Chip Theory Games front with new expansions and content for Too Many Bones (Splice & Dice, Dart, Lab Rats) and Cloudspire (Horizon's Wrath, The Uprising), yet Chip Theory continues to bring the hype announcing Hoplomachus: Victorum, a new solitaire standalone addition to the Hoplomachus family coming to Kickstarter in 2021:Quote:The year is AD 79. Seers have learned of the imminent eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and those versed in the mystic arts have made invocations to stop the calamity from claiming thousands of lives. However, these actions have angered Pluto, god of the underworld, who vows to usher in even greater destruction unless the earth's strongest champions accomplish a series of tasks in a realm of grueling combat.For those unfamiliar with this line, Hoplomachus is a series of hex-based tactical board games about gladiatorial combat during the Roman Empire designed by Adam Carlson and Josh J. Carlson. Compared to Chip Theory Games' more recently prominent series, Too Many Bones and Cloudspire, the Hoplomachus games have simpler rules and set-up and are much quicker to play, yet are packed with deep tactical choices.
Hoplomachus: Victorum uses the acclaimed combat system from the Hoplomachus games, adding new twists with a focus on heroes and campaign play. Victorum is a solo-only experience, offering an in-depth, rewarding adventure with deep strategic decisions and exciting combat. Set in a more epic and mythical world, this title will pair the combat mechanisms fans know and love with beautiful updated lore, art, and design.
In Hoplomachus: Origins, for example — the only one in the series I've played so far — players draft a team of gladiators (represented by premium, heavy-weighted plastic chips) which they then deploy in one of three different arenas (neoprene mats) and use to combat enemies primarily by rolling custom dice to attack. The components really enhance the gameplay and create a wonderful tactile experience.
The core mechanisms and game flow are easy to learn, again especially compared to Too Many Bones and Cloudspire. Each turn, you 1) Deploy a gladiator, tactic or one of each, 2) Move all eligible gladiators, and 3) Attack with all eligible gladiators. Each of the gladiators have their own stats, abilities, and innate skills, and when combined as different teams using different tactics, there's a wealth of strategic and tactical options, which adds a lot of flavor to the game — not to mention the fact that most Hoplo games can be played 30 minutes or less!
While Hoplomachus games can be played in different modes such as player vs. player, co-op, and even 2 vs. 2 when combining both The Lost Cities and Rise of Rome, the Hoplo series has a tremendous reputation for having excellent solo modes. It hits a nice sweet spot of being challenging and having great AI systems, which lends itself to smooth and satisfying solo play. In fact, there seems to be a large audience that plays Hoplomachus games strictly solo, which is probably part of the reason Chip Theory opted to make Hoplomachus: Victorum the first solo-only game in the series.
In addition to Hoplomachus: Victorum, CTG will release a remastered edition of existing Hoplomachus content that will "streamline the best content from the original base games and expansions into a single box" simply dubbed "Hoplomachus". Their goal with the new remastered Hoplomachus big box is to include a great majority of the content from the existing Hoplo games and expansions, but in a streamlined way, providing a more accessible and cohesive experience for jumping into various modes of gameplay. It sounds like this remastered Hoplomachus will be an excellent way to get more folks into the Hoplo series.
Plus, knowing Chip Theory Games, the quality will be beyond top notch for both Hoplomachus: Victorum and the remastered Hoplomachus big box. I'm stoked to hear more updates on both of these upcoming releases!
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Asmodee Entertainment, in April 2019, with a follow-up post in December 2019 that highlighted the brand's publication schedule starting in May 2020.
As with so many things in 2020, that schedule has been modified due to current events, which means that, for example, the July 2020 release date for Robbie MacNiven's novel Descent – Journeys in the Dark: The Doom of Fallowhearth has been changed to October 6, 2020.
Aconyte has been continuing to prepare work for publication in addition to announcing new titles, such as The Shield of Daqan: A Descent: Journeys in the Dark Novel paperback from David Guymer that bears a publication date of February 2, 2021. What might grab game fans about this novel, however, is this emboldened phrase from the book description:Quote:Mighty warriors fight to save the realm from blood magic and evil, in this battle-soaked epic fantasy novel, introducing the brand new edition of the hugely popular game, Descent: Legends of the Dark.The second edition of Descent: Journeys in the Dark was released in 2012, seven years after the game's first appearance in 2005, so 2021 wouldn't be out of line for a third edition of the game. I've asked game publisher Fantasy Flight Games about this information and will update this post if I receive a response.
The once-glorious Barony of Kell is a ruin of its former self, assailed by banditry and famine; its noble Baron Frederick caught between saving his people and defending his borders. Yet worse is to come… for a Dark tide is rising. Sadistic warrior-priestess, Ne'Krul, spying an opportunity to wreak magical mayhem on behalf of her demonic masters, leads her Uthuk warband into a brutal invasion. Kell's only hope lies in holy warrior, Andira Runehand, and legendary hero, Trenloe the Strong, both drawn to Kell to defeat an alliance of evil unprecedented in Terrinoth. They must not fail.
(HT: Ian Short for bringing this to my attention)Time for a replacement?
Update: Almost immediately after I posted this item, I reloaded the Amazon.com listing for this novel to discover that the description has changed:
But the Amazon.co.uk listing for the novel still features this teaser description — at least for now:
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Sonora — came to be made.
For anyone who doesn't know me, I absolutely adore dexterity games. SHUX 2019 in Vancouver, BC had a whole section of the floor dedicated to them, and I played every single one.Playing Ice Cool at SHUX 2019
As many of you might remember, Ganz schön clever was all the rage in 2018. I was playing this frequently and loved it, but I and others realized something after playing enough times: The game was solvable! It seemed as though there were an optimal formula to achieving the highest possible score. I won't dive into that strategy or discuss whether there truly was a solution, but the possibility of it being true was enough to get my brain working.
Imagine stewing on both of those ideas off and on during the summer, then getting on a five-hour flight (remember those?) to San Diego. This is my secret to coming up with game ideas. Isolated from distractions and seated in one spot for a long while, I like to challenge myself to come up with new game ideas. The ideas usually aren't something I can test right away — although on a flight to New Zealand, I brought along a mini design kit with blank cards and dice to validate some small ideas — but getting them out of my head and onto a page is a big first step that allows me to get started on anything that seems promising.
Ideas happen where they happen! pic.twitter.com/Ehp61zhkuB— Rob ☂️ #BLM (@CoinFlipGames) June 19, 2018First design notes
The combination of the Twitter prompt, my schön addiction, and being stuck in a window seat is how the initially themeless game "3456" was born. I wanted to solve the issue of an eventually solvable game, and the solution seemed to be adding chaos (not randomness). (Here's an overly complex article on the difference between the two, if you're curious.) This is where the dexterity component of "3456" played an essential role. The game that would eventually become Sonora lacked randomness. It was a roll-and-write without the roll. The uncertainty that came out of playing the game wasn't from drawing cards or rolling dice; it all came from the combination of your own flicking abilities and what your fellow players allowed you to do.
Let me explain how the backbone of this game works: This core idea of chaos stuck through to the final product even though the underlying puzzles and theme changed drastically. In Sonora, players have a central area onto which they flick numbered discs (the "flicking phase"). Whatever quadrant a disc ends up in corresponds to playing a mini-game on the scoresheet (the "writing phase"). For example, flicking the #5 disc into the "hexagon" zone of the board gives you 5 points to spend on the "hexagon" mini-game zone of the scoresheet.
During a your turn, you flick discs into a central board, knocking around the other player's or your own discs. This, on its own, is fun! Believe it or not, I had never heard of Crokinole at this point, yet that is ~90% of the appeal of that game. Skillful flicking, blocking, and denial are a game on their own, but I was trying to do something weird here, so I had to take the game one step further! Using the results of the flicking phase of the game to do things in the writing phase is ultimately what makes this game unique, but it wasn't a smooth road to go down.
And the first prototype of my abstract flick-and-write is complete! Let's see how it plays irl... pic.twitter.com/2HiGa5dUzn— Rob ☂️ #BLM (@CoinFlipGames) July 2, 2018The first prototype was made from the box I received Clank in, a rotating spice rack, foam, and a lot of glue; the shapes on the board correspond to the shapes on the scoresheet
The first tests of the game were lukewarm at best. "Yeah, this is interesting, but have you considered just using dice?" was a phrase I heard more than once while working on the game. I nearly abandoned my beloved dexterity element based on these initial responses!
The biggest problem with the first versions of the game was that the puzzles existed in isolation. You put your #5 disc into the "square" zone, and you did the square puzzle, and that was that. If you wanted, you could ignore 3/4 of the game, do the one puzzle you enjoyed, and win. If your fellow players let you, you could pretty much ignore everyone else as well!
So I was faced with the issue of tying five standalone games together into a single, cohesive experience. The flicking needed to be better tied into the writing, and each puzzle needed to communicate with the others. The solution, as it turns out, was the same for both! I needed to create bonuses that made it so any individual action could trigger additional or bigger actions.
The first type of bonus needed to address the dexterity-skill level of the game. I needed mis-flick mitigation bonuses, which led to the creation of Reflick and Swap. If your finger is having an off-day, you could now use one bonus to reflick and try again. At the end of the round, you could swap any two of your own discs to change the number applied to a puzzle. This did wonders to even the playing field between new and skilled players of the game. This dexterity game benefits from being forgiving of a variety of dexterity skill levels.
Next, I needed to figure out how to get the puzzles to talk to each other. By putting bonuses in the puzzles themselves, you would be encouraged to not just go for points, but for combos: "If I circle this bit of the 'triangle' puzzle, it'll let me write a 5 in the 'pentagon' puzzle!" It worked (mostly), and one prototype rebuild and retheme later, I was off to Gen Con to do some testing!
And here's my best solo score for Arthropodyssey! I might have picked this play through to prove to a few people that it _is_ possible to complete the pentagon zone with just four rounds. #tabletop #gamedesign pic.twitter.com/D2zDZ7oSBr— Rob ☂️ #BLM (@CoinFlipGames) July 25, 2018The game's new name was "Arthropodyssey", and it replaced geometric shapes with friendly arthropods: bees, caterpillars, ants, and spiders
I attended the Game Crafter designer night and met up with Julio E. Nazario, who encouraged me to get the game in front of publishers ASAP due to the game's novelty. I got an impromptu meeting with a publisher the next day, and while they weren't interested, they encouraged me to keep working on it. (Tip: This happens often. Don't get discouraged!) The biggest piece of feedback was that the puzzles didn't talk to each other enough still!
Side note: If you're not familiar with Julio's designs yet, you will be soon! He's creating some truly unique and fun things that are starting to come to shelves and Kickstarter. Ctrl is one of the best things that I've played in recent memory!
Okay, so the next (familiar) challenge was how to get the flicking to work better with the writing. I needed to introduce a bit of uncertainty into the mix. I added a smaller inset within each zone about the size of the flicking disc itself that would allow you to double your disc value, but as part of a different zone than the area that contained it. Flicking your #5 disc into the bonus zone would give you 10 points to work with in the puzzle opposite from the zone you were in. If that sounds extreme, that's because it is! You could have a very big turn with a lot of points to spend if you flicked well. Remember, I wanted to do some weird stuff!
Arthropodyssey got a bit of an upgrade on the turntable! The bonuses for the score sheet come from your discs themselves now. Ties the flicking aspect more into the game and really raises the skill ceiling. I'm excited to get to do more play testing. #tabletop #gamedesigndaily pic.twitter.com/YZixvA4TJV— Rob ☂️ #BLM (@CoinFlipGames) August 14, 2018The original geometric shapes stuck around for a while; oddly enough, a lot of playtesters never commented on it
These changes made the core of the game solid. Now it was a balancing game. Each zone scored differently and was inherently difficult to balance individually. I did the best I could to get some workable numbers. I ran my own playtests and collected all the data I could from the small conventions I attended. I was trying to figure out whether there were any trends. (Did the winner always go hard on bees?) Next, I headed to Metatopia where the best possible thing to happen to the game would occur.
Got Arthropodyssey tested and I really love the base. I've got a ton of ideas that fit mechanically and thematically. So fantastic when they can work together. #metatopia2018 pic.twitter.com/nyetum40B7— Rob ☂️ #BLM (@CoinFlipGames) November 3, 2018
On the first night at Metatopia, I was waiting in line to pick up my badge and struck up a conversation with the person next to me, which happened to be Travis Magrum. He invited me to hang out and playtest some games. I hadn't expected to test "Arthropodyssey" that evening, but I sat down with Travis, Jonathan Gilmour, and Ian Moss to play. To say it went well would be an understatement. I wasn't prepared to pitch a game that evening, and I was keenly aware of some of the problems that still existed in the mechanisms; however, Jonathan was scouting for Pandasaurus Games at the time and wanted to take the game to show the company. I insisted that I needed to make a few more tweaks, but that we'd meet up again in a month at PAX Unplugged.
After doing a happy-dance internally and externally, I got to work. What needed tweaking? Well, Peter C. Hayward expertly pointed out every problem with the game on his first playthrough. The flicking was slow and overly chaotic because everyone used a single disc on their turn. He suggested flicking two discs, two discs, and one disc for each turn. Instant improvement. Second, the puzzles were too small! You could finish a given puzzle before the game was over, then lose interest because your favorite part of the game was finished. And finally, the bonuses that existed were good, but they needed a lot of work to truly sing.I didn't waste any time getting to work on fixes; this is from the flight leaving Metatopia
I spent the next month making more puzzle of each variety. The game needed more puzzle spaces to fill in, more bonuses to collect, and more combos to create.
I also created a 3D-printed version of the game that was more transportable, which is when I started to realize that the materials you make a dexterity game out of really matter. The bounce that can be achieved from wood hitting a wooden or plastic board is much better than the hard clack of wood hitting cardboard glued onto foam. In the early (very classy) prototypes, I glued rubber bands to the inside rim of the cardboard and foam version to try to improve this. The 3D printed versions were a marked improvement to this.
At PAX Unplugged, I met up with Jon again, and this time he took a copy of the game home with him. It was time to wait to hear what Pandasaurus Games thought after playing the game several more times (without me nervously watching).
Luckily, the wait was short, and we had a signed contract the very next month! Jon advocated for me pretty hard and was amazingly supportive. I was going to have a design made by Pandasaurus Games! Cue another internal and external happy dance. At this point, I had also moved across the country to Seattle where the game design scene is thriving! I had only a few tests of "Arthropodyssey" at the designer group, but their input was already super valuable.
For those new to the process of making a game idea into a product, there's crucial work (i.e., development) done by the publisher to ensure that the game is balanced, fun, and intuitive by the time it hits shelves. Development takes the raw idea from the designer and pokes and prods and tweaks and tests it until the game is truly refined. Jon was heading up the process, and I was lucky enough to participate. Each week, updates were sent out to a large group of playtesters, and feedback forms came pouring back in.
I have to say that working with Jon on development was an incredible experience. We bounced ideas off each other and tweaked the numbers and mechanisms. We had the simultaneous goals of balancing the game and removing the math. I'm all for encouraging mathematical skills, but at the start of development, scoring the game took a good ten minutes and a calculator to do right. We stripped out as many raw numbers as possible and brought the scoring time down substantially.
The original caterpillar and spider puzzles (which are now the fox and jackrabbit puzzles in Sonora) had a ton of tiny numbers to add in order to come up with your final score. Replace that with a bit of set collection, and the board becomes instantly more readable and easier to score (i.e., accessible to a wider audience). The only zone that remained mostly unchanged was bees (now lizards) where we simply tweaked the values.
Some days you need a tab called Bee Math pic.twitter.com/XKmj1DLU9F— Jonathan Gilmour (@JonGilmour) April 11, 2019
Another major change in development was the complete re-working of the ant puzzle (now owl). It was my favorite one, but it had a lot of friction with playtesters. It wasn't intuitive and was (dun dun dun — my arch-nemesis) solvable! The replacement puzzle was still the same concept (moving an ant down an ant hill) but now it relied more on press-your-luck strategies. You wanted specific discs in that zone in order to move most efficiently, whereas most other zones wanted the highest value. (Tip: Kill your darlings.)
The last thing I did with the game was create an interesting solo mode (a convenient foresight for the upcoming months of people being trapped in their homes). The goal of shooting for a high score is fine, but not terribly compelling after a few playthroughs. The bar for a good solo game experience was raised by great designers like Carla Kopp and the team at Automa Factory behind the solo modes in games like Wingspan. I needed an AI behind the solo mode that was quick, intuitive, and independently interesting enough that players who would normally play with other players might still try it.
I could write another, equally-long designer diary about creating a solo mode, but I'll summarize it here. If we distill the game down, you are trying to play several mini-games as efficiently as possible and other players are sabotaging your efforts. That means the AI should be as antagonistic as possible and get in the way of your strategy in the same way a real player would, so the AI in the solo mode will block your efforts, bump up the threshold to claim your points, and generally make it harder to complete each puzzle. As a particularly cruel, sadistic bonus, you have to choose where you want the AI to sabotage you each round. You're flicking fifteen discs in each round in the solo mode and allocating them to yourself, the AI, and the discard pile. There can be some agonizing decisions when you have to choose where to thwart yourself!
By the time we were done with testing, we had tons of player feedback forms, spreadsheets full of data, and a good feeling that the game was going to sing when players sat down to try it. From concept to release date was just about two years. Making games takes a long time!
I can't take any credit for the final theme of the game and the incredible illustrations from Tom Goyon. The Pandasaurus team really knocked it out of the park here. I might be biased, but I think this game is gorgeous. Created on a plane flying to the desert, it is fitting that the final theme settled there as well.
I also never could have finished this game without the help of my partner, Staci, my wonderful friends, Unpub, and the random happenstance of meeting Jon at Metatopia.
Preview video from Spielwarenmesse 2020:
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Giochi Uniti board game line on the global market, has signed a distribution deal with Asmodee USA Distribution.
Here's an edited excerpt from the press release announcing the deal:Quote:Giochi Uniti is well known in the U.S. market for the Kingsburg and Letters from Whitechapel game lines. Giochi Uniti is excited to bring new board games to American players, including Bar Barians, Smiles & Daggers, Royal Wedding, Midnight Brunch, and Guilds.Kinsgburg: Roll & Write is the title listed in the press release and the Giochi Uniti catalog, but the game depicted is Kingsburg: The Dice Game, so perhaps this title is being re-branded for a new edition.
Moreover, American Kingsburg's fans will soon have the opportunity to play Kinsgburg: Roll & Write, a new standalone game based on the famous long-selling game.
Most of these titles have already been released in Italy (and perhaps elsewhere), but Smiles & Daggers from Gianluigi Giorgetti and Andrea Marchi was just announced at the start of July 2020. Here's an overview of the game:Quote:Smiles & Daggers is based on one of the most famous dilemmas of game theory. The term counter-competition, a neologism invented by the authors, describes the main mechanism of the game. It is a competitive game in which victory is more achievable through co-operation, but there can be only one winner. In other words, keep your friends close, but your enemies closer!
The Lady kills the Knight, the Lord kills the Lady but gets killed by Knights. You have to choose one card to put face down in front of you. Your opponent will do the same, whilst other players are betting on the outcome. Each card has two sides: one smiling that gives you money, the other kills (if possible) the opponent.
Which side will you choose? And most importantly, which side is under your opponent's card?
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Rio Grande Games has announced the next title in its Winsome Games reprint line following the release of Gulf, Mobile & Ohio in April 2020 and the impending release of Trans-Siberian Railroad with this third title being Southern Rails from Winsome's own John Bohrer under the pseudonym "Harry Wu".
Southern Rails is a 3-5 player game that was first released by Winsome Games in 2015. Here's an overview of how it works:Quote:The game is played on a map of the southeast United States and is similar in style to many of the stock-based, cube-rail games released by Winsome Games since 2007. During set up, players spend two rounds selecting stocks from two of the six available companies, then the game begins.In April 2020, Rio Grande Games announced that Trans-Siberian Railroad — the second title in its Winsome Games series — would be a mid-2020 release. The game is nearly ready, but Rio Grande is reprinting the rules to correct an error, so those new rulebooks need to be inserted into the boxes prior to shipment.
Each turn, a player must place a track cube for one of the companies in which they have stock. The first cube of a company can be placed on any hex, while each subsequent cube for that company must be placed adjacent to another of the same color. Hexes (other than Atlanta) can have 1-3 cubes placed on them, and when a cube is placed in a city — with cities coming in four colors — that railroad's revenue increases by $1-4 depending on the color of the city.
When the tenth cube of a company is placed, railroads earn points based on certain criteria — highest revenue, fewest shares owned, most cubes on the map, and most cities of a color in its network — with ties resulting in no points being awarded for a category. (If, for example, both the purple and black railroads have the most red cities in their networks, then no railroad scores the points for having the most red cities in its network.) Each player then scores points equal to the points scored by the railroads in which they have stock.
Player order is then reassigned, and players get to select an additional stock after which they again take turns placing cubes on the board. After the fourth scoring round, the game ends and whoever has the most points wins.
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• On Sunday, July 5, 2020, Reddit user u/arankas posted the following image, writing "I stumpled [sic] upon the Pandemic Legacy season 0 box art on the z-man games website" and "I believe a CMS error/goof lists the product on Pandemic-related articles."
That listing can no longer be found on the Z-Man Games website, but that revelation was followed by the publication of this teaser trailer today, July 6:
Yes, the final title of the Pandemic Legacy trilogy from Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau will be Pandemic Legacy: Season 0. I've contacted publisher Z-Man Games and learned that more info will be forthcoming before the end of July 2020.
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Wonderspell is a new publisher founded by designers Jason Greeno and Jason Tagmire that plans to release 54-card games (submission form here), and its initial release will be Harsh Shadows, a one-player game by Rachel Bruner that she originally submitted to the 2020 54-Card Game Design Contest on BGG under the name To Catch a Spy, which is a 1-2 player game.
You can explore the evolution of the game in this WIP thread by Bruner, or read this summary of how the game currently works:Quote:As a secret agent, you've been assigned to catch an elusive spy before they get away. Search for clues and find evidence while you track the spy, but watch out for dangerous explosives!L.A.M.A. Party Edition, which I covered the other day, German publisher AMIGO has revealed information about a couple of October 2020 releases, with one of those being the newest title in Uwe Rosenberg's long-lived Bohnanza series of card games.
To set up, place nine location cards in a 3x3 grid, then place discovery cards under each location. Place three file cards near the locations, then place case cards under each file. Place decks for arrow cards and additional discovery cards nearby, along with two agent tool cards. The spy and agent cards start in different locations.Set-up with Bruner's placeholder art
In the solo game, you are the agent and go first, moving to an adjacent location and revealing a discovery card, which could be an item, clue, or bomb; item and clue cards go in hand, while bombs force you to discard. You can use a location's special ability and clues to reveal case cards under files. You might be able to place a tracking bug on the spy.
For the spy's turn, the arrow cards move the spy to an adjacent location, where a new discovery card is placed at random. If the spy moves to your location, discard a card. If you can't discard a card or discover you've discarded an item matching a case card, you lose immediately.
When the discovery deck is empty, the spy attempts to escape. You must have placed a tracking bug on the spy, have the three item cards in hand matching the case cards, and make it to the spy's current location before the spy escapes.Art from Harsh Shadows by Ben Flores
In the two-player game, which will likely be included only in To Catch a Spy, one player is the spy while the other is the agent. At the start of a round, each player chooses and reveals an arrow card, then the agent takes their turn, followed by the spy. Gameplay takes place as described above, with the spy needing to place all cards in the discovery deck before trying to escape, while the agent needs to collect the three items matching the case, bug the spy, then reach the spy's location.
In the standalone game Excalibohn, which is for 3-5 players, gameplay is much like it is in Bohnanza, except that most types of bean now have a special "magic power" associated with them. Each player starts the game with one magic card and can earn more. After planting one or two cards at the start of your turn, you now have a magic phase during which you can use potions and other special powers.
• In 2019, AMIGO debuted Richard Garfield's Carnival of Monsters at Gen Con 2019 — and you can check out extensive written and video coverage here — and for 2020 AMIGO is expanding the world of that game with a standalone design from Alexander Pfister titled Monster Expedition. Here's a summary of gameplay in this 1-4 player game that plays in 30 minutes:Quote:As the newest members of the Royal Monstrological Society, players embark on an expedition to hunt for legendary monsters, which have been spotted in the cloudlands, in the deep sea, and in the haunted forest. With ideal dice combinations, players can improve their camps, catch new monsters, and use the abilities of previously captured monsters.
At the start of Monster Expedition, players each receive a set of three supply camps, and a wilderness display is formed from ten cards. Create a draw pile based on the number of players, then place this deck in the center of play, along with the game board and dice.
On your turn, you choose one of your three camps, then goes monster hunting, with your camp level determining which dice are available. At the start of the hunt, you roll all the dice, and after each roll, you set aside all dice of a chosen value that you haven't yet set aside. If you can't set any dice aside, the throw counts as a miss and you lose the best dice you laid out previously.
When you stop, use the set-aside dice to capture monsters from the wilderness and improve your supply camps, possibly calling on abilities from monsters already in your collection. When the draw pile is exhausted, complete the round so that all players have had the same number of turns, then tally the points to see who took the biggest haul.
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Omari AkilUnited States
First published in The Manifold and reprinted here with permission. —WEM]
As the tabletop gaming hobby expands toward more diverse markets, we will see more games that surprise us — not just in their themes or art styles, but in the way that they play. That also means that the way we design has to change as well. It means that current game design standards and conventions will need to stretch, bend, and occasionally break if we want to reach a diverse audience.
This hit home for me during final playtesting for Rap Godz, a strategy and storytelling game set in the world of up-and-coming hip-hop artists, and it made me rethink some of the ways I approach game design.
During a playtest session, two of the game's mechanisms — Beef and Pick Upz — were gently criticized several times. Beef is one of the only direct player interaction opportunities in the game, with one player "attacking" another and both rolling dice to determine the outcome. These playtesters essentially said Beef felt too random since there were few ways to change the outcome of the dice roll.
Pick Upz are small bonuses collected by being the first to cross point thresholds on each of the Rap Resource tracks. The comments suggested it was unfair that those who started the game in the lead on a resource track could more easily focus on and collect all the Pick Upz on that track.
These playtesters focused on the player's lack of control during Beef and on what they perceived as a runaway leader problem with Pick Upz. I listened to that feedback but never felt compelled to change anything throughout that conversation.
My tolerance for randomness and being in an unfair position is a product of my lived experience. I'm used to taking risks, and I understand that for reasons like prejudice and systemic racism I may have almost no influence on the outcome. I'm also more comfortable starting from a disadvantaged place and finding ways to overcome these things to the best of my ability, so I don't see as big of a problem with games that let some of these concepts persist, and sometimes I connect with them even more because of it.
As I was processing this, I think the group felt their feedback was being dismissed and I, of course, apologized for that — but I won't apologize for wanting players to feel a little bit of the pain of not being in control of certain outcomes. And I won't apologize for having players feel a little bit hopeless when they are starting at a disadvantage and have very few ways to catch up.
I won't apologize because as a black man in America, I feel those things almost every day. No one apologizes to me, and I don't need them to. What I do need is more people to understand that games created by me and other minority designers will step outside the design norms previously established by a white masculine tradition in gaming, and that it's necessary and important to move the industry forward with game designs that reflect our experiences and perspectives in the world that we live in.•••
The Manifold is an email newsletter dedicated to exploring the world through the stories of tabletop games. Every week, The Manifold features thinkpieces and personal essays from writers and editors in the board game and RPG communities. Sign up for The Manifold here.
About the author: Omari Akil is the designer of Rap Godz and the co-founder, with Hamu Dennis, of Board Game Brothas, a New Orleans-based game design company that focuses on unique themes and dope gameplay experiences. Omari is also the host of "The Breakdown" and a partner at Pathways Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter: @OmariAkil.
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Neil BunkerUnited Kingdom
[Editor's note: This interview was first published on Diagonal Move. —WEM]
Matthew Dunstan, designer of Monumental and co-creator of the Adventure Games series joins Neil Bunker from Diagonal Move to discuss his approach to game design:Celebrating the release of The Great City of Rome (image: Matthew Dunstan)
DM: Matthew, thanks for joining us today. You have created many games. Can you tell us a little bit about how you first started your game design career?
MD: I started designing when I was still in Australia, around 2010 roughly. Only the year before I had rediscovered board gaming. I was playing all these new games, and I guess I was inspired by that to begin making little prototypes, replicating things I had seen already.
There wasn't really a playtesting group in Sydney, so I tried to set one up. I went to the annual Protospiel event — I had one prototype to show people — which was where I first met Phil Walker-Harding.
In 2011, I moved to UK and met Brett Gilbert, who had just signed a contract for his first game. He also lived in Cambridge, and we started to meet regularly at a pub. We weren't part of Playtest UK then — in fact, that wasn't a national network at that time — but we did regularly go to London for the Meetup events that were taking place.
Through that frequent interaction, and from the benefit of Brett's experience, I was able to become more "professional" or, at least, finish a design. I find that finishing a game is the hardest part of game design.
Once I got a design to a point that I was happy with, I entered a competition called Europa Ludi. It was a combination of events usually held separately in France and Spain. I think 2012 was the only year that they held them jointly.
Both Brett and I were finalists. Neither of us won, but later that year I found out — I wasn't aware at the time — that my game had been presented to publishers. Shortly after SPIEL that year, Days of Wonder emailed to say they were interested in publishing my game, which they did under the name Relic Runners the following year.
I guess my route into the industry isn't the easiest to replicate. However, I do recommend entering design competitions. Publishers do get involved in competitions sometimes, and there are more competitions than ever before.Evidence of international success (image: Matthew Dunstan)
DM: There doesn't appear to be a single mechanism, theme, or even degree of complexity running through your portfolio. What do you believe is the thread that links all your games?
MD: Ha ha, I really don't know the answer to that question!
I think, ultimately, I just don't want to make the same game again. Some designers do iterate on the same idea or concepts. Personally, I don't enjoy doing that. I enjoy the puzzle-solving involved in "finding" a game.
I'll have some idea of how I can manipulate pieces and I'm interested in how I can "crack the code" and make an idea work. If I have already solved a problem on a previous game — perhaps how a certain distribution of cards will work, for example — I'm not interested in looking at that same problem again.
Good Little Games line are examples of an imposed component limitation — some cards and a few tokens.
There is also a series of games in which Brett and I took the concept of a classic 110- or 120-card game and added an element of geography. The games themselves were quite small, but through the placement of cards on the table, a board began to develop.
We kept coming back to that idea of combining cards with geography. How could we mess with it? How could it be different each time? In Pyramids, there are two decks of cards, and players make a pyramid over the course of the game. Raids came from the idea of arranging the cards in a circle, which made gaining cards a much more interactive process. The Great City of Rome used a grid of cards. We currently have a game in development with Inside the Box games in which cards are used in rows, almost as outer and inner walls.
Outside of those mini component-led challenges, I wouldn't say a specific driving force links my games together other than that I like to experiment. If I had to pick something, I guess it's the intellectual curiosity needed to answer: "How do I go about making this?"Chocolate Factory before... (image: Matthew Dunstan)
DM: Can you give us an insight into your design process?
MD: I'm a lot better at the start of the process than I am towards the end. I have a digital notebook that I'll write in at least once or twice a day — a theme, a mechanism, or one or two sentences outlining an idea. From those notes, there is usually an idea that sticks with me. It's not necessarily related to the act of writing it down, but something about an idea will capture my imagination.
Once I have that first idea, I'll start making a prototype. My graphic design skills are horrible, but I'm able to put something together quickly. I usually use a computer for that. Sometimes making a prototype by hand gets you more involved in a game, but for me, making cards on the computer is fairly easy. I'm quite good at churning through to the point where a game can be played.
Once I have a playable prototype, playtesting and iteration begins. Currently I have ten or fifteen games in development. These are actual playable prototypes, not just ideas. I have far too many games on the go...
I'm a lot less skilled at playtesting my own designs — which, I think, is why I enjoy collaborating with other designers. It's an excuse to playtest with somebody else right from the very start. It also means that I don't need to rely so much on my own judgement to decide whether a design is worth continuing.
I find it frustrating when my mind sees a game much further along than it actually is, and if I had to rely only on my own feelings in the early stages, I probably wouldn't finish many things. An idea always seems better before the first prototype is made.Chocolate Factory after! (image: Antony Wyatt)
DM: You have collaborated with many other designers. What is it about that approach that appeals to you versus a single designer game?
MD: Most of my games have been co-created with other designers. I find that being able to bounce ideas off another person in a collaboration really helps with the process of iteration.
Having two opinions makes it possible to identify what it is that is interesting about a design, not only to puzzle through the challenge of making a design work. Right from the start, there is feedback from the other designer who is saying what they do or don't like about the design. Maybe we keep this part, maybe we throw another part out. Just being able to talk it through is, I find, an easy way to move things ahead.
There are some ideas that I do keep for myself — Monumental, for example. These become what I tend to think of as my "style" of game. They take a lot longer to create because although I know what I want to achieve, I don't have the back and forth from a collaboration to help move forward.Brett Gilbert, one of Dunstan's key design collaborators (image: Matthew Dunstan)
DM: The Adventure Games line stands out as being quite different from other games in your portfolio. What is unique about designing a story-driven, co-operative game versus a more traditional competitive game?
MD: It is both easier and harder. Often you just need one element that changes the structure of the experience, a mechanical twist if you like.
Maybe the structure changing element is more evocative of another medium. The Adventure series itself is inspired by the point-and-click video game genre. In that instance, it's a case of transferring the genre into mechanisms more suited to the tabletop.
Regardless of the mechanisms, narrative games quickly let you know whether they are working or not. Mechanically, they typically don't require as much playtesting as other designs. They still go through the playtesting and refinement process, but feedback regarding the nature of the experience they are delivering is quick to see.
Narrative games are ultimately about player choice. In that sense, they are not so different from a strategy game. A strategy game will present several different choices, and they need to be interesting choices. In a narrative game, those choices relate to the story being told, and that is where the difficulty increases.
The storytelling narrative side is not my forte. Narrative game designers are essentially authors, and that is an entirely different skill set. A game design approach doesn't necessarily lead to the best stories. I think that is apparent in the varying quality of narrative games on the market. They may have an interesting way to move through the story, of making the game mechanisms flow nicely, but the pedigree of the narrative doesn't always match.
The narrative needs memorable characters, the classic three act structure — this is where collaboration becomes important, so much so that future Adventure Games will be created in collaboration with published authors. It will vary by author; some are writing a synopsis, others are creating detailed text that Phil and I will weave the mechanisms around.
One criticism of the Adventure Games is that they have "game" elements — points scoring and so on — but a significant portion of the audience doesn’t care about the "game". They want it to be an experience, one that is natural enough that the game feels like you are exploring a story. To achieve that, the mechanisms, no matter how clever they are, almost need to be forgotten by the players.
This becomes even more challenging if the narrative game features a strong element of puzzle, that is, where there is an answer to find as well as a story to experience. Narrative game design is a unique skill set and one that I believe will eventually branch off into a new school of game design.Monochrome Inc., one of the Adventure Games designed in collaboration with Phil Walker-Harding (image: Antony Wyatt)
DM: Your current release, Monumental, has been a huge success. Can you tell us more about how Monumental was brought to life?
MD: Originally, Monumental was a card game. When I first showed it to Funforge, it was an entirely card-based deck-building game. Funforge, however, had a vision for Monumental that soon outgrew that format. It was such a large vision that Monumental spent a further two years in development before being announced.
We started with the map. As that developed, further ideas were incorporated resulting in the interesting hybrid that Monumental is today. The cards are what drives the game, the engine where the decisions are made. The map opens interaction between players and creates a sense of progression that would not normally be available in a card game. There is also a tactile and tactical side that, through the combination of cards and a map, is both more appealing and less fiddly than some other civilization-building games.
The action selection/activation grid was inspired by Innovation by Carl Chudyk, which is one of my favorite games. In that game, cards can be played in different positions relative to each other. This allows the cards to have variable and upgradable actions. I wanted to look at that idea of aligning cards to create combinations in an interesting way.
Eventually, I created the grid-based action selection system in Monumental, which I believe is quite original. Of course, nothing is ever truly original and independent co-creation happens all the time, which is why certain themes and mechanisms suddenly appear at the same time in games that were created independently of one another. Something in the water, I guess.Playtesting Monumental (image: Matthew Dunstan)
DM: Monumental has several expansions available. In general, what do you try to do when designing an expansion? Is it more challenging to find something that works well with an existing design?
MD: I find it easier than creating a new game because there is an existing system to work with.
I love expansions that do not necessarily add more to a game but instead subvert existing mechanisms. One of my favorite examples of that is the changing use of corruption in the Lords of Waterdeep expansions.
In African Empires, the new expansion to Monumental, one of the civilizations subverts how an existing resource, gold, is used. Not only does this civilization have a new way to use this resource, it requires other civilizations to re-evaluate their use of gold to effectively deal with that change. By altering a single thing, all sorts of wonderful new decisions are now possible. It's a new way to contextualize the mechanisms without needing to add more "things" into the game.
Having said that, the introduction of new elements can be very satisfying. Magic: The Gathering does this extremely well. Each new card released may require you to re-evaluate how you are using cards originally introduced years before. It's a nice sweet spot where players can look at new ways to play within the framework of a game, without need to learn a whole new framework."Polygonia", one of Dunstan's many prototypes (image: Matthew Dunstan)
DM: What games do you have in the pipeline?
MD: Being an independent designer is a funny spot to be in sometimes. I'm never quite sure what I can talk about and what should be left to the publisher. It's also quite difficult to know what is going to happen in a post-COVID world. Some games may get lost in the shuffle...
In terms of games that have been announced, Brett and I have a game called Web of Spies due for release with Pegasus Spiele later in 2020.
It is a game at the "Spiel des Jahres" level of complexity, for want of a better description. In many ways, family games, and particularly children's games, are hard to create because they have to be intuitive and simple to understand without you being able to keep adding more stuff. This will be my first game of this type as I'm typically into more complex card combos and so on; however, this is Brett's forte.
Web of Spies is a route-building game with an evolving network of routes. How your opponents place their spies will affect the cost of your route as it's more expensive to go to a location where someone has already been. It's a game I'm very pleased with as we have distilled the essence of it into a quick to play, simple to understand format.
Oh, I nearly forgot! The Monumental expansion, African Empires, is out on Kickstarter as we speak.Professor Evil cards (image: Antony Wyatt)
DM: Do you have any advice for anyone looking to design a board game?
MD: Enter design competitions!
Seriously, though, at the beginning of your career, it is better to finish a design than it is to make a good design. What I mean by that is that the act of finishing one game will make you a better designer than a collection of half-finished designs ever will.
Game design requires a range of skill sets. Some parts you will be great at — maybe the graphics, maybe the playtesting — but other parts will need work. That may mean you spend more time working on those areas you are not good at, or it may mean collaborating with someone who is good in those areas.
It can be extremely frustrating to have a game that doesn't work, and you can't figure out why. Finishing a game will help you identify the parts of the process that you are not very good at. At least then you will know what the problem is.
Also, try not to be constrained by what has gone before. Don't be afraid to try something wacky or that breaks the rules. Design rules are a guide to making a game, but they are not a guide to making a great game. Breaking those rules results in innovation and drives the hobby forward.
- [+] Dice rolls
Diplomacy. Here's an excerpt from an article on TechRepublic by R. Dallon Adams:Quote:AI systems have proved to be far superior to even the best human beings at zero-sum games like chess and Go. In this type of gameplay, there can only be one winner and one loser. Dissimilarly, Diplomacy requires agents to build alliances and foster collaboration.Our Family Play Games were featured on the U.S. morning television show Good Morning America in late June 2020, highlighting a few games — Ticket to Ride, Catan, and The Great Heartland Hauling Co. — and talking about the value of modern board games.
"On the one hand, it is difficult to make progress in the game without the support of other players, but on the other hand, only one player can eventually win. This means it is more difficult to achieve cooperation in this environment. The tension between cooperation and competition in Diplomacy makes building trustworthy agents in this game an interesting research challenge," said Tom Anthony, a research scientist at DeepMind.
The ability to expeditiously vanquish a human player in a zero-sum game is certainly impressive, however, a richer layering of skills opens up another world of AI potential. Our day-to-day lives involve an intricate patchwork of balanced synergies; our individual needs often packaged within a larger group effort. That said, this research could enhance agents' ability to collaborate with us and one another, leading to a vast spectrum of real-world applications.
"In real-life, we often work in teams and have to both compete and cooperate. From simple decisions such as scheduling a meeting or deciding where to eat out with friends, to complex decisions such as negotiating with suppliers or clients or assigning tasks in a joint project, we constantly reason about how to best work with others. It seems likely that as AI systems become more complex, we'd need to provide them with better tools for effectively cooperating with others," said Yoram Bachrach, a research scientist at DeepMind.
• In The Strategist, a section of New York magazine, Jenna Milliner-Waddell spoke with Liz Davidson, Eric Yurko, and Scott McNeely to highlight the best one-player games for folks who happen to be socially distancing on their own.
• Game blog For Chits & Giggles details dozens of easter eggs hidden in game boards, cards, covers, and other components.
- [+] Dice rolls