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Links: Mayfair Goes Exclusive with Alliance, The Importance of Self-Promotion & Computers That Learn Games

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• 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:

Quote:
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.

Quote:
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:

Quote:
Using visual recognition software while processing video clips of people playing Connect 4, Gomoku, Pawns and Breakthrough — 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....
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Sun Jul 15, 2012 2:06 pm
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Links: Evolutionary Game Design, Game Design the Old-Fashioned Way & The Zeroeth Move

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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:

Quote:
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:
Quote:
Hawaii 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:

Quote:
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:

Quote:
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!

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Thu Jul 12, 2012 8:36 pm
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Kingdom Builder Wins the 2012 Spiel des Jahres; Village Takes Kennerspiel des Jahres

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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


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Mon Jul 9, 2012 10:12 am
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Links: Gen Con 2012 Exhibitors Revealed, The Value of Critics & Last Chance for SdJ 2012 Guesses

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• 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:

Quote:
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:

Quote:
[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:

Quote:
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:

Quote:
As for Hawaii and Village, 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 over Village 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...
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Sun Jul 8, 2012 6:30 am
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Links: Heidelberger Drops Pegasus, Portal Publishes More Stories & a Robot Cheats at Games

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Going their separate ways
• 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:

Quote:
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:

Quote:
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:

Quote:
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:

Quote:
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:

Quote:
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:

Quote:
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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Links: North Star Games Wants Your Ideas, Wil Wheaton Guest Stars Again & an Origins Award Reboot?

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• Gen Con, LLC has announced that actor/gamer Wil Wheaton is one of three Media Guests who will be present at the convention. From the press release: "Wheaton will sign autographs Thursday through Saturday, August 16-18 at the Autograph Area of the Exhibit Hall at Gen Con Indy 2012. Gen Con will announce its two remaining Gen Con Indy 2012 Media Guests of Honor in the next two weeks."

• At Go Forth and Game, Tom Gurganus interviews 5th Street Games' Phil Kilcrease about how he started working in the industry, what's coming out next, and which games he had to kill.

• As of July 1, 2012, the MSRP for Days of Wonder's Memoir '44 will be $60.

• U.S. publisher North Star Games is encouraging Facebook users to submit suggestions for special limited edition promo packs for its line of party games: Wits & Wagers, Say Anything and Crappy Birthday. Your prize if you win? More time on Facebook.

• ICv2 interviews FRED Distribution's Keith Blume, new head of the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design, which oversees the annual Origins awards, about what went wrong in 2012 that led WizKids to pull two items from the ballot before voting took place at the Origins Game Fair and how he hopes to change the award process for future years.
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Links: Austrian Award Winners, Challenging Fonts & Gaming in Tents

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• The 2012 Austrian game awards have been announced by the Games Committee of the Viennese Games Academy, with the Spiel der Spiele – the game of games – being Marcel-André Casasola Merkle's Santa Cruz from Hans im Glück. Other awards from committee are divided into four categories:

Spiele Hit für Experten (Game Hits for Experts)
-----Das letzte Bankett (GameHeads)
-----Mage Knight: Board Game (Pegasus Spiele)

Spiele Hit mit Freunden (Game Hits with Friends)
-----Africana (ABACUSSPIELE)
-----Die Gulli-Piratten (Heidelberger Spieleverlag)
-----Pictomania (Pegasus Spiele)

Spiele Hit für Familien (Game Hits for Families)
-----Baobab (Piatnik)
-----Indigo (Ravensburger)
-----Kalimambo (Zoch Verlag)
-----Takenoko (Bombyx/Matagot)
-----Würfel Bohnanza (AMIGO)

Spiele Hit für Kinder (Game Hits for Children)
-----Captain Kidd (Beleduc)
-----Monstertorte (HABA)
-----Ubongo Junior (Kosmos)

• Maybe Valley Games has the right idea after all with its new look for Die Macher. Daniel Oppenheimer, an associate professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University, has published a study showing that "[p]eople recall what they've read better when it's printed in smaller, less legible type". From an interview in the Harvard Business Review:

Quote:
When people first hear about this work, they're surprised. The findings are counterintuitive. Why should making something harder to read make it easier to remember? But the findings are more intuitive if you reframe them. For instance, we've all skimmed through text, got to the end, and realized we didn't process the information very well. Making text harder to skim prevents that from happening. So it's not terribly surprising that causing people to slow down and read more carefully improves their recall. Of course, we don't want to make material so hard to read that people can't understand it. There's a happy medium here.

• To promote Wits & Wagers Party – the latest version of North Star Games' Wits & Wagers line, due out on August 1, 2012 – the publisher is running a live game in which several well-known game bloggers will participate. Well, I guess that should more accurately say that The Dice Tower's Ryan Metzler will run the game since he's the host and the event will run on his YouTube feed. Bizarre.

• French game site Pépites Ludiques has posted an image-filled report of the late June 2012 "Paris est Ludique" convention – but to be honest the look is more county fair than game convention. Could this type of convention work in the U.S.? Perhaps as part of an actual county fair? "Step away from those balloon-popping, milk-jug-ball-tossing hucksters and check out this little finger-breaking eye-gouger called Jungle Speed!"
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Wed Jun 27, 2012 4:30 pm
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Fantasy Flight and Stronghold Resolve Their Merchant of Venus Imbroglio

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• On October 20, 2011, at the annual Spiel game convention in Essen, Germany, U.S. publisher Stronghold Games announced that it had signed a deal with designer Richard Hamblen for a new edition of his Merchant of Venus. The following day, U.S. publisher Fantasy Flight Games announced its own new edition of Merchant of Venus, noting that it had "signed an exclusive licensing contract with Wizards of the Coast, LLC, a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc." – with Hasbro having purchased Merchant's original publisher Avalon Hill. (Additional background from the competing dual announcements in a Nov. 1, 2011 BGGN post.)

Now the Merchant of Venus situation has been resolved, according to both parties involved, with the Fantasy Flight version of the game proceeding and the Stronghold Games one cancelled – but not really, as the "classic" Stronghold version will now be included with the re-imagined FFG design from Rob Kouba. (The game board will be double-sided with the new version on one side and the "classic" version on the other. A breakdown of the components and what's different in the Kouba version has not been revealed.)

More on the resolution from a press release from Stronghold Games:

Quote:
Today, FFG and SG jointly announce that FFG will proceed to publish its new edition of Merchant of Venus, while SG's version of the game will be cancelled. SG will act as a consultant on FFG's version of the game, bringing some of SG's creative vision to the final release.

"This was a difficult and confusing situation," said Christian T. Petersen, CEO of Fantasy Flight Games. "All parties involved clearly had the best intentions in mind for the game, and none sought to cause damage to the other company. After a period of discussion and discovery, I'm thrilled that all parties now have clarity on the situation. I want to express my gratitude to WOTC for their assistance in this matter, and especially to Stephen Buonocore, the President of Stronghold Games, who has been both professional and practical in untangling this issue."

"While this was an unfortunate situation for all parties, everyone is a winner in the end," said Stephen M. Buonocore, President of Stronghold Games. "Fantasy Flight Games and Stronghold Games have forged a great bond that will last long after this event. In the face of crisis, Christian Petersen was a true leader who worked tirelessly to resolve the matter, and I am very thankful to him for that. The WOTC team was also instrumental in getting this done smoothly, and they too should be lauded. And above all, gamers worldwide are the biggest winners, since they will have this great game back in print, published by a great company, Fantasy Flight Games."

FFG is planning to release its new version of Merchant of Venus in Fall 2012. The new edition will feature both the classic game design by Richard Hamblen, as well as an updated game inspired by the original, designed by FFG's Rob Kouba. Stronghold Games is in discussion with Richard Hamblen with regard to other game designs, both old and new ones, which they hope to publish in 2013.

(As noted in an April 2012 BGGN post, Stronghold Games filed for trademark registration of the name "Magic Realm" in October 2011. No announcement for a new edition of Hamblen's Magic Realm has been made, however.)

Both Petersen and Buonocore appeared in episode #262 of The Dice Tower to talk about the resolution of the conflict and how the now two-for-one Merchant of Venus game will debut at Spiel 2012.
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Wed Jun 27, 2012 12:45 pm
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Links: Faidutti Starts Blogging, Rosewater Explains Game Explanations & MIT Reinvents Sand

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• Designer Bruno Faidutti, who announced in May 2012 that he planned to shutter his website and launch a new blog, has indeed launched that blog, but his Ideal Game Library and the rest of his old Faidutti.com website is still around – at least for now. In his initial blog post, he writes, "The old website will stay online for a while, but I'll probably end up removing it in a few months or years, when it will have become completely obsolete, after copying and pasting here the best parts, mostly a few editorials."


Goodies on his blog already include this pic of a playtest version of Bauza and Maublanc's Rampage, due to be published by Repos Production, from his 2012 Ludopathic Gathering (complete game board image here); links to photo albums and reports from the Gathering; and this list of upcoming releases from Faidutti labeled "in the pipe so far for 2012 or 2013":

-----Formula E, with Sergio Halaban and André Zatz
-----Mascarade
-----Raptor, with Bruno Cathala
-----Speed Dating, with Nathalie Grandperrin
-----The Big Movie

(HT: JohnnyDollar)

• In his June 18, 2012 "Making Magic" column, Magic: The Gathering head designer Mark Rosewater uses the launch of Duels of the Planeswalkers to explain what goes wrong when you try to teach a novice game player how to play Magic and what you should do to make the experience as enjoyable (and hopefully as repeatable) as possible. To summarize:

-----Lesson #1: Teach As Little As Possible
-----Lesson #2: Above All Else, Make The Game Fun
-----Lesson #3: New Information Has To Be Carefully Ordered

While Rosewater is discussing Magic, the lessons can be applied to anyone teaching any game – well, teaching almost anything really. In general, I think I do a decent job teaching games to newcomers – although I'm out of practice from not hosting a weekly game night like I used to – but one area in which I fail completely is the part about not rushing new players, especially when I'm playing a game for the first time, too. I find that I learn better by doing and seeing the results rather than trying to puzzle through everything that might happen for each of the possible actions I might take. I get antsy when I sit and watch others ponder choices A or B endlessly, so I don't want to be the guy putting others through the same silent drama. I'm happy to take the 90% best option and not worry too much about whether I'm missing out on something slightly better. Plenty of time for self-flagellation later!

• The monopolization of U.S. culture continues with the release of Monopoly: The Godfather – Collector's Edition, a game which a press release notes "celebrates the 40th anniversary of the release of one of the most seminal films of our time". Also from the press release:

Quote:
Travel the board with one of six game tokens: the horse head, cannoli, Genco Olive Oil tin, the Don's limo, a dead fish or the tommy gun... [T]he game features new "Don" cards allowing each player to align with a particular family and employ a potentially lethal strike. The Corleone card, for instance, entitles the bearer to a kidnapping of an opponent while the Tattaglia card affords its owner a single money laundering opportunity.

Next on the agenda, Godfather milkshakes from McDonald's...

• Scenes from a game designer's studio in 2025: The aspiring designer-to-be wants to use multiple miniatures with game-specific features in his design, but doesn't want to go through the work of creating each miniature by hand. Thankfully, he can turn to the "smart sand" that originated in 2012 in MIT's Distributed Robotics Laboratory. As described in a Popular Science article from way back in April 2012, these grains of smart sand are "imbued with a small amount of computing power and covered in magnets on the outside... An object – a scaled-down version of whatever the user wishes to create – is placed into a container of smart sand granules. The sand runs an algorithm that allows it to sense the shape of the object and map it in 3-D. The user specifies how big he or she wants the final product to be beforehand, and the grains simply scale the map of the object up to the desired size." (Psst, don't let Games Workshop know about this stuff, seeing as it already objects to gamers using 3D printers.)

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Tue Jun 26, 2012 6:30 am
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Links: Unexpected Victory, Unexpected Packaging & an Unexpected Publication Offer

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• In his BGG blog, designer Ignacy Trzewiczek offers a fun anecdote of pulling a win out of nowhere by discovering things hidden in his own game Witchcraft that he never imagined existed.

• Video game site Kotaku features a video of Jane McGonigal, author of Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, answering a question often presented to gamers: "When we are on our deathbeds, will we regret the hours we spent playing games?" She points to research conducted on people who were on their deathbeds that seems to suggest otherwise.

• U.S. publisher Gamewright has interviewed Laurie Keller, author of The Scrambled States of America, which was later turned into a game of the same name by Gamewright when Keller couldn't do so. An excerpt:

Quote:
How did you decide to turn your book into a game?

It had never occurred to me to turn The Scrambled States of America into a game but Gamewright contacted my publisher, Henry Holt, and said that they were interested in doing so. They asked me if I had any ideas for a possible game and unfortunately I didn't. So they came up with the entire concept themselves and I was blown away! They made it fast-paced and fun and even added more educational elements than were in the book.

Book authors relish such rare opportunities: "Transform my work into another medium with me having to do nothing more than cash royalty checks? Well, I guess I could do that."

• Anthony Simons is back in his Pawnstar blog with yet another theme-based round-up that reaches back further in time than is normal for such things. This time he looks at town planning and building, with both aspects of theme being included in the games featured.

• The history of Abe and Rena Nathanson's Bananagrams was featured on the CNBC program "How I Made My Millions" in the U.S. The first publication run for this now ubiquitous game? Fifty copies. Total number of copies sold to date? Five-and-a-half to six million copies.

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Sun Jun 24, 2012 6:30 am
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