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W. Eric Martin
Broom Service is already on the radar of many gamers since (1) it's the newest big box release from alea, Ravensburger's brand for more involved games, (2) it's a new version of Andreas Pelikan's well-received (but out of print and ridiculously expensive in English) Witch's Brew, and (3) it's been nominated for the 2015 Kennerspiel des Jahres award, which suggests that the game has some staying power given that the SdJ jurors tend to play titles to death to ensure good experiences with a wide range of gamers. (Witch's Brew was nominated for Spiel des Jahres in 2008, but lost to Keltis.)
All that said, what's Broom Service? In this game for 2-5 players, you collect potions, then deliver them across the land with your two witches to towers that advertise their desires with color-coded roofs. Each time you deliver a potion, you earn victory points (VPs) and possibly a magic wand or two. While traveling the land, you might use these wands to dispel clouds that shroud particular regions and prevent players from delivering to them. After seven rounds, the game ends, everyone scores bonus points for the clouds they've dispelled and resources they still hold, then the player with the most VPs wins.
The heart of Broom Service is a transplant from Witch's Brew: a set of role cards for each player. Each role card features a cowardly action — something minor that you do immediately when you play the card — and a brave action — something major that you get to do only if someone else doesn't turn out to be braver than you. This risk/reward dynamic is at play throughout the game, and it's a big part of what gives the game its juice: Do you take something now to ensure you don't get hosed? Or do you risk that hosing in order to do something grander and increase your chances of winning? That tension is in place nearly every turn.
So how do you play those cards? At the start of each round, each player secretly chooses four of the ten role cards. These cards let you:
• Gather potions and magic wands, with the potion gatherers coming in three colors to match the potions
• Move and deliver potions, with four witch cards to correspond to the four types of landscapes and with you being forced to move in order to deliver
• Deliver potions without moving, with two druids that are each able to deliver to two types of landscapes
• Dispel clouds, with only one fairy able to do that and with you being unable to move into regions covered with clouds
Once you've chosen, the round's start player begins the first turn by laying down a role card of their choice and announcing whether they're brave or cowardly. Each player in clockwise order must play the role card if they have it, likewise announcing whether they're brave or cowardly. If you're cowardly, you take that tiny action, then get out of the way. If you're brave, you wait to see whether anyone who follows you is also brave; if they are, you get nothing for your bravery other than bitter regret as only the final brave player on a turn gets to take that brave action. (If you don't have that role card, you simply pass.)
Once this brave player has acted, the brave player lays down a different role card to start the next turn; if everyone was a coward, then the previous start player starts the next turn. This rotating start player carries over from Witch's Brew, and it's one of the other key elements of gameplay. You want to go last in a turn because you can be brave and not have that big action taken away; you want to go first because you can choose which role is played. That pull between wanting to go first and last is strong, especially since the success of certain actions might depend on when they take place in the round. After all, you can't deliver what's not in hand and you might not be able to move to the forest until you've moved to the prairie first.
Turns continue until everyone has played all of their cards.
Despite sharing the same heart, everything else in Broom Service differs from Witch's Brew. In that earlier game, the action was all in the cards. You collected ingredients, then claimed potion cards, or cast spells, or stole ingredients or money from other players. In this revamped game with co-designer credit for Alexander Pfister, you still have that constant interaction due to the cards, but now you're also competing to deliver to this tower or dispell that cloud before anyone else. You can (sometimes) use the position of opponents on the game board to make guesses as to which cards they'll choose. The design feels more expansive because there's more to consider in each round while also upping the ways in which you can bump heads with opponents — and because of that interaction, that elevation of the contest from the table itself to the players sitting there, I can understand why some favor Broom Service over Elysium for Kennerspiel.
Aside from those basics, Broom Service has other tweaks over Witch's Brew, with the biggest one being the addition of "bewitched" role cards. In games with fewer than five players, you take a set of unused role cards and reveal 1-3 cards at the start of each round prior to players choosing their roles. (With two players, you reveal three cards; with 3p, two cards; and with 4p, one card.) Any player can still choose to use these bewitched cards in the round, but as soon as you lay that card on the table, you lose 3 VP, whether or not you actually take that action. So far I've played twice on a press copy with two players both times, and that VP hit is a nice twist that girdles your choices, while still allowing you to spill over that constraint if you desire.
Having an option to play with two is one of the other changes from Witch's Brew as that game supported only 3-5 players. A smaller change is that the lead player each turn can choose to be cowardly instead being forced into bravery.
Still another change is that Witch's Brew had spell cards, with a new spell being available each round and the use of that spell being tied to a role card. In Broom Service, ten event cards are included, and one new event is revealed at the start of each round, with events rewarding or punishing players for where their witches are located at the end of the round; allowing players to take VPs instead of the cowardly action on their card; forcing the first player each turn to be brave (as in the original game); allowing players to choose the number of role cards (1-5) they take that turn, with a VP bonus or penalty based on what you choose; or having other minor effects that give you that little something extra to consider on top of everything else.
The final big change from Witch's Brew is the inclusion of four mini-expansions in Broom Service, with two of those expansions being tied to the reverse side of the game board. Yes, it's double-sided, thereby allowing an entry level side for newcomers and family gamers for whom the role-choosing and potion delivery will be challenging enough and an advanced side for those who want to pile on the options and variety. In short, these expansions are:
• Storm clouds that provide bonus VPs or additional actions when you dispel them
• Mountain tiles and amulets, with each tile providing a special one-shot action to those who visit it, along with an amulet that provides additional endgame VPs depending on how many you collect
• Forest tiles that provide to whoever first claims them a one-shot bonus, such as additional role card at the start of a round or the ability to take a brave action even when you're being a coward
• Hill tiles that transform particular hill regions into portals that instantly teleport you to one of two stone circles on the board, with you choosing where you go; this side of the game board has regions cut off from everything else thanks to rivers that you can't cross, so teleportation is your only means of reaching them, with one of the islands not allowing a return trip!
I've used only the first two expansions in one of my games on the basic game board, and they nudge the complication factor up a tad over the basic game. You can use them separately if you like, but once you head to the advanced side of the game board, you must use all of the landscape tiles, with the clouds still being optional. (For each type of landscape tile, you always return two to the box, thereby allowing the publisher to tout some huge number of possible combinations of arrangements. The clouds are treated similarly.)
Many people have pined for Witch's Brew to return to print, but that's because they speak English. German copies were available at closeout prices for years after that game's release in 2008, and in fact they're still available through Amazon.de and probably through other retail outlets as well. Thankfully you now have another option, one that delivers the experience of the original game wrapped in a larger cape and with multiple styles of pointy hat for additional game wardrobe customization.
W. Eric Martin
Continuing its association with German publisher eggertspiele, U.S. publisher Stronghold Games has announced that it will release Porta Nigra — a new design from Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling that debuts at Spiel 2015 in October — in North America, with a tentative release date of November 2015 and estimated $70 MSRP.
Here's a draft of the cover artwork for the German edition of Porta Nigra from eggertspiele and its publishing partner Pegasus Spiele:
Non-final cover artwork
I published an overview of Porta Nigra in January 2015 when eggertspiele first announced the game, but here's a slightly more detailed description:
The largest Roman city north of the Alps in the late Roman Empire was Augusta Treverorum. Founded in the times of Caesar Augustus and built up by generations of Roman architects, this was the Emperor's residence and a world city during this period. The remains of these most impressive structures can still be visited today. Foremost of these great achievements in the city is the massive "Porta Nigra", a large Roman city gate located in Trier, Germany that dates to the 2nd century.
The game Porta Nigra (which translates as "black gate") is set in that place and time with the players taking on the roles of Roman architects working on the city gate of Porta Nigra. Each player commands a master builder, who moves around a circular track on the game board, enabling you to buy or build only where this master builder is located. Moving the master builder to farther locations along the track is expensive, so players must plan their movements and builds carefully. The number and type of actions that may be performed on your turn comes from cards in your personal draw deck.
Buildings are erected physically at the various locations around the city using 3D building pieces.
Non-final game board artwork
Stronghold Games notes that Porta Nigra is game #1 in its "Great Designer Series", a position previously held by Martin Wallace's Age of Reason, as noted in Dec. 2014. Stronghold's Stephen Buonocore says, "The Age of Reason project is being postponed indefinitely. I still want to do the game, but we have to postpone it for now."
Prototype in play
W. Eric Martin
When I posted a pic of Simon Havard's Why First? from Pegasus Spiele in March 2015, designer and local-to-me-gamer Matt Wolfe responded, "OK, I need to play that. Had a similar idea for a design." Thus, this overview's for you, Matt!
Why First? has a simple concept: Each round, players (sort of) race on a track and whoever comes in second in that race scores points. After five races, whoever has the secondmost points wins.
This concept drives everything in the game. You want to move ahead of the pack in order to score points, but you need to ensure that exactly one other person moves more. (In the event of a tie for second, all tied players score points.) You want to score in order to win, but you need exactly one other person to score more. How are you going to make that happen?
What's with the lack of indexing on all four corners? Boo!
At the start of each round, each player receives a hand of five cards from a deck that contains cards numbered -4 to -1 and +1 to +5, with 20 of the 32 cards being in the ±1 and ±2 range. Everyone chooses one card from their hand, then you have a countdown (3...2...1...Go!), and everyone slams their card down in front of whoever they want, including themselves. Players then reveal all the cards in front of themselves, sum those values, and move their pawn forward or backward the appropriate number of spaces. Players do this four times, then their fifth card in hand applies only to their own pawn.
You then see whoever scores for the round, record those points, reset the cards and pawns on the game board, then do it again for four more rounds to see who wins.
Let's return to my question from earlier: "How are you going to make that happen?" Well, you might not. In case you couldn't tell from the description above, Why First? is a romp and not a game of skillful card management. You have no idea who might play which cards or who they'll play them in front of. Player position can change quickly, leaving you sorry that you played what and where you did even though it made perfect sense at the time.
Funny thing, though, is that I think this style of cardplay is perfect for the family audience Pegasus has in mind. Why First? first appeared in 2012 from Portuguese publisher Runadrake, and while the deck composition, point-scoring and goal was the same, players only played their card in front of themselves, then in order of highest absolute value to lowest (with ties broken by small index numbers), each player would apply their card to the pawn of their choice. While more gamey than the free-for-all method in the Pegasus version, it also sounds slow and far less interesting as you'd have to watch what everyone else does and I can imagine certain players who would attempt to calculate every permutation of which pawns could move where and why Emma would likely want to move the blue one back because she thinks Paul will be moving the white one forward in anticipation of Xavier moving the red one zzzzzzzzzz. (Pegasus includes this rule as a tactical variant.)
I've played three times on a press copy from Pegasus (with AEG planning to release this version of the game in the U.S. in Sept. 2015), once each with two, four and six players. The two-player game uses an imaginary third player who has only four cards each round and plays only on himself, and it works far better than I expected it would, with you having the greatest control of any player count since so few players are on the track to begin with!
The fun thing about the gameplay each round, as well as the method for determining a winner, is that Pegasus' Why First? isn't really a race game at all because everything is relative to everything else. Is it good to be on the 5 on the track after the first set of cards have been played? Maybe! Is it good to score 5 points in the first round? Maybe! You don't know because it depends on what everyone else is doing.
As an example, my son Traver had played in the four-player game, and he requested Why First? at a later game night when we had six. Manny scored 5 points in the first round, tying everyone else for the win, then I scored 7 in the second round, putting Manny in the lead and transforming my goal into getting Manny some more points while he wanted to stay where he was and everyone else wanted to get on the board. After the fourth round, Traver had 6 points and was primed to win as long as he didn't score; I needed to push him ahead of me, while everyone else wanted to score exactly enough points to tie him with 6. (Well, if Traver scored -1 or fewer points, Manny would win, but I've seen negative points in only one race of 15 so far.) Everyone was still in the game in that final round, hope sticking around until the end, the window of opportunity squeezing ever smaller with each card played until in the end only one player remained on top — well, second from top, but victorious all the same.
Traver drew awards for himself after winning
W. Eric Martin
Nearly a month after Tokyo Game Market in May 2015, I feel like I'm still recovering. So much to think about, so much to recall, so much to play! Not to mention, of course, that one convention (TGM) crashes into the next (Origins Game Fair), which crashes into the next (Gen Con), and everything starts blurring together — which isn't a bad thing, what with all sorts of wild gaming experiences covering your days like a token-studded rainbow of playful excessiveness, but one does sometimes fall behind on conveying such experiences to others. Thus, the lateness of this report.
Signs inside Big Sight for TGM, with gamers queueing on the ground long before it opens
Let's start with a video walkthrough of Tokyo Game Market before the event opened. Thanks to convention owner Arclight and the press badge given to me, I entered the show at 8:30 a.m. and had time to walk the area prior to the floor being flooded with eager buyers.
Well, first things first, I stopped by the Pen and Dice to drop off 1,800 dice to designer Roy Nambu for use in his Yin-yang Dice. My suitcase was empty on the way to Tokyo and someone who knew I was headed to Tokyo asked a favor for Roy due to the high cost of shipping to Japan, so I ordered and loaded twenty pounds of dice in my suitcase. As a result, the first sale at TGM was likely me getting reimbursed for these dice!
After that, I stashed my suitcase at the Taiwan Boardgame Design stand (thanks again, Smoox!), then started filming. Many of the tables were still empty in the morning as set-up for these stands takes far less time than it does in Indy or Essen. In many cases people show up, tape a sign on the table, stack the games on the table, then wait.
The end of the video shows gamers flooding through the doors after the 10:00 opening. Anyone who's waited at Gen Con or Spiel knows what that sensation is like!
I went to Tokyo Game Market for two reasons:
1. I love almost all of the games that I've played from Japan, and even when the games themselves aren't the best, I enjoy the experience of learning and playing them because they feel different from the games that I normally play. Part of that difference comes from the graphic design of the games — the wider variety of settings and artistic styles used in these games — and part of it comes from the designs themselves, with me sometimes not having a clue as to how something will play out after reading the rules. Only the experience of actually playing the thing, and usually playing multiple times, lets me discover what it is. I enjoy the exploration process that new games invite, the process of meeting a game halfway so to speak — something that I've written about previously — so I wanted to see firsthand what was available at TGM and pick up titles that I might otherwise never see.
2. I was pitching designers and publishers on the idea of selling their games through the BGG Store. If you're a fan of Japanese games the way that I am, you know that it can be tough to navigate designer and retailer sites to find particular titles, that adding postage for multiple shipments of games can add up quickly, and that titles at conventions like Spiel sell out quickly, often to never be seen again. We can't solve all of those issues by selling Japanese games through the BGG Store, but we can possibly ease those problems by acting as a quasi-distributor, bringing together a variety of games in one location and allowing potential fans to find them more easily.
This approach has a number of potential roadblocks, with the biggest one being that it runs contrary to the normal practice of these designers. They produce a small print run, sell out, then maybe print more down the road. Because the print runs are small, their margins aren't conducive to wholesale discounts and they don't have much "extra" stock for wholesaling anyway. The language barrier is also an issue since I don't speak Japanese and most of them don't speak English. Ken Shoda was a huge help at TGM, expanding upon the Japanese/English flyer I had created and (with a lot of back-and-forth with me) answering many questions from publishers as to how this set-up might work.
We've made some progress in this outreach to Japanese designers and publishers and will start selling a few titles from Oink Games in the Geek Store in June 2015. Ideally other titles will come in the months ahead, but we'll see. Any Japanese designers or publishers interested in participating in this program can contact me at the email address in the BGG News header.
Game Market lasts only seven hours, and between the time I spent picking up games (more on that later), pitching publishers on the Geek Store, and posing for photos with BGG fans (I'm still embarrassed by such requests but pleased BGG does have a presence in Japan), I managed to take photos of a small sampling of the games being demoed and sold:
Cat Box — TBD had best have 1,000 copies of that player mat at Spiel 2015! Dorasure, which had two new expansions released in 2015 Kigi being demonstrated on a looped video at the Game Field stand Bolt Action, which isn't Japanese but which was being played
Wow!Werewolf, one of many Werewolf games at the show
I don't know — sorry!
A majority game, I believe, with players taking turns drawing a bead & placing it in a tube;
I observed, but didn't ask for rule details as we were waiting for a table to clear
I'll interrupt for a minute to note that Fairy Tale will always have a soft spot in my heart, not because of the gameplay (which is quite good) but because of how I encountered it. I was a freelance writer in the early 2000s and had sold GAMES Magazine on an article about Spiel, mostly so that I would have an excuse to travel to Essen on a tax-deductible basis in order to discover this show firsthand.
At Spiel 2004, I encountered the Lamont brothers in their first sales effort (for Leapfrog), tried Louis XIV in prototype form, bought far too many used games, and (of course) discovered Yuhodo's Fairy Tale, which was taught to me and three French gamers by a German who would ask clarifying questions of the designer in Japanese while waiting for one of the three French gamers to explain the game to his friends in French. Encountering that language bouillabaisse was enlightening and one of my favorite gaming memories of all time, with people doing what they needed to do in order for everyone to play together at the same table and have fun.
Yuhodo's Valkyrie Strike, a Japanese-only deck-builder
Poster showing off the cards in Valkyrie Strike and making me further regret not knowing Japanese
Guys playing a traditional card game who cheered and posed when they saw the BGG jersey
Blowin' in the Wind — that's all I know about this one
Designer Chen Po-Chiao demonstrating Wok on Fire!, with players flipping ingredient cards w/ their spatula
I wish that I had taken way more pictures than I did, but I got busy with other things, alas. I wish for a lot of things.
Aside from everything else mentioned above, I managed to play a few games, too. Unglaublich! I already covered Mangrove in my first TGM report, but I also played the Saien title Neos, a hand management game in which you try to create lines and match colors across your played cards in order to score points.
We also ran through a round of Zittia, an older Saien release not in the BGG database yet that I described previously as looking like "a pile of trash". In the game, you either take an item from the pile and place it somewhere on the "bidding bag" (thereby passing the turn to the next player) or you challenge the person before you to handle everything that they've passed to you.
In more detail, when you place an item on the bag, you're indicating specifically how this item must be handled: the gray foam cylinder must be placed between the index and middle fingers, the plastic lips must be placed on your thumb, the hamburger must be balanced on the back of your hand, the plastic pig must be balanced on that hamburger, and so on. The trick is that not only must you put all of this stuff on, in, through and around your hand, but you must pick up a thick wooden dowel while doing so and stand that dowel on end.
Once you think that the task can't be done, you don't add another item to the pile, but challenge the previous player. Everyone else then bets on whether the player can complete the challenge or not, then players score based on the outcome.
Hiroaki Nakanishi from Saien on the verge of failure
One interesting aspect to this design is that it grew out of the ¥500 challenge presented to Japanese designers in (I believe) 2012. Saien was wondering what it could produce for ¥500 (approx. US$5), and it hit upon using detritus from previous game productions and whatever they could find that would fit within the price limit. As Mark Rosewater is fond of saying, "Restrictions breed creativity."
We also played the Saien game Hau La, which Japon Brand brought to Spiel in 2010. In this game, each player has a bunch of foam pieces of different lengths with holes in them, and you take turns adding one piece to the central structure each round, then placing your personal marker on that piece, trying to be higher up in the structure than others so that you can take the one bonus piece each round and add that.
While the piece you place can't touch other pieces in order for the move to be valid, nothing stops you from twisting the structure around and distorting what others have done on previous turns. Thought you were on top? Yoink! Now your piece is scraping on the underside of other ones, a lowly remora that can barely see my porpoise leaping high in the air.
Blue edges out orange for the win
One non-Saien game we played was Board Liner, the name of which I know only because I remembered to include part of the rulesheet in the image that I took. Sometimes I'm clever. In this two- and three-player game, each player gets multiple sets of tokens and you take turns placing them on the board, trying to block others from placing so that they'll be forced to introduce one of their other sets of tokens or the neutral set placed on the side at the start of the game. If you can't place a piece on your turn, you're out; whoever places last in the game wins.
One key placement rule: You can never occupy the fourth space in a 2x2 square. It was a clever and simple abstract strategy game that reminded me of others, although I'm blanking on exactly which games right now. One of the hazards of becoming older...
Okay, I had intended to wrap up everything in this second report, but I kept adding picture after picture and realizing that I should split my day after TGM into a separate post. Look for part three to come in less time than the distance between parts one and two. I swear! To close for now, here's a pic of what I brought home from the May 2015 Tokyo Game Market:
I now have a few (more) things to play...
W. Eric Martin
• Time for another week's worth of publishers looking for your help to bring their games to your table, starting with Barking Up The Wrong Tree from designers Gary Dicken, Steve Kendall, and Phil Kendall, a.k.a. Ragnar Brothers. This card game looks far different from the normal Ragnar fare, but they have a solid history of not giving you what you might expect.
In the game, players use their dog cards to claim trees, with cats allowing more dog breeds to compete for the same tree. My brother was at UK Games Expo 2015 and tried out the prototype, saying "it seems like a decent short game". No other details, but he's not working for me, so I get what I can from him. (KS link)
• The miniatures portion of this post is occupied by Blackout: Journey into Darkness, "a post-apocalyptic dungeon crawler set in the Northern Wastes" from newcomer Richard T. Broadwater. I'm not sure whether the Northern Wastes encompass the Yukon, upstate Montana, or North Dallas, although this past week North Dallas seems the most likely option. (KS link)
• Hmm, here's another miniatures game of sorts: Empires At Sea from first-timers Zach and Amy Silverzweig. Players sail around the Atlantic Ocean, representing one of four countries and trying to amass power, defeat pirates, and navigate the waves of historical event cards. (KS link)
• GameFactory from self-publishing newcomers Michael Kleinhenz and Oliver Zendel is a German-only worker placement design with player running video game companies, creating games, and bringing them to market. (KS link)
• Street Kings from Luca Vince Caltabiano and Board to Death is another worker placement game, with players upgrading and racing street cars. (KS link)
• Healing Blade: Defenders of Soma is a sequel/reworking of Healing Blade: Infectious Disease Card Battle, and as you might be able to guess from the subtitle of this game, the subject matter is somewhat unexpected. The short description of the new game: "a fantasy battle card game between antibiotics and infectious bacteria". If you've ever wanted to fight — or, alternatively, take the role of — E. coli, now's your chance. (KS link)
• Ed, Albert and Kevin Mach — publishing as Mach Brothers Games appropriately enough — are trying to fund Vikings of Dragonia as their debut title, with players fighting off both rival clans and wild dragons to become ruler of the land. (KS link)
• Designer Peter Burley has designed two classic games — Take it Easy! and Kamisado — and together with his son Jonathan, he's now trying to fund Zambezi: The Expedition Game, a racing game through his own Burley Games in which players race tugboats through central Africa while avoiding crocodiles, completing documentaries, and not losing crewmembers to the many rocks in the river. Burley gave me an early version of the game at Spielwarenmesse, after we recorded an overview video, and I hope to break it out in the near future (along with tons of other games, of course). (KS link)
• Corné van Moorsel's Samara was part of a recent c.f. round-up, and now this worker-ish placement, time-management game is on Spieleschmiede, with the combined funds from both projects fueling stretch goals. Man, running one of these projects seems tough enough, but stacking them sounds like madness. (Spieleschmiede link)
• Also on Spieleschmiede is Il Gioco del Ponte from Luca Macelloni, with this game recreating an annual battle for the bridge that's taken place between the north and south sides of Pisa since 1568. Aren't those guys tired of fighting yet? Although come to think of it, they must be zombies at this point to keeping fighting for hundreds of years. In any case, Macelloni participates in this event each year, and now he's created a board game version of the battle that features elaborate handmade and hand-painted figures. As noted in this project description, "Due to the elaborate manufacturing process, only 50 games per month can be completed". (Spieleschmiede link)
• In Deal: American Dream from Alejandro Vernaza, players compete "for the dominion of drug trafficking in the Americas", which makes the "This project is U.S. friendly" label highly amusing. (KS link)
• The miniatures percentage of this post keeps bumping higher, with 12 Realms: Bedtime Story from Ignazio Corrao and Mage Company adding four new realms to the existing world of 12 Realms. (KS link)
• Wait, more minis? Yes, more minis courtesy of the second edition of Defenders of the Realm: The Dragon Expansion from Eagle-Gryphon Games, which has a giant table of contents at the top of the KS page to take you through all the details of this project. (KS link)
• Yet still more minis and another use of the word "defenders" comes courtesy of Defenders of the Last Stand from Richard Launius and 8th Summit, with players living in the western United States following a nuclear war, mutations sprouting on their bodies as they bathe in their glowing environment, fighting off invading clans led by Bramble, Bama, Krank and Puke. Imagine the dinner table conversations between them... (KS link)
• And to break from minis for this final item, Simon Junker's self-published Heldenteufe features artwork from the always glorious Mathieu Leyssenne, with players traveling back and forth from the Upper World to the Netherworld to trade goods, complete missions, and sic monsters on opponents when they dare enter the world below. (KS link)
Editor's note: Please don't post links to other Kickstarter projects in the comments section. Write to me via the email address in the header, and I'll consider them for inclusion in a future crowdfunding round-up. Thanks! —WEM
W. Eric Martin
Many games from Japanese publishers are minimalist designs, featuring only a dozen or so cards or other components with the gameplay involving a single game mechanism. One great example of this school of design that debuted at the May 2015 Tokyo Game Market is Katteni Shiyagare from Saien, a publisher consisting of four individuals who release many sexy games.
Katteni Shiyagare — which translates roughly as "do whatever the hell you want" — is a cooperative deduction game for two players consisting of ten double-sided wooden blocks; each block has images of different colors on opposing sides, and overall each of the five colored images appears four times, paired once with each other color.
To set up a game, line up the tiles next to one another and shuffle them without looking at them, turning some of them 180º in order to randomize how the colors are arranged, then turn all ten blocks 90º and arrange them so that each player can see opposite sides of the blocks.
What you're trying to do is create a pyramid with the ten blocks — four blocks on the bottom layer, three on the layer above it, etc. — while following the one rule of construction: You can place a block on top of two blocks only if the color showing on that block matches the color of the one of the blocks below it.
To start play, one player stands a block on end.
The other player then either pushes the block toward you (thereby revealing the other side and burying the side that only you have seen) or pulls the block toward himself (thereby revealing the side you've seen and concealing the color on their side). You then set that block aside to start the bottom layer of the pyramid.
You continue to take turns in this manner, with the other player now standing a block on end and you deciding which way to knock it over and how to place it on the pyramid. After two turns, you might have something that looks like this:
What's your next move? Which block do you stand up, and why? You know that the other side of the green block shows the black guns; does this affect your decision?
What about after two more turns? What now?
If you ever drop a block and that block can't be placed on the pyramid, you lose. Otherwise, you'll complete the pyramid and win.
I've played Katteni Shiyagare four times on a review copy, and I think it's brilliantly minimalist. You can try to track all the information being revealed and which options still exist on the remaining blocks, but either you or your fellow player are in the dark about one side of each tile placed on the pyramid, which means you're left puzzling out why the other player is turning that particular block on its end. Does she think that I see the color that we need to add to the pyramid? Does she want me to pull toward myself because she wants the color she sees revealed? Sometimes you guess or puzzle things out correctly, and sometimes you don't. (Well, I haven't won yet in any of my games, but I can imagine winning sometimes late at night when I'm lying in bed and thinking about games. Sweet victory will someday be mine...)
If you run through how such a pyramid can be constructed, you'll realize that you need to do a few particular things in order to complete the pyramid, but I'll leave those details as an exercise for the reader.
As difficult as Katteni Shiyagare is, you can up the challenge with an expansion pack that adds a sixth color to the game, with the five blocks having that sixth color on one side and the original five colors on the other. Now you need to build a pyramid five levels high — good luck with that!
In addition to the original Katteni Shiyagare game, you can also use the blocks to play a memory game, a game apparently created by Saien on the spur of the moment a few days prior to TGM. To play, throw the tiles onto the table so that one face is hidden. On a turn, flip two tiles over to their reverse sides. If you reveal two tiles that show the same color, remove one of those tiles from play to represent a point for yourself, then take another turn; if the tiles don't match, leave them where they are and let the next player take a turn. Once no more tiles can be claimed (or players repeat a game state since you don't want to set up anyone else), then the game ends and whoever has the most blocks wins.
What else can be played with these blocks? Who's going to think up the next sexy game?
Fri May 29, 2015 11:26 pm
W. Eric Martin
• U.S. publisher Mayfair Games runs a number of tournaments and events each Gen Con, and for Gen Con 2015 it has two big events planned.
First, Mayfair is hosting "The Big Game", a sequel to its Big Game event from Gen Con 2013 in which more than nine hundred people participated in the same game of Catan. The 2015 Big Game takes place Friday, July 31 at 7:00 p.m. in the White River Ballroom in the J.W. Marriott hotel (event: BGM1576923), with all proceeds raised during the event going to The Julian Center, the official Gen Con charity.
Second, also benefitting The Julian Center, is a "Warp Speed" tournament featuring Five Year Mission, a new cooperative Star Trek-based dice game. Mayfair held a similar charity event at Gen Con 2013 with the finalists competing in a game of Catan with actor Wil Wheaton. For 2015, the guest of honor is actor Marina Sirtis, who played Counselor Deanna Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation. As for the game you'll be playing, here's a short description:
Five Year Mission is a cooperative dice game for 3-7 players who take the roles of crew members of either the USS Enterprise (from the original Star Trek series) or the USS Enterprise-D (from Star Trek: The Next Generation).
In these roles, players try to cooperatively solve a series of Green, Yellow and Red alerts before failing five such alerts, or getting the Enterprise destroyed. Crew members have different abilities, and both the crew and the alert encounters differ depending on the era in which the game takes place.
Mayfair has yet to release artwork, the name of the designer(s), a release date, and other details for this game. All in good time...
• Designer J. Alex Kevern got a nod in yesterday's round-up of TMG releases, and he has a second title coming in 2015 from Dutch publisher White Goblin Games. Here's an overview of Daxu:
In Daxu, players collect sets of cards of six different types of shops: bakery, rice wine shop, wood cutter, basket maker, silk dealer, and tea house.
Each round, several cards are flipped and players decide whether they want the cards for themselves or they want to give the cards to their opponent. Obtained cards go into your personal collection, and some of these cards provide (or make you lose) reputation points. If you focus too much on one type of shop, your customers will be dissatisfied and your opponent will gain points instead of you!
At the end of the game, players score points based on who holds majorities in which shops. Holding a majority by only a few cards earns points for you, but from a certain point on, that majority provides points for your opponent instead! Whoever collects the most points from majorities and reputation points wins.
• Designer Chad Jensen and publisher GMT Games have paired frequently on lengthy titles such as Combat Commander: Europe, Dominant Species and Urban Sprawl, but their next release is the more streamlined Centerville, which bears this gameplay summary:
Centerville is a relatively light board game for 2-4 players. Centerville abstractly models the growth and management of a small city — perhaps not unlike the one you're in right now.
Players act as entrepreneurs, tycoons, politicians, and other local movers and shakers working to develop a modern urban area. Fortunes will be made and fame will rise. As time goes by, personal milestones will enrich the players even further.
Throughout the game, players will roll six dice, keeping some and rerolling others, then implementing the various die faces on the game board. This will result in political offices being gained and lost, new vocations learned, new land acquired, or new buildings constructed. The end result is a vibrant community revered near and wide — but only the player who has best balanced their wealth and prestige will emerge the final victor.
Playing time is 15-20 minutes per player.
Centerville is available for preorder through GMT's P500 program, and a more detailed game description is available on that page.
• Joe Fatula has released a number of games through The Lumenaris Group, which appears to be a family business or collective that sells felt kits, sewing tools and jigsaw puzzles in addition to games. Browsing through the Lumenaris product offerings is weirdly charming! Fatula's next release is Leaving Earth, which seems like a departure from all he's done before, but that also seems standard for his releases! An overview:
The year is 1956. Mankind stands at the dawn of a new age, the Space Age, when the flying bombs of yesteryear will become the rocket ships of tomorrow. As the director of a national space program, your country is depending on you for success in this great contest. You may be the first to create an artificial satellite, send a probe to another planet, or even put a man on the moon.
Leaving Earth is a game about planning and about managing risk. With even a single grand journey into outer space, you might claim victory in the game. Consequently, it is your job to plan each journey carefully, finding the cheapest, quickest, and safest ways to reach your objective — but do not spend too long preparing, or another nation might reach their goal before you.
On your turn, you will be conducting research, building spacecraft, and directing journeys into outer space. To conduct research, you buy an advancement that begins with certain flaws, then you test the advancement to find and eliminate those flaws. To build a spacecraft, you purchase components and assemble them into a whole. To travel to outer space, you expend rockets to maneuver from one location to another.
• Matt Hyra from Cryptozoic Entertainment has notified BGG of two previously announced titles that will not be released — Mystic Warlords of Ka'a, written up in a March 2013 BGG News post, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Expandable Card Game, covered in a different March 2013 BGGN post — so I've removed these game listings from the database, merging the entries with our "unpublished prototype" listing reserved for such abandoned projects.
W. Eric Martin
Space Cowboys' Elysium, designed by Brett Gilbert and Matthew Dunstan, hits the general U.S. market today, May 28, 2015, and while I've already previewed the game once in November 2014 after playing the prototype — and by chance I had scheduled designer and developer diaries about the game ahead of its nomination for Kennerspiel des Jahres — I've now played a few more times on a preview copy from Asmodee and thought I'd write a bit more.
In general, Elysium is a set collection game, with players drafting fifteen cards over the course of five rounds, then trying to assemble those cards into legends (sets of cards organized by rank or family) before the game ends. More flavorfully, players compete to claim and use characters and objects from Greek mythology into legends, with these characters and objects being grouped into eight families: Zeus, Hermes, Apollo, Ares, Athena, Hades, Hephaestus and Poseidon.
In slightly more detail, each round starts with players having columns in four colors, and they're presented with cards and order tiles, with each of these items having a cost in one or two colors. Players take turns drafting three cards and one order tile, in whatever order they like, but to claim something they need to have the required column colors in front of them. After each item they claim, they must set aside any one color out of play, thereby reducing their options on future turns.
What provides the juice in the game, aside from the competition, is the special powers on the cards: cards affiliated with Zeus grant you ways to score points during the game; those with Hades help you bring more cards into the afterlife, the Elysian Fields where legends are worth VPs at game's end; Hephaestus helps you earn money, which you need to bring cards to the afterlife; Poseidon attacks the opponents' holdings; and so on. Some cards provide an immediate benefit, some a one-shot power, some a power you can use every turn, and so on — but you can use these powers only so long as the cards are still in your active area and haven't been transferred to the afterlife (although Hermes' cards sometimes let you evade this restriction).
You're making and breaking card combinations over the course of the game, and with only five of the eight families in play each game, the nature of the gameplay differs depending on which cards are in the mix:
• Without Hades, transferring cards to the afterlife is much more dependent on the order tile (which determines turn order for the next round, in addition to giving you some amount of money, VPs, and allowable transfers)
• Without Athena, you can't rely on abilities shared by opponents
• Without Hephaestus, you'll have a harder time collecting money
• With Ares, you'll also be fighting for a majority of prestige points, in addition to everything else you're doing
• With Apollo, you can see some of the cards coming in the subsequent round and possibly even use those cards during the current round
Hyperspecialization in two families in a two-player game
Everything changes depending on which families are in play as well as what comes out each round. Since you put out 3N+1 cards each round (with N = number of players), with fewer players you see fewer cards, and thus you have to learn to make do with what's available to you. For this and a few other reasons, Elysium reminds me of a streamlined Seasons. You develop a plan based on what's initially available to you, then you keep modifying that plan based on what comes available each round. Sometimes a player gets lucky by being the first player in a round and having first crack at something super beneficial to whatever their plan is, but that's life. If you think that's a real issue in Elysium, then you can go out of your way to claim the first player tile each round, but that's probably not a great idea since you're then ceding first shot at the cards to everyone else. As in most games, you can't have everything, so you make do the best you can.
Why Elysium feels more streamlined than Seasons is that players don't have to muck about with resources, worrying about getting that one fire token so that you can cast this spell, which you definitely want to cast before this other spell, which you want to make sure is in play before the end of the year, and so on. No, you have only the four columns available to you, and as players spend their columns, you track who can acquire which things and make guesses as to what they might want to acquire, balancing all of this against what might be best for you.
What's more, since you must transfer cards to your Elysian Fields over the course of the game — well, you don't have to, but you can't transfer everything in the final round, so if you want a shot at winning, you had best transfer things there bit by bit in order to compile decent legends by game's end — you're not overwhelmed by choices from the cards in front of you. You see something fruitful, squeeze it for a few turns to bathe in its rich juices, then move it on to make room for something else. (This description might also apply to those of us who play games a few times, then move on to something else. It's a coincidence, I swear!)
This whittling away at your holdings might be why most of my Elysium games have finished in under an hour while games of Seasons typically stretch to two hours. This difference could be part of why Elysium got the nod for Kennerspiel, with the design packing lots of decisions in a tighter timeframe. The gorgeous art on the cover and cards is a nice plus, too.
Hermes and Apollo facilitate more combos thanks to power reuse and look ahead to future cards
Thu May 28, 2015 10:27 pm
W. Eric Martin
• I posted something about this on BGG's Twitter account, but not here. Alas, you think you've covered something, but you've done so only for some of the people reading you.
In any case, Tasty Minstrel Games has acquired the rights to Stefan Feld's Luna, and this new edition of the game, which has no changes other than the insertion of the TMG logo, is due out Oct/Nov 2015. TMG posted an image of the pre-press copy — that is, what's presented to publishers as representative of how the final product will look — for those who want visual proof.
• Another upcoming TMG release, due out sometime in Q3 2015, is Chen Chih-Fan's Flip City, originally released by Taiwanese publisher Homosapiens Lab as Design Town. This design is a super clever deck-building game in which the cards are double-sided with different abilities on each side. You can play as many cards as you like from your deck — getting a peek at what's coming since you know what's on top! — but if you collect three unhappy faces on a turn, you can't do anything. If you stop in time, you use the coins and powers of the cards you've played to acquire new cards or flip the cards already in your deck. If you manage to reveal 8 VP in a single turn, you win.
• Other titles coming from TMG include Seth Jaffee's Eminent Domain: Exotica — an expansion for Eminent Domain that adds exotic worlds, alien cultures, and asteroids that await mining to the base game — as well as Philip duBarry's Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers, a 3-5 player, thirty-minute standalone game set in the EmDo universe. Here's an overview of that title:
Captain a mighty battlecruiser in the middle of a firefight as you try to gather 15 units of precious ore and get out — or die trying.
In Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers, you want to be the first to escape with 15 victory points, or be the last ship standing. Each round you and your opponents each play a card from your identical hands. If you play the same card as an opponent, you'll clash and bad things will happen! But if you manage to sneak a card through unhindered, then you'll reap the benefits.
Collect points or knock cards out of your opponents' hands. If you lose all of your cards, then you're out of the running. At the end of each round, check to see whether any player has won; if not, prepare to play another card!
In late May 2015, Jaffee noted that a Kickstarter for both EmDo titles will likely start by the end of the month.
• What else is coming from TMG? In a March 2015 newsletter, TMG's Michael Mindes noted that printing has begun on J. Alex Kevern's Gold West. Here's a description of that game, followed by an overview video that we recorded with the designer at Gen Con 2014:
In Gold West, players compete as prospectors building their mining empires while vying over the precious metals of the frontier. In a delicate balance of resource management and area control, players must plan their building strategies while carefully managing their supply tracks to refine the right resources at the most opportune times. Stay a step ahead of the competition and you could lead the West into the Golden Age.
The goal of Gold West is to accumulate the most victory points through clever management of your growing mining empire. There are five resources in the game: the metals Copper, Silver, and Gold are used to acquire victory points in a variety of ways, while Timber and Stone are building materials used to build camps and settlements on the board to collect more resources and influence the landscape.
Each hex contains either two or three resources. Gold generally earns players the most points, with silver and copper yielding slightly less. In addition, each terrain type scores points for the player with the most influence therein at the end of the game. Copper terrains are the most valuable, with Silver, Gold, and Forest Terrains earning slightly fewer points.
When gaining new metals and materials, players place them in their "supply track", a mancala-style track in which you will manage your resources. You get points to further back in the track you place them, as this creates a more refined product, but it will take longer to get these resources to the front of the supply track where they can be used. Shipping, investments, and Boomtown offices often reward players who fulfill them earlier, so it's a careful balance of risk and reward.
• Oh, and there's also this little number, which has only the artwork and short description tease for now:
W. Eric Martin
• IDW Games has announced an October 30, 2015 street date for Little Circuses, a tile-laying worker placement game for 2-7 players from Kevin Wilson in which players recruit sword swallowers, daredevils, and mesmerizing mystics in order to build a big top with attractions that'll wow the crowd.
• Spielworxx has released a few more details about Haithabu from designers Wolfgang Heidenheim and Andreas Molter, noting that this July 2015 release is not a mechanical heavyweight with lots of victory point chains and nested processes. In the game, players take turns performing individual actions on an action rondel, and what's most critical in the game is the timing of the actions because in each round each color of action can be selected only once. Players must react to market price changes and event dice that can cause complications.
• Stronghold Games has confirmed that it will release Luigi Ferrini's The Golden Ages in September 2015 with "no material changes".
• Along similar lines, Alderac Entertainment Group will release Simon Havard's Why First? in September 2015 after debuting the game in the U.S. at Gen Con 2015 in August. I've played this game a few times and will preview it soon in this space.
• German gamer Matthias Nagy has founded Frosted Games in order to publish a special holiday treat for gamers around the world: an advent calendar that contains 24(!) small game expansions from 21 different publishers. Matthias mentioned this idea to me at Spielwarenmesse 2015 when I ran into him at that trade show, and I was blown away by the idea, amazed that no one had ever published such a thing previously.
Several Spiel des Jahres winners and nominees, as yet unnamed, as well as award winners from countries other than Germany have expansions included in this advent calendar. In a press release, Nagy notes that "[m]ost expansions are exclusive for this advent calendar up to Spiel '16 in Essen". Artwork for the advent calendar is by Klemens Franz, and €4 from the sale of each unit will be donated to charity. The board game advent calendar will debut on October 8 at Spiel 2015 in Essen, and it will be distributed in Europe through Spiel Direkt and available in the U.S. in a small quantity through BoardGameGeek (which is news to me).
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