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News from Italy: Ludoteca Ideale, PLAY: The Games Festiva, Sails of Glory l and Galaxy Defenders

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Ludoteca Ideale is about the closest thing we have in Italy to a "Game of the Year", with hundreds of gamers from more than fifteen different associations and clubs – along with a jury of experts – voting on which games released in Italy during a calendar year rise above all the others. Here's the list of the best ten family/strategy games, followed by the top four children's games:

-----Family/Strategy Games
A Game of Thrones (second edition) (Giochi Uniti)
Goa (Asterion Press)
Legends of Andor (Giochi Uniti)
Mondo (DV Giochi)
Ora et Labora (Uplay.it)
Seasons (Asterion Press)
Sheepland (Cranio Creations)
Takenoko (Asterion Press)
Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar (Cranio Creations)
Village (Uplay.it)

-----Children's Games
Acchiappamostri (Red Glove)
Caccia al fantasma (Clementoni)
Dobble (Asterion Press)
Geistesblitz 2.0 (Giochi Uniti)

These game will be demonstrated – with three tables devoted to each game – during PLAY: The Game Festival, held April 6-7, 2013. Ludoteca Ideale will also be present at other Italian gaming events and conventions during the year.

•••

Speaking of PLAY, with which I am involved, the program for the fifth annual PLAY convention is growing day by day, with almost all Italian publishers scheduled to attend the event. Many of these publishers will show new releases at PLAY, with prototypes and ready-to-be-published games being playable as well, including Dungeon Venture from Stratelibri and Galaxy Defenders.

Several tournaments will be held, including ones for Carcassonne, 7 Wonders, Dominion, Settlers of Catan, A Game of Thrones: The Card Game LCG, Warhammer: Invasion LCG, Dust Tactics, Android: Netrunner LCG, Risk and Combat Commander. PLAY will also host the first round of Italy's Twilight Struggle championship. The finals will take place September 13-14, 2013 during the Asterion Gaming Days, a special event focusing on titles from this publisher, with the winner (and the runner-up) being offered a weekend in New York or Moscow.

People interested in more news related to this convention can sign up for updates on the PLAY Facebook page.

•••

Sails of Glory, the tactical "Age of Sails" game from Ares Games, is now on Kickstarter.

Inspired by the acclaimed Wings of Glory system, Sails of Glory features assembled and painted ship models that are ready to play out of the box, and a game system designed to accurately represent battles at sea between the large sailing ships of the past centuries. The first series of Sails of Glory is set in the Napoleonic Age, an iconic period for naval wargaming. The initial release, scheduled for August 2013, will consist of the Sails of Glory starter set – an all-in-one starting point to begin playing, including four fully painted and assembled ships – and twelve additional ship packs, some of which are named in this preview post from March 4, 2013 on the Ares Games website. (A second preview post from March 6 covers how to plan and execute movement of the ships.)

I've been able to acquire a preview copy of Sails of Glory – without miniatures as they've yet to be produced – so I hope to be able to write a real preview of the game soon.

•••

The designers of Galaxy Defenders, Simone Romano and Nunzio Surace, passed along details about the "Rank-Up System" for agents in that game, as well as examples of how to customize agents with class templates in order to maximize their efficiency on the battlefield. I've paraphrased the information below.

Fighting aliens can improve the abilities of an agent; more specifically, during the strategy phase, if at least one alien was killed in the previous round, each agent may try to enhance his rank by rolling three green dice to obtain X icons, with X dependent on the rank to be reached as shown on this table:


A standard agent starts his career with a GD-Wings rank of Copper, which means that he can count on nothing more than his starting abilities as printed on the Agent Profile Sheet. During the story campaign, each agent may gain a maximum of one GD-Wings rank for each mission. When playing a single, standalone mission on the other hand, there are no limits to rank enhancement; each agent will start the mission with the rank stated in the mission briefing and may reach Platinum GD-Wings status. As he gains ranks, the agent will gain access to advanced powers, which are divided into three categories:

Basic Tactics & Improved Tactics: Quick aid in battle, represented by minor powers that be used a couple of time for each mission.
Skills: Greater powers that usually can be used once per round.
Elite Agent Profile Sheet: When an agent reach the Palladium Rank, he becomes an Elite Agent with more Life Points and – most importantly – a new Armor characterized by the Rechargeable Energy Shield Defense [R.E.S.D.].

In addition to his powers and capabilities, any GD Agent can use technological gadgets in the field because a secret agent without weird devices is like Earth without the Sun – it cannot exist! An agent can use his action phase to activate one of his devices once per mission; the used device will then be returned to the GD Warehouse (the game box), to be available again only if the GD agency sends it back on the battlefield during the reinforcements phase.

The next section includes examples of agent customization. In order to better understand these strategies, we need to briefly explain the different powers. Powers and items can be divided into three categories:

Standard: The power or item can be used once during the agent turn by spending the Action phase.
Passive: The power or item is always active and does not require any Action phase.
Reaction: The power can be activated outside of the agent's turn without needing an Action phase. When used, it will still be turned face-down or discarded.

Powers and items can be tied to a specific class or available for all; to identify the latter, look for the keyword "general", which means that it can be used by any agents, without class restrictions.


We will now peek at two different agents: the Infiltrator (on the left) and the Hulk (on the right); by accurately selecting each power and item during each rank enhancement, the player can build up the perfect agent template for the desired role.
These examples show two different templates for each agent, both based on a Platinum Rank that includes:

• Elite Agent Profile Sheet (B-side of the Agent Profile Sheet)
• 1 Basic Tactic
• 1 Improved Tactic
• 2 Skills
• 3 Devices

All the templates are presented with standard weapons, but keep in mind that each weapon can be upgraded twice by searching for Alien Technology during a mission.


The Infiltrator Spy template (on the left) creates the perfect stealth spy, very useful for investigative or search-and-recovery missions. A player with this configuration should try to avoid any direct hostile involvement, attempting to sneak away or kill enemies with the deadly satellite strike.

The Infiltrator Assassin template (on the right) creates a deadly close combat fighter. The assassin can deal a lot of damage to a single target, but at the same time must be careful because the stealth ability will not work while in close combat with an enemy.


The Hulk Tank template (on the left) creates the perfect defender; his job will be to lure the enemy aggression in order to protect the other members of the GD squad as the Tank does not deliver a lot of damage, but he can stand as a Wall against the alien menace.

The Hulk Smasher template (on the right) creates an impressive damage dealer; the smasher can unleash incredible firepower by using his MG Weapon, discarding ammo to add additional damages.

These templates represent only a few of the combinations that can be created during the game.
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Fri Mar 8, 2013 6:00 pm
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Links: The Wall Street Journal and BBC Discover Modern Games, TableTop Pushes Others to Play & Six Games That Ruin Gaming

W. Eric Martin
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• A March 2013 article in The Wall Street Journal profiles publisher Days of Wonder and co-owner Eric Hautemont and puts some numbers on the sales figures for Alan R. Moon's Ticket to Ride: "It has sold more than two million physical copies since 2004, as well as more than 1.8 million copies of the digital version." And this detail about Days of Wonder: "The company has won more than 50 industry awards and had world-wide sales of about $15 million last year." And a longer excerpt:

Quote:
[Hautemont] doesn't want to publish more than a game a year — a go-slow strategy designed to help the designers focus on quality. Typically, board game companies publish dozens of new games a year. "When you only do one board game a year, you'd better make it right," he says.

Going slow helps him spend time on small details that game buyers might not initially notice, such as the shape and feel of the pieces.... It all adds up to a less-is-more approach. "The most challenging part of my job is to say no," says Mr. Hautemont. "The best way to create quality is to do fewer things."

• In its online business news section, the BBC writes about modern board games, focusing on Paul Lister, his online game retail site BoardGameGuru, and the London on Board game night events he helps organize, as well as retailer Esdevium Games. Fun quote from the article:

Quote:
"The reputation of people who did this kind of thing was that we were a bit sad, but it's socially acceptable now," says Mr Lister.

And from elsewhere in the article: "Sales of the games at [Esdevium] have doubled in two years, with Settlers of Catan, and Carcassonne rising from 8,000 in 2010 to 18,000 last year. The railroad building game Ticket to Ride is another hit, its popularity mirrored on Google where it is in the top four hits – ahead of the Beatles song. In two years, its sales at Esdevium have risen from 3,500 to 9,000 and worldwide they have doubled since a playable app was launched."

The topping on the cake, though, is this caption underneath one of the images in this article: "Gaming geeks are increasingly being seen as 'cool'". Oh, so?

• Not content with inciting game sales of the titles featured on its show, the Wil Wheaton program TableTop is celebrating the one year anniversary of its debut with International TableTop Day on March 30, 2013, with the event serving as both a self-promotional vehicle and a call to action for gamers and game retailers. Not sure why gamers need a call to action, but this is a good excuse for those who need such a thing: "But, honey, my country demands that I play more games..." Using the site's search function, I've found no events near my current location or my previous home – despite at least one such event taking place – so I'm not sure how useful the search function is. Perhaps they've just been inundated with events and haven't been able to keep up with them all...

• On Cracked, Luke McKinney writes about the six board games that ruined it for everyone – the games that people play that keep them from ever wanting to play a game again – including this takedown of Snakes and Ladders:

Quote:
Games are important. Even tiger cubs play games, because they help develop abilities for real life. Snakes and Ladders trains you for a really shitty life: You're sitting there doing the same thing again and again, and things go wrong through no fault of your own. You're not rewarded for effort or punished for laziness; your only job is to turn up and keep rolling the dice until it's all over. Or spin the spinner, if you paid extra for something else you didn't need, elevating the satire of modern life to terrifying levels.

If you're playing with total psychopaths, they'll insist on the rule where you have to roll the exact number to land on the final square. Moving faster than you need to isn't just unnecessary, it's now actively punished with teeth-grinding frustration as you're held back, waiting for all the slower children to catch up so that your achievement doesn't hurt their precious feelings. Which is the one lesson children are guaranteed to learn in school anyway.

McKinney goes on to suggest replacements for each of the games on his list: King of Tokyo for Snakes and Ladders, Power Grid for Monopoly, and so on.
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Thu Mar 7, 2013 6:00 am
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Links: Incorporating Synergy in Game Design, Relating Games to the Meaning of Life & R.I.P. Allan B. Calhamer

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• In The Onion's A.V. Club, Todd VanDerWerff writes about "How board games sum up the meaning of life through colorful cards and painted pieces", with the following paragraph backing up how Days of Wonder has been viewing the iOS market:

Quote:
My journey into the world of European-style board games began with two iPad apps. Board-game companies are increasingly flooding the iPad market because it's a reliable form of promotion, and they can make a little money at it at the same time. Tablet players likely won’t just buy the initial app. If they get well and truly hooked, they'll buy expansions and add-ons and new items. The trick is releasing a full enough game with the initial purchase that it invigorates players, while not making it so full that they feel bad about spending more for a new board to play on, or new complications to add into the mix.

One of these two apps is the best gateway drug for European-style board games I've seen: Ticket To Ride.... It's simple enough for casual play and deep enough for someone who’s really into the robber-baron era being depicted.

I know some hate the "gateway" term used for titles like TTR and Carcassonne, but honestly those games function exactly like a gateway drug for many people, introducing them to something both familiar and novel, surprising them with the idea that games don't have to be similar to what they've always imagined games to be. And speaking of gateway experiences...

• Wil Wheaton now starring as Jesus? I know TableTop has been hugely influential in terms of sales and exposure, but Wheaton's got a long way to go before he can be declared the game industry's messiah.

• Quintin Smith at video game site Kotaku explains "Why Your Board Game Collection Needs Some German-Style Games". After referencing "the interstellar douchebaggery of Battlestar Galactica" and the "immediacy of entertainment" that comes from Ameritrash games, Smith moves on to praise (in a roundabout way) The Castles of Burgundy:

Quote:
It has a lot of hexes. It looks like a cross between a math textbook and motel room art. You hold it in your hands, uncertain whether to immediately insert it into the bin. But you don't. You invite your friends over, and...it's exhausting.

This makes no sense. You've flown spaceships and commanded armies. Why are little sheep tiles bringing you out in a cold sweat? Look at you all now—heads down, threading together fragile economies, loosing unthinkable trade combos, narrowly avoiding mistakes that would halt your progress like a bicycle going into a concrete wall. Being tested – really tested – for the first time in your gory board game careers.

And you'll see the truth. Eurogames aren't boring, despite their themes ("developing a postal service", "trading with 15th century Latin America", "who can farm the best beans"). They're simply free. Free from the need to immediately appeal, to lurch out from the shelves like Nyquil hallucinations, and to keep everybody entertained in an unstable tornado of cards and dice. Eurogame designers are free to make nothing more, or less, than a great game, a rich game, that'll get better every time you play it.

Hey, Quintin, to each their own – some folks thrive on interstellar douchebaggery!

Magic: The Gathering head designer Mark Rosewater usually provides interesting insights into that game in his weekly "Making Magic" column, but his columns often tend to be applicable to game design in general – or at least they are if you look at them the right way. Some columns, though, rise above the others, and I think his Feb. 25. 2013 column on how to incorporate synergy in game design is astonishingly good and useful. His examples of how synergy is worked into a design are still Magic-specific, as you might expect, but the principles are applicable no matter what you're designing. Excerpts:

Quote:
Reading and game playing are both about personal growth, but they approach it in different ways. Reading is about being exposed to ideas, expanding your horizons, and finding new ways to view the world. Game playing, in contrast, is about testing one's self and growing through skill acquisition. You play games on the most basic level to test yourself and improve.

Quote:
People try so hard to run their lives based on their intellect but, in the end, we are ultimately run by our emotions. Let me tweak it slightly for game design. Players think the intellectual pursuit is why they play games but, in the end, what makes us most enjoy a game is connected to our emotions.

Quote:
The reason this all is important is that synergy does a great job in one aspect of emotional fulfillment. When playing a game, players want to feel good about themselves. The reason for playing is partially to test themselves, so it feels good when they can get a sense of accomplishment. Discovery leads to accomplishment. "Hey, look what I found!"

Another of synergy's benefits is that it makes players feel good about themselves because the act of discovering synergy is itself emotionally rewarding. Remember that good game design allows your players to take claim for their own advancement. (And blame luck for their failure.)

• As noted by designer Jeremiah Lee in this BGG thread and Living Dice's Trask, Diplomacy designer Allan B. Calhamer died on Monday, Feb. 25, 2013. Designer Steve Jackson has posted a nice obituary honoring Calhamer and his industry-changing creation in the Feb. 28, 2013 Illuminator on the Steve Jackson Games website:

Quote:
Calhamer designed the game in the mid-50s; it was published in 1959. I was introduced to it in 1970 when I entered Rice. The commonest game around the lounges was Risk, and there was always chess, but if a group had a few hours for a serious game, Diplomacy came out. It was never a "light" game. Even among good friends, there's always a certain real tension in Diplomacy, because you simply will not win unless you lie, and before it's over you'll stab someone in the back. Probably several someones. And yes, the "fun" of negotiation, trust, and betrayal was one of the inspirations for Illuminati.
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Fri Mar 1, 2013 6:00 am
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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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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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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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