idea: the universe as an empty, materialist one, in which there is no spiritual meaning to any actions and in which human existence is not significant in any way. This idea has been enormously influential on creators of fantastic fiction, and is Lovecraft's lasting legacy.

BoardGameTravel.com is a new company that aims to combine – as you might expect from the name – gaming and travel. Its inaugural trip, "Cardboard & Sun 2013", takes place on the Greek island of Paros, "located in the middle of the Aegean Sea, and home to Alea Apartments, our board game-filled hosts for a warm, relaxing holiday". Alea Apartments? How fortuitous is that!

Of particular interest for gamers might be the guest appearance of designer Touko Tahkokallio on the trip, along with a limited-edition production of his game Thermopyles, which is otherwise playable online at Board Game Arena for those unwilling or unable to head to Greece in late August 2013. A trip to Lapland, Finland is scheduled for early 2014.

• In 2012, Mayfair Games brought Nichelle Nichols (a.k.a. Lt. Uhura) to its stand at Gen Con to celebrate the release of Star Trek: Catan. For 2013, Mayfair is repeating the trick by having Walter Koenig (a.k.a. Ensign Pavel Chekov) on hand to autograph items, particularly copies of the game depicted at left.

• In its May 13, 2013 issue, The New Yorker has a profile by Raffi Khatchadourian of Falafel, the highest ranked backgammon player in the world. An excerpt:

Quote:
He is committed to backgammon, which is his main source of income – to the extent that he can find wealthy people who want to lose to him in cash-only private games. There are more of these than one might expect, but not a lot. Finding them and hanging on to them is a skill...

He can make ten thousand dollars in half an hour playing backgammon; he can make many times that in an evening—and he can lose it all just as easily. The money comes and goes. Currently, he has no home. He has no driver’s license. Until just a few months ago, he had no cell phone, no bank account, and no credit card. Pretty much everything that he owns can fit into a large black suitcase.

Unfortunately, the online segment is only a teaser for the full profile, which is viewable in full for subscribers or in the print magazine at libraries and elsewhere.

• Let's close with a fun segment from The Mythical Show featuring the "Most Complicated Board Game Ever". (HT: Tanya Cook Thompson)

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Wed May 15, 2013 9:48 pm
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Links: One Hundred Years of Little Wars, Why We Play Games & The Esoteric Order of Gamers

W. Eric Martin
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• On the one hundredth anniversary of H.G. Wells' Little Wars, the first known publication of rules for combat with miniatures, The New York Times featured an article by Mark Wallace in its Sunday Book Review that detailed the history of Wells's creation and its influence on the world of gaming as a whole. (HT: Chris Kovac)

Quote:
While miniature war-gaming has never been able to claim a place in the mainstream, it has influenced almost everything we think of as gaming today. By the middle of the 20th century, war-gaming had not only added new sets of rules for armies of many periods, but it had inspired a new kind of richly complex board game, like Axis & Allies and Blitzkrieg. Entirely novel face-to-face entertainments emerged from the same lineage. The game designer Gary Gygax, in a foreword to a 2004 edition of the book, credits Little Wars with influencing his own set of rules for medieval-period miniature wars, Chainmail — which in turn became the basis of a slightly less obscure role-­playing game: Dungeons & Dragons.

• Speaking of Dungeons & Dragons, Deadline Hollywood reports that Warner Brothers has acquired the rights to make a movie based on D&D. From the article: "The studio is actually quite far along in the development of the project, as it will use a script by Wrath Of The Titans and Red Riding Hood scribe and Frank Darabont protege David Leslie Johnson. That script, Chainmail, was acquired last year as a free-standing project, based on an obscure game that was also hatched by D&D designer Gary Gygax before he and Dave Arneson launched D&D. It is being retro-fitted to fit the much bigger game creation." Why would anyone care about acquiring the rights to D&D as opposed to making a fantasy movie without that branding? What does D&D bring to the table in terms of an audience or source material? As I speculated on Facebook, perhaps WB wants to create an Orchid Thief-style movie-within-a-movie that explores the creation of D&D, its fantasy worlds that come to life for players, and the interaction of Gygax and Arneson, but somehow I don't think is what's coming to the screen.

Portal Publishing has released issue #7 of STORYonBOARD, its online gaming magazine. This issue includes an overview of the Firemen army for Neuroshima Hex!, two N. Hex! puzzles, and a report from the Portal-centric convention PORTALkon. You can download this issue and previous issues (or read them all online) from the STORYonBOARD page of the Portal website.

• On New Statesmen, Robert Florence explains why board games matter and more specifically why he feels video gamers are going from digits to cardboard. An excerpt:

Quote:
...I think the main reason why so many video gamers have started board gaming is that it feels like board games are part of the whole indie movement. Look, almost every board game is an indie game. Most board games are created by one person, and that one person is trying to come up with new ideas, or new spins on old ones. When you have a question about some element of the game, you can often just ask the designer. He'll be on Twitter or something, probably, and will be happy to have you pestering him about a rule clarification. The creator is a human being, not some corporate machine. The indie sector, in video gaming and board gaming, is full of people who are doing what they do for the love of play. Are they making fortunes? No. They're just people like us, who know that games are important. They're the types who understand characters like Eco's imperilled Foucault's Pendulum trio. They would follow that path with them, with us, because hey, this is fun. Games are worth it, whatever the cost.


• Graphic designer Peter Gifford – better known to many as Universal Head (but not this universal head) – has created a new website titled "The Esoteric Order of Gamers" to collect his many rules and summary sheets, along with articles, reviews and other game-related writings, in one location. Here's how he describes the site:

Quote:
The Esoteric Order of Gamers is a place for the few who, in a world of ephemeral, digitally-driven entertainment, still revel in the feeling of tearing the shrinkwrap off a new game; of breathing in the sweet smell of fresh ink; of the weight of quality gaming components as they sit heavily in the hand. Those people who are strangely impelled to improve their gaming experience by dint of hard graft coupled with the sensitive touch of a master craftsman, and who continually seek to beautify these precious objects. In short, those dedicated to high standards in their tabletop gaming!

In the months to come I'll be adding instruction sheets for build-your-own foamcore box inserts; articles and photographs to help paint your game figures; more reviews and blog posts of interest; and of course always expanding and perfecting the huge collection of premium summary sheets that help you get into and enjoy your gaming faster. Players can comment on each game and make suggestions or corrections for the sheets, and of course engage in discussions about the articles.

The EOG is all about high quality, useful content for the kind of gamer who really loves immersive, thematic games. And there are many more plans on the horizon...

I'm a fan of EOG simply because it contains the word "esoteric" in it, and what lies hidden at the base of "esoteric"? That's right – Eric. (My wife, then girlfriend, once created a poem using every word that she could think of that rhymed with "Eric", including "esoteric", "xeric" and "dysenteric". One for the ages...)

• On the Vsauce YouTube channel, Michael Stevens tries to answer the question "Why do we play games?" The talk includes a definition of games that mostly matches what we use on BGG in terms of what's in the database, although we do allow for competitions (his term) such as Take it Easy! and BITS. (HT: James Davis)

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Wed May 8, 2013 7:42 pm
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Links: Voting Opens for the 2013 DSP, Pegasus Moves Matagot's Goods & Playing While Drinking

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• Voting is open for the annual Deutscher Spielepreis, an award run by Spiel convention organizer Friedhelm Merz Verlag that allows gamers from around the world to vote on five titles. Your top title receives five points, your second choice four points, and so on. Games released within the previous twelve months are eligible for voting, and votes will be taken through the end of July 2013. The top ten titles in terms of points received will be ranked, and more than one hundred games will be given away to those who participate in the voting process.

• German publisher Pegasus Spiele has announced a distribution deal with French publisher Matagot in which Pegasus will distribute recent Matagot titles Kemet and Room 25 in Germany and Austria. The press release announcing this deal includes the following line: "As their first game in France Matagot will publish the board game classic Junta." That's a bit of an oddball line given that the rest of the press release is solely about Pegasus distributing titles for Matagot, but in this case I suppose the licensing will flow in the other direction. After all, earlier in 2013 Pegasus released word that it would publish a new edition of Junta, with August being the target publication date. This edition is announced as having rules only in German, so presumably Matagot will have a French edition. Pegasus' Michael Kränzle has solicited advice on a new edition of Junta from BGG users, so perhaps a separate English-language edition will also be making its way to store shelves.

• Ranjita Ganesan in Business Standard, the online version of India's daily newspaper of the same name, profiles Mumbai Board Gamers. An excerpt:

Quote:
Recently, Prashant Maheshwari chanced upon what has turned out to be the secret to a happy marriage. He stores about 50 of these secrets in cupboards and shelves around his Agripada residence now. "Every couple runs out of things to talk about at times. Whenever that happens to us, my wife and I pick out a board game to play," Maheshwari confides...

Maheshwari's wife Radhika was not always thrilled by the recreation but was coaxed into trying it. "Ours was an arranged marriage and board gaming just sounded like a strange hobby. But it grows on you." She is an avid player now and part of the group whose numbers have swelled from 20 to 200 since last March.

(HT: Jason Matthews)

• And in a mainstream publication from the other side of the world, The Gazette in Montreal, Canada profiles Randolph Pub Ludique, "a gaming pub on St-Denis St. in the Quartier Latin" that the article describes as "the only place in Montreal where you can sip a mai tai while playing one of more than 1,000 board games". More from the article:

Quote:
The best part is, you don't have to choose which game to play or read the rules. For a $5 entrance fee, staff members known as "game counsellors" will choose a game tailored to your taste, skill level and party size.

"It's a nice concept," Eva Tracqui said. On a recent Sunday night, the 22-year-old was playing a board game called Catch a Falling Star with her boyfriend, Clarence, and friend Nagehan, who was visiting from Toronto. The last time any of them played board games was when they were kids, but after a friend suggested the idea, Clarence searched online for venues in Montreal. The Randolph pub popped up first.

"It's perfect because I wouldn't say to my friend, 'Hey, let's play board games,'" Tracqui said. "It's not cool. They'll be like, 'Let's just have drinks or do shots.'" Randolph is a good balance, she added.

Because drinking or doing shots is cool, gotcha. (HT: Marie-Ève Lupien, formerly of FoxMind and appearing as a ricochet robot during Randolph's Halloween 2012 activities)

• In mid-2012, Stephen Conway and David Coleson – hosts of the podcast The Spiel – released a 40+-minute documentary titled "Made for Play: Board Games & Modern Industry" that details "every aspect of the manufacturing process: the technology and machines, the many detailed steps, and the hundreds of people that are involved in the production of a single game". The Spiel is now selling DVDs of that documentary with subtitles available in English, French, Polish, Spanish and Swedish. For those who haven't seen the documentary, you can still watch it online at Vimeo.
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Thu May 2, 2013 6:00 pm
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Links: Mensa Mind Games 2013, Game Designer Rights in Germany & The Physical Glory of Board Games

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• The annual Mensa Mind Games event was held April 19-21, 2013, in St. Louis, Missouri and the line-up of Mensa Select winners – that is, the five games rated best by the 300 or so attendees, all of whom played some number of the 54 games being judged – is top-notch compared to the hit-or-miss nature of years past. The 2013 Mensa Select game are:

Forbidden Desert (Gamewright)
Ghooost! (IELLO)
KerFlip! (Creative Foundry Games)
Kulami (Steffen-Spiele/FoxMind)
Suburbia (Bézier Games)

Congrats to all the winners!

• As covered on the ABC television subsidiary in Rochester, New York, U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) is protesting a federal grant for $150,000 received by the National Museum of Play for an exhibit titled "Game Time!" As noted in Coburn's Waste Book 2012:

Quote:
A diverse range of America's games and puzzles will be on display in the new 4,200-squarefoot wing built with taxpayer funds. "[G]uests will become pieces of a giant game board as they move through the exhibit to learn about the history of board games, card games, puzzles, and more public amusements such as electromechanical coin-operated games, pinball machines, and products for home or public game rooms such as foosball and hockey," according to the museum...

"eGameRevolution" is the museum's display of the nation's video games, from Atari's Pong to the Guitar Hero on an Xbox 360. A number of artifacts decorate the exhibit, including "rare and unique artifacts like Computer Space and a Nintendo NES gray cartridge." "Visitors will be able to view notes and drawings from legendary game inventors."

Museum officials do not want to just play with taxpayers' hard-earned dollars. They hope the exhibit will "tell the story of the evolution of play and how it has affected both children and adults."

Wait – is this an advertisement for the "Game Time!" exhibit or a protest of same? Hard to tell from the way it's described in Coburn's report...

Separated at birth?
• Ye olde U.S. magazine Popular Mechanics highlights "10 Alternative Board Games", including King of Tokyo, Elder Sign, and Lords of Waterdeep, about which one player says, "It's like Monopoly, but with swords!"

• Quintin Smith from Shut Up & Sit Down writes at great length on video game site Kotaku about the physical awesomeness of tabletop games, along with their power to inspire more commitment in you as a gamer:

Quote:
Take my Netrunner decks. They represent my first experience getting into a collectible card game, and it didn't take long for these things to begin a kind of emotional osmosis. Technically, Netrunner is a "Living Card Game", meaning Fantasy Flight's new model of not releasing random booster packs but set, monthly expansions.

That's a fitting moniker, because my decks are alive. They're not just picking up scuffs and whatever microscopic flecks of me whenever I touch them. They're absorbing every one of my failures and victories, and all of the time I spend with them.

Quote:
My game nights are powerful things now, and they're getting stronger. And stranger. Last weekend I got six people together to play the epic WW2 swear-a-thon that is Memoir '44: Overlord, but my friend also brought two backpacks of his girlfriend's military equipment. We played wearing wobbly helmets and camo trousers of impossible size. Why? Because it was funny, mostly, but also because when you augment a game's components to such a ridiculous extent, you can't help but share something, and remember that game for the rest of your lives. And as a gamer, I'm not sure there's anything quite that priceless.


Image from the referenced Kotaku article

• The German game designer association SAZ (Spiele-Autoren-Zunft e.V.) is protesting the refusal of the Fachgruppe Spiel e.V. – the federation of the game companies in the Association of the German Toy Industry – to recognize game designers as "originators", that is, as creators of work, and therefore to discuss contract matters with SAZ serving as a representative for game designers. From the press release:

Quote:
The initial point was discussion papers on the subject of Minimum Standards in Contracts and a Code on matters of intellectual property rights regarding games, which the SAZ had presented to the Fachgruppe Spiel, the federation of the game companies in the Association of the German Toy Industry. The SAZ represents more than 400 game designers from Germany and other countries and is their representative organization.

The Fachgruppe Spiel principally puts the game designers' status as originators into question and thus rules out any further objective, factual discussion with the SAZ, within the meaning of § 36 UrhG (German Copyright Act). This is all the more bewildering since the member companies of the Fachgruppe Spiel continuously enter into contracts with game designers regarding the rights of use of their works, thus de facto acknowledging their authorship; and the companies also demand relevant declarations of authorship from the game designers. That shows that the reality looks different.

The legal opinion Games and the Protection of Intellectual Property Rights reduces the argumentation of the Fachgruppe Spiel to absurdity. In the open letter, the board of the SAZ calls on the Fachgruppe and its members to reconsider their position and to return to the negotiating table. It is clear that without the game designers and their works, the companies would have little basis with which to conduct business.

To gain support for its efforts, SAZ has posted a petition that asks the Fachgruppe Spiel to "[a]ccept game designers as authors and the SAZ as a negotiating partner". The petition has gained more than 3,600 supporters since its launch on April 8, 2013. For more background on the protest, and lots of back and forth between German designers about exactly what's going on with German law and SAZ's representation of designers, check out this thread on BGG started by SAZ press representative (and designer) Ulrich Blum.
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Wed Apr 24, 2013 10:00 pm
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