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Designer Diary: Glasgow, or For It’s Going Round and Round

Mandela FG
United Kingdom
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Microbadge: Glasgow fan
Board Game: Glasgow
I wanted to share a bit about the origins and design of my first published game, Glasgow, which is now out (at least in Europe) as part of the Lookout Games two-player line.

In 2017, I was traveling with a friend as we often do on buses and trains to coastal towns or around Europe. We were on the Eurostar from UK to France, and as we sometimes do, we played the small game Province. It was enjoyable, but they had no desire to play again.

I travel light, which means any game has tough competition to earn a space in my backpack. I love the idea of having a portable, short-playtime game that gives me the satisfaction of a proper Eurostyle city-building game — but if it is going to take up that space and be one of only two or three gaming options, it needs to have a good amount of replay value.

We discussed it, and she said, "Why don't you make one then? Something we can play on our train journeys." She had a good point. Why don't I make it? So now I had a mission and a clearly defined design brief. It had to be portable, highly replayable, and good with two players with a satisfying sense of progression.

From gallery of Vipissana
Passing the time queueing for the Palace of Versailles with a bit of in-head game design

At the peak of summer, the queue for the Palace of Versailles can be long. Really long. However, that time can pass a bit more smoothly if you now have a game to design in your head. Shuffling along the line in the baking heat, I started to piece it together. An early thought was to include tiles. I appreciate the tactile nature of tiles, which don't blow away in the wind and can replace the need for a board, and I think they provide more of a "big game" feel than cards.

I knew I wanted players to build a city and decided they should be building it together. This would be an opportunity for more interaction, felt more thematic, and provided further replayability as you wouldn't be able to control all placements or exactly how the city would form. I think a great thing about tile placement is that it can create interesting decisions, but because we are familiar with spatial reasoning to some extent in our daily lives, it does so with fairly little additional complexity. I'm particularly interested in these emergent properties in games where subtle differences in your actions have consequences for your strategy and that of your opponent.

The city built together would be the central focus, replacing a board. I would make some buildings factories that would also function as worker-placement spots letting you do special things. They would have guaranteed access for the owner, but the other player could visit only if the spot were vacant. This would give a sense of progression as the city and options increased throughout the game. I imagined the square tiles filing up a bigger square and creating a nice clear, tense endpoint to the game as you completed that grid.

I was reminded of my hometown, Glasgow, which was the third city in Europe to adopt the grid structure for its city center. It has been claimed that this was the model on which New York was based, but I'm not certain of the evidence for that. Either way, it has a notably clean grid layout to it, and if I were to create a game, why not somewhere special to me? The game could be a love letter to my friend and my city.

Board Game: Patchwork
I had the city I wanted to build, and something I really enjoy from "big" games is managing and converting the resources needed. Now I needed to figure how players were going to get these resources. I thought of a few systems, and I wanted it to be interactive without feeling mean. That's when I thought of Patchwork and how I enjoy the difficult choice of taking tiles while managing your time and what you think your opponent will take. A feature of this system is that it naturally accommodates different types of players; if I want to be highly competitive, I can think about denying my opponent, but if am playing casually I can just focus on getting what I need.

I modified this system to a single line representing the river Clyde, where goods would arrive into Glasgow. You moved your piece along this river and picked up the tile for use anytime in the round. There were a couple of additional touches to keep some tension: you had to use the action tiles collected that round or lose them, and you could store only a few resources and never gold.

From gallery of Vipissana
First ever playtest

Returning from France after that long weekend, I had the outline of a game. I made a simple prototype shortly after and was pleased to find it all worked. It wasn't the most exciting experience, but it worked. Of course, many things would change as the game developed; scoring for set-related bonuses increased to encourage strategic planning, contracts were "unbalanced" to make decisions over when to jump more difficult, the chaining of builds was introduced to make players pull off bigger plays, and whisky was introduced because I really like the wee barrel component*.

However, it turned out the game needed two major changes to become a smoother and more engaging experience. The first was the workers. The workers did little early game, but as the city expanded, you had more options. A familiar pattern would arise: New players did not use the workers/forgot about them/were unclear when to play them, but the couple of experienced players really liked the workers. I tried having a "family" version without workers and "advanced" with workers, but the family version wasn't engaging enough, and I couldn't trust players would play again until they learned how to use workers.

I noticed the buildings that people enjoyed most were those in which their position in the city was important and realized I could create a more elegant solution by having the factory buildings automatically trigger when buildings were placed next to them — allowing me to get rid of the whole worker system while keeping the engine building in the game intact. If I could remove that, it would drop the play structure down from three actions (move, take tile, optionally place a worker) to simply move and take tile. This streamlining would make it much more approachable.

From gallery of Vipissana
Early version of the game with worker placement

I had a friend who said their favorite bit was the workers and they wouldn't play without them. This made them the ideal test because if they could enjoy the game as much without the workers, I would know that was the way forward. I managed to convince them to try the new system, and while they complained at first, afterwards they said, "It is basically the same" and I was pleased the job was done.

It was around this time I found out about Playtest UK and decided I would try to make their next monthly meeting. It was an exciting prospect, especially when at the session I found myself sitting with experienced designers Asger Harding Granerud, David J. Mortimer, and Rob Harris to playtest my game.**

From gallery of Vipissana
Asger makes a move at my first Playtest UK meet-up

I didn't know how much more work would be needed before I showed the game to publishers, and this seemed the right crowd to ask***. Asger enthusiastically said I should be doing so already. With the 2018 UK Games Expo on the horizon, I contacted some publishers that would be in attendance. There was some general interest, but nothing came of it — other than one encounter that would prove very important.

The first publisher I reached out to was Aporta Games. This was because I really like their titles and I'm an idiot. I hadn't realized that Aporta doesn't publish games from other designers, but Kristian Amundsen Østby was very friendly and made time to meet me. Kristian has an incredible design insight, and although he had not played the game, he said an immediate thought was whether there was a need for rounds. Had I tried continuous play?

From gallery of Vipissana
Showing Glasgow to Kristian; I later discovered a pal, Ben Broomfield, was taking photos for UKGE and happened to catch this moment

After workers, this was the second big "problem" the game needed to overcome. The game played in rounds, which led to a confusing rule for turn order and some set-up time between each round. I think games are largely judged by their time input to entertainment output. I enjoy Catan as a 45-60 minute game, but that time my group tried six players and called it after four hours, I was less of a fan. The upkeep between rounds had seemed trivial, but ultimately all these things creep into our experience of a game.
Quote:
"I belong to Glasgow, dear old Glasgow town
But something's the matter with Glasgow
For it's going round and round"

—Will Fyffe
I was back to the drawing board to try all kinds of different systems to get rid of rounds. They were all too complex or too fiddly with players having to constantly replace tiles when taking. I sat alone at the table one evening to try to figure it out. I laid the pieces out and just stared at them when suddenly it occurred to me — it was so easy: "What if you didn't pick up the tiles?"

This had been the core of the game — move your piece, pick up the tile — but if you didn't pick up the tiles, it would remove all the faff of refilling/resetting the river. All abilities would become instant; you would move on them and they would activate. Now that would mean making a big circle, with no need to refresh tiles or have rounds. Sure, this change meant some abilities and features had to be totally modified, but it also meant cutting out two pages of the rulebook and getting rid of the most confusing rule. This cut the playtime down significantly, and as a bonus it increased the strategy as people could plan more effectively by seeing what was ahead.

I was concerned this change may reduce variability and replay from not having the randomized river each round but was surprised that it had the opposite effect. It increased the variation between games because now you had to approach each new game with a strategy based on what was there, knowing certain tiles wouldn't show that game.

I now had my game. I had a game that worked smoothly and fit all the criteria I'd initially set out to achieve. My friend and I enjoyed playing it, so mission accomplished. I put it on the shelf and got on with my life.

From gallery of Vipissana
Enjoying a wee pre-lunch game on our travels

In April 2019, I had become a bit obsessed with my work. I really enjoy my job but with no set hours to it, I was getting a bit carried away and decided I again needed the creative outlet of designing. If I wanted to pursue it, I should get a bit more serious. I started attending the Playtest UK sessions and would put time aside to make prototypes.

One week I wanted to attend the session but didn't have anything new to bring and thought, "Why not dust off that Glasgow game and see what some fresh eyes make of it?" I was buoyed by how well it was received; players looked totally engaged and afterwards all said they would buy a copy as it is, one even going so far as to rate it in their all-time top ten. I booked a playtest slot at UK Games Expo that year and showed it to some people there and again had very positive responses, including people asking whether I could bring my copy so their friends could play in the evening. I was incredibly elated seeing people enjoy something I'd created — some cubes and bits of cut-up card coming to life after I explain what to do with them.

Board Game Publisher: Lookout Games
I had no plans to show the game to publishers and had only my own copy, but spurred on by Rob Harris, I decided to show it. I looked around the hall for my favorite publishers and decided to approach them. I was surprised at just how pleasant and receptive they were. This was the first year Lookout Games were in attendance and due to his bright orange shirt and large white print saying "HANNO" across it, I managed to track down Hanno Girke, the head of Lookout. He agreed to have a look if I caught him on the final day and he wasn't busy.

On the final day of the event, I swung by to see Hanno alone and playing with his phone, so swooped in. I started explaining a bit as seemed normal in a pitch when he interrupted to clear space on the table and suggest we play. I had never had a publisher suggest playing on the spot. I was a bit concerned during set-up as no gold contracts were in play and wondered whether it would stifle the experience, but there are ways to work every set-up. Hanno got a good combo early, particularly exploiting the whisky factory for easy builds which allowed him to overcome the gold shortage. He joked about how it was over as he chained builds.

I'd played a bunch of times that weekend and lost almost all, sometimes quite badly. In playing my own games, I spend most of the time looking at other players' reactions and engagement, assessing their choices, considering balance, etc.

Now, I've heard people say to let the publisher win when pitching, but I don't believe that and I wanted to make sure he knew he hadn't "broken" the game with this combo. I became determined to win. It was the first time in a long time I felt I really played the game — just played it without trying to analyze it. The sound of the crowds disappeared, and I forgot I was pitching a game. It was close in the end, but I managed to get the victory. Afterwards Hanno told me he could see it being a Lookout title.

I was very fortunate to have interest from other great publishers, and I hope to work with them in the future but have no regrets in going with Lookout. Lookout was happy to keep the theme, and the only mechanical change was a nice little rule introduced by developer Grzegorz Kobiela that increased the gold cost for each bonus build to stop a player going completely crazy in chaining buildings.

From gallery of Vipissana
Snapshots of the prototype progression for some tiles that were present from the start;
note parks and tenement art swapped in final for thematic reasons

However, there was one big change from my prototype to the finished product. During the design process, I had expanded the game to play with up to four players. Lookout decided it wanted the game to go back to two players only. While I was reluctant, this would allow it to be a nice neat package with tight play for the prestigious two-player line. (Dear reader, between you and me, you can still merge copies with a few very minor changes to go up to four players — or maybe one day they'll let me do an expansion if the demand is there.)

Klemens Franz brought the beautiful architecture of Glasgow to life and let me include my favorite buildings. Once I saw there were to be people on the contracts, I was keen to make sure the game felt inclusive to the people of the city. With some research, we were able to identify what some of the people at the docks may have looked like at the time and include them in the game. (You can read more about the character diversity here.) I am really proud of what we have created.

I now have a game to play with my friend on our travels. I've had a wonderful time creating it, and I hope you too have a great time playing it.

Slàinte mhath!

Mandela Fernandez-Grandon

Board Game: Glasgow

*Also, because it's Scotland and I don't know whether we're allowed to make games about Scotland without whisky. In the game, whisky is a wild resource to reflect its status as the most important and widely accepted currency.

**Incidentally I shared that 90-minute slot with David Mortimer's The Ming Voyages, which is also being released now and with art from Klemens Franz.

***It was also at this session I met Brett J. Gilbert, who encouraged me to change the name from "Merchant City: Glasgow" to simply "Glasgow". Merchant City is the area where the grid restructure started, but I did concur that "Merchant City" is a very generic Eurogame-sounding prefix.
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Pandasaurus Games Hires Danni Loe, Changes Distributors, and Reveals a Pro-Dinosaur Agenda

W. Eric Martin
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Apex
North Carolina
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Board Game Publisher: Pandasaurus Games
From gallery of W Eric Martin
• U.S. publisher Pandasaurus Games has hired Danni Loe as marketing manager, making her "responsible for promoting new releases and the current Pandasaurus catalog, growing relationships with customers and media, and creating engaging event experiences".

Loe has previously worked with GAMA, Renegade Game Studios, and IELLO USA, and she's done a fantastic job in all of these situations, especially with GAMA where she oversaw the rebranding of both GAMA and the Origins Game Fair; she managed social media for both GAMA and Origins — neither of which have tweeted since she's left — and she oversaw a new GAMA newsletter sent to members. Honestly, every game organization would benefit from having their own Danni Loe.

As for joining Pandasaurus, to quote Loe from the press release announcing this hire: "I can't express how happy I am to join this team! I've been impressed by their growing presence and enjoyed many of their games over the years. My first days have already inspired me. I can't wait to see what we accomplish together!"

Board Game: The Game: Quick & Easy
Board Game: Robots
Board Game: Ohanami

• Loe is already on the job for Pandasaurus, uploading images on BGG for the titles the publisher is releasing in the latter half of 2020, such as the three titles depicted above that originated from German publisher NSV. The Game: Quick & Easy, which I covered in January 2020 and Robots, which was nominated for the 2020 Kinderspiel des Jahres, are both due out from Pandasaurus on October 14, 2020, while Ohanami, for which I should still record an overview, is due out on October 28, 2020.

• Sandwiched in between those releases on October 21, 2020 is Gods Love Dinosaurs, a 2-5 player game from Kasper Lapp (Magic Maze) that acknowledges the specialness of dinosaurs compared to all other critters:
Quote:
How do you make an ecosystem flourish with just enough of every life form in the chain to supply you with dinosaurs to dominate the lands? Resources are scarce, animals can go extinct in an area, and everyone must eat to survive — so moves must be cunning. Life hangs in the balance...

Board Game: Gods Love Dinosaurs

In Gods Love Dinosaurs, a cheeky, wild, and timeless take on the scientific tale as old as life itself, you are a god who has been tasked with designing an ecosystem with a sustainable food chain of predator and prey animals. But you just love dinosaurs, so all you really want to do is to make as many of them as possible!

Each turn, you'll add one tile to your ecosystem, which will add new animals and give them room to grow. Every so often, your dinosaurs will tromp around your ecosystem eating all the animals. The more they eat, the more eggs they lay — and the more points you score! Just be careful not to overeat, or there won't be enough food to keep your dinosaurs alive the next time.
• Pandasaurus also gave a first overview of upcoming games Dinosaur Island: Roar & Write and Dinosaur World during its Gen Con presentation, with info on these titles starting at about the 30:00 mark and more info on Gods Love Dinosaurs following:


• In other Pandasaurus news, as of July 28, 2020 titles from the publisher will be available within the hobby market solely through ACD Distribution and Alliance Games Distributors. The first title released under this new distribution arrangement is a new edition of Doug Eckhart's Tammany Hall, which carries a September 16, 2020 release date.

Board Game: Tammany Hall
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Mon Aug 10, 2020 1:00 pm
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Links: Thoughts on Virtual Conventions, and Game Sales During a Pandemic

W. Eric Martin
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
• Having experienced both Virtual Gaming Con and Gen Con Online, designer Gil Hova details what didn't work in these virtual cons and what he hopes to see in the future. An excerpt:
Quote:
This gets to my biggest issue with virtual conventions, as they're implemented right now: they are too decentralized. A convention is, at its lexical and literal heart, a place where people convene. It's a place where we serendipitously bump into people we haven't seen in years. It's a place where we meet old friends and make new friends, where we go out to dinner at local restaurants to catch up and talk about stuff.

None of that stuff is possible at a virtual convention right now.
Another:
Quote:
The big thing is that the whole convention must be in the same Discord server. This is vital for the convention to work — it's what makes the convention feel like "convening," instead of just a place to organize games.

I think this is where the Gen Con experience didn't work great for me. Gen Con forbade gaming on their Discord server (with one exception, which I'll get to). Instead, everyone who ran an event was responsible for running it on their own platform — Discord, Skype, Tabletop Simulator built-in chat, etc.

This meant that as you moved from text channel to another in Gen Con's Discord, you saw...no gaming. People talking about games, maybe planning games, asking for help with games, but no gaming.

This is so far removed from the in-person Gen Con experience, it's almost breathtaking. Gen Con is predicated on gaming. Gen Con Online kept gaming very far out of sight, almost as if it was a shameful, unsavory thing.
I didn't participate in VGC, and I'm still not sure what to think about Gen Con Online. I was as tired afterwards as I am following an in-person Gen Con and I played no games (which is typical), but I did appreciate the short travel distance I had to navigate to reach my broadcast space...

Board Game: Catan
• On August 4, 2020 on NPR, Rob Schmitz highlighted a 144% sales increase of Catan in the first five months of 2020, crediting folks looking for things to do indoors courtesy of the coronavirus.

• Along those same lines in late July 2020, People magazine spotlighted "12 Board Games to Keep You Occupied and Entertained at Home", including Azul (best new board game), Splendor (best strategy board game), and Codenames (best for adults). Lots of old-school mainstream titles on that list, too.

Board Game: Fluxx
• On July 24, 2020, designer Andy Looney posted his original design notes for what become Fluxx, with those notes being twenty-four years old. Short description: "I have an idea for a completely wacky and unpredictable card game that would be the ultimate in easy to learn."

• On July 27, 2020, Hasbro reported Q2 2020 revenue of $860.3 million, "down 29% on a pro forma basis" from Q2 2019 when revenue was $1.2 billion. This announcement led to Hasbro's share price falling 8% that day.

That said, Hasbro Gaming revenues for Q2 2020 were up 11% compared to the previous year. Two excerpts from its Q2 2020 financial report:
Quote:
• Hasbro's Gaming revenues grew 11% and gaming point of sale was up globally over 50% (Note: Point of sale does not include Wizards of the Coast brands). JENGA, CONNECT 4, BATTLESHIP, MOUSETRAP and TWISTER were among the top revenue increases in the quarter. Supply chain disruption led to in stock levels below normal thresholds and limited shipments in the quarter.

• MAGIC: THE GATHERING revenues declined as expected in the quarter, reflecting a difficult comparison with a major release in the second quarter of 2019 and the previously disclosed accelerated shipments into Q1 2020 to minimize disruption from COVID-19. Digital revenues for MAGIC: THE GATHERING, including Arena, increased slightly in the quarter. Strong analog and digital releases are expected to support the brand in the second half of 2020.
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Designer Interview: Richard Breese, Creator of the "Key" Series

Neil Bunker
United Kingdom
Taunton
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[Editor's note: This interview was first published on Diagonal Move. —WEM]

Richard Breese, designer of Keydom, one of the first games to use "worker placement", and Keyflower joins Neil from Diagonal Move to look at how the "Key" series developed.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board

DM: Over the course of your career, you have become well known for the "Key" series of games — but that wasn't how your career began. Can you tell about the early days of your career?

RB: Thanks for having me, Neil. Since my childhood, I have always enjoyed creating games. My first published game, Chamelequin, was initially inspired by games of Dungeons & Dragons. I attributed different movement abilities to the different character classes and eventually reduced this down to an abstract game which I thought was interesting enough to be published.

I promoted the game at the London Toy Fair where I met Brian Walker, editor of a UK boardgames magazine Boardgames International, and Ian Livingstone, co-founder of Games Workshop, who suggested I should go to SPIEL in Essen. I hired a stand there the following year in 1991 and discovered the world of "German" games, or Eurogames as they are now referred to. The gaming world was a lot smaller thirty years ago, with only twenty or so new gamers' games launched at each year's SPIEL.

Having discovered Eurogames, I was motivated to try to produce games in a similar style myself. The first was Keywood, which I entered into a games magazine's design competition, which pleasingly it won. I then took Keywood to SPIEL in 1995 and have returned every year since.

Board Game: Keywood

DM: Your game Keydom is often cited as being one of the first (if not the first) worker-placement games. Where did the concept of using "workers" to take actions originate for you?

RB: Yes, you are correct in that Keydom is widely recognized as the first worker-placement game. The game was subsequently re-issued as Morgenland in Germany and Aladdin's Dragons in the U.S.

The mechanism idea evolved from my plays of Settlers of Catan. In that game, resources are obtained from you building adjacent to the terrain hexes containing different resources, but the resources are generated only when a matching dice number is rolled. I wanted to create a mechanism where resources were obtained through player choice — the worker placement — and not through the luck of a dice roll.

Board Game: Keydom
Board Game: Aladdin's Dragons

DM: How did that initial concept of worker placement develop during the following years within the Key series leading eventually to Keyflower, Keyper and Key Flow?

RB: I have used the worker-placement mechanism in several of the later Key games, but when I publish a new game, I want there to be something new and different in the game. To take three examples:

• In Keythedral, the workers (or "keyples" as I have called them in later Key series games) are placed in accordance with a player-selected numerical order, emerging from cottages or houses that the player has placed strategically at the start of the game.

• In Keyflower, which was a co-design with Sebastian Bleasdale, each player has an initial mix of three different colors of keyples. The keyples can be placed freely, but only on tiles which are unused or which have previously been used by keyples of that same color. This creates a nice tension of which colors to use, when and where.

• In Keyper, when one player places a keyple on a country board, another player can join them with a matching-colored keyple on that first player's turn to the benefit of both players. In this way, some players are likely to have played all their keyples before others, with all keyples having the potential to work twice. The tension is to play your keyples as quickly as possible, but also to use them to gather the resources which are most useful to you.

Key Flow is a card-driven game based on many of the ideas contained in Keyflower, but it does not use keyples and is really only a worker placement game by association with Keyflower. The game was co-designed by Sebastian and Ian Vincent and flows quickly over four game rounds, allowing players to develop their own unique village.

Board Game: Reef Encounter

DM: Each game in the Key series shares similarities thematically. Does creating installments within a thematic series offer freedom to experiment mechanically?

RB: It is the mechanisms that drive the game development for me. If these lead naturally to the medieval theme with the scale of workers and a landscape, then I will use it to expand the Key universe. Often the mechanisms don't allow this or more naturally fit a different theme, such as in my games Fowl Play, Inhabit the Earth and Reef Encounter, which all have animal themes.

The Key series was not pre-planned, but came about incrementally following the success of the previous Key titles. The Key branding certainly helps the game get more visibility on what is now a much more crowded market than it was when the series began in 1995.

DM: Worker placement is a significant feature in many of your games, often in combination with resource management. Since the release of Keydom, these mechanisms have become board game staples. How do you keep the concepts fresh?

RB: I enjoy playing worker-placement games and do spend a lot of time thinking about games and mechanisms. It helps to play a lot of other games to learn what mechanisms work well, although I would not use an idea without adding some new twist to the mechanism. Inspiration can also come from designing with others, for example with Sebastian Bleasdale with Keyflower, or from a new gaming piece, such as the folding boards in Keyper.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board

DM: Keyflower is probably your most well-known game. Eight years after release, it is number 53 in the BGG rankings. What effect do you think this recognition has had on your career?

RB: Keyflower has undoubtedly introduced more people to R&D Games, so it is likely to have helped the visibility of the later games and also the demand for some of the earlier games, which are now out of print. It is nice to have had the relative success of Keyflower, however it was probably the positive response to the earlier titles Keythedral and Reef Encounter that gave me the confidence that I could design a polished game.

Regarding publishing, because I publish using my own R&D Games label, I have not needed to find publishers. It is nice to win awards, but I think the high rating in BGG probably has more impact. When new gamers discover the hobby, it is likely they will soon discover BGG and then, if they are looking for new games to buy, are likely to look at the rankings list to see which games are most highly rated by other gamers.

Board Game: Key Flow

DM: Several games in the Key series, including Keyflower, have been co-designed, most notably with Sebastian Bleasdale. How did this partnership with him develop?

RB: Sebastian, David Brain, and Ian Vincent were all part of a playtesting group run by Alan and Charlie Paull of Surprised Stare Games. With regard to Keyflower, Sebastian had a small bidding game called "Turf Wars" which I playtested and saw the potential for a larger game and asked Sebastian whether he would be interested in working together to develop the game further.

Similarly, David had a game called "Book of Hours". This was more fully formed than "Turf Wars", and when I suggested publishing the game as "Key Market", I said to David I would be happy just to be listed as the developer. Ian is a seasoned card player, and he approached Sebastian and I with the idea of a card version of Keyflower, which then became Key Flow.

DM: Board games are always the product of a team effort — the developers, playtesters, graphic designers and others that contribute to a game in addition to the person credited for the design? How does the process differ for a co-designed game?

RB: Being part of a team is one of the pleasures of board game designing. You get time to play games with your playtesters whose opinions you value and whose company you enjoy, and in addition you are creating something.

I don't notice a huge difference in co-designing. That is largely because I am in the unusual position of being the publisher as well as a co-designer, so I can if required insist on a particular approach if necessary. Although I think in every occasion I have reached a consensus on how to proceed with a design. However, that said, it is undoubtedly a benefit in having more than one person independently playtesting and exploring different ideas on how to develop a game.

Board Game: Keyper
From gallery of Bunkelos Board

DM: What is next for yourself and R&D Games?

RB: This year I hope to publish Keyper at Sea, which is an expansion for Keyper and also includes a Keyper solo game from Dávid Turczi. After that I will probably publish Keydom's Dragons, which is effectively a re-issue of Aladdin's Dragons (a.k.a., Morgenland) set in the Key universe and with illustrations again by Vicki Dalton. Then there is likely to be Keyside, a brand-new Key game which is a co-design with Dávid Turczi.

DM: Do you have any advice that you would like to share with aspiring game designers?

RB: Yes, firstly play as many different games as you can so that you can become familiar with what a published game feels like and what works for you.

Get as many people involved in the playtesting as possible, especially seasoned gamers. Make a point of understanding what they like and don't like about your game. Do take notice of any criticisms. Try to address these or alternatively be comfortable that your game idea is solid notwithstanding the criticism. Stay true to your vision. Continue playtesting until you play a couple of games where you can think of no more tweaks or changes that you want to make to the game.

When you contact publishers, try to select those who publish the sort of game you have designed. That should give you a better chance of reaching a publishing deal. If you decide to publish, don't commit more funds than you can afford to lose. There is a saying that the way to make a small fortune in boardgaming is to start with a large fortune. However with crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter, it is now much easier to get your gaming idea published.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board
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Sat Aug 8, 2020 1:00 pm
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Wolfgang Warsch and Schmidt Spiele Bring Alchemists to Quedlinburg and Challenge You to Be Three Times as Clever

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: That's Pretty Clever!
Board Game: Twice as Clever!
• German publisher Schmidt Spiele has released info on its late 2020 titles, and designer Wolfgang Warsch has two titles on the list, both follow-ups to earlier hit titles from Schmidt.

Clever hoch drei features the same gameplay as Ganz schön clever and Doppelt so clever, but with new categories in which to score — sometimes with several dice at the same time.

Your goal, in case you're not familiar with the series: Choose dice, then place the numbers into the matching colored area, put together tricky chain-scoring opportunities, and rack up the points. The dice you don't use are as important as what you do because every die that's smaller than the chosen one can be used by the other players, keeping everyone in the game at all times.

Board Game: Clever hoch Drei

I have no details yet as to how the categories shown below might be scored, but that has not stopped people from trying to guess. Join in if you think you have better ideas!

Board Game: Clever hoch Drei

Board Game: The Quacks of Quedlinburg
Board Game: The Quacks of Quedlinburg: The Herb Witches
• The other Warsch title is Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg: Die Alchemisten, the second expansion for The Quacks of Quedlinburg. This expansion introduces nightmares, obsession, and hysteria to the base game, with players working in new laboratories to distill essences that can free the citizens of Quedlinburg from these afflictions.

Die Alchemisten can be played with only the base game or combined with The Herb Witches expansion.

Board Game: Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg: Die Alchemisten

Board Game: Ligretto: Das Brettspiel
Board Game: Break In: Area 51
• Other titles coming from Schmidt Spiele include Ligretto: Das Brettspiel, a Rudi Biber design in which all players race to place their tiles on the board first in the style of the Ligretto card game, and two Break In titles — Break In: Alcatraz and Break In: Area 51 — that go one step beyond escape room games. These latter titles originated from U.S. publisher PlayMonster, which is also releasing Break In: Chichén Itzá.

For an overview of how these games differ from escape room titles, here's a description of Area 51:
Quote:
To escape, you must first...break in!

Each title in the Break In game line presents a collaborative experience that begins the moment you lift the lid off the game box. Inside, you will see a 3D shape with graphics representing the area you are trying to break into. Your paperwork tells you to STOP and make sure you are all ready before you begin — get your cards laid out, settle in with all the players, read your instructions, then begin looking for clues to solve puzzles!

Board Game: Break In: Area 51

Soon, you will be told to open the game board and unfold the first of three layers, expanding your board and revealing the next layer you have to explore to uncover clues that will lead you further inside! It's a one-of-a-kind unboxing experience! Along the way, you'll see wonderful things, meet interesting characters, and complete amazing challenges using clever hints and a unique solution system. The final puzzle leads you to your goal — and then you must escape!

In Break In: Area 51, you are an alien trying to rescue your ship that was stolen by humans and is being dismantled deep inside the facility.
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Fri Aug 7, 2020 7:25 pm
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Fly to the Light and Sink Your Score in the Tiny German Games Allegra and Nachtschwärmer

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Allegra
• As is normal for this time of year, German publishers are releasing info about titles for SPIEL — but the acquisition of those titles might be trickier than normal since no one will be in Essen to sell and buy games.

Drei Hasen in der Abendsonne has announced its new release for late 2020: Allegra, which is a version of the public card game "Golf", which has been the inspiration in recent years for titles such as CABO, Skyjo, HILO, and Bézier Games' Silver series.

Allegra, from designer Bella Lucca, mixes up the Golf formula by allowing — and forcing — players to cooperate in order to lower their score. Here's a detailed overview of the game:
Quote:
The deck consists of cards numbered -1 to 11, and in each of the three rounds, each player starts with twelve cards face down in a grid of four columns and three rows. Your rightmost column is also considered to belong to your right-hand neighbor, and likewise your area includes the rightmost column of your left-hand neighbor. Each player reveals any two cards in their area, then the round begins.

On a turn, you either draw the top card of the deck and reveal it, or draw the top card of the discard pile. If you draw from the discard pile, swap that card with any card in your area, then discard the replaced card. If you draw from the deck, you can discard that card (turning any card in your area face up) or you can swap that card with any card in your area.

If you draw from the deck, any other player can knock on the table to indicate that they want this card. You can ignore the knock, or you can give them the card; in the latter case, they then replace one card in their area with this new card, taking the old card in their hand. You then take any one card in their area and swap it for a card in your area, discarding the replaced card. The other player then places the card in their hand into the hole you created when you took one of their cards.

Board Game: Allegra

Any time you have three identical cards in a row or column — even a row that includes a card in your left neighbor's rightmost column! — you discard those cards from play.

Whenever one player has all their cards face up, each other player takes one more turn, then players sum the value of the cards in their area (which includes any cards remaining their neighbor's rightmost column). If the player who triggered the end of the round doesn't have the lowest sum, their sum is doubled. The player with the lowest total score after three rounds wins.
Board Game: Nachtschwärmer
• Another title recently announced by a German publisher is Nachtschwärmer from Sabrina von Contzen of Dachshund Games. This 2-6 player game seems ideally designed for play in a German bar, and the first one hundred copies sold (via the Dachshund Games website) include a travel bag and bottle opener to complete the package. Here's an overview of how the game works:
Quote:
In Nachtschwärmer ("Night Owls"), each player is a moth that wants to reach the light in the center of the table before anyone else — but moths don't fly in a straight line, so you need to figure out how to wiggle well to win.

The game consists of one six-sided die and eight bar coasters: one a "flying" disc that has arcs marked 1, 2, 3, and 4 along its edge and seven moth/light discs. Each player takes a coaster and places it moth-side up in front of them, while one coast is placed light-side up equidistant from all players. The moth side of a coaster has two black lines intersecting the perimeter (180º apart) and a red line every 22.5º around the perimeter.

On your turn, announce a number from 1 to 6, then roll the die. If you guess correctly, you advance your moth, possibly take a second turn, or even send a player back to start; if you guess incorrectly, you might still advance (although not as much) or another player might move instead of you.

Board Game: Nachtschwärmer

To move your moth, take the flying disc and place the edge of the 1, 2, 3 or 4 space (depending on what you rolled) adjacent to one of the black edges on the perimeter of your moth disc, then roll your moth disc until a red line on your disc hits the other black edge of the 1, 2, 3 or 4 space. The higher the number, the farther your moth will move — albeit in a curved manner instead of straight toward the light.

No disc can ever be placed on top of another, so if a moth is blocking your way, then you must fly elsewhere! Whoever first touches their moth to the light disc wins!

Nachtschwärmer includes three variants, one of which has you start the game with several obstacles in play, say pretzels or gummis. Any time you hit an obstacle, you must eat it, then return your moth to its starting point.
The ideal way to demonstrate movement in the game comes via this gif on the Dachshund Games website. So intuitive once you see it in action!

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Fri Aug 7, 2020 1:00 pm
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Dune: Imperium Coming from Dire Wolf Digital; Disney Shadowed Kingdom Available from Mondo

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game Publisher: Dire Wolf
• What's the minimal amount of information you can release about a game while still announcing a game? U.S. publisher Dire Wolf Digital is testing that limit with the news that it will release a game called Dune: Imperium that contains deck-building and worker-placement elements.

That's the extent of what it can say about the game at this time. Teaser video with just as little info, but accompanied by a logo and music here on Facebook.

Board Game: Dune: Imperium

Board Game Publisher: Mondo Games
• Similarly, a new game has appeared for sale at the Target retail chain in the U.S. from publisher Mondo Games, but I have only limited information until the official publication of press materials. That said, I can pass along the following description of Disney Shadowed Kingdom from designer Darth Rimmer:
Quote:
In this two-player co-operative card game, you enlist the help of your favorite Disney hero and team up with a friend to dispel the Shadow polluting The Kingdom and journey to discover lost Magic.

Gameplay revolves around silently adding cards face-down to a 2x2 grid in one of two directions, causing cards to be pushed either into the hand of your partner for discovery or out of the grid completely, dispelling them from play. Each card that is discovered features either:

—Magic, which counts toward points needed for victory
—Shadow, which inches you further from your goal
—Locations that are explored, triggering in-game effects

Disney heroes provide special powers that can be activated throughout the course of your journey. To win, max out your Magic Tracker before the Shadow Tracker is full.
Board Game: Disney Shadowed Kingdom
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Thu Aug 6, 2020 5:00 pm
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Game Overview: High Rise, or City Building with a Healthy Dose of Corruption

Candice Harris
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Los Angeles
California
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Board Game Publisher: Formal Ferret Games
Sometimes you're passing by a booth at a convention, and you have to stop. I was originally captured by the table presence of High Rise at Formal Ferret's booth when I attended GAMA Expo in March 2020. It wasn't a booth I could just casually walk by or pause at for a few seconds, then move on. I had to stop and ask about this visually unique and captivating game. When Gil Hova, the designer and publisher, gave me a high-level overview, it sounded interesting enough that I knew I definitely wanted to play High Rise at some point.

Fast forward four months, I received a box in the mail thanks to Gil, and when I opened it, I found a large game box with one of the most beautiful covers I've seen in awhile. It came as no surprise when I discovered Kwanchai Moriya had his artistic hands in the mix. Since I had the opportunity to play a couple games of High Rise, I figured I'd share some of my initial impressions.

From gallery of candidrum

In High Rise, 1-4 players represent moguls in a new city trying to score the most victory points by constructing the tallest buildings for wealthy and powerful corporate tenants. The core gameplay revolves around a one-way track surrounding five different neighbors in the city.

Over the course of 2-3 rounds, players move their moguls to action spaces along the one-way track, taking the corresponding action where they stop. For the most part, you're collecting resources that are colored floor tiles and UltraPlastic (a wild resource), and trying to match the current round's blueprints in order to construct buildings. Some of the action spaces are tenant tiles that vary from game to game, tiles where you gain either an immediate bonus or a power card that you can use later. At the end of each round when each player's mogul has entered the stop zone, you score victory points for the tallest buildings in each neighborhood and overall. At the end of the game, just as you'd expect, the player with the most victory points wins.

From gallery of candidrum

One thing that keeps High Rise on the simpler side of the complexity scale is that there's no money to manage. Instead, you have a corruption-based economy. Actions are generally free, but some actions cause you to gain corruption or give you optional extra bonuses if you're willing to take a little corruption. Be careful, though, because at the end of each round the players with the most corruption are penalized.

From gallery of candidrum
Blueprint card (top) and
player's construction yard (bottom)
w/ floor tiles matching the third blueprint
While a few helpful actions allow you to lose corruption, it's not the end of the world if you gain a little here and there...depending on your opponents. You're definitely going to want to and sometimes have to gain corruption, so it's in your best interest to pay attention and monitor your opponents' corruption level relative to your own so that you don't get stuck with the penalty and lose victory points. There will be moments when you need to gain an extra floor tile or even stop on a specific action space that causes you to gain corruption, which might push you into having the most corruption. You have to balance risk versus reward, but I found it fun to juggle corruption, and I appreciated the interesting choices it provided.

The main way you gain victory points in High Rise is by constructing buildings. Not only do you score for tallest buildings at the end of each round, but you also score points immediately when you construct a building. To do so, you need to stop in one of the four construction zones and discard floors from your personal supply (construction yard) that match the current round's blueprints. This is typically how you determine which size building you can place, but you can increase the height of the building a couple of ways, such as being the first to build a specific blueprint or having power cards with special construction benefits.

From gallery of candidrum
After determining your building's height and grabbing the appropriate numbered building tile, you pick a neighborhood to place your building in, gain victory points equal to its height, then activate the tenant power corresponding to the space in which you placed your building.

Tenant powers are based on the tenant tiles randomly placed on the game board in each neighborhood during set-up. They come in a variety of flavors, allowing players to gain power cards and immediate bonuses such as victory points, resources, and ways to lose corruption. When you land on a tenant tile connected to an opponent's building, you get to take the action, but they'll gain a random floor tile. Alternatively, if you land on a tenant tile with one of your own buildings, you take the associated action as usual, then you can also gain a random floor tile topped with a bit of corruption because as the rulebook says, "you're clearly embezzling".

The variety of tenant tiles ups the replay value of High Rise since each neighborhood has nine different tiles, and you selecting only three or four are random each game. This is all to say, when you're choosing a location to construct a building, you have lots to consider: Do you want to place it in an area where you'll have one of the tallest buildings for end of round scoring? Or do you place where you'll immediately activate a tenant power that will help your next turn? Or do you place it where there's a tenant power you're expecting many opponents to land on so you'll get passive benefits when it's not your turn?

From gallery of candidrum
Tenant tile action spaces and their corresponding power cards

While building construction and the majority of actions are straightforward and pretty quick execution-wise, the decision of where to move is where things get challenging in High Rise. Turn order is variable and always led by whichever player's mogul is furthest behind on the one-way track. Unlike most games that utilize the well-loved time track mechanism, High Rise features a slight twist by having action spaces grouped into zones, and as a rule of movement, you must always move your mogul to a different zone and can never occupy the same space as an opponent.

Between certain zones are juicy bonus spaces that make the decision of jumping further ahead even more enticing and tend to open up a strategic can of worms. The bonus spaces include a limited amount of first come, first serve perks, from extra floors or UltraPlastic to power cards and spires that make your buildings even taller. Each turn, you'll more than likely struggle with the decision of hanging back and hopefully getting more actions than your opponents, or jumping ahead to take advantage of the bonus space goodies, or taking an earlier action space to avoid gaining corruption. Moving and deciding where to place my buildings always seemed to be the toughest decisions in High Rise.

Once all players' moguls have entered the stop zone of the final round, you do endgame scoring, score the tallest buildings, and determine who gets the corruption penalty, then the player with the most points wins.

From gallery of candidrum
High Rise includes rules for three different game modes, so you have options if you're new to the game or if you simply want a shorter or longer experience. I think many will find the standard game (two rounds) to be the sweet spot since you can bang out a game in about two hours or less with experienced players, and it feels like a full, complete experience. If you play the full game (three rounds), you'll probably discover more interesting strategies and play differently since you'll be even more familiar with the tenant tiles and how your opponents are playing, but it will take longer to play. In either case, it's awesome to have the options and flexibility.

The solo and two-player games integrate the use of neutral moguls. In a two-player game, there's one neutral mogul that players alternate controlling, and in a solo game, you control two neutral moguls. In either case, the neutral mogul can be used to either block or move. If you block, you place the neutral mogul in the first available action space in the zone ahead of the lead player, whereas if you move, you gain a corruption, but you get to move the neutral mogul to any legal space and you get to take the associated action.

In both the solo and two-player games, I enjoyed having that option of taking corruption to gain extra actions or avoiding the corruption but potentially blocking a space I needed to go to. Even though both use neutral moguls, they feel very different since your opponent could be using the neutral mogul defensively against you, but in the solo game, corruption is evaluated differently so you end up gambling a bit, the more corruption you take. In the solo game, you're trying to score as many points as you can compared to a scoring chart, which is not all that exciting for some, including myself. However, I liked playing with the neutral moguls and thought it was a clever approach to making High Rise a compelling experience at lower player counts.

From gallery of candidrum
Tenant tile action spaces w/ immediate bonuses

All in all, High Rise is a solid city-building, area-influence game with an interesting twist on the time track mechanism. It's fairly simple to play once you are familiar with the iconography, even though its eye-catching table presence makes it look much heavier. Honestly, the hardest part for me was the initial set-up. There are a lot of different components and the set-up steps in the rulebook did not have numbers corresponding to the example set-up image, so it took a lot of reading and careful flipping back and forth to make sure I was setting it up correctly. That part felt tedious the first time. Of course, after playing my first game, setting it up for future games felt like a breeze, but even still, I wouldn't call it a quick set-up game.

I loved all of the tough decisions when it comes to moving around the one-way track and having a corruption-based economy. Constructing buildings always felt exciting because you're immediately getting victory points and activating a tenant power, not to mention the satisfaction from occasionally demolishing your opponents' smaller buildings!

There's plenty of variety with tenant tiles, power cards, bonus tiles, and blueprint cards that will likely keep each game feeling fresh. However, it may cause some AP and slower turns since players will need to get familiar with each different tenant tile that's placed on the game board. The tenant tiles are not complicated, though, so I'm sure things will move quicker, as always, after you've played a few games. The rulebook has a handy appendix section with detailed explanations of all of the tenant tiles and power cards, not to mention Gil Hova's fun humor sprinkled throughout.

Most importantly, High Rise made me realize that I'm not nearly as corrupt as some of my friends, although I'm still very eager to build a 15-floor building, so who knows how corrupt I'll end up being by the time I figure that out!

Board Game: High Rise
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Thu Aug 6, 2020 1:00 pm
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Bring Dungeons & Dragons to the Table for New Players

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: The Great Dalmuti
Board Game: The Great Dalmuti
• For the 25th anniversary of Richard Garfield's card game The Great Dalmuti, publisher Wizards of the Coast will release a Dungeons & Dragons-themed version in November 2020.

For those not familiar with the game, here's an overview: The 80-card deck consists of one 1, two 2s, and so on up to twelve 12s, with two wild jesters that are counted as 13s when played on their own. Each player has a hand of cards, and the start player for the round — dubbed the Greater Dalmuti — leads one or more cards, which must all have the same value. The next player can play the same number of cards but of a better (i.e., lower) rank or pass. Once all players have passed in turn, whoever last played clears the cards and leads something else.

Whoever empties their hand first becomes Greater Dalmuti for the next round of play, with other players taking positions relative to this player in clockwise order; the player who has last has cards in hand becomes the Greater Peon.

Board Game: The Great Dalmuti

• Another recently announced D&D item is Dungeons & Dragons: Adventure Begins, a co-operative board game for 2-4 players from Hasbro that is meant to serve as an entry point to the RPG. Here's an overview of the game:
Quote:
Players choose their characters, then journey through the lands of Neverwinter, working together to overcome fantastic obstacles, battle monsters, and defeat the Boss monster terrorizing the realm. The role of Dungeon Master passes from player to player with each turn, so everyone gets to be part of the storytelling.
Board Game: Dungeons & Dragons: Adventure Begins

Okay, that description doesn't tell you much about gameplay and other details, but Hasbro has posted a ten-minute video that covers all the details of how to play:

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Wed Aug 5, 2020 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Baker Street Irregulars

Dave Neale
United Kingdom
Cambridgeshire
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What follows is an account of my thought processes and experience designing Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Baker Street Irregulars, a game in the Consulting Detective line. It has been designed as an introduction to Consulting Detective for those who have never played before, while also giving experienced players something new.

Board Game: Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Baker Street Irregulars

The Case of the Missing Mysteries

It was a clear winter's day in 2013 when I was shown into the rooms of the world's most famous detective. He was standing at the fireplace, pipe in hand; his brow furrowed. I had no doubt he was tackling some fiendish puzzle of great importance on which, perhaps, the fate of the entire country depended.

"Holmes", I ventured, timidly, "sorry to disturb you, but I am here to ask for your help."

"Ah, Mr. Neale", he said, looking up. "I was just wondering what to have for lunch. Pray, join me — the table is laid for two."

"You expected me?"

"Of course."

"But how could you possibly..."

"Elementary, Mr. Neale. I noted that after you last helped me solve a case, you seemed restless. You have spent much of your time perusing the works of my good friend, John Watson, and although your countenance indicated you did so with pleasure, there was also an air of despondency. It was as if you felt something was missing. Clearly, you were facing an interminable problem." He moved to the window and gazed out at the passers-by, then added, "And when people have problems, they come to me."

I nodded, and took a seat at the table. "It is as you say, Holmes. Some time ago, I discovered an old copy of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective and fell in love with the game. I eagerly sought out all of the expansions and played those, too. It is a game that perfectly captures the atmosphere of your adventures, drawing the players into the world of Victorian London with compelling and inventive mysteries. And it is an elegant system. First, you read the introduction, consult the map, newspaper and London Directory, and decide where to go to investigate the mystery. After reading the entry for your chosen destination, you repeat the process until you think you have solved the case. At that point, you answer the questions and read the solution. But now, I have played the last of the mysteries and I am bereft. My mind rebels at stagnation. I crave for mental exaltation."

"Very well put — particularly those last two statements", said Holmes, thoughtfully. "I'll remember them. And yours is a position I thoroughly appreciate. But there are no more mysteries. You know that. Even to a brain as astute as mine, no solution can present itself. It is simply..." He paused, and I detected a glimmer in his eyes.

"What is it, Holmes?"

"Well, Mr. Neale. There is one possibility. But it is so outlandish, so extraordinary, that I do not feel you should give it any serious consideration."

"Let me be the judge of that, Holmes."

The great detective raised his eyebrows. "Very well. There are no more mysteries. So why don't you create some yourself? You have written stories all your life, have you not? You have been reading Watson's works since you were eight. Correct me if I am wrong, but I recall that you even composed and performed plays featuring yours truly, for the other children in your school. Now would seem an opportune time to resume such literary endeavors."

From gallery of whitescar
Holmes puffed on his pipe and looked at me with an air of expectation. It took only a few moments for me to decide on my course of action.

"Yes, Holmes", I said. "You are right. I think I could even create a whole series of cases... I will begin at once. Thank you."

I began to stand, but Holmes said, "Hold on, Mr. Neale. Do not be so hasty. There is much to consider before you begin."

"Such as?"

"Such as the process of creating a case. Such as whether you will modify or extend the rules. Such as how you will ensure the wonder of my unrivaled intellect is as prominent as it is in the original cases."

"Some say you cheated in those cases."

"I never cheat! It is true that I make a lucky guess on occasion, but unless you are good at guessing it is not much use being a detective, as someone once said. I forget who it was."

"Still, perhaps we should minimize the guessing."

"Meaning I will expound a clear thread of impeccable logic that shows how I reached the solution? Very well. I can do that. In fact, some might say it is my raison d'etre."

"Quite. That's what I'll aim for, anyway. And at the same time, I may update the rules to address some other concerns players had with the original cases. I mean, it is an excellent game — still, perhaps, my favorite — and was a trailblazer in its time, bringing co-operative storytelling to the table long before it became the industry-wide phenomenon it is today, but it's now over thirty years old. Games have changed a lot since then, and players have had ample time to voice their likes and dislikes. For example, many players find it too hard."

"Too hard?" Holmes cried. "But Mr. Neale, the mysteries practically solve themselves!"

"For you, Holmes, but not for most people. In my first few games, we were happy when we got a score above zero. Out of 100."

"Perhaps it could be a touch easier, but many people adore a challenge."

"You're right, so I feel the cases should also cater to those people, but I can't do both, can I?"

"Yes, you can. It is all about the peripheral clues, Mr. Neale. Have a direct path that leads to a solution — the one which I follow, of course — but ensure that for players who wander from that path, there are some encounters that generate further clues, pushing them gently back in the right direction. Thus, those who crave a significant challenge can attempt to follow my path exactly, while those who find it too difficult will gain help by visiting the other locations. To some extent, the game will adapt to the ability of the players."

"That makes sense." I thought for a moment then added, "Although in some cases I have in mind that will be hard to do because there could be one specific thing players have to do to progress."

"Ah, like these 'escape room' games I hear have become rather popular."

"Indeed. And those games help stuck players by using a hints system, so I could do the same. I'll give stuck players help on those cases by making you more useful."

Holmes muttered, "I beg your pardon?"

"Sorry, I meant useful to the players. Some have pointed out that in the original game the rules say they can visit you if they get stuck, but the hints you give often aren't very helpful."

"I didn't want to spoil it for them."

"If they've got to the point where they come to you for help, they want some of it spoiled. They want useful hints."

From gallery of whitescar
Holmes refilled his pipe as he thought over my words. Then he said, "Very well. These suggestions could make this set of cases excellent as an introduction to the game — and new admirers... I mean, new players, are always good. But still, there is a problem. What if some players come to me for help early on in a case because they want to know why there was a pickled egg and feather duster at the crime scene, and others come to me towards the end because they cannot work out the identity of the killer? How can I cater to the second group, without giving too much information to the first?"

"A three-pipe problem, indeed," I replied. "But perhaps I can deal with it in the same way I intend to tackle another problem."

"Which is?"

"Sometimes, in the original cases, players would visit a location and the entry they read would not make much sense, referring to people and events they knew nothing about. The writers thought the players would go somewhere else first, and so the entry assumed they had knowledge they did not actually have. And I've realized that can be fixed that quite simply, using a tracking system. I will give the game a memory. At some points it will instruct players to circle a letter of the alphabet — for example, if you learn about a stolen wheelbarrow, it may say 'circle the letter H'. Then, when you go to the wheelbarrow shop, you will read one thing if H is circled, and something else if it is not."

"I'm not sure wheelbarrow shops exist."

"That's not the point, Holmes. The point is that the game will 'know' where players have been and what they know. And that means that if they come to you for help, they can read a different hint depending on which letters they have circled. They will get help related to where they are in the case."

"Excellent, Mr. Neale. I believe you are on to something. It also means that during a case, players could acquire useful crime-fighting items, such as a magnifying glass or a deerstalker hat."

"Yes," I replied, and then suddenly, my mind was racing. "And this means that some cases could have objectives! Rather than play until you think you've solved it, maybe you need to rescue someone or find something. And the final case could have multiple possible endings...and perhaps it is a sort of climactic finale like the last episode of a TV series, bringing hidden threads together, weaving them into an unexpected but..."

"Enough!" Holmes interrupted. "I suggested only players could find a hat, and you turn it into War and Peace. By all means, attempt these grand schemes if you are so inclined, but you haven't written one word yet, Mr. Neale, and I fear you are getting a little ahead of yourself." I nodded, suitably abashed. Holmes continued, "Instead, let's move to more immediate concerns — how will you go about devising these mysteries? If I may, I would like to make two suggestions."

"By all means, Holmes."

"It strikes me that one can approach this from the start or the end. If from the end, you create a series of events that lead to a crime, then devise a way of making them appear uncommon and mysterious. Conversely, approaching it from the start, you invent a perplexing mystery — something you find bizarre and cannot explain — and then devise a solution."

"Hmm, I see", I said, mulling this over. "I think I will use both. But I particularly like the second option — in a sense, it means I'd be solving the mystery myself. For example..." I paused to glance around the room, and my eyes settled on the table laid for lunch. "A man is at a restaurant dining with a friend. He leaves the room for a moment part way through the meal, and when he returns the friend is gone. No note, no word, there was no argument or anything he can think of to explain the disappearance. He has not seen his friend since. That seems like an intriguing beginning, so now I just need to think of an explanation that makes logical sense."

"Explanations."

"Sorry?"

"More than one explanation, Mr. Neale. The first one you devise is likely to be the one most players will settle on first, and it will be more interesting if that is not the actual solution. So reject your first solution, and find another."

"Find two logical solutions for an apparently inexplicable series of events?"

"Indeed. Or maybe three or even…"

"I'll stick with two, thank you."

There was a moment of silence, then Holmes suddenly let out a sharp laugh and exclaimed, "Capital!"

Seeing the look of bafflement on my face, he said, "Apologies. An idea just occurred to me that would be highly amusing. As I have often said to Watson..." He paused a moment. "I feel if I spoke this aloud it could constitute what you call a 'spoiler'."

"Perhaps you should whisper it."

Holmes nodded, leaned forward, and whispered seven words in my ear.

I laughed and said, "Yes, I will use that. I think I can make it work."

"Excellent," Holmes replied, with a smile. "Now, Mr. Neale, the game is truly afoot."

From gallery of whitescar

From gallery of whitescar
The years following my consultation with Holmes were life-changing for me, although I did not realize it at the time.

Writing the cases was a long, difficult, but rewarding process, and a lot of playtesting was required. And as all designers know, people never do what you expect them to do. I remember some of my first playtests, when, after creating what I felt was a perfectly crafted case, I would watch with growing surprise as the players latched on to viable theories I had never considered, tried to follow up clues I had never intended to be there, and missed clues I had feared were far too obvious. Sometimes, entire rewrites were required. Slowly, from 2013 to 2017, I created ten cases. Thankfully, I found the process became a lot faster and easier as I progressed; I was learning how to anticipate players' decisions and thought processes far more accurately.

Wanting to ensure as far as possible that the logic of the cases was strong, I set myself the benchmark that until at least six groups in succession — all composed of strangers — said they found no problems with Sherlock's solution or the plausibility of it, I would not consider that case for inclusion in the set. A couple of cases never reached this point and were dropped. Those that did reach that point entered another round of testing and were then sent to the publisher (who did more testing).

Early on, I decided I wanted my set to have some kind of coherent theme. In the original Consulting Detective, you are told that you are members of the Baker Street Irregulars, but I felt that, apart from their leader, Wiggins, they never felt that present in the game. I realized that putting them under the magnifying glass was a great way to connect a series of cases and make players feel more invested in the game world as part of a team of recognizable characters.

To this end, the first case in my set is the first full case the Baker Street Irregulars ever worked on, and the following three cases each center around a different member of the Irregulars. After that comes a series of six cases telling the story of a particular year and the arrival of a new Irregular. When Space Cowboys asked me to write a free introductory case, the narrative was complete. Starting with the short demo, An Irregular Meeting, and playing through to the final case in my set, Death of a Detective, players can now follow a story that spans a decade. They will witness the beginnings of the Baker Street Irregulars, learn more about the lives of some of the members, then experience the dramatic and emotional conclusion of one of their most challenging years.

From gallery of whitescar

It wasn't until 2016 that I learned my cases would be published. I had sent the first case, The Curzon Street Kidnapping, to Ystari Games in 2014, then sent another two cases in 2015, but various factors meant a long delay before I received a response (mainly the merging of Ystari with Space Cowboys, and internal decisions about what they wanted to do with the line). But I was understandably thrilled when, eventually, they emailed to say they wanted me to create an entire set, and I am forever indebted to Thomas Cauët for championing my cause and persuading the Space Cowboys team of the quality of my work.

And that was only the start of my journey. While writing my cases, I discovered the excellent Playtest UK and met designers Brett Gilbert and Matthew Dunstan, among others, at the Cambridge group. I went to SPIEL, which is now an annual trip (bar 2020, of course), where I pitched new narrative games to publishers and was offered more contracts. When Space Cowboys asked me to visit them in Paris in 2018, I came up with an idea for a Sherlock Holmes Unlock! scenario, which I pitched to them, and they published.

In sum, writing that first Consulting Detective case was the spark that ignited my game design career — a small project that completely changed my life. And it was a meaningful moment for me in 2017 when I was put in contact with one of the original designers, Suzanne Goldberg, and was able to tell her that.

From gallery of whitescar

From gallery of whitescar
"Mr. Neale, do stop dallying at the door and come inside!"

Slowly, I entered the room. Holmes was once again at the fireplace, but this time he looked entirely relaxed. A gentle smile played at his lips.

"I imagine", he continued, "you are hesitating because you feel a sense of guilt for not having visited me in so long."

"Yes", I replied. "I am sorry not to have called, but what we talked about last time — it's all come together, better than I could have imagined. And it's occupied my time, I've been..."

"Solving tantalising mysteries."

"Yes, and..."

"Lost in the gaslit fog of Victorian London."

"Indeed, and..."

"Re-reading Watson's works with a new appreciation; noticing things you never noticed before."

I realized there was no point in speaking. I just nodded.

"In short", he continued, "you have been engaged in all the things you were searching for when you last came to me. Your absence has been proof of my success — do not feel guilty for it. My only question is, why have you come to me now?"

I shifted uneasily. "Because I have an idea. Well, more than one, actually." As I spoke, I handed him a file with some sheets of paper: sketches, names, plot outlines, diagrams...

He spent a minute or two looking over them, and I noticed him grin when he saw a familiar face. Then he said, "I see. You are concerned that in writing mysteries where I am not the central figure I may feel resentment; that perhaps in some way you would be betraying me. Well, I can assure you that is not the case at all, Mr. Neale. I may be the greatest detective, but I know I am not the only detective. This simply shows your problem will not return for some time yet, if ever. You have found a way to keep mysteries at the heart of your life, and there are so many stories to tell. Go and tell them, with my blessing."

"Thank you, Holmes."

As I moved towards the door, he said, "I have also had an idea."

"You have?"

"This set of cases you have written. What if there was more for players to discover?"

"What do you mean?"

"Ha!" He exclaimed, his eyes sparkling with excitement. "I am aware this may be another 'spoiler', so I have taken the liberty of writing it down for you." He passed me an envelope, which I pocketed.

"I will be sure to include it," I said.

"Excellent. And remember, whenever you need me, I am here." He gave a small bow, then walked over to the armchair.

Outside, I paused to look up at the window where he sat. He had lit his pipe and was letting the smoke drift and curl around him as he gazed over Baker Street, bathed in the last of the evening light. Seeing his meditative expression, I suddenly realized it reflected his confidence that there will always be more problems to solve, and that the world will never fail to present new and intriguing mysteries to those who go looking for them.

Dave Neale
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Tue Aug 4, 2020 1:00 pm
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