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Designer Diary: Yukon Airways, or Designing from Memory

Al Leduc
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This game was inevitable: I grew up in the Yukon, my father was a bush pilot, and I like to design games.

We Welcome You to Yukon Airways

The real-life Yukon Airways originally began as a small charter outfit in 1927 when Andrew Cruickshank bought the Queen of The Yukon. This plane was the sister plane to the more-famous Spirit of St. Louis, which was flown by Charles Lindbergh on the first non-stop, transatlantic flight from New York to Paris on May 20, 1927. Today the Queen of the Yukon is still on display in the Aviation Museum in Whitehorse. When I grew up in the Yukon, my father was the owner and operator of Yukon Airways, so I was pretty familiar with bush planes from a young age.

When I started working on this game, I knew several places that had to be included: two-thirds of the Yukon's population lives in Whitehorse, which is the territory's capital. It serves as the communication/transportation hub in the game, as it does in real-life. Plus, that's where I was born and raised, so my ego required its inclusion.

Dawson City is most famous as the setting for the Gold Rush. When gold was discovered near Dawson City in 1896, word quickly spread across the world, which brought an unprecedented number of gold-seekers to the Yukon. Over 100,000 prospectors stampeded to the Klondike region, which led to the establishment of Dawson City and, eventually, the Yukon Territory. Dawson City quickly became known as the "Paris of the North" and in 1898, it was the largest city north of Seattle and west of Winnipeg.

Old Crow is the most northerly community in the Yukon and the only one that is not accessible by road.

Cinnamon Strip is famous in the Yukon because you can land your plane beside Braeburn Lodge to pick up cinnamon buns that are almost as big as your head!

Taco Bar is known to local bush pilots and outfitters but you won't find it on any map. Despite the name, it's not a Mexican restaurant; rather, it's a small gravel island, the end point for canoe trips along the Snake River. The waters here are deep and straight enough to allow a float plane to land. It was named after a memorable dinner made there.

You'll find some personal touches in the objective cards, too. "Paid with Gold Nuggets", which was not an uncommon practice, reveals that yellow dice represent miners. "Better Safe than Sorry" rewards you for having fuel left at the end of your flight; it was also one of my father's favorite expressions. "Love is in the Air" is a nod to how my parents met. My mother was a doctor who used to work in small communities around the Yukon, and she was often flown around by my dad. These cards also hint that red dice are mounties, green are adventurers, pink are tourists, and blue are doctors.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Please Buckle Your Seatbelt

I recall the day I decided to try to design Yukon Airways. It was June 2016 when I was driving back from a Protospiel with Gerry Paquette talking about themes we'd like to design games around and mechanisms we'd like to use. I had been trying to make a game using dice drafting in which the board location from which the dice were drafted was important, but hadn't come up with a good theme that worked. Once I realized the dice could represent passengers at a terminal, I was off to the races.

I knew that managing fuel and passengers would be the crux of the game as fuel management is a bush pilot's most important skill and any error can be fatal. Because I didn't want to include player elimination in the game, there is an assumption that you always reserve the necessary fuel to return to Whitehorse. Now you only need to worry about having enough fuel to get all the way to Old Crow. As you can imagine, the further you want to travel, the more fuel you'll need to carry. That said, this is a game, not a simulation, so there are other ways to increase your range.

Passengers limit the distance you can fly. A plane can carry only a fixed weight, and when you're flying solo, you can use all that capacity for fuel and travel a longer distance. If you've got passengers on board, then you can't take as much fuel and consequently you can't fly as far. I wanted to invoke the importance of fuel management without unnecessarily burdening the players, and the trade-off between passengers and fuel seemed like an elegant way to do that.

My first ideas included helicopters and airplanes. It was overly complicated, and involved players having a small fleet of unique aircraft at their disposal.




It took only a few months of iteration for the game to start looking like its present form. The map board geography looked the way it does now, the dice-drafting system operated smoothly, and there were a deck of destination cards and colored cubes used in conjunction with locations. Of course, the details of these elements evolved over time, but none of them were changed much in outline.




We Will Be Experiencing a Little Turbulence

In September 2016, after three months of progress, I started working on the engine-building aspect. I like to add things that increase variability to a game only after the core design is stable; otherwise it's difficult to tell which elements are causing the game to crash, and whether changes implemented over time are genuine improvements or simply patches to a shaky design.




I started by giving players a bonus when flying different types of passengers. This was a bit dull as it just gave a scoring bonus and wasn't engine building at all. You could get better at scoring for certain colors of dice, but you didn't get better at actually doing things in the game.

I also tried giving players skill cards that gave them unique bonuses. Ultimately, this proved to be too fiddly and increased the cognitive load of new players. A simpler and ultimately more satisfying solution was to give all players access to the same objective cards. This fostered competition between the players since they both raced to complete the objectives and vied with each other to gather and use the elements required for their completion. It also increased the variability from game to game without accidentally giving any player an unfair advantage.

You can also see in this photo that the player aid was a part of the player board and that I recorded a player's fuel using discarded cards. I was pretty darn happy with my cleverly efficient use of the cards.




Things Look Different from the Air

I thought the game was on the right track — until I went to Europe for a vacation. I find that traveling helps with creativity as a change in surroundings can give you a new perspective on old problems. Being captive on an airplane (or in an air terminal) can sometimes do wonders if you choose to use the time creatively. Several new ideas started to rattle around in my head while I was away, and I was excited to get back to work.

The first thing I did when I got back was to totally rework the player board. The dashboard look fit the theme of the game perfectly, and the dials granted flexibility to the engine building. As an added bonus, it was very clear to read and easy to use. Later on I added "switches" that gave players a bonus once they were turned "ON".




Shortly afterward, I reworked the dice pool board to differentiate each terminal. At this point, I tied player order to the terminal number. The pairing of a special ability and turn order was inspired by Viticulture, but the choice has a bit more weight in Yukon Airways as it also dictates which dice are available for you to draft — a decision central to your turn.




By the start of 2017, I had fleshed out the map board, too. The cubes and cards worked quite differently than they do now, and they would go through a few iterations before the final version. At first, cubes of your color were placed on a location when you dropped a passenger off there. The cards told you which color of passenger you could drop off at the indicated location.




In addition to game design changes, I also made improvements to the game's look and feel over the next three months, including the addition of my old family photos to the plane cockpits.






On Your Right, You Can See Niagara Falls

In April 2017, I attended Alan Moon's Gathering of Friends convention in Niagara. It is attended by designers, publishers, and other game industry professionals, so it represents a staggering wealth of game knowledge. I talked with friendly, intelligent people about the game and made almost daily iterations (having brought my laptop and printer to the hotel).

The most notable change was changing the whole turn structure from drafting dice and delivering them on your turn to a two-phase system in which each player drafted dice in turn order, then all players delivered them in the new turn order dictated by the value (1-6) of the terminal from which they had drafted the dice. Another significant change was the addition of barrel, card, and improvement symbols to the destination cards, a set of which could be turned in for a bonus. This set collection added some interesting depth without much complexity. (Truth be told, it resulted in more complexity than I personally like, so I don't focus on them too much when I play, but when used well, they allow for epic turns.)




I gave the almost-final version a few playtests in the Yukon when I went home for a visit in the summer of 2017. Here we see my mother and sister playing a game:




We Will Be Landing Shortly

The game was signed by Spanish publisher Ludonova in November 2017 and will debut at SPIEL '19 in October. They've done a great job of the artwork while generally adhering to the look of my prototype. While I was happy with the graphic design of my prototype, they wisely chose to hire a professional artist and graphic designer, so their version is orders of magnitude better. Have a look at the new player boards; each one even has a recreation of one of my old family photos:






These are samples of the new ticket and plane cards:






This is the map board with the seaplane dock on the left:




Thank You for Flying Yukon Airways

While I'm very pleased with how Yukon Airways turned out, I'm saddened that my father — who passed away in 2014 — will never see it . His life provided the impetus for the original design, and I hope you will enjoy this little tribute to the man who taught me how to soar. I think he would have. Have a nice flight!

Al Leduc
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SPIEL '19 Game Preview: Similo, or Let the Characters Clue You In

W. Eric Martin
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Apex
North Carolina
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If you've played Mysterium, then you're already 70% of the way toward learning how to play Similo, a co-operative card game from Hjalmar Hach, Pierluca Zizzi, and Martino Chiacchiera that Italian publisher Horrible Games will release in two editions — Fables and History — in late 2019. These editions play independently, but can also be combined into a single game.

Each edition consists of a deck of thirty characters, with lush artwork courtesy of Naïade. If you're the clue giver in the game, you look at one character in secret, then shuffle this character with eleven other cards and lay them out in a grid.

You want the other players to identify your secret character, but since games exist only thanks to obstacles that make normal activities much more complicated than they need to be, you can't simply tell others which character to choose. Instead you'll take a hand of five character cards, then play one of them next to the grid as a clue, with this card played vertically if it's similar to your character and horizontally if it differs from your character. The other players will bicker amongst themselves for some time, then choose one character to remove from play. If they haven't removed your character, then you refill your hand to five cards and lay down another character card as a clue, whether vertically or horizontally — but this time the other players must remove two cards instead of one.


Trying out Similo at Gen Con 2019 — so many blues clues in hand...


In the next rounds, assuming your secret character hasn't been removed, the other players must remove three cards from play, then four. If all has gone well, only two characters will remain in play. You'll then reveal one more clue, and (fingers crossed) your fellow players will remove the final fake and leave only your character behind.

As you might imagine, the challenge of the game is figuring out which card to give as a positive or negative clue, and what to remove when presented with said clues. In some ways, this game is a mash-up of the previously mentioned Mysterium and the party game Whozit? that I covered in this space in July 2019. In that latter game, one player describes how well two characteristics match their secret character, then everyone else tries to remove all other characters in order to score the most points. Similo replaces the text descriptions from Whozit? with evocative images and escalates the tension by increasing the number of fakes to remove after each clue.

I've played Similo ten times on advance preproduction copies from Horrible Games, with the History version proving tougher for me as my knowledge of history is worse than my knowledge of fairy tales. Hmm. You can combine the two versions of the game, with all the characters in the revealed grid being from one set and the clue cards that you present being from another set. My fairy tale character is not like Abraham Lincoln, so should you eliminate the Big Bad Wolf (since he's hairy), The Giant (since he's tall), or Tinkerbell (since Abe sprinkled Mary with fairy dust on Saturday nights)? You can imagine lots of other Similo sets joining this line-up in future years, giving you many more mash-ups to ponder...


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Mon Aug 19, 2019 1:00 pm
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SPIEL '19 Game Preview: Cloaked Cats, or Spotting Kitty's Spots

W. Eric Martin
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Cloaked Cats, a deduction game from Connor Reid that HABA will debut in Germany on August 21, 2019, doesn't feel like it has anything novel compared to other deduction games, but I say that only in the context of someone who's played lots of deduction games.

Tthe kids who I introduced the game to, on the other hand, demanded to play it again immediately, then again until we played four times in total — then my son wanted to play twice more the next night. To quote James Nathan from his review of Across the United States:

Quote:
There’s nothing new going on in Across the United States.

It’s not a game that you can point at and say it does this new thing. It has this twist.
Have you heard about that new train game, but where the other thing happens?
It’s like X, but with Y.

And I love it.
It’s like infrastructure maintenance for board games, and I’m here for it.
Cloaked Cats — which is titled Club der Tatzen, or "The Paw Club", in German — bears this same description, but with "deduction" in place of "train". Each of the 2-4 players starts the game with three characteristics, with the nineteen characteristics in the game being five poses, eight colors, two body decorations (stripes and spots), and four accessories. The game includes forty cat cards, and each card has 3-4 of these characteristics, such as these:


What characteristics can you deduce from what's marked? (prototype materials)


You start with three cat cards in hand, and on a turn you place one of these cards into play, then all players mark the card with a colored token if at least one of their characteristics is visible on the card, then you optionally guess a characteristic held by an opponent. If you're correct, they reveal that card and give you one of their tokens, which counts as a point for you; if not, you give them one of your tokens. End your turn by refilling your hand to three cat cards.

Players keep taking turns until someone has revealed all three of their characteristics, then you finish the round so that everyone has the same number of turns (but with players only being allowed to guess without playing a card), then you tally points, with each unrevealed characteristic card and each token of an opponent's color being worth 1 point.


Lots of whiffs when playing with only two


Cloaked Cats feels like many other deduction games because every guess — whether correct or not — potentially ricochets into another player gaining enough information to make a correct guess of their own. If you and I both mark a cat card with three characteristics, then I know you have B or C since I have A — unless I have both A and B in which case I have you nailed, but at the expense of exposing myself to retaliatory fire.

Sometimes the cards work against you, as in the game in which each of my three starting cat cards bore a different one of my three characteristics. Whatever I played would reveal me, but I had to play something. In practice, though, having one of your characteristics revealed isn't necessarily terrible because you'll continue to mark cat cards that bear this characteristic — and if that cat card just happens to have one of my characteristics that's still hidden, well, that bit of knowledge often remains in the background thanks to what's been made public. Sometimes you're pushed to make a guess because you can feel your options for safety running out, and you know that if you don't end it, you'll be the one fully revealed next.

I've played Cloaked Cats nine times on a prototype copy from HABA with all player counts, and while it doesn't offer any "gee-whiz" features to advertise on the box, it delivers a solid, quick-playing deduction experience with kids as young as six reveling in their correct guesses, especially when an adult sits in the role of guessee...


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Sun Aug 18, 2019 5:00 am
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Gen Con 2019 Coverage Begins Again w/ Ticket to Ride: London

W. Eric Martin
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Two weeks after Gen Con 2019 opened, BoardGameGeek is re-launching its coverage of this show on our BGG Express YouTube channel with this overview of Ticket to Ride: London from designer Alan R. Moon.

Dozens more videos will be published on that channel in the coming weeks, with those videos also being posted on the individual game pages and in our SPIEL '19 Preview since many of them will serve as previews of titles that will be featured in Essen in two months.


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Fri Aug 16, 2019 3:20 am
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Steph's Photo Guide to Gen Con 2019!

Steph Hodge
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Well, it's no Ginkgopolis...
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Gen Con 2019

A Photo Guide by Steph Hodge





At the BGG Booth

[size=14]The booth grew in size, and our store was huge! So much to set up!


Re-branding unveiled!




Beth & I showing off our bedazzled shirts!


WEM is always so skeptical.




Stefan Feld makes an appearance!






The Games!!

Funkoverse Strategy Game


Boomerang


Ishtar: Gardens of Babylon


Sierra West


Letter Jam


Aeon's End: The New Age


Deranged


Wonderland's War


MegaCity: Oceania


PARKS


Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein


Extraordinary Adventures: Pirates


Obscurio


Cloudspire


Mystery House: Adventures in a Box


Watergate


Die Hard: The Nakatomi Heist Board Game


Toy Story: Obstacles and Adventures


Harry Potter: Death Eaters Rising


Foodies


Atelier: The Painter's Studio


City of the Big Shoulders


Pappy Winchester


Kingdomino Duel


Colors of Paris


Everdell & Everdell: Pearlbrook


The Starfarers of Catan


Sleeping Gods


Into The Black Forest


Era: Medieval Age


Gone Fishing


Rune Stones


Nine Tiles Panic


Old West Empresario


Dragonscales


Nevada City


Dice Realms


Crown of Emara


Black Angel


Foothills


Lockup: A Roll Player Tale


Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale


Fuzzy Mage Fight


Hellboy: The Board Game


Dragon Boats of the Four Seas


Barrage


On Mars


Dwar7s Spring


ANIMALCATRAZ


Nouvelle-France


Welkin


Rail Pass


Zodiac Clash


Hats


Imaginarium


Anomaly


Mezo


Iron Forest


TEAM3 PINK


Pigasus


Quodd Heroes


Planet Unknown


Glen More II: Chronicles


Lovelace & Babbage


Genotype: A Mendelian Genetics Game


Incubation


Giant-sized Mental Blocks


Wayfinders


Big Trouble in Little China: The Game & Big Trouble in Little China: The Game – Legacy of Lo Pan


Narwhal Free for All


Sagrada: The Great Facades – Passion


The Maury Game: You Are Not the Father


Empyreal: Spells & Steam


Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle – Defence Against the Dark Arts


Tentacle Town


Honey Buzz


Roll for Adventure


Pictionary Air


Seeders from Sereis: Exodus


Destroyer of Words


Tattoo Stories


Little Town


The Sherlock Files: Elementary Entries


Hewns


The Artemis Project


Call to Adventure


Magnastorm & Fuji


Moon Base


Bosk


Trickerion: Collector's Edition


Really big Spirits of the Wild


Imperial Settlers: Roll & Write


Arkham Horror: Final Hour


Namiji


Terramara


Blockbuster


Conquest: the last argument of kings


Star Wars Fluxx







BGG Hot Games Room













Packing up...





Hodgepodge of Images







Wakanda Forever






The IELLO team excited about Ishtar being #1 on GeekBuzz








New Geek and Destroy Shirt!



And that's a wrap!



Thanks for joining me!
-Steph
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Wed Aug 14, 2019 4:28 pm
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Designer Diary: Sierra West

Jonathan Cantin
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Howdy! Jonny Pac here. I'm gonna share some of the story behind my game Sierra West. It's a mix between a deck-builder and action-programming/worker-placement game, but the two stand-out features are the multi-use cards that overlap into the player boards, and the modular content that makes the core game more of a "console" than a game in itself. Upon set-up, you choose which mode to play and add the special mode-specific cards and tokens required to fill it out. There are four different modules in the box — with lots of room for future expansions.

First Spark

The game's mechanical roots probably stem back to a conversation I had with with designer Kevin Riley (Aeon's End) after a playtest of what would later become Coloma, by Final Frontier Games. In Coloma, you build a tableau of cards. Each card has a couple of different abilities that can get triggered when your pioneer meeple visits certain "sites" on the main board's wheel.

At the time of this playtest, the cards had all kinds of wild mixtures of actions: cards that gave you money, extra workers, trades, all that — lots of busy icons spread out over your field of vision. Kevin's suggestion was to sort the cards by type so that everything that would, say, generate you money would be lined up in one area, making it easy to digest. But the cards were not designed in a way that would facilitate that; they had split abilities, making organizing them on the table nearly impossible. Then I interjected an idea: What if you had a meeple that would visit each of the actions on the cards from left to right? This would keep track everything nicely, right? But before really entertaining the notion, I dismissed it myself; there was a lot going on in the game already. Perhaps that should just be its own game someday...

Over the following months, I kept thinking of how to make a game with moving workers that visited action spaces on your face-up cards. I had one idea that involved frogs jumping from toadstool to toadstool. I even imagined that the frogs would leave your play area and move to your neighbor's, going all the way around the table and back to you, but that idea never even made it into prototype form. More time passed.

First Prototype

One afternoon in my studio, I got out construction paper and markers and started making cards that layered over each other, covering some of the icons. I began by playing five cards at a time (assuming it might be a good twist on a deck-builder). Then I made a toothed player board that filled in the gaps between the cards. I marched a couple of meeples from icon to icon. How fun!

But wouldn't it be the same if I just "read" all of the icons? No need to have meeples fiddling around if it adds up the same in the end. That's when I knew: the order in which they moved had to matter. That was key. It brought to mind the classic NES game, Gyromite. In Gyromite you had to coordinate with the other player — who was in charge of moving pipes with their controller — to get your little old dude around the level. If you did things in the wrong order, you'd get trapped and eaten by monsters or squished by your own pipes by mistake. This inspired me to make it so that you had to juggle moves between the two meeples to get the best results out of your turn.

Mind you, I'm not one for making board games that really want to be video games. I believe that each media has its strengths — and the content for that media should play to those strengths without obvious envy for the other. Plus, I'm a medium-weight Euro junkie. I'm all about the cardboard and wooden pieces. My favorite games usually fall somewhere between Carcassonne and Caylus in complexity. My goal as a designer is to make games that can sit on the shelf next to those — and add my own unique touch to the canon. Therefore, this idea of mine was probably going to end up as a dry, economic game involving resource management and building stuff — even if that is just a deck. Or will it? Dot, dot, dot

Player Board Evolution




Hangtown, Coloma, and Donner Summit

If you know anything about me, you'll know that I live way out in the sticks of the Sierra Nevada foothills, just upriver from where gold was famously discovered in 1849. My self-published game, Hangtown, was tightly based on California's Gold Rush history and filled with actual historic photos. Coloma, Hangtown's new reimplimentation, is also based on similar historic events, though expressed more loosely with whimsical art by The Mico.

In a similar vein, Sierra West was originally called "Donner Summit", inspired by the infamous events that took place there in the late 1840s. (And yes, if you ran out of food you had to eat your meeples to survive!) The whole mountain of cards was bleak and snowy. Your pioneers had to gather resources and food while avoiding becoming popsicles. It had a spinner, too! This determined the weather conditions: avalanches would tumble down over the cards and so on. As dark of a theme as it was, I tried to keep it light feeling with everything being about meeples — instead of actual peoples. It was not looking to be a historic simulation or freaky parody — it was more of a tactical Euro-style game. (Spoiler alert: The snowy theme will find its way back into the game as an expansion in 2020!)

Three-Card Panorama Evolution




Two Sparks!

In early 2018, I went to the GAMA Trade Show in Reno with a bag full of unsigned games. I had cold-contacted several publishers that seemed like good fits for my work. One of them was Board&Dice, a company from Poland with a growing catalog of games that stood between the familiar and the radically different — in fact, their game, InBetween, with its intriguing box art and lack of front logo, was just coming out.

I met with Filip, one of the company's founders, who was wearing a two-piece suit covered in Pac-Man patterns. Fun dude! He looked over all of my games and sell sheets, sitting through brief demos of each. He liked one called "Meeples on Main", that was inspired by mancala. He said it had a "spark". (This game has since evolved into A Fistful of Meeples by Final Frontier.)

Then I ran out of polished games to show him (no pun intended!), and all I had left was this crazy deck-builder about cowboy meeples stuck in a terrible blizzard eating each other out of desperation. I warned them that it had a questionable theme and was far from done — I didn't even know how the game would end. Is the winner the one who ate the fewest meeples? Eff, I don't know. But I whipped it out anyways. I demonstrated the core system of sliding cards into a custom-shaped player board to make trails for your meeples. Instead of just worker-placement, it was worker-flow, I explained. His eyes widened. This game has two sparks! After a quick aside with his business partner, Ireneusz, he came back and asked whether they could take it home to Poland and send me a contract the following week. Sounds good, boss!

After the ink had dried, we began meeting online regularly, usually midnight in California and 9 a.m. in Poland — which eventually made me more-or-less nocturnal. Between my work with Board&Dice and Final Frontier (in Macedonia), I now stay up just about every night until 3-4 a.m. in my studio, hammering on games. Around noon, I wake to find caffeine, food, and innocent playtesters. It's the developer life, I tell ya! Anyhoo, back to Sierra West.

Re-Theme and Modules

As half-expected, Filip asked me to rethink the theme. He felt that as cool as the local history might be, the game might do better in Europe without the meeple-eating bit. He asked whether I could make four seasons instead. These would be modules that could be swapped out to create unique thematic experiences. I agreed, but was not sure exactly how to tie seasons to the Wild West tropes people might expect. What exactly did the pioneers do in the spring, summer, and fall? Don't know. Harvest season was literally the only low-hanging fruit I could think of since apples grow really well in the Sierras — in fact, so well that a nearby region is called Apple Hill. Perfect. This game has a hill. Add apples, and we're good to go! The unique mechanism in the Apple Hill mode is that you gather apples from a growing orchard. On your turn, you may use as many apples as you can, but here's the catch: Leftover apples are available for the next player to use...

Aside from "autumn" I was stumped. Nothing came to mind for spring or summer that didn't feel forced. Then I thought, seasons? Phooey. This game isn't about seasons. It's about life in the Western Frontier: Exploration! Outlaws! Shootouts! Gold mines! Yee-haw! After that it was much easier to think of appropriate content: Gold Rush, a mode all about mining gold; Outlaws & Outposts, chucking dice to shoot at bad guys; and Boats & Banjos — um, guys, did ya hear that ominous twang? Better paddle faster!

In the follow-up meeting, I pitched loose drafts of these new modules. Filip was impressed and willing to proceed with development on them. With just a few months to finish everything, I needed as much outside perspective as I could get, so over the summer I went to every local convention that had a Protospiel or designated room for designers to test their games. It was at RageCon (in Reno) that I met a new designer, Drake Villareal, who was immediately fascinated by the game's systems. We quickly became friends and began to workshop the heck out of it, even to the point where we reversed the way the cards were layered on the mountain. That's where things really started to gel. Drake and I have since become a developer buddy-system duo, working for Final Frontier on the upcoming game Merchants Cove and various other projects.

Is There a Solo Mode?

Enter Dávid Turczi. He was brought on to oversee the development of the solo mode, which I had already begun to design on my own. Liking most of what I had done, he decided to "teach a man to fish" instead of redoing it all himself. We spent several hours going over what makes a good solo mode. It was like getting a music lesson from a master, a literal game-changer for me. It even made me reevaluate multiplayer games. Where exactly are all of the interaction points? He also taught me to "name your solo mode's AI". For Sierra West, I chose "Hastings", named after the man who lead the Donner Party to a "shortcut" that wasn't so short after all...

GAMA, One Year Later

In early 2019, Coloma hit Kickstarter and was an immediate success, funded in just hours. This was the first time I actually saw real value in my work. Since I began making games in 2012 I never knew whether I was just fooling myself, Dunning-Kruger Effect style, but now there were thousands of people excited about Coloma, including some big-name reviewers. *major sigh of relief* Overlapping the tail of the Coloma campaign, Sierra West made its first sneak peek appearance at GAMA 2019 (one year after I had pitched it to Filip). It has since made appearances at UKGE and Origins Game Fair, and it was officially released in the U.S. at Gen Con 2019, where it sold out right away. It will debut in Europe at SPIEL '19 in October.




Mechanisms

Here I'm going to dig more into the mechanical side of things — assuming enough people have seen or played the game now to know what the heck I'm even talking about.

As noted above, I had the idea of organizing the way a series of card actions could fire off by having a worker move from left to right across the card faces. At first I thought this might be a tableau-building game in which you add more and more cards face-up to your play area (maybe like Coloma). But instead, I began experimenting with the standard deck-builder model: play cards, buy stuff, clean up, draw a new hand.

By default, I had players play five cards per turn, layering them in a similar way as seen in the final version of Sierra West — but with two cards in the back and three in the front. As you might imagine, this took players quite a while to sort out. Once they finally placed their cards, it took a few more minutes for them to finish moving their pioneer meeples across the paths. The only thing saving the game from utter downtime despair was that the non-active players were constantly puzzling over the cards in their hands. After testing it for a period like this, I eventually slimmed it down to hands of three. This helped cut the analysis paralysis and gave the game a bit more momentum — something it really needed.

In most deck-builders, players wrap up their turns by buying stuff (usually more cards), then they discard, clean up, and draw new hands. There's nothing wrong with that process — in fact, it's great — but this design offered the possibility of tying the buy phase into the worker movement flow; players could move their pioneers from their lower paths to the upper spaces on their cards where they could buy stuff. These spaces are now called "summit actions" (since the background art forms a cute mountain panorama).

One extra feature that emerged from this flowing system was that I could tie the resources gained on the path-actions to the summit action costs. For example, a card that would allow you to gain wood would also allow you to spend wood. Would you? I sure would. Of course this would lead to turns in which things just self-fulfilled. You would get stuff, then almost immediately after spend that same stuff, so why bother throwing fiddly bits around? Therefore, there had to be more meaningful decisions to make; players needed more choices of what to spend resources on and to juggle timing into the mix. Aside from the costs of summit actions, there are other actions with costs, such as gaining new cards from the mountain, building cabin tiles, and paying for mode-specific path-actions (like harvesting apples, mining for gold, and so on). Many times the order in which you resolve your path-actions determines what you can afford to buy in the end.




Now let's turn our attention to the main "board". There is one long strip of cardboard that represents a wagon trail through the Sierras. Each player's wagon begins on the far left and slowly progresses to the right over the course of the game. Above the wagon trail is a mountain of cards — literally, a big mountain of cards. Players acquire cards from here to build their decks, and unlike the basic cards each player starts the game with, these allow players to interact more with the given module in play. For example, cards from the Gold Rush mode allow you to mine for gold, fill mine carts, and get mining tools.

One thing that really tied the whole design together for me was the idea that some cards from the mountain would get unlocked and automatically "fall" face-up into a row below the wagon trail. These cards would not only be the game's timer, but the centerpiece of the given mode. In Gold Rush they reveal the mines in which you seek gold; in Apple Hill they grow a bountiful orchard; and in Boats & Banjos they extend a river that players can paddle up to go fishing. Once the last card has fallen into place, the final round is triggered.

I feel this is where the development process was at its peak (pun intended). The systems all tied together; the interchangeable modes fit right in; and the flow of play was at an acceptable tempo — at least, to me and my playtesters. It was the solo-mode developer, Dávid Turczi, who felt otherwise. He wanted more direct player interaction, more reasons to care what other people are doing on their turns with no feeling of "multiplayer solitaire". He proposed the ideas that eventually lead to the "Trapper" and "Tracker" off-turn actions. In essence, the non-active players would be able to chime in and gain benefits from what the active player was doing. This was also implemented to break up long wait times, say, if the active player was in low-gear, optimizing everything in every possible way.

Now, as a designer, I believe that there are two main ways to speed up a game: one is to make it literally faster, and the other is to distract people with entertainment, giving them brain candy and letting them lose track of time. The off-turn actions were added as a form of the latter method. An alternative might have been to dumb down some of the game's tougher decisions and let the turns flow fast and loose. Of course, if you've played any of Dávid's heavier games, "fast and loose" might not be the first words that come to mind.

In the end, we added the animals, (controversial) traps, and other off-turn benefits. I personally think these little "interrupts" may divide the game's audience; some folks will love them, and others — well, not so much. But that's a risk you sometimes have to take when you develop a game that doesn't fit an exact mold. No matter how you cut it, Sierra West is an ambitious and unique game; we can at least give it that. But you can decide for yourself where you fall on the yea/nay spectrum. Hopefully you'll enjoy it. And if it's the downtime at higher player counts that bothers you, maybe try it two-player or solo — it flies by that way.

What's Next

Board&Dice reached out to several well-known designers to make new expansion modules, which are scheduled for 2020. It is my understanding that these will come in packs that can be purchased individually. I will probably have only a small hand in their making, allowing for the designers to be as creative as they'd like, to explore the design space Sierra West offers them.

My own expansion pack will lead us full-circle, back to that terrible blizzard in 1847. Players will have to race their wagons to avoid getting caught in avalanches, share a very limited supply of food, and compete for survival. The meta-design idea for this module is to make a fast-playing version of the game that has lighter rules overhead and an exciting press-your-luck element. Stay tuned for more details as it finishes development. I'm hoping it will be released this winter.

Happy gaming,
Jonny Pac
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Tue Aug 13, 2019 4:15 pm
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Asmodee Acquires Lion Rampant Imports, GoKids, Skyship, and Searainbow Group

W. Eric Martin
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On August 7, 2019, Asmodee closed a deal to acquire Canadian distributor Lion Rampant Imports, which was founded in 1992 by Rose Kriedemann and Ross Fleming. (Aside from being a distributor, Lion Rampant Imports served as a publisher of sorts for multiple titles from Schmidt Spiele and Zoch Verlag, putting those titles onto the North American market exclusively through LRI with those versions of the games bearing the LRI brand.)

Here's an excerpt of an August 9, 2019 press release announcing the deal on Asmodee's website:

Quote:
Lion Rampant's diversified catalog is composed of a full range of hobby, family board, educational and strategy games as well as supplies and miniatures. The company has a strong coverage in Canadian English-speaking territories which will enable Asmodee to consolidate its undisputed leadership in this market.

"We are thrilled to establish a deeper partnership with Lion Rampant and strengthen our position in Canada and in the US. Lion Rampant and Asmodee had been working together for more than 10 years and this step will allow us to provide our clients with an exhaustive and customized range of products to fulfill any needs." said Stéphane Carville CEO of Asmodee Group.

"We are proud to join the Asmodee Group, this will enable Lion Rampant to embark on the next leg of its existence and continue to prosper and consolidate its position as a true retailer partner" said Ross Fleming, CEO of Lion Rampant.
• On August 7, 2019, Asmodee also announced the acquisition of Kids Power International, a Taiwanese distributor that releases games under the brand GoKids. I first wrote about this deal in November 2018 when Asmodee had already "entered exclusive discussions" to acquire Kids Power International. Now the deal is complete, with Asmodee announcing it as follows:

Quote:
Established in 2010, GoKids is one of Taiwan's leading board game companies. GoKids publishes and distributes board games in the fast growing Taiwanese and Hongkongese markets. Its partnership with Asmodee started in 2011.

"Our vision of getting people together through a fantastic entertainment experience will be strengthened as we become part of Asmodee. The passion for telling incredible stories is mutual. We are very happy and proud to join such a great and experienced team" said George Tsai, CEO of GoKids.

The acquisition of GoKids allows Asmodee Group to strengthen its product line and consolidate its leading position in Greater China. It is also a stepping stone in the Group's international development in Asia.

"After 7 years of successful partnership with Gokids, I believe this acquisition will accelerate our presence in Greater China, particularly in the family and education segments." said Frederic Nugeron, Regional Manager Greater China of Asmodee Group.

"We're delighted to welcome GoKids to the Asmodee Group," said Stephane Carville, President of Asmodee Group. "With their great game portfolio and impressive experience on local distribution, we are strengthening our presence and development on Asian market."
• Furthermore, in July 2019, Asmodee acquired Chilean distributor Skyship, and here's that press release:

Quote:
Founded in 2014, Skyship started its activities from the beginning with Asmodee Iberica and pursued its collaboration with the Group in 2016 through a new partnership with Fantasy Flight Games. Since then, the distributor has kept on rising in the Chilean market and chose to strengthen its link with the Group.

"We are very happy that Skyship is now part of Asmodee. The experience and global capacity of Asmodee, with our regional knowledge, will quickly generate a positive impact on the gaming market in Chile and Latin America. People want to have fun, dream and tell stories through board games; and this union is a great step so that each time, there is more fun for everyone." said Juan Luis Arias, Skyship Manager.

Asmodee has recently step a foot in the South American Market with the acquisition of the Brazilian distributor Galápagos Jogos, displaying its willingness to strengthen its international presence. Asmodee has offices in 16 countries: USA, Canada, France, UK, Germany, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Brazil, Taiwan and China. The company also relies on 13 publishing studios spread around the world and distributes products in over 50 countries.

"We are delighted to welcome Skyship into the Asmodee family. We fully trust Skyship team to increase our catalogue presence on the Chilean market and to bring our South American platform to a new level." said Stéphane Carville CEO of Asmodee Group.
• I covered Asmodee's acquisition of Galápagos Jogos in August 2018. You might note that reference to "13 publishing studios" in the press release above, while in a a January 2019 post that number was "14 publishing studios". HeidelBÄR Games left Asmodee in April 2019, which is why that number is lower now, but easy come easy go. Besides, Asmodee can always pick up something else to make up the difference, which brings us to this final acquisition notice (for now), which also dates to August 7, 2019:

Quote:
Established in 2004, Searainbow Group started in China as Forever Bright, a producer of innovative educational toys and related specialty items. The company also distributes toys and games to the Asian markets through its subsidiary Wisdom Warehouse. In 2015, Searainbow acquired one of the UK's market leaders in educational games, The Green Board Game Company. In 2018, the acquisition of Lagoon made Searainbow Group a strong publisher of games and puzzles for gift for UK gift shops.

"We are delighted to be joining Asmodee. The resources of a larger group will provide exciting development opportunities, including entrance to more markets and the ability to offer customers a broader and better range of products" said Jessie Min, Searainbow Group founder.

The acquisitions of The Green Board Game Company and Lagoon allows Asmodee Group to offer a wider product range, as well as strengthen its educational games publishing and distribution on the European market. The Forever Bright and Wisdom Warehouse acquisitions will also bolster Asmodee's development in Asia.

"As a group, we are eager to offer the best games and tell amazing stories to both children and adults," said Stephane Carville, President of Asmodee Group. "The great pedigree of educational games in Searainbow's portfolio will enable us to strengthen our offer with additional transgenerational ranges in both Europe and Asia. We are delighted to welcome Searainbow in the Group."

"With Searainbow's strong games portfolio and successful distribution experience, we will strengthen our presence in Asia, particularly in the children and educational market." said Frederic Nugeron, Regional Manager Greater China of Asmodee Group. "Searainbow's success in the online space and the combination of our operations will be a great asset for Asmodee in Asia."
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Mon Aug 12, 2019 7:04 pm
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SPIEL ‘19 Game Preview: Miyabi, or Refined Tile-Laying Jerkery in the Garden

W. Eric Martin
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At Gen Con 2019, the BoardGameGeek team was larger than it's ever been, which gave me the opportunity to meet with publishers and survey their titles coming out in the second half of the year, with a focus on SPIEL '19 releases.

One of those publishers was HABA, which has branches in Germany, the U.S., and other countries. The German side of HABA leads the way, setting the release agenda in the first and second half of the year, then the other branches decide which games from this line they want to release in their own countries, with the titles and packaging sometimes changing in order to localize the boxes.

While the U.S. side of HABA has historically released titles 6-12 months after they debut in Germany, HABA U.S. channel manager T. Caires says that with the success of Honga on the U.S. market — a success that's translating into increased sales for Honga in multiple countries — HABA U.S. is changing its relationship with the German side of the company and will work to release some games on a near simultaneous basis, with one of those games being Michael Kiesling's Miyabi, which hits the German market on August 21, 2019.


Danny Quatch, bush-blocked


Miyabi falls into the genre of stacking tile-laying games such as Taluva and Heartland. Each player has their own 6x6 garden grid, and at the start of each of the 4-6 rounds, players reveal 1x1 tiles, 1x2 tiles, and 1x3 tiles (both straight and right-angled) equal to six times the number of players.

On a turn, you either draft a tile from this pool and add it to your grid or pass, with you skipping the rest of the round should you pass. When you place the tile, the object on that tile must be placed in the row of your grid where that object appears; after placing the tile, you place a lantern in the column where that object appears, and for the rest of the round you can't place another tile so that the object on that tile lands in that column. Thus, you will place at most six tiles in a round.

When you place a tile, you score points equal to the number of objects on that tile (1-3 = the size of the tile) multiplied by its level in your grid. You want to place larger tiles since they have more objects on them, but as the game progresses, you'll have more difficulty placing those tiles since they must lie flat in your grid. You need a solid foundation with no holes in it on which to build, but the building restrictions — object in the matching row and in a column not previously occupied this round — make it increasingly difficult to place tiles in a way that nets you lots of points.


End of the game grid, using the "zen tiles" expansion (graphics not necessarily final)


Aside from these building restrictions, other players might take tiles that you want, sometimes only because a tile fits perfectly in their grid and sometimes because they're jerks. Tiles are worth more points the higher that you place them, so you might want to hijack a tile that gives you a decent number of points while also robbing an opponent of an ideal placement. What's more, the first time that a particular object is placed on the fifth level of anyone's grid, that player receives a one-time 5-10 point bonus (depending on the object).

Once everyone has passed or all players have placed six tiles in their grid, the round ends, and the first player marker passes to the right. Most points are scored during play, but at game's end for each row in the grid, whoever has the most and secondmost objects of that type scores a bonus, and these bonus points can have a big impact on your final score, especially in a game with more players since (1) you'll place fewer overall tiles with four players than with two and (2) in a two-player game you're always scoring at least one of the majority bonuses, which is not the case in a game with more players.


Increasing my win record against players named "_anny",
with Manny being my victim this time


Miyabi contains three scoring variations and two expansions, with one of those giving each player a frog that they're trying to hop to higher levels over the course of the game, the frog both delivering points and serving as an obstacle that players must build around.

The "zen tiles" expansion consists of sixteen 1x1 tiles in the six object types. You reveal five at random, and on a turn you can draft and place one of these tiles (following the normal rules) instead of one of the regular tiles. This tile can't be covered, and once it's surrounded by tiles or the edge of the game board, it scores again, with you receiving 1 point for itself and each surrounding object. Once you score it, you can then draft another zen tile on a later turn.

I've played Miyabi three times on an advance copy from HABA, one with four players and twice with two. The game plays like a classic German-style game, despite players each having their own grid in which to place tiles since you're racing for bonus points during play in addition to competing for majorities at game's end. Everyone's drafting from a shared pool, so as in Kiesling's Azul, you need to draft a rough plan for which tiles you'd want to place where in order to make the best use of what's available, to anticipate the tiles that others will yoink, and to leave yourself options as to which tiles you can sweep up at the end of the round, typically the 1x1 tiles, which can either fill in gaps or exacerbate the gaps you already have, making it even tougher to play tiles in future rounds.


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Mon Aug 12, 2019 3:45 pm
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At Gen Con 2019, CMON Limited Revamps Zombicide, Features Ankh: Gods of Egypt, and Looks Ahead to Cyberpunk 2077

W. Eric Martin
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I need to clone myself for major conventions because I'll learn something in passing or see a game announcement from a publisher — but I'm already committed to a publisher meeting or a game preview that absorbs the time that I would spend writing about all this new stuff, which means that I learn a lot during a convention like Gen Con, yet have little time to relay that material to you, gentle reader.

This is especially true for major announcements from publishers, as with CMON Limited's trio of announcements during Gen Con 2019, with the most exciting of these being the revelation of Eric M. Lang's Ankh: Gods of Egypt, which CMON describes as "the final installment of Eric M. Lang's strategic trilogy" following Blood Rage and Rising Sun. Here's a short description of the game, which is for 2-5 players and which will hit Kickstarter before the end of 2019:

Quote:
Play as a god of ancient Egypt, competing to survive as society begins to forget the old ways, so that only you and your followers remain.

Build caravans, summon monsters, and convert followers in your quest to reign supreme in Ankh: Gods of Egypt. Deities, monsters, and the people of ancient Egypt have been lovingly reimagined and interpreted in beautiful illustrations and detailed miniatures, and players will truly feel like gods as they shake the very foundations of Egypt. All gameplay in Ankh, including combat, is streamlined and non-random. Compete and win solely on your godly wits alone.
Given the nature of those other two titles and CMON's business model as a whole, you shouldn't be surprised to learn that Ankh: Gods of Egypt will feature miniatures aplenty, with Mike McVey directing the look of them. Here are samples displayed at Gen Con 2019:






Artist Adrian Smith, who worked with Lang and McVey on both Blood Rage and Rising Sun, is providing art for Ankh: Gods of Egypt:




• A second title announced by CMON Limited during Gen Con 2019 was Cyberpunk 2077: Afterlife: The Card Game, co-designed by Lang and Andrea Chiarvesio and produced in collaboration with CD PROJEKT RED, creator of the Cyberpunk 2077 video game. Here's an overview of the setting and gameplay:

Quote:
Cyberpunk 2077: Afterlife: The Card Game thrusts players into the dark alleyways of Night City where ruthless gangs clash with corporations in an endless war for money, power, and control.

In the game, you become fixers — databrokers and masterminds of Night City. Your job is to recruit cyberpunks, equip them with gear, and send them out on missions. Each successful mission raises your street cred, with mission survivors becoming veterans, imparting their knowledge and experience to newer recruits. In this chrome-infused world, street cred is the only currency that matters.

Nothing comes cheap in Night City. You need to balance between what you want and what you can actually afford. Using an innovative drafting mechanism and special dashboard, you must decide which cards you want to buy and which to sacrifice for funds in order to purchase new ones.
At Gen Con 2019, CMON labeled this title as a Q4 2077 release, but in fact it bears the far more reasonable release date of 2020.

• CMON also announced a 2020 Kickstarter campaign for Zombicide: 2nd Edition, with senior producer Thiago Aranha saying in a press release: "We've gone through every aspect of the game, from making doors easier to work, to updating how the car drives on the board, to reworking target priority for ranged attacks and adding in dark zones that will hide zombies from survivor's bullets, looking at where we could improve and make the Zombicide game experience all that it could be. We're very proud with how this new edition has turned out, and it'll provide all the thrill of Zombicide, yet challenge returning players in new ways."

While the original game had ten scenarios, this new edition features "25 different scenarios linked by a branching story". Updates will be available so that players can adapt their existing Zombicide material to the refined rules of this upcoming release.




• Finally, prior to Gen Con 2019, CMON announced a partnership with Italian company Xplored for a new gaming console called Teburu that will blend the physical and digital elements of gameplay.

The first title to be released on Teburu is Zombicide Evolution – Las Vegas, and at Gen Con 2019 CMON ran demos of this game for the press, VIGs, and others. The idea behind the game will be familiar to anyone who's played Zombicide: Explore your surroundings, collect weapons, complete missions, and (of course) destroy relentless hordes of zombies.

The Teburu system functions like a video game in that it manages all of the rules of the game, allowing you to jump into gameplay while knowing nothing. We placed our characters in the starting location on the game board, learned our mission, then started doing things — moving around, opening doors, interacting with NPCs, searching rooms, and so forth. If something wasn't allowed, the system told us so; if we goofed, perhaps ending our turn after taking only one action, we could undo our turn and try again. The system has a central game portal that relays information to all, while each player has their own phone (provided for the demo by CMON) that features their character. You can click around on your character to see their stats, check out what's in their inventory, switch weapons, trade weapons with others, etc.




When you want to move, you pick up your character and place it on a target in the room to which you're moving, with the device registering your presence in the room. (Each character has a magnet and embedded ID sensor.) When you roll dice to shoot or hack at zombies, the wireless dice relay the results of your roll to the game system. To search a room, you pick up your character, then place it back into the same room. At the end of a round after each player has taken their turn, the system tells you where new zombies enter the game board and where zombies already in play move. As you interact with NPCs, the game system plays out their role with video and audio accompaniment, as in a video game. Sometimes zombies burst into a room unexpectedly, with the system handling all of the random dice checks that you might otherwise be required to monitor and perform on your own.

I've never played Zombicide previously, but I jumped into the game and rolled through most of a scenario with others. The system was a little finicky at times, mostly with regard to the dice. Several times one player picked up the dice, shook them a little in his hand, then stopped to consider something or other, and the system would record the "result" of the roll because the dice were no longer moving — after which the player would undo the result, then actually roll the dice. For the most part, the Teburu system handled all of the details that I wouldn't want to do on my own, allowing me to focus on making plans with my fellow players. I didn't even pause to take a photo of anything, so clearly I was engaged!
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Mon Aug 12, 2019 12:07 am
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Rio Grande Games to Release New Version of Puerto Rico

W. Eric Martin
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In 2013, German publisher alea released a new version of Andreas Seyfarth's Puerto Rico. As I noted in a BGG News post at the time:

Quote:
This version of Puerto Rico, bearing the number 16 on its side, uses the graphics of the 2011 Puerto Rico: Limited Anniversary Edition and includes the nobles and new buildings expansions that were packaged in that item, but it uses cardboard tokens for money and victory points, as in the original Puerto Rico.
As for whether an English-language edition of this version would be released, alea's editor Stefan Brück said, "Not for the time being..."

That time has now arrived, with Rio Grande Games announcing that what it's calling Puerto Rico Deluxe Edition will hit the U.S. market on August 20, 2019. In a press release announcing this new edition, Jay Tummelson, co-owner of Rio Grande Games, wrote: "A new version of Puerto Rico has been the most requested item from our customers for quite some time. The new version contains many of the same elements as the Anniversary Edition but at a lower cost. We are very excited to be able to bring this new edition to our customers."

Unlike other editions of this version of the game, Puerto Rico Deluxe Edition, which retails for US$55, bears a number 7 on its spine, so you can swap out your old copy for the new one and no one will know the difference from a casual glance at your shelf.
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Thu Aug 8, 2019 2:07 pm
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