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Game Preview: 7 Wonders: Architects, or Building Wonders Anew

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: 7 Wonders: Architects
As large and active as BoardGameGeek is, I think many people forget that the universe of game players dwarfs the BGG userbase, and in general that larger universe has a more casual relationship with games than BGG users. They don't want to spend a lot of time learning how to play a new game, and they don't want to feel stupid when they play something for the first time, and they are fine with a higher degree of luck in the games that they play.

7 Wonders: Architects was designed with this audience in mind, as noted by designer Antoine Bauza when the game was announced: "As I get older, I play more games with my family than a gaming group. This got me thinking about games that are welcoming to newcomers and can be enjoyed by friends and families."

To show you what Bauza has in mind, here's an example of the game in play:

From gallery of W Eric Martin

You are me, the player in the lower right, and on your turn you can choose the top card of three decks: the deck to your left (which is associated with your wonder), the deck on your right (which is associated with my right-hand opponent's wonder), or the deck in the center of the table (which is associated with no one). So your choices are:

• Take the mystery card in the center.
• Take the blue card worth 3 points, after which your turn ends.
• Take the yellow card with a coin that counts as a wild resource, which means it matches your scroll, thereby giving you two scrolls, which means you must complete the next level of your wonder, which is worth 3 points and gives you the bonus ability of taking the top card from any deck at the table — which means you can still grab a blue card worth 3 points, netting you 6 points total for the turn. That seems like the choice to make!

With this short description, you already know what a turn is like — choose one of three cards — and what two colors of cards do. What other card types are in the game?

From gallery of W Eric Martin

• Dun cards are resource cards, which come in five types. As soon as you're able to complete a level of your wonder — and the cost to do so varies from 2-4 resources, either matching or different as depicted on each level — you must spend the resources to do so. You must build from the ground up because you have not mastered the art of levitation.

• Green cards are science cards, and each card bears one of three icons. As soon as you collect two matching icons or all three icons, you must discard those cards and take a progress token from the center of the table, whether a face-up one or a mystery one. Some tokens are worth points, some give you bonus card draws each time you meet the right condition, and some give you a unique power.

• Red cards are military cards. Some show only a shield, and some show a shield with one or two horns (as with the one depicted above); if you take one of these latter cards, then you flip one or two of the octagonal conflict tokens to the red attack side. When all of these tokens are red, you compare your military strength (i.e., the number of shields you have) against each of your neighbors. For each neighbor you are stronger than, you score 3 points. (In a two-player game, such as the one above, you score 3 points for outranking the other player and 6 points if your military strength is double theirs.)

When someone has completed the fifth level of their wonder, the game ends at the end of their turn, then everyone tallies their points to see who wins.

You now know 93% of the rules to 7 Wonders: Architects, and if we had been sitting at the table together, we would already be through the first few rounds of the game. This is part of what Bauza means by "games that are welcoming to newcomers" — a game that you can learn as you go without having to download all of the information ahead of time, which is what is required to play 7 Wonders. (I know some people claim that 7 Wonders is a breeze to teach, but I think they're underestimating how much a new player needs to absorb so that they don't pick up their hand of cards and freeze.)

From gallery of W Eric Martin

What else do you need to know?

Blue cards come in two types: 3 points and 2 points+a cat symbol, and when you take one of these later cards, you grab the cat totem from whoever has it. When you have this totem at the start of your turn, you can peek at the card on top of the central deck before drawing your card for that turn. In a two-player game, control of the totem is vital because it gives you an edge on the other player since both of you are drawing from the same three decks. With more players, the cat totem moves more frequently and someone might snatch the cat away before your turn even comes around again.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

The value of many cards is situational, depending on the number of players in the game, which wonder you're building, and how far you are along in the game. In the image above, I'm the player closest to the camera, and I can choose mystery, 2 points+cat, or a shield — and while normally I might not care about a shield, four of the five conflict tokens are red, which means we'll like have a scoring soon, and if I don't take the shield, then the player after me might take it (since we share that deck), which means they would score 3 points off me instead of me scoring 3 points off them.

One additional consideration in this case is that military cards with horns are discarded following a scoring, while those without horns stay with players until the end of the game. In this case, I wouldn't be triggering the scoring myself, and I'd be halfway to matching the strength of the player to my right to keep them from scoring off me in the future.

That said, I have two progress tokens: one gives me a bonus draw from one of the three decks if I take a scroll or glass resource, and the other gives me a bonus draw if I take a wood or brick resource. (Apologies for the glare!) If I draw from the middle and get one of those resources, I'll then have a bonus draw, which means I could still grab the military card. Should we take a chance on getting two cards this turn, or go for the sure thing rather than potentially having the military used against us?

From gallery of W Eric Martin

I've played 7 Wonders: Architects six times on a review copy from publisher Repos Production, twice each with two, four, and five players, and the winning scores have varied widely, as has the components making up the winning player's score.

In the case above, the player went all-in on Rhodes, used two science cards to grab the perfect progress token, then hit military regularly to score a bunch of points, while also constructing multiple levels of the wonder to end up with 52 points. In other games, a player has had 15 points in blue cards along with wonder points or multiple progress tokens that either provided points or drew extra cards, which sped building and ended the game before others really got going.

For more on the game, you can check out the videos below to see all the bits in the box — which includes my conjecture as to why this is a $50 game in the first place — and discover more examples of gameplay, while experiencing the "learn while playing" method described above and learning the powers of various wonders.



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Thu Sep 16, 2021 7:00 pm
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Fantasy Flight Announces Expansions for Star Wars: Outer Rim and Descent: Legends of the Dark

W. Eric Martin
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Keeping up with tradition, Fantasy Flight Games hosted an In-Flight Report on the eve of Gen Con 2021, with the largest announcement being the Unfinished Business expansion for Star Wars: Outer Rim, with the title seeming to be a comment on the product itself given how often people have asked for an expansion.

No details were released — only this presumably non-final cover, given that it lacks the designer credits and other details you might expect to see. For this title and others, FFG gave no release dates, which makes sense given that release dates are often bunkum these days thanks to continued issues with manufacturing and shipping.

Board Game: Star Wars: Outer Rim – Unfinished Business

Along similar lines, FFG announced Descent: Legends of the Dark – Ghosts of Greyhaven, and this expansion can be incorporated as a side story in the Act I campaign included in Descent: Legends of the Dark, or it can be played as a standalone adventure, although presumably using components from the earlier standalone game. Act II of Descent: Legends of the Dark is in development.

Board Game: Descent: Legends of the Dark – Ghosts of Greyhaven
Prototype miniature from Ghosts of Greyhaven
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Thu Sep 16, 2021 1:00 pm
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Translator Diary: Munchkin Russia, or From Russia with Linguistics

Julia Klokova
Russia
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Board Game: Munchkin Russia
Remember when you were a kid and mom came to your bed to wish you good night? She probably didn't want you getting up in the middle of the night, but did she ever threaten you with a wolf attack? If not, you're not a Russian.

Munchkin Russia — which debuted as Русский манчкин from publisher Hobby World in October 2020 — is coming out in English from Steve Jackson Games in October 2021, with this set featuring 168 cards with a merry Russian soul. Some entendres worked in both English and Russian with a direct translation, but most of them were an exciting adventure with multiple paths, exemplified by the "Crossroads" card.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Let's begin with the simple ones:

• An "Iron Curtain" as a political situation and a shower curtain combined. Drawing a guy behind a curtain made from iron — voila, 100% match!

From gallery of W Eric Martin

• Another great example and basically a no-brainer was a "ROFLing Pin". In Soviet culture, a rolling pin accompanies a tough Russian woman waiting for her husband who comes back home late and drunk. In the Russian edition of the game, this symbol of an enraged Soviet lady has a rhymed name meaning "a rolling pin with bared teeth".

During the translation, the wide smile turned into a ROFL and we've got ourselves a nice new name! Easy enough, but there were quite a few cards that were more challenging.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

• For instance, the wolf reference we mentioned earlier. It comes from a terrifying lullaby that is known by every Russian child:
Quote:
Sleep sleep sleep
Don't lie too close to the edge of the bed
Or a grey little wolf will come
And grab you by the flank,
Drag you into the woods
Underneath the willow root.
It's totally understandable why a mother wouldn't want a child to fall from the bed, but creating a full-fledged phobia is probably not the best way to prevent that! It's like with the English saying "Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite". Falling asleep definitely stops being the top priority in a kid's mind.

In the Russian edition, the card is named "Grey Little Wolf". While the name refers to the lullaby, the image is another layer of the joke. "Little wolf" sounds exactly like a "whirling (or spinning) top" in Russian. Additionally, if you're affected by its Bad Stuff, the wolf "grabs you by the flank" and you lose a level. Thus, there is a clever visual and semantic entendre!

There was one big problem for the translation: No one outside of Russia would know about the lullaby, and even if we used the "grabs you by the flank" phrase, an English-speaking player wouldn't understand the context, so for the translation, we had to abandon the lullaby reference and play with the remaining wolf and whirling top. Here is the result:

From gallery of W Eric Martin

• Another case involves a fairy tale that you might know as "Goldilocks and The Three Bears". In Russian folklore, the bears suffering the intruder are the same, but the girl is called "Masha", which is short for the female name "Maria", while the Russian word for "bear" sounds exactly like a nickname for the name "Michael", that is, "Misha".

In the Russian version, the card gives -3 to your Level if you have the same name as a female character from a fairy tale, and a +3 if your name is Misha. What should we do when there are very few Mishas in America?

We had the idea to instead pursue Goldilocks and her blonde hair so that all blonde players would have a -3 modifier and all brown-haired players would get a bonus. However, we realized that instead of being activated occasionally, this effect would be activated almost every time.

Thus, for the English edition of "Three Brown Bears", we decided to drop the suffering of the bears and let everyone come up with a fairy tale with their name in it.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

• And let's talk about the most sacred one for today. Back in the USSR, everyone had many carpets. People put rugs on the floor, hung them on the walls (preferably on several walls at once). The more carpets you had, the more prepared you were for the winter and the wealthier your family was.

The tradition is still strong, especially among elderly people, but youngsters are not so far removed either. Try googling "Rugs in Russian culture", and you'll quickly realize that it's a special thing to take selfies with a good ol' rug in the background.

The closest translation of the Russian version would've been "Your Carpetliness", but we needed to share that obvious Russian urge, so we went for this option instead:

From gallery of W Eric Martin

As you can see, trying to explain local memes, traditions, or superstitions is a great challenge, especially the ones involving multiple layers of humor and double entendres. This kind of cultural localization is the most tricky and, therefore, the most rewarding of all.

Is there anything that you would've translated differently? Share your ideas in the comments, comrades!

Board Game: Munchkin Russia
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Wed Sep 15, 2021 1:00 pm
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Pandasaurus Games Suffers Break-In

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game Publisher: Pandasaurus Games
In the category of "Things you don't want to have happen to you in the best of times, but especially not when preparing for a convention", I present this Kickstarter update from Pandasaurus Games:
Quote:
Earlier today, Pandasaurus co-owners Molly and Nathan got a call from our warehouse while Brian and Danni were on the road to Indy. Apparently there was a break-in overnight and professional thieves got access to the warehouse facilities. They stole product and loaded it onto a truck.

We were not hit as bad as we could have been, but the thieves did end up snatching 200 copies of The LOOP and 100 copies of Dinosaur World (KS version). The stolen product was immediately offloaded to an online seller, who has already listed it on sites such as Ebay.

The police are involved and have apparently already identified the thieves.

We wanted to loop you in on this situation for two reasons:

1.) If you come across listings for The LOOP and/or Dinosaur World (KS edition) — neither of which have released at retail yet and have yet to deliver to any of y'all — please know this is stolen product.

2.) We have enough extra copies of the game that it shouldn't affect our ability to deliver pledges.

Board Game: Dinosaur World
Board Game: The LOOP

The good news is, some people are starting to get their games (Rawr n Write only pledges are shipping first since the packout is the easiest) in California so shipping has started and will continue while we are at GenCon.

I know this situation is unbelievable. We are reeling, ourselves. This shouldn't affect anyone's pledges; we still have enough product to fulfill all orders. Thanks for your patience and understanding as we get through the investigation.

-- Pandasaurus team
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Tue Sep 14, 2021 1:01 pm
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Business Interrupted: KeyForge Breaks, and Ravensburger Stops Taking Orders in the U.S.

W. Eric Martin
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
• On September 10, 2021, U.S. publisher Fantasy Flight Games announced that "due to both the pandemic and another unforeseen complication (which we will go into in a moment), we have been unable to provide KeyForge with the amount of content it deserves, and we will not be able to do so for some time yet".

For those not familiar with KeyForge, the short take is that each player in this two-player game has their own deck of cards, with this deck containing cards from three factions within the larger game world, and this particular combination of cards does not exist anywhere else in the world, with a unique, computer-generated name and image on the back of each card. (You can find my introductory post about the game from 2018 here.)

So what's gone wrong? Here's an excerpt from that announcement:
Quote:
KeyForge is a game that is dear to all our hearts, so in order to give it a proper chance to shine again, we have decided to put the game on hiatus for the time being, with plans to relaunch the game with new life at a later date. Some of you may wonder why we cannot simply relaunch the game now, and the answer is that we simply do not currently have the ability to make new decks.

The "unforeseen complication" that we mentioned above is the fact that the deckbuilding algorithm for KeyForge is broken and needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. This is neither an easy process nor a fast one, which is why the game will be going on hiatus for a while. We wish we had better news in this regard, but the fact is that, even if the pandemic was not a factor, we cannot currently generate any new decks. We ask for your continued patience as we work to rebuild the unique deck engine in preparation for the game's relaunch. And don't worry, all existing decks will still be valid and playable when the game relaunches.
FFG notes that the game's sixth set — KeyForge: Winds of Exchange — is already developed and ready for production...whenever production can resume. In addition, video game developer Stainless Games is working on a digital version of KeyForge.

Board Game Publisher: Ravensburger
• The Covid-19 pandemic and the snarls it has created in supply chains around the world is at the heart of another development in the game industry.

As reported in The Toybook on September 10, 2021, Ravensburger North America has stated that as of September 17, 2021, it will stop accepting orders from retailers and distributors since as CEO Filip Franke explains in the letter below, "we don't want to risk accepting any further commitments which have a chance of [us] not being able to deliver".

Here is the complete letter from Franke:

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Ravensburger will have a booth at Gen Con 2021, which runs from Sept. 16-19, but it will have no games for sale at the show. Instead sales are available only in advance for pick up during Gen Con on either Thursday or Saturday.

As for future releases, Franke notes in the letter that "Our 2022 planning is not impacted by this decision and all new item launches, and preparations are underway as planned and scheduled" — which seems...unlikely given that you would be foolish to proceed with plans for 2022 as if everything will be back to normal by that time, whatever "normal" means any longer.

I'm not Ravensburger's bookkeeper, of course, so maybe I'm off target here. Perhaps the idea is to hit pause for three months, let product arrive in warehouses, fulfill all existing orders, then resume the order-taking process, but with your eye now shifted on the production timeline so that you're taking orders only on what is already in house instead of looking at what's scheduled to be produced and taking orders for that. I'd ask for more details about this plan at Gen Con 2021, but Ravensburger reps won't be on hand other than for the fulfillment of pre-orders, so I'll see whether I can get updates another way...
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Mon Sep 13, 2021 5:00 pm
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Game Overview: The Crew: Mission Deep Sea, or Life's Full of Tough Choices, Isn't It?

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: The Crew: Mission Deep Sea
Board Game: The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
I have written a lot about The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine, starting in November 2019 and continuing in December 2019, and the only reason that co-operative trick-taking game from designer Thomas Sing and publisher KOSMOS stopped hitting the table was thanks to a disease that kept crews from gathering in real life to play. (We have since resumed playing the game on Board Game Arena, while chatting on a group phone call.)

When The Crew: Mission Deep Sea was announced in November 2020, I assumed the game would be more of the same, yet with a twist...but how would Sing twist such a simple format to create something new? Now that I've played 18 times on a review copy from KOSMOS with three and four players, I'm happy to share the magic of that twist.

The base gameplay of The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine and The Crew: Mission Deep Sea is the same: You have a deck of 40 cards, with four colored suits of cards being numbered 1-9 and one white trump suit being numbered 1-4. At the start of a mission, you deal those cards evenly to all players. Whoever receives the 4-trump is commander, and they lead the first trick. Players must follow suit, if possible, and whoever plays the highest card in the led suit wins the trick, unless someone plays a trump, in which the highest trump wins the suit.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
The original

Your challenge each game is to complete tasks, and in The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine those tasks are mostly represented by a smaller deck of 36 cards that consists of four colored suits of cards numbered 1-9. These tasks are drafted by players, and in the case above my challenge is to win the pink 3 in a trick, which should be straightforward given my hand. The fifty missions in The Crew present lots of wrinkles in this formula — collect these cards in this order, collect this card last — but many of the missions have a similar feel to them since the tasks focus on individual cards.

For The Crew: Mission Deep Sea, the task deck is now much larger — 96 cards — and each card has a difficulty level on the back based on whether you're playing with three, four, or five players. A mission will have a difficulty level (along with other possible wrinkles), and you draw and reveal task cards until their sum equals that difficulty level, with you skipping any cards that would make the level too high. As an example, here are the two cards we had in a four-player game for mission #7, which has a difficulty level of 6:

From gallery of W Eric Martin

These two tasks differ a lot from those in The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine, and they are representative of many of the tasks in The Crew: Mission Deep Sea in that they present the table with a holistic challenge that plays out over the entire hand instead of being something that is mostly the concern of a single person. I was commander for this game, and my hand had only three cards that weren't yellow or green, so I took the "win a trick with all cards <7" task as I thought I'd be able to contribute better to the completion of the other task by voiding the non-green, non-yellow cards from my hand, then throwing in yellow or green as needed.

The challenge of that "green=yellow" task, of course, comes from multiple players needing to void themselves in various suits — which will differ for each player — so that we can end up with 2 green/2 yellow OR 1 green/1 yellow/2 other stuff in a single trick that is won by the player holding the task. That's a lot of hoops! And along the way we need to ensure that I can win a trick that completes my task, so we need to play out high cards and submarines at the same time that we're trying to get the colors in the right arrangement.

Instead of giving players single-target tasks, The Crew: Mission Deep Sea presents the team with larger challenges that create a unique Venn diagram for each game based on whichever tasks come out. The task deck still contains a few low-challenge tasks such as "I will win the green 6", but it also has "I will win exactly three 6s", which involves everyone far more than the single-card task — and should both of those tasks be in play, but in the hands of different players, well, that would add an additional twist for players to overcome.

Other task cards that provide more holistic, game-long challenges are:

• I will win exactly one pink card and one green card.
• I will win all four 3s.
• I will win no yellow or green.
• I will win a trick that contains only odd-numbered cards.
• I will win as many tricks as the commander.
• I will win more yellow cards than blue cards.

We started a four-player game at mission #1 with that final card, and while it's a simple challenge, you need to play through the entire hand to ensure that you make it. The commander might win one trick or several tricks, which means you have more openness in how to play out the hands as long as you keep the goal in mind. (And should that task have come out at the same time as others, the simpleness of that challenge would intersect in different ways with each other task.)

Here was another pair of task cards that came out:

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Okay, so winning as many pink as blue is the same task as the one above, but now another player must win an 8 with a 4...which also means you need to engage in off-suit shenanigans, but in a different way than before.

Needless to say, I'm a fan of this new release as it requires the same spirit of working together with others, but overcoming these challenges seems to require you to connect on a broader scale rather than just not getting in one another's way. You can communicate in the same way as in the first The Crew, with you revealing a non-trump card and indicating whether it's the highest, lowest, or only card of that color in your hand, but what you need to communicate isn't as straightforward as in the earlier game. Often you're not even sure what to communicate until several turns have passed and you see — based on the cards that have been played — a possible avenue for you to contribute to one task or another.

I talk much more about the game and reveal many more tasks in this overview video:

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Mon Sep 13, 2021 1:00 pm
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Interview: Fabio Lopiano, designer of Merv, Calimala and Ragusa, on Innovation in Game Design

Neil Bunker
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Board Game: Merv: The Heart of the Silk Road
[Editors note: This interview was first published on Diagonal Move in August 2021. —WEM]

Fabio Lopiano — designer of Merv, Calimala, and Ragusa — joins Neil of Diagonal Move to discuss innovation in game design.

DM: Hi, Fabio, thank you for joining us today. Please can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got started in game design?

FL: Hello, my name is Fabio Lopiano, and I am a board game designer. I've been playing board games for a long time, but I started designing games only a few years ago. I currently live in Milan, Italy, but in the last twenty years or so I've lived in several countries, moving every few years.

In 2013, I moved from Paris to London — I went there to work as a software engineer for Facebook — and while in London I joined the "London On Board" Meetup group, which is a huge boardgaming community that meets almost daily to play board games in various venues around the city. There I met a few game designers, and I began playtesting their games. After a while, I also tried designing a game of my own, which eventually became Calimala.

Board Game: Calimala

DM: Your games to date have a distinct thematic tendency towards building and trading within a historical setting. What is about that theme that interests you?

FL: I've always been interested in history, especially in less known aspects of it. I read almost exclusively non-fiction books, mostly about history, science, or economics, so sometimes I come across some interesting historical facts that are not particularly well known and I try to use them as a setting for my games.

For Calimala, my first ever game, this was a little different but not too much. Although the setting might not seem particularly original, I saw that while there are already many games about Florence and the Renaissance, none of them were about the actual economics behind it.

Florence's wealth sprang from the international wool trade, driven by the guild of Calimala. With the incredible wealth accumulated through trading, these Florentine families eventually turned into banks, providing financial services both at home and abroad. With so much money in their coffers, they also started competing for prestige by building churches and sponsoring artists, while at the same time trying to gain control of the city government by getting seats at the city council. (This is more or less what happens in the game as well.)

The story of Ragusa (now Dubrovnik) was interesting for me because when at school I studied the Maritime Republics, it was not mentioned at all (although it was among the most important ones, along with Venice and Genoa). I suspect this was because at the time I was at school, Dubrovnik was still behind the Iron Curtain and hence almost erased from history books of the time.

When I came across the name Ragusa much, much later, I was curious as to why I had never heard of it, and after reading some more about it, I decided to set my next game there.

Likewise, I found the story of Merv fascinating. I was surprised to learn that this was once one of the greatest cities in the world, but few people today have even heard of it, again because most of the history we learn at school is so western-centric.

DM: Your games contain intricate layers of mechanisms, including some innovative elements. Can you tell us about how the action-selection mechanism in Calimala developed?

FL: My initial idea with Calimala was to come up with an action-selection mechanism that would make every game different so that it would not be possible to have a set of "standard openings", but also so that the possible strategies would change enough from game to game that players have to look at the board and find what the best strategy would be for the given board set-up.

In the first iterations, I had eight action tiles in a circle, and players would place their token between two tiles and take both actions. Eventually I added a ninth, fixed action in the middle and changed the circle into a three-by-three grid.

The design process was iterative and long; it took me almost two years, bringing the prototype for a playtest to a couple of monthly meetings. Eventually I introduced the triggering of actions for previous players that already had a token in a slot as a way to reduce downtime and keep everyone involved in every player's turn.

The biggest breakthrough was the scoring trigger because it killed two birds with a stone. I had two main problems at the time: one was that once there were too many discs on an action slot, the triggered actions could cascade out of control; the other was that I didn't have a good way to decide when to score the majorities in the various areas. The greatest idea was to use one issue to solve the other: As soon as the fourth disc is added to a stack, the bottom disc does not get to do the actions, but instead triggers a scoring for an area.

Finally, having the order in which the areas score randomly decided at set-up made the game infinitely more replayable since now your strategy does not depend only on the way the action tiles are set up, but also on the order in which the scoring tiles line up.

Board Game: Ragusa

DM: Ragusa, your second game, featured a spin on worker placement as players built the city's walls. Can you tell us more about how that game was designed?

FL: In Ragusa, I tried to push a few ideas from Calimala even further, with you now placing your token between three action tiles instead of two. I also tried to add more variety on the type of actions you can do and on ways to score victory points, so we have more resource management, set collection, wall building, market manipulation, etc.

All of this was informed by the theme, so I read about the history and economics of the city, and learned about the nearby silver mine, the oil and wine trade, the city walls and towers, etc. and I tried to incorporate as much as I could into the design, while keeping a certain consistency in how these aspects interacted with each other.

Because of how these actions interlocked, though, I could no longer have a completely random set-up; otherwise the game balance would go out of control and some spots could randomly be much stronger than others, so I had to go with a fixed map.

On the other hand, the game has a certain chaotic aspect as small variations in the order in which the first few houses are built will have huge repercussions on the way the mid-to-end game will develop, not only because actions will trigger differently, but also because the house placement rules make it so that houses built in previous rounds affect where new houses can be built.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board

DM: Your most recent published game is Merv: The Heart of the Silk Road. In Merv, the available actions vary based both on the position of workers on a grid and on the positioning of a protective barrier built by players (thematically the city walls). Was this mechanism a natural extension of those in your earlier games, and can you tell us more about what inspired the design?

FL: Merv had a very long and complex evolution, and I tried many different mechanisms before finding the current ones.

This was a theme-first game, so to speak, so I had some elements that were present from the beginning, such as caravans coming through the city with goods, building the walls, and defending from Mongol attacks. I also wanted to have a few mosques and libraries. (Merv was an important learning center at the time, and some important scholars of that time studied there.)

I didn't want to have some turns in which you collect resources and some turns in which you spend them. Instead I wanted a certain amount of resources to become available each turn, with players having to find ways to spend them efficiently. The type and number of resources that players gain depends on how cleverly they placed their buildings on the grid.

Initially I had this idea of a caravan walking through the streets and dropping resources that players would then use on their turn. This was a bit fiddly and went through many, many iterations. You can think of the current mechanism as a much more abstracted version of that: When you select a row or column with your meeple, it is as if you were guiding a caravan through that road, and the caravan leaves a matching resource on every house it stops by.

DM: Your games to date feature consequences from your actions for other players in the form of the ability to use their locations or generate resources out of turn order. What is it about this interaction that interests you?

FL: I like games that are very interactive as long as they don't have much conflict or "take that" elements. This leaves lots of room for positive interaction, which is one of my favorite concepts in board games.
This forces players to care about what everyone is doing at the table and provides interesting choices. On one hand, you have to make sure that a certain action you take will benefit yourself more than your opponents; on the other hand, you may look into ways to adapt your strategy in order to benefit more from what the other players are doing.

This also means that you can't simply pick a strategy at the start of the game and follow through with it until the end because you have to be flexible and adapt to what all the other players are doing.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board

DM: Given the interactive nature of your games, how did you adapt them to lower player counts?

FL: My first two games were aimed at a high player count — I prefer to play both Calimala and Ragusa with five players — and they all rely heavily on actions having side effects on other players.

The two-player version of Ragusa simply introduces a couple of "power-houses" per player that act slightly differently and try to solve multiple problems with a single solution.

When you place a power-house, you trigger all the actions for yourself (regardless of who owns the houses in that hex), so even if your opponent has already placed three houses on a space, by placing a power-house there you get four activations and your opponent gets none. This stops players from over-specialization and makes it not too bad to enter a space later in the game.

Moreover, power-houses are in a third color and must be placed along the city walls, thus breaking the wall sequences. (Without them, players could just place towers on each other's houses and potentially get both the maximum amount of points for the longest wall.)

Finally, they also add extra tension because there can be only a single power-house on each hex, so it introduces a game of chicken in which if you wait to place a power-house you might get more activations from it, but if you wait too long, your opponent could place theirs before you do.

Being such an interactive game, though, the solo version of Ragusa simulates a three-player game and introduces two automas to better deliver the full game experience in which each house placement activates every other player's houses.

The trick of "reserving" the automas' house slots at the start of the game makes sure that each opponent follows a sensible strategy. (Each automa card has a sequence of three house placement that make sense with each other, e.g. first place a vineyard, then make some wine, finally get some goods at the market, possibly paying with that wine.) Because the cards are shuffled back after each house placement, as a player you know that eventually your adversary will do those actions, but you are not quite sure of when exactly, so you have to adapt your strategy accordingly.

In the two-player version of Merv (as well as in the solo version) a third color is thrown in the mix that is controlled by both players. (The first player chooses the row or column, the other player chooses which house to build.) This makes turn order also extremely important for two players, and turn-order player manipulation is one of the most interesting aspects of the game. You don't want to be last in turn order because your opponent will likely place the neutral meeple to block the row or column that you would like to use instead. Moreover, the extra neutral houses placed provide more opportunities to both players for possible rows to activate and for houses to defend, in order to gain more influence.

Then the solo version mimics the two-player version, with one automa controlling the main opponent and both players (you and the automa) having shared control of the third, neutral color.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board

DM: Do you face challenges in developing and playtesting games that are relatively complex? If so, can you describe them?

FL: Yes, most of the "work" around designing board games lies in playtesting. Each playtest session will uncover some problems and maybe help with finding some solutions.

There are different types of playtests (and playtesters), and it is important to know what type of playtesting is needed at a given time. At the beginning of the design process, I usually playtest with some trusted groups of designers. We expect to play very bad games and keep an eye on things that don't work that could be improved or that show promise, etc.

If the game manages to survive several iterations with these groups, then I start playtesting it with regular players, i.e., not other game designers. Two very important types of playtests are with "new" players (i.e., those who haven't played that game before) and with "experienced" players (i.e., those who have already played an earlier version of the game).

The first ones are harder. It is important to make sure that when players try your game for the first time, they have a good experience, good enough that they will want to play the game again in the future. You want to do this kind of test with games that are in a good-enough state, and this is a great way to find rules that are not too intuitive or find that some things are too hard (or even too easy), etc.

The playtests with experienced players, on the other hand, are important to make sure that when players play the same game multiple times, they still find something new and interesting to do and don't get bored after a while. These are also useful for tweaks and balancing fixes.

As the complexity of the games increases, these playtests become harder, and depending on what I am trying to find out with a given playtest, I might intervene in different ways during play. For example, if I am testing how the first few rounds work out, or if some rules are intuitive, etc., I try to observe without interfering. But if I want to test some particular situation that might happen in the mid-to-late game, I can nudge players here and there, or suggest some moves in the early game so as to more easily reach the particular situation I want to test.

In the last couple of years, most playtesting moved to Tabletop Simulator, where things have become much harder and the timing has become unreliable. (Some activities are quicker, while others are much slower, so it is very difficult to gauge what the actual length of a game would be on an real table.) It is also difficult to understand what players are experiencing while they play due to a lack of non-verbal communication. Things are now slowly returning to normal, so live playtests are finally coming back.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board

DM: When seeking a publisher, are there unique challenges facing games that innovate or are aimed at the "heavier" end of the gaming spectrum?

FL: Innovation is an important aspect in games nowadays, and each game should bring something new to distinguish it from the thousands of other games being published in a given year. But, along with innovation, some familiarity is also necessary. A game with too many new concepts will be hard to receive for most players, so it's important to mix one or two innovative ideas with some other familiar things so that players are not overwhelmed.

Heavier games require a much longer period of time than light games from signing to publication. This is partly due to the extra development time because playtests tend to be longer, hence harder to organize, and they tend to raise lots of small issues that are harder to fix, especially if the game has lots of interconnected parts in which a small change somewhere could have unintended consequences somewhere else. Also the various pre-production tasks involved, like art, components, rulebook, etc., will require a bit longer.

But more importantly, many publishers tend to have a few fixed slots in their pipelines for bigger games and more flexibility for smaller ones, so while a lighter game could be published about twelve months after signing a contract, a medium game could require at least eighteen months, and a heavier game could easily take more than two or three years.

DM: Can you tell us anything about the games you are working on currently?

FL: Yes, I do have a few games lined up for the next couple of years. Zapotec will come out in November 2021 from Board&Dice. It is a medium-weight Eurogame with simple rules and an interesting engine-building aspect.

I am also working on "Autobahn", a new game I co-designed with Nestore Mangone (who also co-designed games like Newton and Darwin's Journey) about the construction of the German highway system. It is a slightly heavier economical game that will be on Kickstarter early in 2022 with Alley Cat Games and is expected to be ready for SPIEL '22.

Lately I have also been working with Mandela F. Grandon (designer of Glasgow and Overstocked) on a couple of other games, one of which is scheduled for SPIEL '23, but it hasn't been announced yet.

So, yeah, I'm trying to keep a schedule of one game per year for now.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board

DM: Do you have any advice for new designers interested in creating games that layer multiple mechanisms?

FL: I guess one piece of advice would be not to be afraid to remove cool things.

In most of my games, I start with a couple of initial mechanism ideas, I then keep changing things around, adding and removing things, mostly driven by playtests. I tend to alternate between expansion phases, where I might add lots of parts, and contraction phases, when I try to remove redundancies and possibly replace two things with a new one, ideally solving two different problems with a single solution.

Eventually, when things start really clicking together, I find out that pretty much all the mechanisms that were there in the initial versions are now completely gone. They were important to provide a framework around which to build the rest of the structure, but once the game starts to work, they might not be that necessary anymore, so do not try to keep them anyway if they don't really contribute to make the game better.
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Sat Sep 11, 2021 1:00 pm
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Take Part of History in Antoine Bauza's 7 Wonders: Architects

W. Eric Martin
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When Belgian publisher Repos Production introduced something titled "7 Wonders Mystery" in April 2021, everyone was hoping for a new expansion for Antoine Bauza's classic card-drafting game 7 Wonders or at least something playable related to that game, but the announcement instead involved a puzzle-solving contest, which left a lot of mixed feelings among fans of the game.

Board Game: 7 Wonders: Architects

Today, however, Repos Production has announced a new standalone game from Bauza — 7 Wonders: Architects, with the press release for this Q4 2021 release touting "streamlined gameplay with easy-to-understand rules and true-to-life scale recreations of the world’s wonders". Public details about the game are minimal to this point:
Quote:
In 7 Wonders: Architects, 2-7 players race to become a leader of the ancient world by completing an architectural wonder that will last through the ages.

Players receive an unconstructed wonder at the beginning of the game and must collect resources to build their society, develop military might to navigate conflicts, oversee resource management, research science improvements, and collect civil victory points as they race to leave their mark on world history.
Here's a bit more from the press release for this title, which will retail for US$50:
Quote:
The rules have been re-imagined from the ground-up with family gameplay in mind, making for a quicker, easier to understand and more family friendly experience.

"As I get older, I play more games with my family than a gaming group. This got me thinking about games that are welcoming to newcomers and can be enjoyed by friends and families," Antoine Bauza, the creator of the 7 Wonders franchise, said. "7 Wonders: Architects is built around the idea that games can be enjoyed by anyone, even players who are new to the hobby. Games like 7 Wonders: Architects are perfect for introducing more people to our hobby, and I look forward to welcoming a new generation of board game enthusiasts."
Since distributor Asmodee North America is not taking part in Gen Con 2021, it has instead promised to reveal more details about the game in an unboxing and playthrough on its Facebook page on Thursday, September 16 at 2:00 p.m. EDT. I've played the game more than a half-dozen times to this point, and I'll post both an unboxing video and a written and video overview of my own at that same time.

For now, you are left to decipher what you can about the game from these promotional images:

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Taking a turn

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Classic "kids win / parent looks baffled" shot

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Grabbing the cat

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Game bits
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Fri Sep 10, 2021 4:40 pm
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Brave New Adventures with Your Stone Age Tribe, Welcome Trees & Creatures to Your Bonfire, and Vary Your Set-up for War of the Ring

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Microbadge: Great Western Trail fanMicrobadge: The Great Zimbabwe fanMicrobadge: Battlestar Galactica - I am a CylonMicrobadge: COIN fanMicrobadge: Twilight Imperium (fourth edition) fan
• In October 2021, German publisher Hans im Glück will release Paleo: Ein neuer Anfang (A New Beginning), a large expansion for Peter Rustemeyer's Kennerspiel des Jahres-winning Paleo that jumps ahead several thousand years, with your tribe trying to settle down while facing new dangers and tasks with new skills and tools.

Board Game: Paleo: Ein neuer Anfang

Board Game: Anno 1800
Martin Wallace's Anno 1800 from KOSMOS will receive an expansion in 2022, according to the designer, who spoke with Wargamer (link) about what this item changes and adds to the base game.

Developer Stephen Hurn has detailed these changes himself on BGG, noting in a follow-up post that the expansion is meant to address concerns that people had about the base game. Here's an excerpt from Wallace in Wargamer:
Quote:
Moments in which cards were previously randomly allocated to players have been removed, and replaced with mechanics that grant players more choice in what cards they pick up. Similarly, every player will start with a similar set of cards instead of random draws, including the powerful "engineer" card that previously granted lucky players early access to advanced technologies. These minor changes are intended to reduce the randomness of your initial hand, and remove luck from the game.
• U.S. publisher Arcane Wonders has posted a cover image for an expansion to Jon Perry's Air, Land & Sea titled Spies, Lies & Supplies. No clue yet as to what's underneath the cover, but I can at least show you that.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Also on the Air, Land & Sea front, Arcane Wonders will release a reskin of the base game at Gen Con 2021 titled Air, Land & Sea: Critters at War that has the same rules as the original version, but with critters and more vibrant colors.

Board Game: Air, Land & Sea: Critters at War

Board Game: Bonfire
• Publishers Hall Games and Pegasus Spiele are inviting us to reignite Stefan Feld's big, 2020 release Bonfire with its first expansion, Bonfire: Trees & Creatures, which is a SPIEL '21 release. The Trees & Creatures expansion, designed by Feld and Tim Schleimer, allows you to add a fifth player and incorporates new modules bringing some new flavor to Bonfire as briefly described below by the publisher:
Quote:
On Asperia, every day is unique and brings surprising events that constantly change the life and work of the gnomefolk. Now ancient trees have been reinvigorated by the guardians, while the gnomes seek the help of mysterious and mighty creatures.

Board Game: Bonfire: Trees & Creatures

In Bonfire: Trees & Creatures, the story continues, with players being able to expand the base game with three modules that can be combined with one another, in addition to being able to add a fifth player. Players can expand their city by acquiring and placing tree tiles above their path tiles, unlocking useful bonuses and new ways to score at the end of the game. At the beginning of the game, each player drafts a creature card with a unique ability. Every time the player who began the game places a new fate tile, a new event card that changes a certain rule is drawn and affects all players.
Board Game: War of the Ring: Second Edition
• While combing through Virtual Flea Market listings for my local gaming convention last week, I managed to resist the urge to purchase War of the Ring goodies someone posted, but I was reminded that I need to get that thematic beast back to the table soon. After poking around the interwebs for other War of the Ring goodies, I was delighted to discover The Fate of Erebor, a new mini-expansion from Ares Games and designers Roberto Di Meglio, Marco Maggi, and Francesco Nepitello.

The Fate of Erebor, which is available for pre-order, allows players to change up Middle-earth history and change the set-up of War of the Ring as detailed below:
Quote:
What if the Battle of Five Armies was lost by the Free Peoples, and Dáin never became King Under the Mountain? What if the Dwarves of the Iron Hills were just the scattered survivors of their kin, fighting a strenuous battle to defend their homes? What if Dale was never rebuilt?

When playing the War of the Ring board game, we assume the "historical" outcome for the Battle of Five Armies. The Fate of Erebor is a variant for War of the Ring in which you assume the Shadow player won the Battle of Five Armies, changing the course of history drastically. Orcs settle in the Lonely Mountain and establish a stronghold there. Dwarves remain in the Iron Hills, but their community is far from thriving. In the wake of the lost battle, Laketown is no more, and the Kingdom of Dale is never re-established, with only ruins remaining. How much can the Fate of Erebor change the course of the War of the Ring? You can find out, playing this variant.

Board Game: War of the Ring: The Fate of Erebor

In this mini-expansion set for the War of the Ring board game, you can find all you need to "adapt" the game to this possible outcome of the Battle of Five Armies. This expansion contains a rule sheet, 4 board overlay tiles to place on the game board, and 8 alternate cards (4 Free Peoples Event cards, 2 Shadow Event cards, and 2 Alternate Gimli Character cards).

In the rule sheet you find the new set-up with the changes on the map, and all the instructions to play this alternative scenario, increasing the game's possibilities for all the fans.
The Fate of Erebor was included as a promotional item with copies of The Battle of Five Armies Collector's Edition and was given out with first print copies of the revised edition of The Battle of Five Armies, but it's great to see it will be more widely available for War of the Ring fans.
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Fri Sep 10, 2021 1:00 pm
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Links: More Production Woes, Flying Buffalo Returns, and CMON's NFTs

W. Eric Martin
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CMON Limited has announced a partnership with Monsoon Digital for "a brand new series of digital products and promotional material using Monsoon's soon-to-launch NFT (non-fungible token) trading platform".

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Here's an excerpt from the press release:
Quote:
Monsoon Digital will launch the public beta of its platform later this year, with CMON's first wave of digital collectible packs set to be the site's flagship product. Details of the first wave are being kept under wraps.

"While this is absolutely a breakout year for NFTs, we were determined to do something different and unique with the blockchain technology," said Geoff Skinner, CMON's SVP of Marketing & Entertainment. "As it is with our tabletop games, our focus is on the customer. The goals we set for this new collector experience are simple: it has to be easy to use and accessible, it has to offer a special, personalized experience, and most importantly, it has to be fun. To these ends, we're working with our top game designers, graphic designers and artists to create our first blockchain product on Monsoon's incredible platform."
I've seen NFTs described as Tamagotchis for the 2020s, and that seems like a valid take. Here's a possibly helpful explainer on NFTs for those who are confused about such things — although I've read multiple articles on NFTs, and I'm still confused as to why anyone would want to buy one, outside of you hoping to flip it to some other buyer in the future.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
• On August 4, 2021, Webbed Sphere — which owns online retailer TrollandToad.com and publisher Toy Vault — announced that it had bought publisher Flying Buffalo, Inc., which had been dormant since the death of co-founder Rick Loomis in August 2019. An excerpt from the press release announcing the deal:
Quote:
"Flying Buffalo and Rick Loomis hold an esteemed position in the history of gaming, and we are proud to now be a part of that legacy," said John Ward, CEO of Webbed Sphere. "Flying Buffalo has thrilled generations of gamers over the past 50 years, and it will make a great compliment to our Toy Vault and Mchezo brand lines. I am excited about what the future holds."
• "What's Driving Seattle's Tabletop Gaming Renaissance?" That's the question asked in SeattleMet, which features designers Emma Larkins, Fertessa Allyse, and Shawn Stankewich of Flatout Games.

Board Game Publisher: Post Scriptum
• Many publishers have relayed woes related to shipping costs and manufacturing slowdowns (and I compiled many such laments in mid-August 2021), and now here's another take on the situation from Mario Sacchi of Italian publisher Post Scriptum.

To set the ground, I'll note that in November 2020 Post Scriptum concluded a Kickstarter funding campaign for Shogun no Katana with an initial expected release date of September 2021, a date that has changed (for now) to mid-2022. Now a few excerpts from Sacchi's post:
Quote:
In our case we don't know yet how things will go: considering that Shogun no Katana is not ready yet for shipping, and that quotes change on a daily basis, we don't know what the future holds for us. We know that we are a solid company and that we can absorb higher expenses than what we had predicted, however, we won't put our mind at ease until we know how much higher the expenses will be.
On how production and shipping difficulties in China have spilled over into Europe:
Quote:
...because producing in China is difficult, all the European suppliers at the moment are overworked and have ridiculously long printing queues. For example: to carry out our third-party consultancy work we have been working closely with different printers, one in particular who prints at least 30,000 boxes a year for us and had guaranteed certain delivery times for 2021 if we agreed to print more (which we did). During the first quarter they actually met the deadlines, but in April they emailed us communicating that they would push the deadline back one month. This implied a considerable change in our plans, but nothing too drastic, because we had planned our productions well in advance and we were ready to face this type of issue. The problem was that a week later they pushed back the deadlines one more month, saying that they weren't accepting any more orders for 2021, except for their main customers, which included us. To sum up, we ended up closing all the productions of the year with our main supplier by July, which had never happened before.

Board Game: Shogun no Katana
No Shogun no Katana for now

The problem is that, usually, our consultancy work receives more requests in the last months of the year, with the request of receiving the games by Christmas. Actually, our main strength has always been being able to ensure extremely short turnaround times, and making "miracles" which would otherwise be impossible. It took us years to set up a quick and efficient production chain, based on the fact that, putting together the works of many clients we have more commercial power than what they have as individuals. We still have this strength, because we also work with other providers who are interested in receiving big orders like ours, but it is obvious that any change to normal routines imply extra work, and it creates a queue for them, who, in turn have to increase their turnaround times. And of course all this has an impact also on the production of new games for our catalogue.

This is the sorest point because planning future publications is already very complicated and risky, especially when you have to choose the print run, and to this we had already met further difficulties due to the impossibility of meeting our partner in fair, but now we aren't sure of when our games can reach the destination or how much it will cost to produce them.

Even on games that were planned and that I considered "done and dusted" there were delays, because all (all!) the providers say that paper provision is more difficult and more expensive than it has ever been, I tell you for sure that this situation is unprecedented, certainly in my 16 years of activity with Post Scriptum.
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Thu Sep 9, 2021 1:00 pm
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