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W. Eric Martin
• On the Catan blog, Gero Zahn details how his homemade "Space Settlers" variant of The Settlers of Catan unexpectedly became the prototype for Star Trek: Catan. An excerpt:
After extensive deliberation [designer] Klaus [Teuber], Sebastian [Rapp from Kosmos Verlag
], and I as well as the rest of the Catan
team agreed that The Settlers of Catan
is extremely well suited for a Star Trek
license edition. To put it in a nutshell: Catan
epitomizes constructiveness and cooperation, where often the journey is the destination and, in many cases, you can only win if you make amicable arrangements with the opponents. And that's extremely compatible with what Star Trek
also stands for.
We thought that to allow both Catan
fans and Star Trek
fans relatively intuitive access to each other's universes, a complex, stand-alone Catan
scenario in the fashion of The Starfarers of Catan
would be rather unsuitable. The starting point, therefore, was my Settlers of Catan
adaptation "Space Settlers," whose unchanged game mechanics also worked well visually. We "only" had to transfer it from its generic, public-domain context I intentionally had given it back then, to the Star Trek universe.
• In their "From Inspiration to Publication" blog, designers Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim offer advice to new (and existing) designers on how to promote your games. I was name checked in the post, so I feel obligated to read the piece and pass it on. Self-promotion achieved!
• U.S. publisher Hasbro has released its financial results for Q2 2012, and in the category of relevance for this site, "Net revenues in the Games category declined 8% to $213.8 million with Magic: The Gathering, Duel Masters and Battleship brands continuing to grow."
• On Gamehead, Michael Bahr – who describes himself as "managing partner of Desert Sky Games LLC, which will open its flagship store [in Q3 2012] in Gilbert, Arizona" and someone who has "had an ownership stake in five game stores since 1997, some successful, others disastrous" – catalogs five mistakes that people make when opening game stores. An excerpt:
A good back-of-the-envelope rule is that you need in liquid cash at least fifty times the square footage figure of the location you plan to rent. Desert Sky Games is opening in a 2500-square-foot suite in a three-year-old building, and raised $110,000 in capital.
Where does all this money go? About a quarter to a third to initial inventory, some to provide a few months' operating expenses, and the rest to development of the store – and that is where most owners miss the boat. Most owners allocate adequate cash to trading card game inventory, and the fast turn rate of those products helps the store's bottom line look good in the early going. Often this means they won't see how they undercapitalized elsewhere until it's too late.
And then there's this pearl of wisdom: "Many stores rent somewhere cheap so they can use a 'light box' marquee sign at a cost of around $1000. However, no location worth opening a game store in will allow light boxes." Ah, yes, I remember the good ol' days at Iron Vic Comics in Poughkeepsie, New York, with the owner doing everything possible not to spend a dime on anything he could get away with, the light box shining down on the flighty Vassar College students, the air conditioner doing little more than pushing hot air around during the summer, the carpet threadbare and developing long wounds from all who trudged in all winter with gravel and sand on their feet. Cheapness abounded in all ways...
• Online gaming site Happy Meeple has added a previously unpublished Reiner Knizia game to its offerings: Keltis Ór. What do you do in the game? Well, you need to unlock the game by first playing other games and earning resources, which you can then cash in for gold to pay the cost of the game – but I think the Knizia/Keltis names and a look at the screenshot below will answer most of your questions.
W. Eric Martin
• German publisher H@ll Games has signed an exclusive distribution agreement with Pegasus Spiele, with Pegasus having worldwide distribution rights outside of North America. This agreement applies to H@ll Games' Luna as well as the forthcoming Il Vecchio from Rüdiger Dorn, which is due to debut at Spiel 2012 in October. (H@ll Games' Ralph Bruhn is also serving as developer for Stefan Feld's Rialto, coming in late 2012 or early 2013 from Pegasus Spiele.)
• In his BGG blog Straight Talk on Strategy Gaming, Nate Straight covers – well, let's put this in his own words: "I intend to discuss what randomness is, why it matters and occurs in gaming, how we can interpret and analyze randomness, and when it is or is not an appropriate game mechanism for a game design." If you have a few hours to kill before heading home from work, check out his article, "As Luck Would Have It--On Randomness, Uncertainty, and Chance".
• Here's something I missed in early July 2012: Designer Richard Launius being interviewed by Dice Hate Me's Chris Kirkman about Ace Detective, a storytelling card game with noirish overtones that's due out in December 2012 from 8th Summit thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign.
• Can a movie be a game that the audience participates in unknowingly? James Verini makes the case in a post on The New Yorker's "Culture Desk" titled "Christopher Nolan's Games". An excerpt:
Nolan's entertainments, the best ones, anyway, are games. I don't mean that they resemble puzzles or tricks (though they do that, too), I mean that they are most satisfying when understood as games, not as novelistic narratives. They are contests with rules and phases, gambits and defenses, many losers and the occasional victor, usually a Pyrrhus type.
Take Inception. Many thrilled to this story about corporate spies who invade dreams, but smart critics tended to find it, like Slate's Dana Stevens, "mind-blowing but not heart-moving". On the whole, men like it more than women. I was confused by this until one female friend cut me off as I tried to explain my adoration for Inception, with, "Ugh, see, you have to explain it. It was all exposition." And she's right – the movie suffers from male-answer syndrome. When Inception isn't explaining the rules of inception, the trick of implanting ideas in minds that's at the center of its plot, it's explaining the rules of Inception.
• On the blog Go Forth and Game, Tom Gurganus interviews Patrick Nickell and Michael Coe from Crash Games about game balance, The Lost Dutchman (recently successfully funded on Kickstarter), and the forthcoming designs Pay Dirt from Tory Niemann and Lords, Ladies & Lizards: The Adventure Game from Michael Coe. That's certainly an intriguing title, if nothing else.
• "Wolfie" at the blog I Slay the Dragons wonders whether we ask too much of the games we play:
A common complaint about many board games (especially games that shoot up on the popularity list right around launch time) is that they don't hold up to many plays before they get boring and repetitive...
Think about this: when you buy a new book, or a new movie, you excitedly read through it (or watch it). And then? It goes on your shelf. Probably for a few months at least, but maybe even years. Why do you keep it? Well, maybe you want to read it again someday. Maybe you want to have it available to lend it to friends and family. If it's a movie, it might come out when you have a group of friends over. But however often it is consumed, we never read our books or watch our movies ten times in one week and then complain about how it's the same experience every time.
W. Eric Martin
• Designer Jeffrey Allers writes about the blending of architecture and game design is his "Postcards from Berlin" series on Opinionated Gamers. Apparently Technical University in Berlin, Germany was looking for a game designer to lecture first-year architectural students, and Allers – being a former architect and current game designer who lives in Berlin – was the perfect candidate for that role. An excerpt:
It is important for a designer to look at "case studies". To be a successful architect, one needs to study the built environments of the past and present. For a game designer, it means that one needs to play a lot of games. What has already been done? How were earlier designs adapted or improved upon? What is possible, regardless of what has been done before? It is important to look at a new game design within its rich historical context.
An architect should also study another kind of context: the location of a new project, whether it be in an urban or rural setting. Daniel Liebeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin, for example, draws from the dual historical contexts of the city of Berlin and its Jewish history. Hanns-Peter Herz, chairman of the Society for a Jewish Museum, praised Liebeskind's design, "The intersecting lines of history, which coexist but nevertheless do not always run parallel, and the intersections between the non-Jewish and Jewish sides convey a complete picture of history."
For the game designer, the theme can also be more than a setting intended to make the game more appealing. It can be a context that leads to specific design strategies. In the case of the game, Heartland
, this meant researching the different kinds of crops and farming techniques. Although the game is relatively abstracted, there are several instances where that thematic context informed the design, as with a "crop rotation rule", for example.
• What sells on a regular basis in brick & mortar game stores? Black Diamond Games in Concord, California shares its board game sales data for 2005 through 2012. Of note from the post: "You can see the strength of Blokus as it sits at the top of the chart and then crater as it hits the mass market under Mattel. You cans see the importance of Settlers of Catan, always in the top five and number one half the time, despite being in the mass market now." (Items in red are out of print, but note that Eric Hautemont at Days of Wonder has confirmed that Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 1 - Team Asia & Legendary Asia will return to print before the end of 2012.)
• Stephen Conway and David Coleson host the podcast The Spiel, and they've created 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". As a secondary purpose, it serves as a great promotional video for Ludo Fact, the best-known games manufacturer in Germany, and its manufacturing partners.
• U.S. publisher Tasty Minstrel Games has announced an exclusive distribution deal with itself. Okay, that's just a clever way of saying that TMG is exiting the traditional U.S. distribution system and is instead trying something different. For your education and entertainment, I present the full press release from TMG announcing this change:
TMG Goes Exclusive... With TMG.
For Immediate Release: July 24th, 2012Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Systems of distribution long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience has shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
There has been a wave of game publishers declaring exclusive distribution relationships. Today, I announce, that TMG will have an exclusive distribution relationship with TMG.
First, I will explain where you will be able to buy TMG games when everything is changed. Then, I will explain the reasons for the change.How Will This Work?
* Gamers will be able to buy TMG games from local retail stores, from Amazon.com (With Fulfillment By Amazon, and possibly a modest discount on many games), and from Game Salute's website (Full MSRP).
* Retail stores within the United States will be able to buy games directly from Game Salute at a full 50% discount, often including promos for that game, and can benefit from additional support. TMG titles will sell faster for these retailers than before thanks to the increased capability to buy advertising online.
* Retail stores outside of the United States will be able to buy TMG games from their non-US based distributor, who will in turn be buying from Game Salute.
If TMG is to be exclusive with itself, then what's up with Game Salute?
I have been working with Game Salute in a limited capcity since the preview nights for Eminent Domain
. I believe that they can deliver what we need for the retail store and non-US distribution sales support...Why Make The Change?
Since before I started TMG, I felt that the hobby board game industry was broken. I felt that many of the published games had weak game play and were over priced. I started, with a desire not to just publish some games, but to improve upon the industry.
Even in the early days of TMG, I found that I did not fit well into the standard distribution system. I did not conform well to their unwritten rules. From the beginning I decided to depend on myself to be able to move games, and not on their system.
And I found success.
As I continued developing my online marketing methods to push product through the established system, I noticed a handful of things.
* A game that should be priced at $50 needs to be priced at $60, because my ideal customers (those online that choose to communicate directly with me) saw a $50 game as really being a cost of $30.
* Many retailers order a copy or 2, wait for the game to sell and sometimes never reorder. There was no reason for them to sell a TMG title over something else.
* Distributors would occasionally misinform retailers that a game was out of print when they didn't have any in stock, despite the fact that I had hundreds of copies in the warehouse.
* That through my online marketing methods, I was selling about 25-30% of the total direct to consumers, while another 15-20% was being sold to non-US based distributors.
This is the sort of data and impetus I needed to get me to make the switch I had been considering for so long...
Some will think this is the beginning of a messy end for TMG.
I see this new path bringing about the realization of the company that I have envisioned since the beginning. Making this switch allows us to concentrate on improving further as a company.
To provide greater customer service, faster and more accurate shipping times thanks to integration with Amazon, develop more games to our current standards, improve our standards for games, improve the logistical and creative back end to reduce delays, seek more digital implementation of our games, and to continue into the future.
We will continue to make the best games that we can without compromise. We will continue to utilize Kickstarter, communicate directly with our fans, and develop the systems to grow into what I see for TMG. Mistakes will still happen, and we will continue to learn from them, just like before.
I did not start TMG to simply publish a couple of games...
I did not start TMG just because Seth Jaffee
was doing great development work and could not find a publisher... (See Homesteaders
, Eminent Domain
, Ground Floor
, Kings of Air and Steam
I did not start TMG so that I could play games and call it work...
I did not start TMG just because I saw some things about the industry that I felt I could do better...
Sure, all of those were factors, but most of all I started TMG because I wanted to make incredible games for people to play and enjoy. Not to make sales so a game could waste away in the shrink wrap. I started TMG because I love games, and I believe that games can be a foundation upon which strong family relationships and great friendships can be built.
So, I will make the choices and changes that I see as necessary to get incredible games played by as many people as possible. I see this as a necessary step towards that end.
I expect that these changes will take several months to fully implement and that after Gen Con 2012 the speed of implementation will increase.
Thank you for your time, your patience, and your understanding.
Michael Mindes, Founder
Tasty Minstrel Games
W. Eric Martin
• In The Rumpus Room blog, San Il Defanso discusses "horrible freedom":
[M]any gamers measure the quality of a game based on how much choice they are offered. They will often use the phrase "meaningful decisions", though many will not agree on what exactly that means. The consensus often revolves around the player being in control of what they do. If you make good decisions in a game, a game ought to reward you in measure for how good your decisions were. Any game that deprives you of that reward is considered to be "random" or "chaotic". Those words are used in some circles like swears, the most damning label you can apply to a game. If you can play an entire game to the best of your abilities, and your success or failure still depends at least partially on the roll of a die or the flip of a card, that can't be a very good game.
In some ways, I understand this sentiment...but I think there is something to be said for taking decisions out of the hand of the player...
I find myself drawn to games that force me to deal with bad luck. It's not merely the tension and excitement that comes from random elements. It's a bracing feeling when I'm actually able to overcome a bad hand of cards. There's a greater reward knowing that I conquered fate, than in merely learning how to think a little more efficiently. And even if I fail, who cares? It's just bad luck, and that's nobody's fault.
• Tying into that thought of "too many choices" being a bad thing comes this article by Maria Bustillos on The New Yorker, which is about books but doesn't have to be if you change a few words:
Ars longa, vita brevis, said Hippocrates – more or less: time's a-wastin'. The worst corollary of this aphorism, to my mind, is that we are not going to have time to read everything. In fact, we're going to be able to read only the tiniest little bit. Some thousands of books – that is it...
There's been a lot of handwringing lately about "curation" (the original meaning of the word has morphed into something else entirely; maybe we still lack a needed word). It has come to signify sifting through the ever-increasing avalanche of "content" in order to identify the things that are worthiest of our attention, and bringing those things to an interested audience. In fact, there should be no question about this at all; with our time and attention being limited as they are, it's crucial that we have skilled cultural guides.
Books come to us by many twisty channels: reviewers, editors, bloggers, anthologists. Who is to be trusted with the question of that precious spot, among only a few thousand, to which one will dedicate the next book? When you feel hammered down by the incessant blaring about the new new new new thing, it is salutary to return to authors long dead.
• Online gaming site BoardSpace.net has added both Kamisado (online game) and Khet: The Laser Game (online game) to its offerings.
• Play or design train games? Jason Begy wants to hear from you for research related to a Ph.D. dissertation he's working on.
• Ian Bogost at Fast Company reveals the true nature of Kickstarter:
Kickstarters are dreams, and that's their strength rather than their weakness. People back projects on Kickstarter to fund the development of a new creative work or a consumer product that might never see the light of day via traditional financing. But what if Kickstarter is more about the experience of kickstarting than it is about the finished products? When you fund something like OUYA [a new type of video game console that has topped $5 million in backing on KS], you're not pre-ordering a new console that will be made and marketed, you're buying a ticket on the ride, reserving a front-row seat to the process and endorsing an idea. It's a Like button attached to your wallet...
When faced with the reality of these products, disappointment is inevitable – not just because they're too little too late (if at all) but for even weirder reasons. We don't really want the stuff. We're paying for the sensation of a hypothetical idea, not the experience of a realized product. For the pleasure of desiring it. For the experience of watching it succeed beyond expectations or to fail dramatically. Kickstarter is just another form of entertainment. It's QVC for the Net set. And just like QVC, the products are usually less appealing than the excitement of learning about them for the first time and getting in early on the sale.
Sun Jul 22, 2012 11:54 am
W. Eric Martin
• On the Painted Wooden Cubes blog, Mark Taylor praises imbalance, specifically as it relates to Cosmic Encounter. An excerpt:
Imbalance may feel like part of the charm of Cosmic Encounter. It does for me. While mutual dependency may be the basis for negotiation to be meaningful (I will give you the wood you need in exchange for the brick I need is meaningful in terms of the outcome of a game), imbalance is the basis for negotiation to be interesting...
[T]he alien powers in Cosmic Encounter mean unequal encounters, which require invention to tackle – convincing other players to ally with you when you're up against a tricksy alien like the sorcerer (who can chose to switch his played encounter card with the one you played) is tough. It might require promises of future cooperation, or a commitment to make a favourable exchange the next time the chance arises. Either could be an outright lie, of course. But whether promises made are sincere or not, they come about because an imbalance in power means they must.
• Derek Thompson at MeepleTown interviews designer Stefan Dorra and among other things talks about his upcoming game Milestones, co-designer with Ralf zur Linde:
I think Milestones is the most ambitious game from Ralf and me. The rules are very simple, but there are many different ways to win this game. The players build houses, streets and marketplaces on the game board and they get points for these buildings. But if you want to build a house or a street, you have to produce sand and stone. This happens on a player board. Every player has an individual board with different spaces. On the 8 upper spaces you can hire some workers, who produce stones, wood, sand, grain or coins. On the four building spaces, you can take actions, such as hiring new workers, building on the main game board or delivering grain. These 12 spaces form a circle. You can move your playing piece slowly or fast around this circle. If you go slowly, you will earn more coins or wood. If you go fast, you can build a house first.
• In internal affairs at BGG HQ, the thumb count on the Gone Cardboard widget on the front page has undergone a significant embiggening in the past week. Why? Well, previously the thumb count tracked those who had thumbed the game on Gone Cardboard itself – Gone Cardboard being BGG's game release calendar, for those who didn't already know this – and now the thumb count is drawn from those BGG users who have added the game to their personal wishlist. That wishlist data already exists, and it seemed odd to create two levels of wishlist, so we've nerfed the newer GC one in favor of the more established one.
• In mid-July 2012, U.S. publisher Mayfair Games announced that Alliance Game Distributors would now be its exclusive distributor for the hobby market. Someone at Black Diamond Games, a retail shop in Concord, California, explains how this move will affect his bottom line:
The game distribution system, at least for the big guys, works off a discount model. When you start with a distributor, your discount is pretty weak, usually 47% or so. As you buy from a distributor, your volume increases your discount level, usually capped at 50%. So generally, if you work towards that discount level, you'll have a 49-50% with your primary and something in the basement with your secondary. I've got a 50% with most of mine and until recently, I only had a 47% with my secondary (Alliance). So what does this mean?
It means if you don't have Alliance as your primary distributor, you're losing money on these exclusives, which for me is 22% of my board games. It's a different amount for each game store, but I figure I would lose about $1,000 a year in added "cost of goods" costs. I don't know about you, but when my bills go up $83/month, I tend to howl a bit.
So what's the solution to exclusives and higher costs?
So the obvious answer, the one I'm sure Alliance is not unaware of, is to change your primary distributor to Alliance. Or, if you've got enough volume, add Alliance as your strong secondary distributor to boost your discount level. That's what I've done this year, at the expense of many of the smaller distributors.
Oooookay, not much of a solution really as you're giving Alliance exactly what it wants at the expense of other distributors. Score one more win for Alliance...
• Given all the recent hoo-hah over which games have won (and have not won) which awards, I thought I'd point out two articles on The New Yorker blog by author Michael Cunningham, one of three jury members for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. In the end, after considering the three nominees, the 18 members of the Pulitzer Prize Board announced that no winner would be named. As quoted in the Los Angeles Times, Sig Gissler, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, said, "The three books were fully considered, but in the end, none mustered the mandatory majority for granting a prize, so no prize was awarded. This is the 11th time this has happened in the fiction category; the last time was 1977. It's unusual, but it does occur."
Cunningham's articles cover the selection of the nominees from the three hundred novels and short story collections sent to the jury members and the possibly fruitless and always contentious question of whether you can identify greatness when it appears, something he describes as "an attempt to appreciate an entire train while you're a passenger in one of its cars". An excerpt from the second article:
As we jurors continued to find books we loved but failed to find the One, the Great Invincible, I confess (I can't indict Maureen or Susan [the two other jury members] along with me) that I wanted not only to recognize genius but also to escape going down in history as one of the people who failed to recognize it. Someone who missed the Northern Lights because they were fussing with a lapdog; who proved unable to see beyond their readerly peccadillos and prejudices or their flat-out limitations.
This ongoing state of agitation was not helped by the knowledge that a great new book, more or less by definition, doesn't much resemble the great books of the past. Nor was it helped by my suspicion that many of the long-forgotten critics and prize-givers who decimated Moby-Dick or ignored The Sound and the Fury failed to understand that the future wouldn't mind Melville's insistence on all those longish chapters devoted to whaling arcana, or Faulkner's devotion to a lexicon that could seem simultaneously oracular and impenetrable, that sometimes barely resembled the English most of us had spoken, with relative confidence, since childhood...
Finally, there was the question of shifting sensibilities. When Maureen, Susan, and I talked Big Book, we were thinking almost literally – a book that was, if not over five hundred pages long, vast in its scope, enormous in its concerns.
But as I scanned the cartons for Big Ones, I found myself thinking more and more of the Impressionists. I wondered over the fact that, in the course of several centuries, "serious" painting ceased to favor great historical or religious subjects, which tended to incorporate at least two dozen figures, facial and bodily expressions that ranged from despair to ecstasy, a landscape, a horse or two, symbolic vestments, symbolic gestures, and (optional, but recommended) various saints and angels, approving or angered, up among the roil and brilliance of the clouds.
And then, a mere minute later in historical time, a "serious" painting could be a Monet haystack. It could be a Cezanne portrait of a local farmer in overalls. It could be an empty Van Gogh field under an empty sky.
The Impressionists don't strike us (don't strike me, anyway) as lesser artists simply because they worked on an outwardly more modest scale. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, do I hurry past the paintings by Monet and Cezanne and Van Gogh to get to those by Tintoretto and the Delacoix? I do not. I'm happy to see all of them, but the Monets and Cezannes and Van Goghs don't look small compared to the Tintorettos and Delacroixes. They're just big in different ways.
W. Eric Martin
• Following recent industry trends in the U.S., publisher Mayfair Games has announced an exclusive distribution deal with Alliance Game Distributors for the "U.S. hobby retail network". From the press release:
Management at Mayfair Games foresees a future bright with opportunities for national campaigns with coordinated outreach and events. With the advent of streamlined, focused distribution to the hobby trade, Mayfair anticipates continued direct support of the hobby retail channel through the MAR program and other means.
Other exclusive distribution deals announced in the past couple of years include Queen Games moving solely to ACD Distribution in March 2012 (BGGN link), Z-Man Games going with Alliance also in March 2012 (BGGN link), Looney Labs dropping all distributors but ACD and Alliance in January 2012 (BGGN link), and Playroom Entertainment going to ACD in July 2011 (BGGN link). Days of Wonder could be seen as the forefather of this movement, going exclusive with Alliance in 2008.
• Blogger/podcaster/reviewer Tom Vasel has announced the winners of the Dice Tower Awards for 2012 (as voted on by forty gamers, bloggers and podcasters), with Eclipse taking game of the year, King of Tokyo winning best family game, and the broken-and-admitted-to-as-such-by-the-designer A Few Acres of Snow claiming best wargame. Paging Dr. Dean! Your previous diagnosis of this patient has gone unnoticed.
• Derek Thompson at MeepleTown interviews artist Miguel Coimbra, who by chance or design has done artwork for some of the most popular games of the past decade, including 7 Wonders, Small World, and BattleLore.
• French game magazine Plato is going international with the September 2012 debut of Plato Worldwide, which despite the name will appear only in English and not hundreds of different languages. You can download a sample PDF of the new magazine from the Plato website.
• To show that Alf Seegert is not the only designer to promote himself extensively and end up featured in publications far and wide, designer Chevee Dodd blogs about being contacted by a publisher for Project: Dead End, a game that he's written about in many places.
This a new adventure for me. Traditionally, I have been the one to approach publishers with my designs, begging them to look at my work. This time, however, a publisher approached me about reviewing a game. I had heard things like this happen, but I never imagined it would happen to me and so quickly after breaking in to the designer scene. I'm also not convinced that my status as "published" had anything to do with it. What did matter, however, is my extensive use of the Internet to promote myself. I use my website, Twitter, and BoardGameGeek.com to promote my work and that's exactly how I was found. The publisher contacted me through those venues. Even if the game is not picked up for publication, this event has proven to me that the energy I put into maintaining this site and my presence online is worth it.
• In Wired, Liat Clark writes about a computer program that learns how to play and win games by watching videos of people playing. From the article:
Using visual recognition software while processing video clips of people playing Connect 4
— including games ending with wins, ties or those left unfinished — the system would recognise the board, the pieces and the different moves that lead to each outcome.
A unique formula then enabled the system to examine all viable moves when playing and, using data gathered from all possible outcomes, calculate the most appropriate move.
Pretty sneaky, HAL....
W. Eric Martin
• Cameron Browne's game-designing program Ludi – "author" of the game Yavalath among other designs – has won the gold prize (and consequently $5,000) at the annual Human-Competitive Awards (aka, the "Humies") at the equally annual Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference (GECCO). Here's an overview of the Humies:
Techniques of genetic and evolutionary computation are being increasingly applied to difficult real-world problems – often yielding results that are not merely academically interesting, but competitive with the work done by creative and inventive humans. Starting at the Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference (GECCO) in Seattle in 2004, cash prizes have been awarded for human-competitive results that had been produced by some form of genetic and evolutionary computation in the previous year...
An automatically created result is considered "human-competitive" if it satisfies at least one of the eight criteria below.
-----• (A) The result was patented as an invention in the past, is an improvement over a patented invention, or would qualify today as a patentable new invention.
-----• (B) The result is equal to or better than a result that was accepted as a new scientific result at the time when it was published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
-----• (C) The result is equal to or better than a result that was placed into a database or archive of results maintained by an internationally recognized panel of scientific experts.
-----• (D) The result is publishable in its own right as a new scientific result ¾ independent of the fact that the result was mechanically created.
-----• (E) The result is equal to or better than the most recent human-created solution to a long-standing problem for which there has been a succession of increasingly better human-created solutions.
-----• (F) The result is equal to or better than a result that was considered an achievement in its field at the time it was first discovered.
-----• (G) The result solves a problem of indisputable difficulty in its field.
-----• (H) The result holds its own or wins a regulated competition involving human contestants (in the form of either live human players or human-written computer programs).
Browne wrote about evolutionary game design and the creation of Yavalath in this 2011 designer diary on BGGN. The Humies awards page lists only the nominees for 2012 and not the winner as of this moment, and I asked Browne for his reaction to the announcement. "I'm astonished that Ludi won," he said. "Some of the other entries were very impressive, including cutting edge solutions to difficult problems in $300 billion industries. But the judges seemed to like the fact that Ludi succeeded at a problem that they described as 'crazy hard', and I suspect that they enjoyed the novelty of hearing someone talk about game design rather than the usual optimization tasks."
Browne's presentation to GECCO isn't available online, but you can read the (PDF) he created to support the presentation, which contains additional details on statistics, initial input for Ludi, and so on. Notes Browne, "You might be interested to know that I used BGG as a yardstick for success. I pointed out that it was the 'expert database' in the field of game design, and that the rankings of games by category is a fair reflection of each game's actual worth. Without BGG I'd never have won the award!"
• On the East Tennessee Gamers blog, David Williams writes about the "zeroeth" move, describing it as such:
is just like Dominion
. Okay, that's a disingenuous lead to get you to read the rest of the post. But I do believe there is an important similarity: The most important part of both games comes before the first move...
[T]he genius of Hawaii
is that all things are not equal from one game to the next. Fruits may be much farther away than boats. So Hawaii
has this element of looking at the board, figuring out what's cheap in this game, and finding the intersection of cheap+synergistic. Which combination of tiles produces the best outcome, factoring in the cost?
Okay, not a new observation, but I like the terminology, labeling something that's outside the game as it's played even though that something has a huge impact on how one should approach strategy within that particular game. All of Donald X's published designs to date have this feature; Uwe Rosenberg's Le Havre has the varying layout of buildings, which feels like a zeroeth move, whereas his Agricola has the starting hand of cards, which doesn't as knowledge of the cards is private and can't impact other players before the cards are revealed. Well, they can – but the opponents may not know why you're doing some non-obvious move until the reason is revealed later.
• Designer Lewis Pulsipher has a book titled Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish coming out from U.S. publisher McFarland in July 2012. Here's an overview of the book from the publisher:
Many aspiring game designers have crippling misconceptions about the process involved in creating a game from scratch, believing a "big idea" is all that is needed to get started. But game design requires action as well as thought, and proper training and practice to do so skillfully. In this indispensible guide, a published commercial game designer and longtime teacher offers practical instruction in the art of video and tabletop game design. The topics explored include the varying types of games, vital preliminaries of making a game, the nuts and bolts of devising a game, creating a prototype, testing, designing levels, technical aspects, and assessing nature of the audience. With practice challenges, a list of resources for further exploration, and a glossary of industry terms, this manual is essential for the nascent game designer and offers food for thought for even the most experienced professional.
• Tao Wong of the Canadian online retailer Starlit Citadel vents about his apparent place in the industry:
As an online game store, it sometimes feels like the entire industry is out to shut you down. We're the evil demon in the mists, the boogieman destroying the fabric of the gaming universe. We are the bad guys.
• Check out this LEGO Settlers of Catan set on Mashable. Impressive!
W. Eric Martin
Donald X. Vaccarino's Kingdom Builder from Queen Games has won the 2012 Spiel des Jahres award, Germany's "game of the year" award, while the Kennerspiel des Jahres has gone to Inka and Markus Brand's Village, published by eggertspiele and its partner Pegasus Spiele.
Each year, a panel of German journalists who cover the game industry for their employers – eleven of them, in this case – sift through hundreds of games released since the early part of the previous year to find the game they think will best "promote games as a cultural asset to encourage gaming amongst family and friends" for their German mainstream readership. On May 21, 2012, the SdJ jury had announced its three nominees for the award – Eselsbrücke by Stefan Dorra and Ralf zur Linde (Schmidt Spiele), Vegas by Rüdiger Dorn (alea), and the aforementioned Kingdom Builder – and now after weeks of speculation, they've individually voted on their choice from among these three nominees and settled on Kingdom Builder, giving Vaccarino his second Spiel des Jahres award after winning in 2009 with Dominion.
While the Spiel des Jahres has been awarded annually since 1979, the Kennerspiel des Jahres – an award to honor games intended for connoisseurs and gaming experts – debuted in 2011, to replace the SdJ jury's habit of intermittent special awards for games too complex for the SdJ, yet still deserving of recognition.
Keep in mind that dozens of games – hundreds even – are released annually that are too complex for consideration for the Kennerspiel des Jahres, nevermind for the SdJ. After all, the SdJ is aimed at a mainstream audience that plays games infrequently, while the KedJ is meant for people who play games somewhat more frequently and who would not be daunted by a more involved game design. Out of the three nominees for the KedJ award – K2 by Adam Kałuża (Heidelberger Spieleverlag), Targi by Andreas Steiger (Kosmos), and the aforementioned Village – the jury felt Village was the best choice for the audience intended.
Congrats to Vaccarino, the Brands, and their publishers!
Updated with photos of the winners, courtesy of Caylyn Krizan, who attended the ceremony with BGG's Chad Krizan:
Publisher Peter Eggert holds one of the awards; next to him is Inka Brand, with her husband Markus behind her
Donald X. Vaccarino misses his second SdJ announcement; publisher Rajive Gupta holds the certificate and one award,
while developer Frank Thyben holds the other
W. Eric Martin
• The exhibit hall map for Gen Con 2012, which shows who the 300+ exhibitors are and where they'll be, can be downloaded from the Gen Con website. Time for me to put aside the Spiel 2012 Preview for a bit and start updating the Gen Con 2012 Preview once again...
• In late June 2012 on his Drake's Flames blog, Matt Drake broke his standard of "crassly opinionated game reviews and [more than] occasional bathroom humor" to publish a rant helpfully titled "Rant - We Are Not Important". An excerpt:
Game reviewers are not important. We think we are, but we're wrong.
We provide a service, and it's really not that much of a service, all things considered. We're the functional equivalent of your buddy who already owns everything. We tell you 'hey, that was fun,' or 'that game was stupid' or 'playing games designed for children is going to impede our ability to get laid,' but we don't tell you anything you couldn't find out for yourself if you just sat down and played the game. We're about as useful as the corner dry-cleaner, except that the cleaner can press your pants and all we can do is pontificate.
We are not book critics or movie critics. Book and film critics can discuss the various interpretations of themes and dialog. They can discuss hidden symbolism. They can analyze the artistry found in the books and films they review, and draw comparisons to how those things affect us in real life. They can analyze the human condition as presented in the films they watch and the books they read, and then relate those findings to broader themes.
You can't do that in board games. Board games are an industry created by nerds who wanted to play board games. As an artistic medium, board games are slightly less viable than cooking desserts, and slightly more artistic than bowling. Even video games have the capacity to contain more artistic depth than board games. Board games are all about the rules, and rules are inherently not artistic.
Lots of ways to respond to this post; possibly a "you don't get to decide whether other people find you important" direct counter-attack, or a more general "every artistic medium has its own criteria for greatness" approach, or a "you're refusing to be open to what's possible based on what's come before, missing the unexplored forest for the funny-colored mushroom at your feet, never mind the trees" quasi-personal attack.
Or I could point to this column on GQ by Johann Hari, who starts off by recording how critics have been eliminated from a number of publications in recent years – "Spin magazine has just joined the latest in a long line of critic-killers, replacing its album reviews with 140-character tweets" – before diving into why critics need to do what they do:
[C]ritics perform two essential tasks in the cultural ecosystem – and as with any ecosystem, if you knock out one part, the entire network is at risk of unravelling.
Their first task is simply consumer advice. This has been sniffed at by some critics, like Susan Sontag, but it is their most basic function. There are more films, books, albums and plays out this week than you can experience in a lifetime. Anyone with an internet connection has access to a menu of infinite cultural experiences. You need intelligent people to work through them and recommend the most interesting...
But critics have a deeper role still. When something new and startling comes along, it often baffles us, and we are tempted to drop it, pained, for easier cultural lifting. A great critic can help us to figure out what it going on, and to appreciate it in a richer way. When I saw Terrence Malick's The Tree Of Life, I was sure I had seen something extraordinary, but I felt I had barely begun to understand it. It was reading the body of criticism by terrific writers, such as Dana Stevens and Peter Bradshaw that led me deeper in. As film critic Pauline Kael put it: "We read critics for the perceptions, for what they tell us that we didn't fully grasp when we saw the work."
• In his GamerChris blog, Chris Norwood makes the case that Hasbro (and its Wizards of the Coast subsidiary) is "the most progressive boardgame publisher" of our time.
• Game designer Alf Seegert has once again been making the publicity rounds, being interviewed by Shannon Appelcline about the deck-building elements in Seegert's forthcoming Fantastiqa, was interviewed by Ben Gerber for the podcast Troll in the Corner about Fantastiqa, and wrote an essay for Evan Derrick's "Why I Design Games" blog about why he designs games, but yes, also about Fantastiqa. For a guy with a Ph.D. in Literature, Seegert exhibits a lot of marketing chops...
• With the winners of the Spiel des Jahres and Kennerspiel des Jahres to be announced on Monday, July 9, 2012 – i.e., tomorrow (depending upon when you read this note) – the Opinionated Gamers blog has pooled its contributors, including one WEM, as to which games will win. The consensus pick was Kingdom Builder, with 14 first-place votes; Eselsbrücke and Vegas each had only three first-place votes, one of those being mine. Here's my reasoning:
Now that I've played Vegas
, I'm calling it the winner over KB
(which I highly enjoy) and Eselsbrücke
(which I haven’t played). Vegas
is lighter than KB
– with an explanation time leaning more toward seconds than minutes – and the game play provides lots of "ooh" and "aah" moments as well as taunting of your fellow players when things don't roll the right way for them. With Qwirkle
as the 2011 SdJ winner, I think Vegas
follows its lead well in terms of being light, accessible and fun. Plus, I'm sure no one would begrudge alea
finally hoisting the red poppel and funding a few heavier releases with the money earned from blockbuster sales of Vegas
. (Okay, I'm sure many would in fact complain about alea winning for Vegas
and not any other release from the past decade, but those folks tend to misjudge what the SdJ is meant to do.)
The only downside for the SdJ committee is whether Vegas
can be expanded and thus provide further revenue via poppel licensing, although if Qwirkle
can be expanded – and it has been, with the expansion due out at Spiel 2012 – then there's no reason Vegas
can't be expanded, too.
Village was chosen as the Kennerspiel des Jahres (by about the same margin as KB) over Targi and K2. Village was my pick to win KedJ in mid-May 2012 before the nominees had been announced, and I see no reason to change. Here's why I chose it over Hawaii, which only made it onto the recommended list:
As for Hawaii
, both are straight-up Eurogame designs that present gamers with interesting-to-explore game systems in an inviting setting. They're not too difficult to learn and play, making them ideal for those who have played the basics and want something more. I prefer Hawaii
as the money management and tight competition for goods among players makes the game tougher than Village
, while also providing a wider range of set-up variability, which kicks your brain in new directions each game. Village
gets my vote, however, as it has the homey thematic edge, just as Thurn & Taxis
had the home-turf advantage over Blue Moon City
in 2006. Yes, your villagers die and sure, that could be morbid for some, but that aspect of the game also encapsulates the broader cultural outlook in Europe, with people viewing themselves as part of history-in-the-making rather than above it, as seems to be more common in the U.S.
Enough speculation on my part – we'll know the winners soon enough...
W. Eric Martin
• German publisher/distributor Heidelberger Spieleverlag announced on June 28, 2012 that it has revised its relationship with fellow German publisher/distributor Pegasus Spiele, namely by dissolving that relationship and now refusing to have anything to do with Pegasus. From the announcement:
Going their separate ways
Der Heidelberger Spieleverlag ließ heute verlauten, dass ab sofort sämtliche Handelsbeziehungen zur Pegasus Spiele GmbH eingestellt werden. Dies betrifft den Großhandel sowie alle Vertriebskooperationen.
Nötig wurde dieser Schritt, nachdem es in der Vergangenheit wiederholt zu Provokationen und Vertrauensbrüchen seitens Pegasus kam. Die Geschäftsleitung des Heidelberger Spieleverlags sieht aus diesem Grund keine Basis für gemeinsame Geschäfte mehr.
Für den Handel bedeutet dies, dass Produkte des Heidelberger Spieleverlags und dessen Vertriebspartner in Zukunft nicht mehr über Pegasus Spiele bezogen werden können.
My Google-aided translation:
Heidelberger Spieleverlag announced today that effective immediately all trade relations with Pegasus Spiele GmbH have been discontinued. This applies to all wholesale and distribution partnerships.
This step became necessary after repeated provocations and breaches of trust from Pegasus. The management of Heidelberger Spieleverlag therefore sees no basis for continued joint ventures.
For the trade, this means that products from Heidelberger Spieleverlag and its distribution partners can no longer be purchased through Pegasus.
Pegasus Spiele has posted a response that essentially states "We don't get it". From the press release:
Am 26.06.2012 hat der Heidelberger Spieleverlag sämtliche Handelsbeziehungen zu uns, der Pegasus Spiele Verlags- und Medienvertriebsgesellschaft mbH, formlos via Email eingestellt. Die Beendigung der Geschäftsbeziehungen erfolgte einseitig sowie ohne Vorankündigung und vorausgegangenen Dialog seitens des Heidelberger Spieleverlags. Wir bedauern, dass sich unser langjähriger Wegbegleiter zu einem solchen, für uns unverständlichen Schritt entschlossen hat. Die in der am 27. Juni veröffentlichten Pressemitteilung genannten Gründe sind für uns nicht nachzuvollziehen und nicht hinnehmbar. Es werden darin Behauptungen aufgestellt, die falsch sind und die dazu geeignet sind, uns bei unseren Händlern, Kunden und Partnern in Misskredit zu bringen.
And again my translation:
On 06/26/2012, Heidelberger Spieleverlag severed all trade relations with us, Pegasus Games, informally via email. The termination of the business relationship was unilateral and without notice or previous dialogue on the part of Heidelberger Spieleverlag. We regret that our long-time partner has taken what is to us an incomprehensible step. Its June 27th press release references charges that are to us neither understandable nor acceptable. It presents allegations that are false and are capable of bringing us into disrepute with our retailers, customers and partners.
The press release goes on to state that titles from Fantasy Flight Games will still be available through Pegasus.
• Polish publisher Portal Publishing has launched a free PDF magazine titled STORYonBOARD (PDF). Notes Portal in its announcement: "In the first issue you will find articles about designing The Convoy, about strategy in Neuroshima Hex, comic, review of new fan army for Neuroshima Hex, and what is most important – a small game for one player designed by Michał Oracz!" More specifically, the Neuroshima Hex article focuses on the forthcoming Steel Police army expansion.
In addition to the downloadable PDF, STORYonBOARD – which is also written as "story.on.board" – is viewable on ISSUE.
• The Game Design Conference is a new event debuting in San Francisco in September 2012. From the website:
The Game Design Conference was created to give game designers a place to gather and learn from each other. With a number of varying and expanding approaches, tools, best practices, and advice to be had, there's a lot of new information to wrap your head around. And the best way to learn is to spend time with people who are actually working as game designers, perfecting their craft and bestowing their knowledge to you.
The focus appears to be mostly on video games, but board games get a call-out as well, and as project manager Ellis Kim has noted on BGG, the conference is looking for speakers. Visit the website if you want to propose a talk or a workshop; the submission deadline is July 31, 2012.
• In today's "Really? You spent money on that?" moment, I present a robot that cheats at roshambo:
Okay, this creation does have a serious purpose, as described by the Ishikawa Oku Laboratory at the University of Tokyo, which developed the robot:
In this research we develop a janken (rock-paper-scissors) robot with 100% winning rate as one example of human-machine cooperation systems. Human being plays one of rock, paper and scissors at the timing of one, two, three. According to the timing, the robot hand plays one of three kinds so as to beat the human being.
Recognition of human hand can be performed at 1ms with a high-speed vision, and the position and the shape of the human hand are recognized. The wrist joint angle of the robot hand is controlled based on the position of the human hand. The vision recognizes one of rock, paper and scissors based on the shape of the human hand. After that, the robot hand plays one of rock, paper and scissors so as to beat the human being in 1ms.
This technology is one example that show a possibility of cooperation control within a few miliseconds. And this technology can be applied to motion support of human beings and cooperation work between human beings and robots etc. without time delay.
(HT: Andrew Sullivan)
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