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

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Links: Cathala Objects, Faidutti Laments, Wheaton Ponders, Siggins Touts & Allers Remakes His Pie

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• So there's a video on Facebook of game designer Bruno Cathala shredding the cards from Witty Pong – a game he co-designed with Antoine Bauza that was published in 2011 by French publisher MyWittyGames – a video he described solely with the words: "Feel free to share...and like...but without comment of any kind."

Well, I'm a commenting kind of guy, so I thought I'd provide context for this bit of drama, something to explain why Cathala would destroy a copy of his own game. The reason becomes clear once you read this post (now not viewable without an account) by Monsieur Phal, editor of the French game site Tric Trac. In brief, the post explains that on Jan. 23, 2013, Tric Trac was visited by a bailiff and three national police officers with a demand for the IP addresses of six forum users who had participated in an act of denigration or public insult against the publisher.

Tric Trac was also notified that the sustainability of the publisher was being threatened due to a post by Monsieur Phal in which he noted that the publisher – which funds games along a Kickstarter model, but only for titles to be published under its banner – had raised €200,000 and he was curious about the publisher's future operations, given how different its business model is from other publishers. For now, Tric Trac has deleted the post as Phal notes that he didn't want to have to monitor all posts from users and worry about future visits from the bailiff. (For the same reason, he asks readers not to pile on to the publisher, but rather to let the facts lie where they will and get on with other things.) All of which lead to Cathala's apparent desire to disassociate himself from the publisher.

• The Kickstarter project for Formula E – an elephant racing game from the design team of Bruno Faidutti, Sérgio Halaban and André Zatz and publishers Clever Mojo Games and Game Salute – squeaked past the goal line in the final minutes by just 1.3% over its $25,000 goal. In his blog, Faidutti writes about his first experience on the "other side" of Kickstarter – that is, from the viewpoint of someone who's designed a game that's being crowdfunded:

Quote:
...[T]he experience was frustrating, and maybe even humiliating.

It was frustrating because, until the very end, I was not sure we will make it – or rather you will make it – and because I'm a bit disappointed that André, Sergio and I had found only 400 gamers to trust our word on a game. It was humiliating because I posted several times on my blog and on Facebook about money, about the financial aspects of producing a game, blatantly asking for support. Of course, I’ve always used my website to promote my games, to suggest that people buy them, but it was less direct, more subtle. The directness of crowdfunding sometimes feels almost obscene.

• Wil Wheaton writes about the unexpected success of TableTop, both in terms of sales to the games featured on the show ("I heard from a distributor that one of the games we played sold out and had to go into a new printing — they thought 30,000 copies of the game would be enough, and they were wrong.") and of the stories that he heard from viewers "who had been inspired to start up their own game nights with their friends and families". He notes that he doesn't know "if and when new episodes will air". (I believe the game Wheaton refers to is Pandemic, which went through a rush printing ahead of the announcement of a new edition in order for stock not to completely run out during the 2012 holiday season.)

• Famed Sumo writer/reviewer Mike Siggins has laid out his choices for the best games of 2012, with Polis: Fight for the Hegemony taking his top spot, the Yokozuna. Filling the next tier of his awards are 1989: Dawn of Freedom, Clash of Cultures, Keyflower, Pax Porfiriana, and Starship Merchants.

• In a February 2013 Postcard from Berlin, writer/designer Jeffrey D. Allers writes about the challenge of playing with the visually impaired. Interesting to think about how theme is conferred only visually in nearly all games, leaving visually impaired gamers in a largely abstract-only gamespace.
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Thu Feb 14, 2013 6:57 pm
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Which Monopoly Token Will Be Banished in 2013? What Will Replace It: The Pencil Shavings or the Half-Eaten Donut?

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In 2013, U.S. game publisher Hasbro announced a competition of sorts in which player votes will determine which token in the current edition of Monopoly will be banished from the game forever – "forever" being, of course, a relative term that lasts until a commemorative edition of the game is released. In addition, voters will decide which of five tokens will be added to the game.

Votes, both positive and negative, can be placed via Facebook on a special "Save Your Token" page, with users being able to post a vote every single day, thereby completely skewing the vote total toward those Scottie dog fanatics.

Rather than write more about this "development" in the world's best-selling branded game, I recorded the following video:


For reference, here's Lowen Liu's Slate article referenced in the video.
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Mon Jan 21, 2013 10:10 pm
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Links: Small Box Plans, Worthington Gives, Tagmire Advises & Museum Workers Play

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• Designer/publisher John Clowdus of Small Box Games has posted an overview of the role Kickstarter played in the success of his company in 2012 and why SBG will continue to use Kickstarter in the future:

Quote:
It's no secret that we're a small company, evidenced by the fact that you probably haven't ever heard of us before. I'll go as far as to say we try our best to stay a small company. To some, this may make absolutely no sense. To others who have been our customers for years, I think it will make perfect sense. I don't try to paint ourselves into some sort of ivory tower, but I feel we use Kickstarter slightly differently than most other game companies do. When we post something on Kickstarter, it's a finished game. It isn't vaporware, it isn't an idea, and it isn't an unfinished prototype that's still in development. Basically, at its core, we're offering preorders for one of our games in exchange for helping us cover the printing costs. This isn't that different or different at all really, from any other preordering system used outside of Kickstarter.

Clowdus also expounds on why SBG will stay small, a topic he's written about in the past.

• Travis Worthington from Indie Boards and Cards reports that the publisher has donated $7,500 to Heifer International – with a matching $7,500 donation from Worthington's daytime employer – based on game sales in 2012. Notes Worthington, "I hope to be able to once again make a significant donation in 2013, and remember we donate $1 from every sale we make direct – every game sold at a convention or via Kickstarter helps us support not only great games, but a great hope for those that were born into less fortunate situations than you and I."

• Carl Chudyk's Innovation is now available for online play on Isotropic. As Isotropic's Doug Z. notes on BGG, "Like my existing site for Dominion, there's no AI; it's a place to play against other people... There's probably quite a few bugs still lurking — many of the cards have not been thoroughly tested — but it should be playable. Let me know what you think!"

• Dennis at Bellwether Games interviews Jason Tagmire, designer of Pixel Lincoln: The Deckbuilding Game, who offers lots of advice about running a Kickstarter project, such as the following:

Quote:
You really need to do as much research as possible on your costs because chances are you will lose money. Even if you overfund, you still may lose money. Shipping is killer. You will need to ship from the manufacturer to you, then from you to the backers. And then when some of the $40 overseas packages come back to you (for many reasons), you need to pay $40 more to ship it back out. You'll need to plan stretch goals if you overfund. Many creators get caught up in the momentum and offer stretch goals that weren't researched as well as everything else, and they wind up costing more money than intended. There is so much to plan.

The Museum of Inuit Art in Toronto, Ontario is planning an exhibit titled "The Art of Play" for Q2 2013, which is described on its blog as follows: The exhibit will "examine contemporary game play, primarily as it relates to Inuit but also in a wider context. This means looking back at the history of gameplay in the Arctic, but also at non-Inuit games that have helped to define modern concepts of the form, to look at the questions: Are (all) games art? Are these traditions of play different? And if the answer(s) are yes, what does that mean?"

One item to be included in "The Art of Play" is Ben Pinchback and Matt Riddle's Fleet, which associate curator Alysa Procida and volunteer coordinator Lindsay Bontoft tested in mid-December 2012 after receiving a copy for the exhibition:

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Wed Jan 2, 2013 12:15 am
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Links: Knizia on His Design Philosophy and Recent Releases, Counter Gets New Editors & Myrmes Wins Tric Trac d'Or

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• Derek Thompson at MeepleTown has published a two-part interview with designer Reiner Knizia, with part one focusing on Indigo and Qin and part two covering Spectaculum, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Das Kartenspiel, and games which likely have had zero presence on your radar. A couple of excerpts that highlight his current approach to game design and why his recent releases tend to be nestled in the Venn overlap between casual and strategic gamers, starting with why players in Indigo and Spectaculum have small hand sizes in the basic rules:

Quote:
For me, I think the overriding criterion is the play dynamics. Therefore, if you have a small hand – just one tile to play – the game speeds up significantly because people don't have to ponder about two or three or four tiles, and which one do I play in which situation, and which one do I want to play next turn. Suddenly the game becomes much more complex for some players, and for some it becomes much more painful because they have to wait. So in this respect, I rather like fast turns, and if I see that it moves fast, then I'd rather increase the number of turns and have many short turns, instead of big and excruciatingly long ones.

As for his approach to determining what should be included in a game:

Quote:
The easier process, which I find much more applicable to good results, is to start with something bigger and more convoluted. So, to begin, add a lot of things in, and then streamline them down. I'm more coming from a scientific background; I'm a scientist at heart – and scientists try to reduce the redundancy of the information and bring it down to a few principles, and that's my approach as well. That means I have to start with a rich environment, otherwise I narrow it too much and end up with only a small game. For a big game, I need to start with a very big conglomerate, which is not a one-step process – we very often throw more stuff at it and build it up again, and then see how we can melt it down and what remains and what falls off again. That's a very good process for me. I think it's a much harder process to begin with 80% and just try to add another 20% into it and be able to integrate it nicely. Usually it's better to have a system and say, "Okay, this looks good but very big, what do we absolutely need to have and what can we leave behind?" because then you end up with only the best things out of the big conglomerate.

As a particular example of this process, he talks about what hit the cutting floor in Spectaculum:

Quote:
In Spectaculum, we had a lot of extra features in the [original] gold rush theme. We had bandits which could take things over, figures moving on the board which could influence and erase things... There was another whole board game aspect to it. The playing of the cards and laying of the tiles was only one aspect. But when we looked at it as a whole, we came to the conclusion that the cards and tiles were the exciting part, and the part that can easily be grasped, as a very round and cohesive experience. The other rules made it more of a gamer's game, but I thought that the final result was as simple as possible but as complex as necessary to make it a good game.

"As simple as possible but as complex as necessary to make it a good game". Sounds like the core principle of his approach to game design – although, of course, not everyone would agree with his definitions of "simple", "complex" and (lest we forget) "good".

Yoann Levet's Myrmes from Ystari Games has won game of the year on French gaming site TricTrac, with Trajan and Village placing second and third in the ranking based on the votes of roughly two hundred people.

• On video game site Kotaku, Quintin Smith offers his list of the five best board games in 2012 – Eclipse, City of Horror, Android: Netrunner, Risk: Legacy and Mage Knight – with the former having "made the most lasting impression on the scene" and the latter being "the most complicated, the most nuanced, and the most interesting puzzle I played this year" as well as "everything that board gaming can be".

• Days of Wonder reprinted Mystery of the Abbey in 2012, but the English edition of the game included errors on the Mass cards that tell you how many cards to pass at the end of each round. On December 20, 2012, DoW posted details on how to get a pack of replacement Mass cards should yours state that you pass two cards in each Mass.

• After fifteen years, Stuart Dagger has stepped down as editor of gaming magazine Counter and longtime contributors Ben Baldanza and Greg Schloesser are taking over both the editorial and subscription/marketing positions at the magazine (as Alan How is leaving the latter position at the same time as Dagger). Schloesser describes the future of the magazine as follows:

Quote:
So what can you expect from Counter magazine as we move beyond issue #60 and into the future? More of the same and, well, more. The same team has been assembled, so you will continue to enjoy reviews and articles from all of the familiar gamers and friends you have come to know and trust over these past fifteen years. Both Alan and Stuart will also continue to contribute, which is a blessing. We will also have contributions from more folks located around the world. These will be folks who are well-known and respected within the gaming hobby and industry. We have other exciting additions planned that will help make Counter even more exciting, including an online website where you can learn more about Counter, the folks who contribute, and even read a bonus review or two!

Ben and I are very humbled and excited to be assuming the reins of Counter magazine from Stuart and Alan. We are both very appreciative of the outstanding publication they have created and the service they have provided not only for Counter readers, but for the entire hobby and industry. We promise to continue the standard of excellence set by these two outstanding men, and hope to make Counter even more informative, exciting and fun. Join us as we continue to produce the best magazine in the board game hobby!

Subscription information is included on the website.
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Thu Dec 27, 2012 10:45 pm
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Links: Kevin Wilson Checks In, Raph Koster Checks for Errors & Cards Against Humanity Writes a Check

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• Designer Kevin Wilson (Descent: Journeys in the Dark, Arkham Horror) left Fantasy Flight Games in late 2012 to try life on his own as a freelance designer, and he's posted two updates on what's been happening since his "retirement" from FFG, noting that FFG's CEO Christian Petersen "has since been supportive with both advice and offers of projects for me" and "a number of other game companies started contacting me, either with offers of work or simply to establish lines of communication". As for what you might be able to play with his name on it:

Quote:
I've already finished two games and moved them into testing. One is a very simple card game I'd like to see in the mainstream/educational market, while the other is a Euro game that I want to place in the German market initially, if I can. It has a short play time and supports a lot of players while still allowing a reasonable amount of strategy, so I'm hopeful it'll do well. These games were a departure for me, but I feel it's important to develop some breadth to my library of designs.

I'm also working on a game that's more like what folks expect from me, which I'll refer to as project Rattler for now. The basic game framework is designed, now all I have to do is write the content and test it. Rattler is in the process of being sold to a company, so that's looking good.

Finally, I've just started work with Eric Lang on two projects I'm referring to as Tweedledee and Tweedledum for now. Although I've been good friends with Eric for years, I've never gotten to work on anything with him before, so these two projects promise to be a treat for me.

• Author Raph Koster is revising his book A Theory of Fun for Game Design for a second edition due out in time for the book's tenth anniversary and is looking for feedback, suggestions and corrections from those who have read the book.

• Derek Thompson at MeepleTown interviews designer Alan R. Moon about designs old, new and renewed. Regarding several prospective titles mentioned from Moon in previous years, he states that the monsters from Ticket to Ride: Japan were published as the Ticket to Ride: Alvin & Dexter expansion (with no plans for Japan itself to be published) and while Jay Tummelson at Rio Grande Games wanted to publish Elfensea, a reworking of his Spiel des Jahres-winning Elfenland, Elfenland's original publisher AMIGO Spiele asked him not to. Says Moon, "I will eventually work on Elfensea again and resubmit it to AMIGO.

• The makers of Cards Against Humanity provide a breakdown of the sales and costs involved in its 2012 Holiday Expansion, including a chart depicting the profit in units of fresh boar sperm – profit that it then donated to a deserving source (presumably in a more traditional form of currency).

• As often happens in media, success begets imitators. U.S. television network NBC has seen the success of Wil Wheaton's TableTop and decided to launch an eight-episode run of Hollywood Game Night, an hour-long show "featuring A-list celebrities hanging out and living it up in a cocktail party atmosphere" based on the actual game nights of actor/producer Sean Hayes, according to an article on TV by the Numbers. What differentiates this show from TableTop, aside from the promised appearance of A-list celebrities? According to the article, "two contestants in each episode will be transported from their everyday lives into a once-in-a-lifetime night of fun and celebration as they step beyond the velvet rope and rub shoulders with the celebrity crowd".

Paul Telegdy, President of Alternative and Late Night Programming for NBC Entertainment is quoted as saying, "Our audience will feel as if they are part of the party as we pull back the curtain on how today's Hollywood stars play at home while our contestants can earn big money." Unless they're sitting on Mexican Chair People while playing, I can't imagine how "today's Hollywood stars" play that differently from us non-stars.
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Thu Dec 27, 2012 8:59 am
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Links: Designing for Aztecs, Mayfair Goes Exclusive (Sort of) & IELLO Says Thanks

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• In his Headless Hollow blog, illustrator/graphic designer Peter Gifford, a.k.a. Universal Head, details his design process for the Ares Games release Aztlán. An excerpt:

Quote:
The starting point is always the logo. The game is based on the mythological land of the Aztecs, so I went for a monolithic feel, enhanced by some photographic stone textures of Mayan ruins I had taken many years ago during a trip to Mexico. I wanted something bold and readable and reflective of the shapes of Aztec ziggurats, and the typeface Recovery worked well as the basis for the logotype – strong and evocative, yet with a contemporary edge. My only "design indulgence" was the placement of the accent over the A, which cuts into the letter below it.

Tons of photo reference – that's something I've always noticed about artists. They're taking photos constantly, in addition to acquiring reference books for subjects across the board.

• U.S. publisher Mayfair Games has signed two exclusive distribution agreements, but they're not with one of the usual suspects: Alliance Game Distributors or ACD Distribution. Instead one such agreement is with The Next Step Trading for distribution in South Africa, while the other agreement is with Esdevium Games for distribution in the United Kingdom hobby retail network. From the press release announcing one of the agreements: "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."

• In a reversal of his July 2012 announcement of exclusive distribution through his own website, Amazon.com and Game Salute, Michael Mindes from Tasty Minstrel Games has announced that TMG will once again be available through traditional distributors. From the announcement: "All TMG products will be available through regular distribution channels if those distributors will have us. And I hope that they will. Distributors will be able to obtain our games through our long-term and wonderful partner PSI, who has been here for me through every dumb thing I have done. I am glad to be out of the business of worrying about how to improve the hobby board game ecosystem."

• In his latest monthly interview, Dennis at Bellwether Games interviews Paul Owen, designer of the 2011 release Trains, Planes & Automobiles from BlueSquare Games, and he offers this advice for prospective designers:

Quote:
Admittedly, I was ridiculously lucky to have an acquaintance with a gaming company that had just starting looking for designs in the exact genre that I had just completed a prototype for. But I would say that the thing that helped was having established the casual relationship in the first place – just walking up to the booth, saying "hi", explaining that you're a designer with one or more projects in work, and would like to know about the kind of games they might be looking for, what their philosophy is on accepting new designs from freelancers, that kind of thing. So, while looking neither pushy nor desperate, just building the relationship helps. Even if you're not ready to make a pitch yet.

In my case, the relationship was face-to-face, but in today's fast-moving and far-reaching blogosphere/twitterverse, designers can establish relationships and at least some notional name-recognition among publishers virtually. I'm beginning to see that an amateur designer with a quality blog or other social media platform can establish a presence even before he or she is ready to approach a publisher with a project – and in fact, it's a good way to distinguish oneself so that a prospective publisher might be more willing to look at something if they recognize the name behind the design.


• In response to King of Tokyo winning several Golden Geek awards, Matthieu Bonin at IELLO passes along this "thank you" note:

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Links: Asmodee Opens in China, Games of the Year in France & Interviews with Hisashi Hayashi and Michael R. Keller

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• French site TricTrac.net has posted the ten nominees for its Tric Trac d'Or 2012 award, and aside from a couple of lighter titles, it's a hefty list of lengthy games:

-----Archipelago, by Christophe Boelinger (Ludically)
-----Eclipse, by Touko Tahkokallio (Lautapelit.fi)
-----Myrmes, by Yoann Levet (Ystari)
-----Noé, by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc (Bombyx)
-----Seasons, by Régis Bonnessée (Libellud)
-----Sherlock Holmes Détective Conseil, by Raymond Edwards, Suzanne Goldberg and Gary Grady (Ystari)
-----Takenoko, by Antoine Bauza (Matagot/Bombyx)
-----Tournay, by Sébastien Dujardin, Xavier Georges and Alain Orban (Pearl Games)
-----Trajan, by Stefan Feld (Ammonit Spiele)
-----Village, by Inka and Marcus Brand (Gigamic)

The winner will be announced December 16.

• In late November 2012, Asmodee opened a wholly-owned subsidiary in Shanghai, China. From a press release announcing the founding of Asmodee China: "The goal is to expand into a new market taking advantage of Asmodee's extensive line-up of games and the existing relationships with partners, thus promoting the brand in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The intent is to build an inventory of games in Chinese for this market: party games, family, educational, strategy, hobby, etc." Furthermore:

Quote:
To start, the Asmodee bestsellers will be offered to the Chinese market: Jungle Speed, Dobble, Dixit Journey (Libellud), Takenoko (Bombyx/Matagot), Kemet (Matagot), 7 Wonders (Repos Production), and Eclipse (Ystari/Lautapelit). Subsequently, Asmodee will further extend its product range every year to offer localized versions of new titles as well as a selection of titles in English for the avid player. "After a period of reflection, the decision to open a subsidiary in China was the best option for effectively promoting our games and those of our partners in this market," stated Stephane Carville, Managing Director, Asmodee Group. "The Chinese game market is undergoing a major expansion and Asmodee is looking forward to this adventure. We welcome new editors joining us in this venture."

Christophe Arnoult (Asmodee USA), Zongxiu Yao Charpentier (Asmodee China),
and Jean-Christophe Giraud (Asmodee International) at Spiel 2012

Hisashi Hayashi, designer of String Railway and Trains, is interviewed by MeepleTown's Derek Thompson. An excerpt:

Quote:
I am a great fan of railway games, and have played a large number of them. In most railway games, you place tiles on the board, or place your trains on the railways. In both cases, you’re pretty limited in where you put your rails. I was thinking about and looking for some way in which you could choose more freely, and what I ended up with was String Railway.

• In mid-November 2012, Seth Hiatt stepped down as president of Mayday Games and Ryan Bruns now fulfills that role. Hiatt, who moved to Suzhou, China in 2011, says that he's "stepping aside to focus on manufacturing and game development and pursue some other interests, including teaching some university courses".

• Dennis at Bellwether Games interviews Michael R. Keller, designer of the forthcoming City Hall and Captains of Industry and former assistant designer at Decipher Games. When asked the most important skill for a game designer, Keller answers:

Quote:
Humility. Being a game designer is an inherently egocentric process, as the initial design work is almost entirely alone. You decide what you want in your game. You end up making what you like and liking what you make. The first time you think your game is done, you're wrong. The next hundred times you think that, you're still wrong.
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Links: Awards in Spain, Discounts at Spiel & Obsessions in Editors and Artists

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• Michael Rieneck's Santiago de Cuba from eggertspiele has been named Juego del Año 2012 – board game of the year – by the jury of the Premio JdA, beating out Hanabi, Kingdoms, Survive: Escape from Atlantis! and Village. Twilight Struggle, from designers Ananda Gupta and Jason Matthews and published in Spain by Devir, received a special mention from the jury due to "its perfect integration of history and real events in a board game".

• In his blog, designer Emanuele Ornella points out odd selling habits at Spiel:

Quote:
In Hall 9 the distributor Heidelberger is really making crazy prices. Big box games for 10, 15 or 20 euro. Small and middle box games for 5 or 10 euro. This year, for example, 20th Century was for 10 euro. For 5 euro Magestorm by the out of business Nexus games (actually re-born in Ares games).

Is this really helping the game market? Of course players are attracted there to see what you can find for a very cheap price. And if you are lucky and you didn't already bought the game before, you can have a bargain. On the other hand if you paid the same game 20 euro more you are starting to think: Next time I'll wait before buying a game for a big price...

The title that surprised me in Heidelberger's discount piles was Michael Schacht's Coney Island as the game was only a year old and marked down to €10. Of course perhaps this is a chicken-or-egg problem. Are the huge number of titles hitting the market pushing games from twelve months ago into the discount bins in order to make room for the new stuff? Or are people holding off on buying new games, perhaps overwhelmed by all the choices and perhaps anticipating cheaper prices down the road because they know nearly everything hits the discount bin within 24 months?

• Not specifically game-related, but you'll understand why I'm posting this: In mid-November 2012, Yuka Igarashi, an editor at Granta, wrote about the hazards that come with copy-editing text in advance of an issue being sent to the publisher:

Quote:
You start to read in a different way. You start to see the sentence as machinery. You focus on the gears and levers that connect words to one another; you hunt for the wayward semicolon, the unintentionally ambiguous phrase, the clunky repeated word. You even hope they appear, so you can kill them. You see them when they're not even there, because you relish slashing your pen across the paper. It gets a little twisted.

And elsewhere in the piece:

Quote:
There was talk of ordering some food. I looked down at the sandwich menu: kiln smoked salmon and horseradish chive creme fraiche in toasted wholemeal bread. "Kiln smoked" probably should be hyphenated, I thought – it's acting as an adjective modifying smoked salmon – and "creme" needs the accent. Also, does "in" make sense here? Wouldn't it be better if it was "on"? Was this some kind of innovative sandwich that involved salmon being placed inside the bread?

• And another non-game article, but one that had me curious about your reaction: On Patheos, in an article titled "Artists Behaving Strangely", Daniel A. Siedell writes:

Quote:
Why do so many artists behave so strangely? If their odd-looking work isn't enough to make us scratch our heads, their weird behavior confirms our suspicions that they are charlatans, getting away with artistic murder in a laissez-faire and degenerate art world in which personality and image are more important than the quality of their work. ...

[Perhaps] artists' strange behavior is not due to their creative or marketing genius but a profoundly human response to a serious problem that all artists, in one way or another, face on a daily basis.

A painting is a weak and vulnerable thing because it is just not necessary. Smelly oil paint smeared across a canvas cannot be justified in this conditional, transactional world. Yet vast, complex institutions and networks have emerged to do just that, whether through the auction house (art as priceless luxury item), the museum tour (education), or the local chamber of commerce (art as community service, cultural tourism, or urban revival). That art is ultimately gratuitous, that its existence is a gift to the world, creates anxiety and insecurity in the art world. Everyone involved, from art collectors and dealers to critics and curators have to justify their interest in this seemingly "useless" activity – and justify the money they make or spend on its behalf. Art simply cannot be justified.

While games and paintings differ in their markets – paintings being one-off creations that sell for thousands or millions of dollars while games are reproduced and sold for less than $100 – they are both "not necessary" – that is, a particular game or painting is not necessary despite the human desire to play and to adorn one's surroundings. Yet game authors and artists do their work just the same. Why do it? Why go through the effort? What's driving them to create such works? And why don't we have a bevy of game designers who are comparably strange? Is the games market just not big enough, or is the author misguided in his reasoning?
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Sat Dec 1, 2012 6:30 am
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Links: Interviews with Naïade and Dominic Crapuchettes, Why Black Friday Is Like Spiel & Khet Zaps Laser Battle

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• Derek Thompson at MeepleTown has posted a two-part interview with designer/publisher Dominic Crapuchettes with the first part focusing on everything related to Wits & Wagers and its spinoff titles – the designer diary Crapuchettes mentions ran in early November 2012 on BGGN – while the second part focuses on Clubs (due out early in 2013), Say Anything, Crappy Birthday, and North Star Games' attempt at a digital transformation. I love this anecdote from Crapuchettes about how mainstream stores make their buying decisions:

Quote:
After [listening to us pitch] Wits & Wagers, the [Target] buyer was very interested – he said, "This was probably the most unique game that has ever been pitched to me. This is something I would like to play. But here's my problem: If I carry it, it won't sell. Here are the only things that have sold, based on my experience: One, a Hollywood license. Two, a 2+ million dollar television advertising campaign. Three, a recognizable brand name, because it's been built up for 3-5 years in other channels, and it's sold at least 100,000 copies previously. Those are the only three types of games that sell at Target."

I've experienced this same reaction, albeit not from a mainstream retailer. In the mid-2000s I pitched article queries related to modern games to dozens of publications, carefully refining which games I'd cover for which publication and in which format. At the time I was a full-time freelance writer, and this was part of my effort to write more about something I love – games – and less about general business or health topics that paid the bills but were less interesting. I had some successes – such as a paid write-up about Primordial Soup for Discover (that never ran, as far as I know), a paid bimonthly column in Coffee Magazine, and an unpaid two-paragraph summary of Reef Encounter for Tropical Fish Hobbyist (no, really!) – but many more rejections, including one from USA Weekend, a weekly general interest publication inserted into U.S. newspapers. Given the audience, I pitched the editor on introductory modern games – all the usual suspects – and he wrote back, "Why would anyone be interested in reading about these games that they know nothing about?"

MeepleTown's Derek Thompson also interviews Xavier Gueniffey Durin, a.k.a. Naïade, illustrator of Seasons, Tokaido and Isla Dorada and one of numerous French artists who create luscious games that suck you into their world whether or not you have any interest in their gameplay.

• An article in The Atlantic about the appeal of "Black Friday" sales in the U.S. can also be viewed as explaining why gamers from around the world love to attend the annual Spiel game convention in Essen, Germany when it would make more economic sense for these people to buy games with the money spent on airfare. An excerpt:

Quote:
Some people delight over the idea of fighting over the last Nintendo Wii, or whatever the item of the year happens to be. This study found that "perceived competition ... creates positive emotions and induces hedonic shopping value." Black Friday creates that kind of "perceived competition" in that it's not just a shopping day with a bunch of people. It's a shopping day with a bunch of people where discounts don't last and discounted products are scarce. "At certain levels, consumers enjoy arousal and challenges during the shopping process," researcher Sang-Eun Byun told The Washington Post's Olga Khazan. "They enjoy something that's harder to get, and it makes them feel playful and excited."

• As reported in The Colorado Springs Business Journal, Innovention Toys, publisher of Khet: The Laser Game, has won its lawsuit against MGA Entertainment over MGA's copycat laser-based strategy game Laser Battle. An excerpt:

Quote:
A Louisiana federal jury has awarded nearly $1.6 million in damages to a game company, owned by UCCS professor Michael Larson, that accused MGA Entertainment of copying its patented laser beam strategy board game.

The David-and-Goliath battle, which played out in district court and a federal court of appeals, ends a five-year battle...

The suit revolved around the board game Khet, which Larson developed with two of his students. He said the strategy game, where players manipulate reflective and non-reflective pieces in conjunction with an on-board laser beam, incorporates U.S. Patent No. 7,264,242, titled, "Light-reflecting board game", which was issued in September 2007, a month before the suit was filed.

According to Innovention, the patent-in-suit was unlawfully co-opted by MGA, which introduced its own competing game, Laser Battle, and sold it through retailers and co-defendants Wal-Mart and Toys 'R' Us.

(HT: ICv2)
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Sun Nov 25, 2012 1:09 am
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Links: Board Games in Mainstream Media, Giant Letters in a Stadium & Beer in a Lecturer

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• The history of Monopoly might not be a surprise to BGGers, but for those who aren't aware of the game's predecessor – Elizabeth Magie's The Landlord's Game – or how Henry George's philosophical belief that people should pay the state rent for land they owned influenced Magie, check out Christopher Ketcham's article "Monopoly Is Theft" on the Harper's Magazine blog. Ketcham intertwines events at the 25th Annual Corporate Monopoly Tournament in Pittsburgh into the larger story of how the game evolved over time. An excerpt:

Quote:
[Adam] Smith described such monopolist rent-seekers, who in his day were typified by the landed gentry of England, as the great parasites in the capitalist order. They avoided productive labor, innovated nothing, created nothing – the land was already there – and made a great deal of money while bleeding those who had to pay rent. The initial phase of competition in Monopoly, the free-trade phase that happens to be the most exciting part of the game to watch, is really about ending free trade and nixing competition in order to replace it with rent-seeking.

• In early October 2012, Derek Thompson at MeepleTown published an interview with Touko Tahkokallio, designer of the highly-rated Eclipse and its follow-up Eclipse: Rise of the Ancients, who unbeknownst to me designs mobile games for a day job.

• On Nov. 12, 2012, The Los Angeles Times published a general interest "Hey, board games still exist" article from Todd Martens (with the article actually being titled "Board games are growing in popularity again"), and the piece featured the usual suspects of such articles (Ticket to Ride, The Settlers of Catan) while also including quotes from Nathan McNair from Pandasaurus Games, Chris Kirkman from Dice Hate Me Games, and Matt Leacock – who for some reason is quoted about his experience self-publishing Lunatix Loop while not being credited with Pandemic, which is mentioned as one of the titles "having fueled the table-top renaissance". Interesting tidbits from the article: "Days of Wonder spends about $20,000 simply to develop a game" and Ticket to Ride "has worldwide sales of 'several hundred thousand units per year'", according to DoW co-founder Eric Hautemont.

• Trent at The Board Game Family details Out of the Box Publishing's attempt to set a world record for "most people playing a word game" by having thousands of football fans play Word on the Street simultaneously during halftime at a BYU/Idaho football game in Provo, Utah. In the normal game, a player or team is presented with a category, names something in that category, then moves the consonant tiles used in that word toward their side of the board. Unsurprisingly that approach to gameplay doesn't work in a football stadium. Here's what they did instead:

Quote:
Out of the Box created nine-foot square vinyl letters and set them up on the football field. The spectators (now participants) were split into two teams – the north half of the stand versus the south half. The questions were shown on the jumbo screens with three possible answers that the teams were to cheer for their favorite choice. Then the cheerleaders on the field would move the letter tiles according to the word.

And the questions that were used were created specifically for this event with responses being submitted prior to the event from Out of the Box fans around the world. They were all BYU-related such as "Name a BYU Quarterback" or "Favorite Ice Cream Flavor at the BYU Creamery".

• Quinns from Shut Up & Sit Down gave a fun and impassioned forty-minute talk at the UK video game festival GameCity on why modern board games are awesome and why video gamers – in particular video game designers – should be paying attention to what's going on with modern board game design.

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Thu Nov 15, 2012 6:45 am
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