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W. Eric Martin
As it did at Gen Con 2013, publisher/distributor Asmodee hosted a "Play Mania" event off-site for the press to preview titles forthcoming in late 2014 and 2015. Since many of these titles are not being shown with complete art and since each game presenter typically spent only a few minutes on a game, keep in mind with these descriptions and images that the final games might differ from what you see and read below.
That said, let's start with what's probably the most final game in the room: 7 Wonders: Babel from Repos Production. I wrote up a first impression of 7W: Babel after playing a game on the prototype at Gen Con 2013, but strangely I forgot to post that until July 2014. In that post I mentioned a release date of early 2014, but that release date has continued to slip month by month, with Spiel 2014 in October now being the anticipated (and final!) release date.
Why the delay? Because Repos — that is, Thomas Provoost and Cédric Caumont — takes forever to make things exactly the way it thinks they need to be made. If they feel the game isn't ready, they keep working on it until it is. The graphics first shown in mid-2013 have changed and changed and changed again, and even the graphics on display at Spielwarenmesse in February 2014 differ from those shown in April 2014, which differ from those today.
What's more, Provoost was pointing out all of the things that I might notice had changed since the last time, going into detail on particular card and tile powers and how they previously weren't working but now they do. With multiple expansions and one-off cards in the 7 Wonders world, they try to test every combination of elements to make sure that nothing surprises them later. (For details of the Babel gameplay, my write-up linked to above still holds.)
The power on the Babel tile at bottom right, for example, was a power that Repos had previously considered for use on a 7 Wonders: Leaders card, that power being the ability to use the "chaining" abilities of your left and right neighbors. Problem was, though, that in a three-player game whoever got this one card could chain off everything on the table, and since you can't use this brokenness in a three-player game, then it's not printed at all. With the Babel tile, however, everyone has this ability as long as the tile is visible in the tower, and if you share brokenness with everyone, then you've unbroken the power and made it fair (except, of course, for the player who held this tile in the first place and probably avoided putting chainable cards in play in order to get an edge at the right moment). I'll leave an interpretation of the other tiles as an exercise for the reader.
Another small example: One Babel tile gave each player who lost a conflict resolution a -2 marker, thereby making conflict just a tad worse or possibly much worse depending on how long this tile remained in play — but a -2 token didn't interact well with a few other items in the game that affected negative military scoring because those items depict -1 tokens, and while at first they contemplated exactly how they would rule on such things or whether they would reprint cards to include in Babel, in the end they realized that they could just print the penalty as two -1 tokens and eliminate all questions. Phew! Small details that in hindsight seem obvious.
The Babel tile board holds four tiles on one side for games with more players and three on the other for games with fewer.
The law cards have been altered as well in ways large and small, sometimes with powers specific to Babel itself, as with the bag on the brown card. Should you fulfill this law, then you receive a token that you can use in a future round to fulfill the law showing then with a card of any color and thereby avoid the punishment for that round. The resolution of these laws now takes place prior to the conflict resolution, which means that it's possible to have military strength be one of the rewards for fulfilling laws.
Okay, that's perhaps enough details about something you might already know. Another item coming from Repos is Mascarade Expansion, a slim tuckbox of thirteen new character cards for Bruno Faidutti's Mascarade with you pretty much throwing away the tuckbox and putting all the cards in the original box.
I've already mentioned a few times how much I love Jérémy Masson's art on this game, and while talking with Provoost about the tendency for French (and Belgian) games to be highly stylized with wondrous art, he said something along the lines of Well, why would we want to play games that don't look as good as they could? If you're going to spend time with a game, why not spend time with a beautiful game?
• The second edition of Ludovic Maublance's Ca$h 'n Guns debuted at Gen Con 2014, so it wasn't part of the Play Mania event, but I did catch artist John Kovalic on the convention floor playing with others and signing small prints for people to take home. In a brilliant bit of metagaming, Kovalic vowed that he wouldn't sign anything for those who killed him. Not a threat that can be made by most people at the gaming table...
• Rustan Håkansson's Nations: The Dice Game from Lautapelit.fi was the oddball in the room, coming from a Swedish designer and Finnish publisher instead of from the Francophone region usually covered by Asmodee. The components shown are not from a production copy, although the dice are probably finalized.
The game lasts four rounds, and during that time you try to complete wonders and take other actions that score you points. Each player starts with five white dice showing gold, stone, book, food and "strength" (a sword), and twelve (of fifteen) round-specific tiles are laid out in rows for the current round. Players roll dice, then take turns rerolling (if you spend a reroll token), buying tiles (which cost gold or strength as shown on the tile with the cost being 1-3 of the particular icon depending on the row in which the tile is located), or building a wonder (by paying stone for a wonder tile previously purchased).
As you buy tiles and build wonders, you can upgrade to different colors of dice and receive tokens that provide you access to specific symbols each round. Books let you increase knowledge, and you score points each round based on how many players are behind you on the knowledge track. If you have enough food and strength symbols to match the totals shown for the round, you score additional points. Everything wraps up after four rounds, and a solitaire playing option is included.
Boy, do I take a long time to write these things! Gen Con 2014 is now over, and I'm in the airport waiting for my flight. More write-ups in the days ahead...
W. Eric Martin
We're recording one hundred or so game demo videos at Gen Con 2014, streaming those demos live, then cutting up the feed later to post individual demos on game pages — but given the incredible interest in Eric Lang's XCOM: The Board Game, which Fantasy Flight Games announced the week before Gen Con, we went through the effort of editing and posting that video now to show off the game in more detail.
Once the con ends and we recover for a few days, we'll start working on everything else and posting it on BGG's YouTube channel, the individual game pages, and this space.
W. Eric Martin
On the opening day of Gen Con 2014, co-publishers IDW Games and Pandasaurus Games have announced two forthcoming releases for 2015, with the biggie being a new edition of Fire & Axe: A Viking Saga from Steve and Phil Kendall. Fire & Axe first appeared in 2004 under the Kendall's publishing brand, Ragnar Brothers, then was beautified for a new edition in 2007 from Asmodee. That edition is long out of print and selling for multiples of the original price. An overview of the setting and gameplay:
Fire & Axe is a game that spans the time of the Viking Sagas. The epic journeys that led Norsemen to raid, trade and settle over the known and unknown territories of the northern hemisphere. You command your warriors and map out your strategy — only the strongest, most courageous and luckiest will triumph.
The map covers the whole Viking world: the Northern seas, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean, as well as the waterways of Eastern Europe. It is across this map that each Viking will move his longboat.
Vikings begin their journey taking the necessary time to load crew and goods onto their boat, launching from one of three home ports into the seas and out to take actions either settling, raiding, or trading throughout the foreign ports of the Viking world; picking up points from each. The winner of the game is the Viking who has acquired the most points at the end of the three Sagas.
An innovative "wind" mechanism paired with a seven day-by-day action point selection mechanism and the Viking theme makes this a most unique and interesting pick-up-and-deliver game.
The other title announced is Wildcatters from designers Rolf Sagel and André Spil, which Dutch publisher RASS Games first released at Spiel 2013. A short description:
Wildcatters is a tactical and strategic board game set during the booming business of the 19th century oil industry!
The players are oil barons who develop oil fields; bid for oil rights; and build rigs, oil tankers, trains, and refineries. Your goal is to deliver more oil barrels to the continents than the other players while also collecting more shares and money then them.
The game lasts seven rounds with four players, and the game set-up is the same for each player, with three rigs, two trains, one tanker and one refinery being placed on the board. The game board features a world map divided into eight areas where you can find oil. Players choose an open area card and get money to build rigs, tankers, trains and refineries, after which they can buy oil actions. The players work together in an oilfield to find oil at a lower cost. The players transport oil together to the refineries, using trains and tankers from other players to deliver oil to the refineries – and all with one purpose: deliver more oil then the other players by the end of the game.
W. Eric Martin
Richard Garfield's King of Tokyo came out in 2011, and in just a few years it's been released in multiple languages around the world and now shows up in mainstream retail U.S. outlets like Barnes & Noble and Target. In some ways, it feels like the game's been around forever.
King of New York — which debuts from IELLO at Gen Con 2014 and will be available through retail outlets in September 2014 — builds on the foundations of KoT, reusing some parts of that game system while confronting players with new challenges, starting with the five borough layout of New York City that comes stocked with buildings for you to destroy. Here's an overview to show you what's familiar and what's new:
The goal of King of New York remains the same as in the original game: Be the first player to score twenty points or be the last monster standing, and you win. Each turn, you roll six dice up to three times, freezing any dice that you wish to keep, then you resolve those dice in the order you wish:
• Each heart gives you an extra life point (up to a maximum of ten).
• Each lightning bolt gives you an energy cube to spend later on power cards that grant all types of special abilities.
• Each claw causes damage to the monster in Manhattan or (if you happen to be the one in Manhattan) to every other monster in the city.
• Each star on its own is worth nothing, but if you roll three on a turn, you get to be the Superstar (pictured at right above), earning one point for each star you roll on subsequent turns as long as you hold the card.
• Each destroyed building symbol allows you to attack the top tile on a building stack in your borough, but you need as many symbols as the number (1-3) on that tile; when you do so, you gain the reward shown on the tile (energy, points or life), then flip the tile over to show a military unit with strength 2-4. Instead of attacking a building, you can use destruction symbols to attack these units instead and gain their rewards.
• Each ouch symbol causes damage to monsters from military units. Specifically, one ouch causes one damage to you per unit in your borough; two ouches causes damage to each monster in your borough (and each borough other than Manhattan can hold at most two monsters); and three ouches causes damage to each monster on the board based on the military presence in their borough. That can be good for you since you might be able to whack everyone at once, but more importantly when this happens the Statue of Liberty comes to life to protect her home from all the damage being caused, and for some reason she sees you as a fellow protector, rewarding you with three points for as long as you hold the card.
Note that each borough should have three stacks of three building tiles, not just one
After you resolve your dice, you move in the city, moving into Manhattan if no one else is there or moving to another borough if you fear the military units where you are. If you ding the destructor in Manhattan, that player can stay put or leave — and if he leaves, you have to go to Manhattan in his place, earning you a point in the process and earning larger rewards as you stay more turns. The drawback, though, is that you can't earn life while in Manhattan, so if everyone hits you in turn — which they will — you'll need to leave town with your tail between your legs to lick your wounds.
At the end of your turn, you can spend energy to buy power cards, buying as many as you can afford, with each card providing a one-time benefit or a long-term power that could come back to bite you, such as "Natural Selection" that gives you four points, four hearts and an additional die — but which costs you all of your life should you end up with a star after your final roll. You've been unselected! Some cards can be purchased only when you're within a particular borough, while others are discounted based on where you are. With the new landscape and military units, the New York cards have lots of effects not previously seen.
As in King of Tokyo, you're pulled in different directions throughout the game: Do you want to slap the leader? Take out buildings for easy points? Build up your health because you're halfway to being dead? You're somewhat at the mercy of the dice, of course, but you still get to choose a path each turn — then choose again and again for as long as your big ol' monstrous paws keep swinging...
New York awaits for you!
W. Eric Martin
• With Gen Con 2014 opening August 14 — which is today should you be reading this within the proper segment of time — let's look to the future, specifically to games due out at or just before Spiel 2014 in October, starting with Keyflower: The Merchants, another expansion for Richard Breese and Sebastian Bleasdale's Keyflower from R&D Games.
, each player develops her own unique village over four seasons by successfully bidding for village tiles that feature specialized buildings and boats, and by collecting skills, resources and workers ("keyples").
In Keyflower: The Merchants
, the second expansion for Keyflower
, players continue to develop their village by building extensions and cabins, entering into lucrative contracts, and encountering new combinations of items on the incoming boats.
Whereas Keyflower: The Farmers
added "width" to the Keyflower
game, Keyflower: The Merchants
adds depth. The contracts, for example, provide more ways to score points, but may also be traded for the item they depict: workers, resources or skill tiles. Extensions double the fixed point scores of existing tiles. Cabins provide more opportunities to upgrade and to build the extensions. Keyflower: The Merchants
works well with 2-6 number of players and particularly enhances the two-player game.
Players may choose to use all of the tiles from Keyflower: The Merchants
, then add additional tiles at random from Keyflower
in order to make up the required number of tiles (the Merchant's variant), or they can simply combine the new tiles with the existing game.
As has become his tradition in recent years, Breese has written a Keyflower: The Merchants GeekList to explain the details of this new creation.
In addition to The Merchants, at Spiel 2014 R&D Games will have Keyflower: Trader, a new village tile for Keyflower that enables a skill tile to be exchanged for a green keyple or (if upgraded at the cost of one gold) for two green keyples. If upgraded, the tile is also worth 3 points at the end of the game. Funds raised from the purchase of Keyflower: Trader will be donated to the East Sheen Chengannur Trust, of which Richard Breese is a trustee.
• Martin Schlegel's Takamatsu from Mücke Spiele pits 2-5 players against one another as daimyos moving their samurai through a palace. You're not trying to slice one another up, though — just keep on moving with stops in all the right places. Seems like a nice old-school German game with lots of elbows thrown while you play. An overview:
There's excitement in the capital as Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu wants to assign the Han of Takamatsu in a challenge. The competing daimyos direct their samurai through the palace following simple rules and quickly see that they can use the samurai of the other daimyos for their purposes.
Takamatsu is a game of conflict and cooperation, with players trying to place (or not place!) their samurai in their own rooms. The palace consists of two circular paths that merge at one point, then separate once again. Players have 5-7 samurai that are split between two color-coded rooms at the start of the game, and a row of scoring cards — some face-down — are laid out next to the board.
On a turn, you choose a room that contains at least one of your samurai, then you move some number of samurai in this room clockwise from this space. If the room contains only one samurai, you can move it one space; if it contains two, you can move both two spaces or only one a single space — but if an opposing samurai is with you, then you must move both exactly two spaces. When a room has three or more samurai, he must leave at least one behind (while still needing to bring at least one opposing samurai along, if any). When a samurai ends movement in a room of the same color, that samurai's daimyo collects the topmost scoring card, with multiple scorings being possible on a turn. For each open scoring card collected, the player immediately adjusts his scoring marker — which could move you back on the track, so sometimes you want to escort another samurai to his pad instead of bringing him to your place.
When one player reaches twenty points, players finish the round, then tally their hidden scoring cards, if any. The player with the most points wins! (With two players, each daimyo controls two colors of samurai and must move an opposing samurai when possible. After one pagoda reaches the twenty point threshold, the players sum their two scores to determine a winner.)
• Another item coming from Mücke Spiele is Bruce Whitehill's Lunte, with "lunte" meaning "fuse" in German. An overview of the game:
In the quick-playing card game Lunte, the fuse is burning. Players take turns quickly adding more fuse cards to a continuously growing fuse until someone lets the bomb explode by playing one of his bomb cards, thereby earning him all of the fuse cards in play. He takes these cards, leaving only the starting match in play, then the fuse is lit once again.
Each fuse card has a value, and playing the bomb cards too early doesn't bring many points; that said, waiting too long to score lets others play their defuse cards — which cuts the fuse back to the match and removes those fuse cards from the game — or jump in with a bomb card of their own (which nets them any defuse cards played since the previous bomb). You might want to hold on to high-valued fuse cards rather than let others snatch them up, but the game ends when all bombs have been played or the time bomb (inserted in the deck at the start of play) goes off. When that happens, everyone tallies their cards, then loses points for all the fuses in hand. Whichever bomb thrower has the highest score wins!
• Finally, Mücke Spiele has a second edition of Martin Schlegel's mining game Atacama with a new board for three players to compliment the board already in the game for two and four players.
• Koreaboardgames plans to release Coconuts Duo, an expansion for Walter Schneider's Coconuts with ten new magic cards that can also be played on its own as a two-player game. To which I say: "COCONUTS!!!!!!"
• DDD Verlag, which teased Uruk II: Die Entwicklung Geht Weiter in 2012 only to then announce in mid-2013 that the game wouldn't be happening, plans to release the game after all in 2014, as confirmed by co-designer Hanno Kuhn. Kuhn adds, "This game of an early civilization has evolved some steps forward. Completely new graphics underline this work. The print run is limited to a small number."
W. Eric Martin
• With 50+ tabs open on my browser and me headed to Gen Con 2014 in a few hours, it's time to clear out some of the news tidbits that have been piling up while I do other things. Before that, though, let's drop this baby on you: Steve Jackson Games plans to release Munchkin Steampunk in mid-2015 with Phil Foglio providing all the gears, top hats and gadgetry that a person could want. No details about the gameplay other than that the game takes Munchkin and steampunks it all up.
• Rio Grande Games' Jay Tummelson notes that Doris Matthäus and Frank Nestel's funky climbing card game Frank's Zoo will return to print before the end of 2014.
• In July 2014, What's Your Game? released a small expansion for Vital Lacerda's Vinhos titled The Advertisers that adds four new wine expert tiles to the base game that work their marketing magic on managers to in turn help you.
• Alderac Entertainment Group plans to release David Short's Cypher in September 2014, a microgame for 2-4 players with a 15-minute playing time:
Faced with constant hacker attacks, the corporations created an artificial intelligence that could learn from the hackers themselves. The AI, codenamed Cypher, evolved faster than its creators could have imagined. It gained sentience, went rogue, and became the ultimate hacker. Now Cypher is fighting the corporations themselves for control of the nexus.
In Cypher, players take on the role of factions that are gathering characters from all spheres of influence — from corporate overseers to street level hackers — in order to dominate Cypher and seize control of the nexus. The player with the most influence at the end of the game wins!
• Another small release coming from AEG before the end of 2014 is a new edition of Matthew Dunstan and Chris Marling's Empire Engine, first released through Brett Gilbert's Good Little Games. An overview:
Europe 1888: In a dystopian alternate reality, four great powers vie for control of the continent. Each Empire’s soldiers lay siege to opposing cities, while their war efforts are funded by exotic exports and ingenious inventions. Only one state will orchestrate their limited resources into an Empire Engine powerful enough to lead them to victory.
Empire Engine is a rondel microgame that plays in 20-30 minutes with important decisions in every round. Players simultaneously choose actions to attack and defend, salvage and export, or collect resources: goods for export, soldiers to attack your neighbors, and inventions for points. Bluff and double bluff as you try to outwit your opponents.
• And still another small AEG release for Q4 2014 is a new edition of Hisashi Hayashi's bizarre semi-trick-taking game Patronize. I've talked with a few people who couldn't stand this game, but I'm still not sure what to think after playing it three times. It's one of those designs in which the first play is merely to figure out exactly what's possible in the game and how all the rules work, and if you don't continue to play it with people who already know the game, the folks just learning the game bollix your attempts to do anything. Well, players who know the game will also bollix your efforts, so perhaps that's not anything you shouldn't expect.
A short description of Patronize for those not in the know: In each round players are competing to win the round by playing the highest card in the suit led, but players don't have to play a card. The person who wins the round gets a reward, while everyone who didn't play takes a card from someone who did. Players get colored cubes when they play cards, and those cubes — when combined with the special powers on cards in front of you at the end of the game — determine your score. It all sounds simple enough, but somehow you just freeze during the game as you're trying to puzzle out what other people might still hold in their hands or what they want in this particular round, especially since winning the round puts you at the front of the train next round and therefore more likely to take a beating. Something to explore further on yet another day...
• Hey, this announcement makes a nice segue for the news that as of July 31, 2014, designer Hisashi Hayashi has left his former job to work on game design on a full-time basis. He credits Trains winning the Origins Award for Best Board Game for a spur in this direction.
• And with that announcement, we make our way to Rolling Japan, which comes from Hisashi Hayashi and his OKAZU Brand company, with Japon Brand carrying the title at Spiel 2014 in October. An overview:
Rolling Japan is a light "multiplayer solitaire" dice game. Each player has a map of Japan that's divided into the 47 prefectures, which are then bunched together into six differently colored areas.
On a turn, a player draws two regular six-sided dice from a bag and rolls them; the bag starts with seven dice, six matching the colors of the areas on the map along with a wild purple die. All players now write down each number rolled on any prefecture of the matching color, i.e., if the blue die shows 4 and the yellow a 2, write a 4 in one blue prefecture and a 2 in one yellow prefecture. If the purple die is rolled, you can place this number in a prefecture of your choice; additionally, three times per game you can choose to use a non-purple die as any color. However, neighboring prefectures — including those in different areas connected by blue lines — can't have numbers with a difference larger than 1; if you can't place a number without breaking this rule, then you must place an X in a prefecture of the appropriate color. (If all the prefectures in an area are filled, you can ignore the die or use one of your three color changes to place the number elsewhere.)
After six dice have been rolled, mark one round as being complete, then return the dice to the bag and start the next round. After eight rounds the game ends, and whoever has the fewest Xs on her map wins.
W. Eric Martin
At Gen Con 2014, Asmodee will debut the second edition of Ludovic Maublanc's Ca$h 'n Guns, published by Repos Production. I interviewed Repos' Thomas Provoost about the game in February 2014 at Spielwarenmesse, and here's what I wrote at the time:
Repos is taking all of its development experience and revamping this design, stripping out the rules complexity and timing issues caused by things like the "Bang! Bang! Bang!" card and the division of loot. (You might find it hard to believe that people had trouble splitting the revealed money into piles of equal value based on the number of players getting a share at the end of the round, but I'll just say that you haven't played the game with enough people.)
In this video, Provoost describes what's changed from the first to second editions of the game:
One change not mentioned: The loss of one dollar sign in the title. Phew! So much easier to type now...
During my trip to the Origins Game Fair in June 2014, I was able to play the new Ca$h 'n Guns on a prototype copy with non-final artwork (as clarified in the comments by artist John Kovalic). For those not familiar with the game, think Reservoir Dogs: The Game, with you and your fellow gangsters having just returned to your hideout to split the haul of goodies over eight rounds of "decision-making", which is shorthand for threats of violence and possible actual violence. The loot available includes cash ($5k, $10k and $20k), diamonds (worth $1k or $5k each with a huge bonus for whoever collects the most), paintings (which scale up in value the more that you collect), medical kits (to heal a wound), bullets (to give you more threats), and the Godfather tile (not pictured).
At the start of the game each of the 4-8 players chooses a character and receives a different special power. Each round starts with the Godfather revealing loot so that players know what's for grabs, then everyone loads (or doesn't load) their (foam) gun with a bullet; in game terms, they choose a "click" or "bullet" card from their hand. After everyone raises their gun in the air, the Godfather counts to three, then everyone points their weapon at another player. The Godfather, being the boss, can tell one player aiming at him to point in another direction.
The Godfather then counts to three again, and anyone who feels that he's at risk of getting shot can choose to lay down his weapon and step out of the round. Sure, you don't get any of the loot this round, but you also don't risk eating a bullet. After cowards stand down, anyone who loaded a bullet and is still aiming at someone in the round shoots that person, knocking them out of the loot-sharing, too. What's worse, if you pick up a third wound, you're out of the game for good. Sayōnara, sister!
My Yoko didn't live to the end, despite me having almost no loot (prototype artwork)
After the bullets have stopped flying, players who are still in the round — that is, those not shot who didn't stand down — take turns collecting one item of loot, starting with the Godfather. Whoever takes the Godfather tile which is always up for grabs, starts the next round. After eight rounds, whoever has the most loot wins.
Turns out that the second edition of Ca$h 'n Guns plays much like the first: Players see how much loot is available each round, which affects whether or not they want to take out the competition. As the game progresses, winners and losers start to appear, leading to aggressive targeting. The game is still about reading people and figuring out who's going to shoot when, while also keeping track of who has ammunition — although this version thwarts you by allowing players to earn extra bullets or (possibly) steal bullets from someone else.
The new loot system is a plus not just because of the simplified loot-divvying (for those who benefit from such a thing), but because the different items make it harder for people to say, "Mario's in the lead. Kill him!" Some grab diamonds, which may or may not pay off; others go for paintings, which are a gamble as you might not see that many (depending on how many people are in the game); still others care just about money. The game now has multiple leaders depending on how the rounds play out and who collects what later on, and that uncertainty drives additional trash-talking and last-minute negotiations over who should target whom.
I've seen some people lamenting the loss of the "Bang! Bang! Bang!" card — which allowed a player to shoot before regular "Bang!" cards, thereby possibly allowing you to take out someone before they shot you — but in practice I didn't notice anything missing from the new version as in some ways the need to call out for "Bang! Bang! Bang!"s each round was kind of a distraction from everything else. Now the game is boiled down to a straightforward ogle, aim, cower, shoot and loot, but with two more guns and characters than the first edition, allowing you to seat more targets — um, more fellow gangsters — at the table.
Expect to see a lot of this at Gen Con 2014
W. Eric Martin
• The weekend before Gen Con typically sees a few flashy announcements from Fantasy Flight Games about what people can see at the con, and hot on the heels of XCOM: The Board Game — covered on BGG News on August 8, 2014 — comes Star Wars: Armada, a two-player miniatures game of space combat set in the Star Wars universe — soooo Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game Mark 2.0?
Well, probably not, but given the limited information available from FFG and the $100 price tag, speculation is running wild. If you're showing up at Gen Con 2014, however, you can grab a seat at a demo table and find out for yourself. (I'll be at Gen Con to record game demos and tweet like a fiend through BGG's Twitter feed, but I'm not the one to ask for details of how these games differ.) Until then, here's an overview of the game:
Massive Star Destroyers fly to battle against Rebel corvettes and frigates. Banks of turbolasers unleash torrential volleys of fire against squadrons of X-wing and TIEs. Engineering teams race to route additional power to failing shields. Laser blasts and explosions flare across the battlefield. Even a single ship can change the tide of battle.
In Star Wars: Armada, you assume the role of fleet admiral, serving with either the Imperial Navy or Rebel Alliance. You assemble your fleet and engage the enemy. Using the game’s unique maneuver tool, you steer your capital ships across the battlefield, even while squadrons of starfighters buzz around them. Then, as these ships exchange fire, it’s your job to issue the tactical commands that will decide the course of battle and, perhaps, the fate of the galaxy.
• And speaking of XCOM: The Board Game, let's take a peek at another forthcoming game that blends the digital and cardboard: World of Yo-Ho, which IELLO will demo at Gen Con 2014 ahead of a Kickstarter campaign in October 2014 with the release coming sometime in 2015. The game is actually being designed and published by Volumique, which describes itself as "a French studio inventing, designing, and developing new games and toys, focusing on the relationship between the tangible and digital", so the blending of these is not a surprise.
The short description of the game is a battle on the seas with your smartphone serving as your ship. The longer description gives more background info, but just as much detail about the gameplay:
Prophetic signs of an imminent catastrophe can be read on these mysterious seas — in the waves, in the sky, and in the many perils of the shores. Everything is about to change. Are you ready?
Become the most famous pirate of Yo-Ho, a parallel world bursting with intelligent animals, lost islands, and wild magic! The thirst for adventure is calling you; the life of a pirate is a dangerous game, but the intoxication of glory demands all the risks. As a captain in search of eternal fame, upgrade your boat, accept many different missions, explore the world, trade, battle sea monsters, and challenge other players in crazy naval fights! It's up to you to choose your experience: Will you be a bloodthirsty pirate, hoisting the black flag to plunder the richest? Or will you choose to defend the widow and the orphan, be a peaceful merchant, or play a vital role in the great events of a picaresque saga?!
World of Yo-Ho is a fantasy game of high adventure and battle on pirate seas! It's a new type of post-digital game, combining the pleasure of board games with the interactive mechanisms of a video game. The game features a huge board map and a free app to download on a smart phone. Simply place your phone on the map: This is your ship! Let's start playing!
For slightly more about the gameplay, you can visit the Yo-Ho website or watch this demo video from Volumique that's filled with tinkly tunes:
Another video from Volumique, one that dates to 2012 and is titled "Pirates", shows the basic concept of the game in prototype form, although the game description seems to have evolved from that time. Sometimes it takes years for these things to stew into their final form...
W. Eric Martin
• Man, am I behind on news posts! Sure, the Gen Con 2014 Preview is nice and beefy now with more than 260 game listings, but what about all those other games being announced, such as XCOM: The Board Game from designer Eric M. Lang and Fantasy Flight Games? Let's start with a lengthy game description:
You are humanity's last hope.
In XCOM: The Board Game, you and up to three friends assume the roles of the leaders of the elite, international organization known as XCOM. It is your job to defend humanity, quell the rising panic, and turn back the alien invasion.
Where the world's militaries have failed to stand against the alien invaders, you must succeed. To do so, you must make strategic use of the resources available to you. You must launch Interceptors to shoot down alien UFOs, assign soldiers to key missions, research alien technology, and use that technology to defend your base — all while trying to keep the world from collapsing just long enough that you can coordinate one final mission to repel the invaders for good.
One of the more notable aspects of XCOM: The Board Game is the way that it incorporates a free and innovative digital app into the core of its gameplay. This digital companion will be available both as a downloadable app and as an online tool.
The app's primary function is to coordinate the escalating alien invasion, randomly selecting from one of five different invasion plans. Each invasion plan represents a general outline that the alien commanders will use to coordinate the arrival of new UFOs, plan strikes against your base, and respond to your successes or failures as it seeks to conquer Earth. The app manages all of these tasks and heightens the game's tension as it forces you to respond in real-time. Then, after you move quickly to coordinate your response, you engage the enemy in the untimed resolution phase and feed the results to the app. Based upon these results, the app launches the invasion's next strikes.
Additionally, the app teaches you the rules, controls the information that your satellites provide you, and tracks the progress of your resistance efforts, even as it allows you to enjoy the game at any of three levels of difficulty: Easy, Normal, or Hard.
The use of this app does more than simply streamline your play experience and track your turns in real-time; it also permits a uniquely dynamic turn structure. While the variety of game phases remains the same from round to round, the order in which you and your friends must play through them may change, as may the number of a given phase. As a result, while you'll want to know where UFOs appear before you deploy your Interceptors, the alien invaders may be able to disrupt your satellite intel and force you to deploy your Interceptors on patrol with limited or no knowledge of the UFOs current whereabouts. Similarly, you may be forced to think about the costs of resolving the world’s crises before you know how many troops you’ll need to commit to your base defense.
The effect of the app is to immerse you deep into the dramatic tension at the core of XCOM: The Board Game, and it ensures that the game presents a challenging and cooperative (or solo) experience like no other. Just like the XCOM department heads that you represent, you'll need to keep cool heads in order to prevail.
I don't know about you, but I see a phrase like "you are humanity's last hope" and am like, hoo boy, time to kiss the wife and son goodbye because we're doomed.
Not being a video game guy, I had never heard of XCOM previously, so I have nothing to say about how faithful the game might be to that series, but I do find it interesting that so many people are decrying the requirement to download and use an app in order to play this game. They seem to be worried that since the app is required to play, at some future date changes in technology will render the game unplayable. To which I say, didn't the first version of the video game come on things that look like this:
Did people in the mid-1990s worry that 3.5" discs might become unusable in the future and not purchase this game? Did potential players not purchase Nightmare because gameplay required the use of a VHS tape? Along the same lines, when you purchase a game today for PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, you're buying something that can be used only so long as you have a functioning console — and given the history of Microsoft and PlayStation you know that they won't be manufacturing these consoles forever. Does that stop people from buying video games? What makes this newfangled board game any different?
I'm not trying to convince people to buy the game if they have such fears, but I'm puzzled at the reaction because the game sounds like a clever merging of video and board game, with perhaps some of the rules enforcement and tedious details of play being automated. The app randomizes events and reacts to what players do, while a comparable physical system would be cumbersome and allow players to make rule mistakes that affect gameplay. In short, the app allows you to do things that would be difficult or impossible otherwise, which seems like a good argument for its existence.
Whether this experiment pans out won't known until Q4 2014 when XCOM: The Board Game is released, but folks will be able to demo the game at Gen Con 2014 in the FFG booth. Aw, man, I just can't get away from that convention, can I?
• What about something due out at Spiel 2014 instead? Jun'ichi Sato's Click & Crack, first released in late 2013 in Japan, is due out in a new edition from minimalGames, an offshoot of Japon Brand, and Junias.
In the game, each player controls two penguins, with the penguins standing on the intersections of a 5x5 grid of tiles. On each turn you secretly program a direction in which you want to move one penguin and a direction in which you want to crack the ice. Your goal is to break off chunks of ice as you score one point for each tile in an ice floe. If you strand an opponent's penguin on that floe, it costs you a point, but you now know better what that player's options are in the future. If a player reaches seven points, she wins; otherwise the player with the most points wins when the main berg shrinks to a certain size or most of the penguins have vanished.
• James Ernest has released a beta version of his Stuff and Nonsense, which Cheapass Games will Kickstart on September 1, 2014.
• In an August 2014 Cheapass newsletter, Ernest mentions that details on a new gambling game from him and Mike Selinker called Red Baron will be announced soon.
W. Eric Martin
I wrote several articles and short pieces for GAMES Magazine (R.I.P.) in the late 1990s and early 2000s with topics covering international game shows, chess boxing, the Spiel game convention, the Annual North American Wife Carrying Championship, and more.
One of those articles explained the origins and nature of the piecepack, a game system created by James Kyle in 2000. That article ran in the July 2004 issue of GAMES, and sometime after that I got the semi-bright idea to pitch a Klutz-style collection of piecepack games — with the piecepack to be included with a book of rules — to a few book publishers. No one ever bit, so that query joined dozens of others in the file of unsold ideas. Such is the life of a freelancer.
Funny thing — in late 2013 someone from Workman Publishing contacted James Kyle about publishing a Klutz-style collection of piecepack games, and James passed that person's request to me, and (umpty-dumpty-um as seven months pass) I'm now working on that collection of piecepack games with a planned release date of late 2015. Woo! Working the long game here; yep, that's just what I intended when I first wrote that proposal so, so long ago.
Given that news, I thought that I'd take a moment to reprint that GAMES article and invite anyone who's designed a piecepack game to contact me via email (through the address in the BGG News header) for consideration of their game in this book. Note that Workman publishes titles for a mainstream audience — as with its Kids' Book of Chess and Chess Set (now entering its third decade) and The Book of Cards for Kids — so I'm looking for rules-light games that can fit on a two-page spread at a decent font size while still leaving room for game diagrams and an illustration. If you have something (or several somethings) that fits the bill, please drop me a line and we'll take things from there. Thanks!
"You Want a Piece of This?"
(from GAMES, July 2004)
Whenever you play with a standard deck of cards, you're playing with more than a mere game — you actually have your hands on an entire game system. After all, the cards themselves aren't the game; they're only tools.
But combine the tools with a set of rules, and suddenly you have a game, be it Spades, Bridge, Go Fish, Piquet, or any of the hundreds of other card games created over the past millennium.
Another familiar game system, whether you've thought about it as such or not, is an 8x8 game board and a set of tokens. If you label 12 tokens as one color and 12 tokens as another, you can now play checkers; label them king, queen, knight and so forth, and a chess set magically appears; label one side black and the other white, and you have Reversi (Othello). The number of games you can play is limited only by your imagination and willingness to try something new.
James Kyle, creator of HellRail (published by Mayfair Games) and owner of Glastyn Games, liked the idea of generic game systems but couldn't find one that matched his ideal. "I wanted something that was like a deck of cards, but designed for family-oriented board games," he says. "The Icehouse set [Looney Labs' square pyramids that come in three sizes and multiple colors] is a great system and has a number of games written for it, but I think if I were to take it to my grandmother's house, it wouldn't immediately say, 'I'm a family game system.'"
Generating the Generic
What's a game designer to do when he doesn't find what he's looking for? Go off and create his own naturally. Thus was born the piecepack, a set of tiles, coins, pawns, and dice in four suits. (See "Make Your Own Piecepack" at the bottom of this page for a detailed description of the components.)
"I modeled the piecepack on a deck of cards, and a lot of it is fairly obvious," says Kyle. "Suits came from there, and then extrapolating from games on the shelf, you find basic components like pawns and dice. If anyone else had tried to do the same thing, you'd probably get the same result."
Modesty aside, Kyle experimented with numerous suits and values to determine what combinations offered the most possibilities while remaining within the family-friendly model he desired. He thought about using the binary values 2, 4, 8, 16 and so on, but considering how baffling the doubling cube is for casual backgammon players, Kyle wisely opted for more familiar values: null, ace, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
"The big challenge was the board," says Kyle. "In order to make the system compact enough to carry around, it couldn't have a set board, which is how I ended up with tiles, making it more flexible." He considered different shapes for the tiles, such as hexagons, but stuck with squares to make it both easier for those who wanted to build their own and less expensive for those who wanted to manufacture piecepacks.
That last part was especially important because Kyle didn't plan to produce the piecepack himself. Instead, in late 2000, he released the design into the public domain, inviting anyone to create games, produce sets, add elements, and explore.
"The grand hope is for ubiquity," says Kyle, "and although I don't expect it, that's the only thing to shoot for. Every house in the world has a deck of cards, and the only way to potentially match that with the piecepack is through a distribution model similar to that of a deck of cards. If one company manfactured it and didn't make money, that would have been the end of it."
Now, says Kyle, "I don't have to worry whether I'm making money on it or coming up with cash for the next print run. I get to watch people who are inspired create games just for fun without the commerical overtones."
Designing Games, New and Old
"The piecepack is portable, fitting into a VHS cassette box, and there is a variety of games available, but I was mainly drawn to it as a game design tool," says Phillip Lerche, designer of six piecepack games, including Black Pawn Trucking, Sarcophagus, and Kingdoms of the Middle Sea. "The challenge for me is to try to create good games within the confines of the components, or to use the piecepack along with other generic playing pieces, such as money."
More than one hundred piecepack games are currently available on piecepack.org, a support site maintained by piecepack publisher Mesomorph Games, and the creativity of the games is astounding. In addition to translations of existing games such as Reversi and Mancala, designers have created games about building skyscrapers, racing worms through a maze, delivering food to picky customers, escaping from prison, and exploring a funhouse. Games exist combining the piecepack with Icehouse pyramids, dominoes, a candle(!), a Go set, and — as might be expected — a deck of cards.
Kyle, for one, isn't surprised by the breadth of game topics or melding of materials. "The piecepack is great to experiment with because you can release a rules set without worrying about whether the game is commercially viable. When you're trying for commercial success, you can reach only so far or else people won't buy it."
No single term can sum up the multitude of piecepack games. Some have puzzle-solving aspects, while others require memory, deduction, or strategical tile placement. Dexterity games also have a presence, such as Mark A. Biggar's Ppolf, a version of Frisbee Golf, and Kyle's soccer simulation in which the tiles form the boundaries of the field and players flick coins that represent their kickers.
Bryan Kornele lacks any published games to date, but he's found the piecepack easy and fun to fiddle with. "Consisting of just a few bits and tiles, this compact system allows me to use any small table as a playing surface," he says. "I very much enjoy playing some of the games with my seven year old, and some of my game ideas come from him. I'm well on my way to becoming a piecepack evangelist."
A driving force behind piecepack game design have been regular contests initiated by Kyle and organized by Mesomorph Games. Each contest involves a different focus — solitaire games, historical themes, boards that change shape during play, the use of other generic game bits — and the winner of each contest sets the rules for and judges the next. "People who design games often wait for something to strike and inspire them, and the contests have been great from that standpoint," says Kyle.
"The latest contest, Solitary Confinement, was one of the more productive," says Karol Boyle, co-owner of Mesomorph Games. "There were only a handful of solitaire games before, and now there are more than twenty."
"Our first set in 2001 came out with seven games," says Boyle. "Within three years, there are more than one hundred, and a few years from now there will likely be hundreds more."
Picking Up the Pieces
While game design is a fun option, many piecepack users simply enjoy the large number and style of games. "At first what seduced me was the elegance of the concept," says Michel Fortin. "The game designing aspect was attractive, too, but I soon found that creating a new game was not as easy as I originally thought. However, what makes me rate the game so highly is the quality of the available games, including the originality, the game mechanism, the rules clarity, and the humor. I firmly believe that some piecepack games could easily be produced as successful commercial games."
"One of the main aspects I consider when judging a game's worth is what it asks of me. A game like Ricochet Robot requires a good understanding of spatial relationships, quick thinking, and careful planning, while a game like Fluxx requires merely a tolerance for change and a sense of humor," says Paul Blake. "Piecepack rates highly with me largely because it allows for and encourages any and all levels of thinking. To me, it's a game with lots more games inside it, a tiny package with immense possibilities."
Wei-Hwa Huang, who regularly finishes near the top of the standings in the annual World Puzzle Championship, rates games solely on his estimate of how long, as he puts it, "I'm going to enjoy playing the game until I get bored of it and feel that it is a waste of space. Since a piecepack set has enough components for lots of possible games, it gets a high rating."
Although he's found a fair share of klunkers among the gems, Iain Cheyne says, "I like the piecepack most of all because of its flexibility and portability. No matter where I am or who I'm with — even if I'm alone — I always have a suitable game."
Feedback from both designers and players has led to expansions and changes, such as Mesomorph's 4 Seasons, which adds four more suits and colors, and its Playing Cards Expansion, which adds the familiar suits hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades. Says Kyle, "I didn't have any specific mechanics in mind when I created the piecepack, and I take a hands-off approach to it at this point. I expect it to evolve as people try things out and like the changes enough to make them standard."
That long-term approach to evolution is essential to Kyle's quest for piecepack ubiquity. "Most of the card games we know and play were transmitted to us orally, not by Hoyle's," he says. "It may not happen in my lifetime, but I'm interested to see in the future whether more families pick up the piecepack and play with it so we get designs that can be passed on."
Make Your Own Piecepack
For those with the skills, tools or moxie who want to create a piecepack from scratch, here's all you need to know:
The four suits of a standard piecepack are Suns (red), Moons (black), Crowns (green or yellow), and Arms (blue, and typically represented by a Fleur de Lis).
There are 24 square tiles, with 6 tiles in each suit, and the values null, ace, 2, 3, 4, and 5 included once in each suit. The face of the 2-5 tiles has the numeral in the center and a small suit symbol in the upper-left corner, both in the color of the suit; the face of each ace has only a large suit symbol in the center, while null tiles have only the small symbol in the corner. The back of the tiles are divided by a cross into four equal squares.
To match the tiles, there are 24 round coins, again with 6 coins per suit, and the values null, ace, 2, 3, 4, and 5 in each suit. The coin faces are marked in black with the numeral (for 2-5), with a spiral (for the ace), or with nothing (for the ace); the backs have the suit in the appropriate color. Both front and back should have a hash mark near the edge to indicate direction. Coins should fit within a small square on the back of a tile.
Finally, there are four six-sided dice, one for each suit with the values null, ace, 2, 3, 4, and 5 on the sides in the appropriate colors and four pawns with bases no bigger than the coins, again in the appropriate colors.
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