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Designer Diary: Time of Empires

sébastien dujardin
Belgium
Frasnes-lez-Buissenal
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Here is the designer diary from David Simiand and Pierre Voye for Time of Empires, the next game from Pearl Games, which will be released in stores on November 25, 2022. —Sébastien Dujardin, manager of Pearl Games

Board Game: Time of Empires

Even Before Creation...

A game, and part of a game, necessarily starts with an encounter between at least two players. So it was in the games bar in Dijon, the Dé Masqué, where we met. Regularly playing together, we noticed that we had much the same playful tastes. One day in December, David asked Pierre this simple question: "Would you like to play a game of civilization with hourglasses?" The idea came from several inspirations, and we thought there was a way to achieve something.

The first inspiration comes from the game Space Dealer, which already used hourglasses as a means of doing actions. The second is the desire to play with the passage of time to build History with a capital H; it seemed obvious for a game of civilization to use the passage of time in this way. The third is real-time strategy video games (such as Age of Empires), whose loading times are used to produce soldiers and harvest resources, for example. Finally, the last is a lesson from Fernand Braudel, an eminent historian who defined History as several times that flow at different rhythms. For example, the time of war and politics is a short time compared to that almost immobile time of socio-economic structures, and it is this hiatus that we wanted to put in the game. This is why we wanted to create "emergencies" (war, events...) whose temporality can break that of the structural one, which consists, for example, of constructing buildings in order to develop one's economy.

And so, how to make an "expert" level civilization game with hourglasses, which are more associated with party games? This simple question turned into a real challenge that galvanized us immediately. The first was to make a board game — which is a disconcerting idea when you have never created anything: How do you do it? What are the steps? What does it take to turn an idea into a game? We were getting into a civilization game, a type of game we love (as with Through the Ages to name just one of our favorites). As a result, we were going to take inspiration from this type of game and the codes of the genre, with the "style exercise" side of the game being created on our own.

But the biggest challenge was the integration of the "real-time" experience via the installation of workers from hourglasses, a simple but very strong idea. This is how the creation of Time of Empires began.

From the beginning of the creation process as well as for our other fun creation projects, we set ourselves a course to follow a rule: Keep the same state of mind by making games that we want to play and that we miss by their absence in the playful world. It is our main source of motivation and most of our decisions, our good ideas, and our game design mistakes come from this desire to make games that we like.

Alpha Prototype

A few weeks after this proposal from David, we started and quickly several elements were fixed; they will stay until the end.

First, the choice of the action system with two 30-second hourglasses: thirty seconds because it's neither too short (we have time to think) nor too long (we don't get bored), and two hourglasses because just one is useless — it would amount to simple turn-based gameplay — and more than two would be too much to handle.

In addition, we wondered how to solve the action related to the installation of the hourglasses:

• Do as in a video game: We place the hourglass, and we resolve the action at the end of the hourglass because the passage of time represents the time to do the action.

=> This first possibility quickly had to be abandoned as it led to haste and forgetfulness.

• Or put down the hourglass and activate it while it is flowing.

In short, a game that had to be refined as there were too many things, some of which we managed to easily modify, while others took us a lot of time.

The game would take place in three ages: antiquity / Middle Ages, modern times, and finally contemporary times. We like the feeling of development, of going through time.

We have taken up the classic pillars of civilization and 4X games: science, culture, production, agriculture, military, happiness, etc.
What's great in a civilization game is the duality between the need to be strong everywhere (it takes everything to have a good civilization) and the fact that the game pushes you to specialize. Here every pillar is necessary to build a stable civilization. Science provides access to development; resources make it possible to construct buildings; food to increase population; culture to make victory points.

From all these elements, we made a first ugly prototype and here it is:

From gallery of sebduj
Eureka! It works!

The game is there: The idea works...but it's way too heavy! We were far too ambitious with too many parameters. And yes, you will no longer have to deal with happiness, revolutions between governments, random events, attacking barbarians, the formation of troops in several times, etc.

Proto Refinement

We then decide to make a nice prototype (drinking too much porto wine) that we rework again and again and that we present first at game festivals: Paris est Ludique! then FLIP in Parthenay, France.

From gallery of sebduj

We then had four types of constructible buildings that provide the following four elements:

• Science (in green), which allows you to research very different technologies with various effects
• Civilians (in orange), who bring resources to build buildings
• Agriculture (in yellow), which allows the growth of the population
• Cultural (in blue), which allows you to gain victory points

From gallery of sebduj

We develop our board by adding technologies, which allows us to build buildings that help us develop.

From gallery of sebduj

For interaction, players will seek to expand their territory on the common board, possibly going to war. There are also leader and wonder cards that players compete to collect.

From gallery of sebduj

From gallery of sebduj

We go to festivals and win the FLIP creator competition, especially for mechanical originality.

From gallery of sebduj

Editorial Work

Board Game Publisher: Pearl Games
From there, to our very great satisfaction, Sébastien from Pearl Games is interested in publishing the game. We are a fan of this editor, and he is motivated to edit our civilization game in real time despite the editorial risks: good hourglasses, cost, etc.

And there, Sébastien puts his finger directly on points that we had not seen when we thought we had already mowed the mammoth. Indeed, the game remains too heavy, and some of our mechanisms even break its fundamental principle: the setting of hourglasses! For example, the technologies were very complex and required a long draft phase between ages that could last almost as long as the real-time phase.

Similarly, we were fixed on three ages of fifteen minutes...which was much too long due to two negative consequences. First, that was a lot of actions, with sixty actions per age and 180 actions in total. This forced us to design filler actions, actions with little impact and little interest in order to limit the increase in power. Second, the players ended their games wiped out. When you think about it, 180 actions is huge as most management games are played in 30-40 actions.

Thus, one of the first pieces of feedback from Sébastien was to divide by three the costs of the wonders to divide by three the playing time. We had not even realized that we could simply reduce the costs for a very similar result that would be more effective in terms of playing feel.

The editorial work started then. We received beautiful maps and graphics, prototypes that were more elegant than ours. Little by little, our game became concrete.

From gallery of sebduj

We thank Sébastien again for believing in our game, and we hope that you too will enjoy developing your civilization in three ages of nine minutes each!

David & Pierre
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Bluffing, Betting, Wheeling, and Dealing at BGG.CON

Candice Harris
United States
Los Angeles
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BGG.CON 2022 was a fun, soul-refreshing time! It was awesome to reconnect in person with many of my BGG teammates, and it's always a blast playing and talking about games with new and old friends. Unfortunately, I ended up with a bad stomach bug a few days after I got home, which was a setback on all fronts. Thus, I'm finally getting around to sharing a few 2022 releases I played at the convention and found very memorable.

Board Game: Ready Set Bet
• Shortly after I arrived at BGG.CON, I jumped into a super fun and rowdy 9-player game of John D. Clair's new horse race betting game, Ready Set Bet, from AEG. In each round of Ready Set Bet, players are making bets on a horse race that is happening real-time. You have a few betting tokens of different values that you may place on different spots or cards on the game board as each race is in progress. You are trying to bet on the horses you think will win (1st), place (2nd), or show (3rd) so you can hopefully make more money than your opponents, which is the goal of the game.

There's a companion app you can use to run the horse races, or a player can run the show by rolling dice and moving the corresponding horses on the horse race board. In our case, we had the high-energy, hilarious Grant Lyon running and MC'ing our horse races while throwing in all the best horse race banter you could imagine. We were thoroughly entertained the entire game.

From gallery of candidrum

At the end of each race, players make or lose money depending on the outcome of their bets. As the game progresses, players also gain special abilities from VIP cards. Then whoever has the most money at the end of four rounds wins.

Board Game: Roulette-Taking Game
• The very next day, my friend Jonah, who I met for the first time in person at BGG.CON, introduced me to Roulette-taking Game, which is a trick-taking game fused with roulette (as its title implies), from designer T親方 and Japanese publisher PaixGuild. In Roulette-taking Game, which plays with 2-4 players, you play tricks to bet on the rank and suit of the card that wins the last trick of the hand.

The cards come in two suits (red and black) and there are some special trump cards too. At the beginning of each round, you discard 9 cards from the deck and block off the corresponding numbers on the betting board before dealing the remaining cards to the players. As players play cards, you also block off those corresponding numbers, since the only number you're trying to deduce is the one that will win the very last trick.

From gallery of candidrum

If you're not the current dealer and you win a trick, you get the opportunity to make a bet by placing some amount of money with your player color token onto a betting space on the board. You're placing bets on a roulette style board so you can bet on the exact number, a range of numbers, even or odd, red or black, etc., and they all payout differently. If you are the current dealer and you win a trick, you use your player color token to block a betting space, but you do not place any bets/money. Instead, at the end of the round, the dealer wins all of the money from incorrect bets while the non-dealer players win money for all of their correct bets (if any).

Whoever makes the most money by the end of the game wins. Between Roulette-taking Game and Ready Set Bet I suppose my friends will wonder if my "board game problem" is turning into a "gambling board game problem"? Time will tell.

Board Game: John Company: Second Edition
• I put my negotiation skills (or lack thereof) to work when I played an awesome 4-player game of John Company (Second Edition) from Cole Wehrle and Wehrlegig Games. I wrote a bit about John Company (Second Edition) in a post from March 2021 after a small taste of it on Tabletop Simulator, but I'm so thrilled to finally have a physical copy of John Company (Second Edition) to play and explore. I've been enjoying it a lot already and I've barely experienced all this gem has to offer.

From gallery of candidrum

Board Game: Deal with the Devil
• I played my first game of Matúš Kotry's unique, hidden roles, eurogame, Deal with the Devil, from Czech Games Edition (CGE). It was definitely a learning game as I fumbled through trying to be the best devil I could be, while still figuring out the game and what I should and shouldn't be offering the other players for their souls. We had a lot of fun as you can tell from this post-game photo Steph posted on Twitter.

I went into the game thinking it was going to be super heavy, but it felt a lot more on the medium side complexity wise after we played a few rounds. It seems like the perceived complexity stems from its uniqueness of melding a social deduction game with more common euro mechanisms. On episode 5 of the BoardGameGeek podcast, I talked about John Company and Deal with the Devil with Steph Hodge if you're interested in hearing more about either or both games.

Board Game: Creature Feature
• Steph, Michael, and I also played Richard Garfield's 2022 release, Creature Feature, from Trick or Treat Studios. Creature Feature is a hand management, bluffing game where 3-6 players take on the roles of movie agents trying to cast monster actors for monster movies.

Here's an overview of how it works:
Quote:
Each round you will assign a Co-star and a Star (cards with a number value and possibly a special ability) to audition for a role (a tile worth points). Everyone will reveal their co-stars and then have the opportunity to change what they are auditioning for and instead try for lesser films worth fewer points. Winning a part scores points - but there's a twist! If your star has a lower value than your co-star, you can't win unless everyone else stops competing for that film... but if everyone DOES back off, you score extra points!
From gallery of punkin312
Photo posted by Steph Hodge

I really like how thinky this game is from the bluffing element and hand management. You don't draw a new hand of cards until the end of the season, so you have to think carefully about which cards to play each round. Plus, you don't know how many points all the feature films are worth until they're revealed, and you don't know what your opponents might play, so deciding on which cards to play is very interesting and challenging. Then after everyone reveals their co-stars, you have the whole bluffing game of figuring out when it makes sense to stay and audition, or drop a level and try to score (potentially more) points from scoring a twist and/or being uncontested for a short film. There are also a few types of special helper cards you can play at different points in the game to assist you. I'm looking forward to playing Creature Feature more. It seems like a game that'll get better and better the more you play it, as you familiarize yourself with it and discover juicy card synergies.

From gallery of punkin312
Still channeling my devilish ways...


Board Game: Take The "A" Chord
• Before heading home, I stopped at the BGG warehouse to pick up some BGG swag and a copy of the Take The "A" Chord (second edition), a unique, jazzy trick-taking game from Saashi & Saashi, which is back in stock in the BGG Store. I've been wanting to play this one for a while, so I had to break it out and play it at the airport. I was happy to find it hit all the right thinky and fun notes that I love in trick-taking games, even with only 2 players.

From gallery of candidrum

From gallery of candidrum
My cute new BGG hat!
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Designer Diary: From Zero to Six Players, Heat: Pedal to the Metal

Asger Harding Granerud
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Board Game: Heat: Pedal to the Metal
Introduction

Daniel and I have been designing games for quite some years by now, and it is extremely rare that you feel you "know" you have a hit. Moreover we have had that feeling a couple of times when we just end up being flat out wrong, so "knowing" might also be somewhat of an exaggeration. (The reality = you never know.)

Normally we shop our prototype designs around at fairs to lots of great publishers, but Heat: Pedal to the Metal just had something about it since the very first tests in the summer of 2018. Thus, we have pitched it to only a single publisher, and we even contemplated publishing it ourselves if that fell through. Thankfully Days of Wonder agreed with us not long after we pitched it at SPIEL '18. They even wanted to proceed with our artist of choice, Vincent Dutrait, whom we had already contacted.

Obviously that brief introduction makes it sound like a smooth ride to the present day. It never is smooth, and it wasn't here. Though some very core elements never really changed, the number of iterations that have been tested are staggering. We will try to take you through this journey today.

Daniel: It has been a long journey indeed, and Covid didn't help. Over the years Heat: Pedal to the Metal has been tested hundreds and hundreds of times by us here in Copenhagen, online, and traveling with it to Los Angeles, New York, London, Warsaw, Aarhus, and Paris to name a few places (and Franck Lefebvre from DoW has done the same with even more travels). One of many memorable test days was playing with Quinns and Matt from Shut Up & Sit Down at the Danish con Fastaval in 2019. At the time we thought the game was pretty close to completion. Oh, the naïveté — we still had the turbo die back then. Quinns and Matt shared their experience in episode 95 of their SU&SD podcast. Heat was called "Auto" back then.

Board Game: Heat: Pedal to the Metal

Inspiration

Through Flamme Rouge we had seen that an accessible racing game had the potential to gain an audience, including a dedicated fan group on BoardGameGeek. We figured that there could be a similar market for a car-racing game. Obviously the market is already saturated with such games, but personally I'm not a huge fan of the roll-and-move element of the biggest one out there (Formula D), and many other games in the category are racing themed, but combine racing with betting elements or similar. We figured it was the right time for a new racing game to take pole position. From the beginning it was a clear premise that we wanted a pure racing game in which the first across the line wins. I wrote some similar thoughts in my designer diary for Flamme Rouge in 2016, and most of that also applies here.

What Makes It Different?

The elephant in the room that is already being discussed is what makes Heat: Pedal to the Metal different from Flamme Rouge. The simple answer is hand management vs. deck management. For me, the most fundamental design dogma of Flamme Rouge has always been that a card is only ever played once. As soon as it has been played, it is permanently removed from the game. This represents the fact that energy is being depleted as you race towards the finish line, and it is why I have described the design as a deck-thinning game in the past. The remaining cards are discarded and eventually become available again. Flamme Rouge is essentially about managing your energy over time, and jockeying for positional benefits along the way. Draw four cards, play one, and save the rest. It's hand management from turn to turn, about current priorities and chances, with decisions that always have consequences down the line.

However, a car obviously doesn't get "tired" in the same manner as a bicycle rider. Even so, these early racing cars could overheat, malfunction, have tires run down, and encounter a number of other issues. Thus the fundamental design dogma of Heat: Pedal to the Metal isn't about thinning your deck; it is about managing it as the same cards cycle past your hand again and again, with your engine overheating and cooling down. The large hand size allows more immediate control as you don't discard the round's leftover cards. The timing of how you handle the cycling of the deck represents the various mechanical issues that you have to react to, as well as preparation for the corner or straight coming up. The cards you choose not to play don't represent energy you are saving for later in the game; they become part of what choices you may have access to on the very next turn or subsequent ones. Should I hold on to a high-speed card when there are still two corners to navigate before the long straight, or should I discard it for more flexibility in the short run? My mindspace requires more than just clearing the next corner/straight; the hand- and deck-management forces me to constantly prepare and look further ahead.

Board Game: Heat: Pedal to the Metal

Core Design

We felt that using a card deck per player coupled with simultaneous play could give us a unique racing experience, which crucially should deliver a full playthrough within the hour. From these simple premises and all the inspiration around it, lots of elements flowed naturally, and never really changed:

• We knew we wanted to implement gears and decided that the gear determined the number of cards you had to play. A higher gear would equal more cards, resulting in a higher speed — perfect to gain momentum on straights.
• Corners would obviously force you to lower your speed, depending on how sharp they were.
• In between corners, we would need straights where you could really reach peak speed.
• Different cards would have different speed values.
• We wanted some way of "pushing" the limits of your car, so that deciding when to time the push would be interesting.

Our expectation was that the above should create tension between when you would want to be in lower gears (corners) or higher gears (straights), and that the different speed values would result in both hand and deck management, causing additional tension. All this within a streamlined and intuitive card play that made sense thematically.

From gallery of AsgerSG

Daniel: The gear = the number of cards mechanism was always part of Heat: Pedal to the Metal. This image is from SPIEL '18 while first showing the prototype to Days of Wonder.

Left Along the Roadside

During that initial process, several elements we thought would be essential ended up being removed. Initially we had different types of severity of "damage", as well as brake cubes as a separate element. Eventually all of these were streamlined into the abstracted "Heat" card. Pit stops were also an initial design goal, which proved to be too cumbersome to implement. The rules for a pit stop could be pretty straightforward, but balancing it for an interesting experience inside the two laps that a race lasts proved outside our capabilities and/or the design's boundaries.

Initially we had a die that we used for the turbo boost before removing it and using the draw deck as a randomizer. Even that feature went through iterations in which all cards had a "flip value", until we simply just tied it to the core speed cards. Often when we design we are looking for the simplest rule to implement that still achieves the desired results, but just as often there are several contradictory dilemmas in what is "simplest". This design is a great example in which we initially wanted the game flow to be as fast as possible (roll one die), then changed it along those lines (flip one card). The result was that in order to avoid flipping many cards for the sake of game flow, we added new values to all cards. When we eventually ditched that ambition, the new rules removed graphic complexity and rules confusion from ALL cards, while the "cost" of occasionally flipping a few extra cards actually became a feature, not a bug.

In many ways this change ended up adding more randomness to the consequence of the boost, and even changed our stance on whether you could check what was in your discard and draw piles. (You cannot.) In all versions the actual boost to your speed had almost identical consequences from a pure mechanical point of view, but even small developments sometimes end up having cascading effects.

From gallery of AsgerSG

Daniel: The flip speed made so much sense...until we removed it and nobody missed it.

Corners

The corners are probably the single design element that went through the most iterations. We wanted a solution that slowed down players but also allowed for creative play and ways to sometimes break out of those restrictions. Considering the simplicity of the final implementation, this may seem surprising. We have tried to show many of the different versions in the photo below, but we are sure we have missed at least a few. There were a lot of minor and major iterations, and even some we can't remember the rules for! Often we find a rule that we are happy with, but still try to deconstruct it in as many ways as we can. For a car-racing game, there really couldn't be a feature we needed to consider more thoroughly than the corners. We even tested versions we assumed would not work, just because we have found our assumptions to be wrong more times than we can count and wanted to be certain.

From gallery of AsgerSG

Daniel: Let me see whether I can remember these old corner designs. A) A very early design. You had to stop in the corner zone and lower your speed to the required number, either as you enter or exit. The marker is there to help you remember when a corner is cleared. Not very elegant! B) I had completely forgotten about this iteration. One speed limit for entering and another for exiting. C) I am not sure what is going on here, but it is obvious from the huge exclamation mark that this corner is super dangerous. D) Two separate lanes. The inner lane is shorter but requires a lower speed to not spin out. E) Here we are close to the final design but with an orange spinout zone where you move your car to slowly re-enter the circuit. F) The final design. Just a number and a line.

Hand Management

Each player has a deck of cards, and each deck has 12 speed cards with three each of the numbers 1-4. The deck also has three Stress cards, which add uncertainty because their speed will be decided by a flipped card from the top of your speed deck. Normally cards can be discarded at will at the end of your turn, but the Heat and Stress cards are exempt from this, meaning you have to consider how and when to get rid of them. Time it well, and you are driving smoothly.

From gallery of AsgerSG

Daniel: I love how Vincent Dutrait expresses speed across the numbered cards. It was an idea we played around with in early hand-drawn prototypes that I am really happy survived to the final product.

Heat Cards

Speaking of Heat cards, not only are they so central that they became the name of the game, they are also the central mechanism used for breaking the core rules. Want to move a little faster with a boost? Spend a Heat card from your player board. Want to speed through a corner? Spend Heat cards. Want to skip a gear? Spend a Heat card. Once you start tuning your own cars, several of the upgrades will also require you to...spend Heat cards.

The trouble with Heat cards is that spending them isn't a freebie. Once spent, they move into your discard pile, and when your draw deck runs out, your discard pile becomes your new draw deck. Thus, eventually these Heat cards end up in your hand, and when in your hand they can be neither played nor discarded. This means they stay in your hand as a "dead" card, reducing your effective hand size, and thus reducing your control.

So how do you get the excess Heat that keeps building up out of your hand? Through the lower gears or specialized upgrade cards, you get access to cooldown. Cooldown allows you to move Heat cards from your hand back into the available Heat reserve, ready to be used again. The trick is not to avoid using Heat cards; it is to use them cleverly and as much as you can without overheating. Time them well, and you will be driving fast and breaking boundaries.

Unsurprisingly this effect entails that timing once again matters. If you have just shuffled a lot of Heat cards into your draw deck, you could be in big trouble. You could draw several Heat cards into your hand at a moment when you want to be in a higher gear playing many cards. On the other hand, if you're heading towards sharp corners and would be using the lowest gears, this might be a great opportunity for you to actually replenish your Heat reserves. Managing how and when you push your car that little bit extra is a big part of the game.

Daniel: I have often described Heat: Pedal to the Metal as 13 Days the racing game, and only half jokingly. In 13 Days you aim to push your agendas during the Cuban Missile Crisis more so than your opponent, but without going to DEFCON 1 and starting a nuclear war. In Heat: Pedal to the Metal you want to drive your car faster than your opponents around the track but without overheating and spinning out. The Heat cards are there in front of you to be used, but be careful!

From gallery of AsgerSG

Daniel: When things go wrong, you end up with a handful of Heat cards. This is extremely unfortunate on a long straight section when you want to go in high gears (insert evil laughter).

Upgrades

Daniel: This is where I step in and admit that I preferred player powers over upgrades for the longest time. I saw player powers as an opportunity to create stronger in-game characters. If the blue race car is always Tango Silva, then he'll be racing regardless of a player or the bots being in control.

So how did the game end up with 48 unique upgrade cards and no player powers? The big push came when we visited Days of Wonder in Paris in late 2019 to work on the game in their office. We saw several people being frustrated by playing a character that didn't perform well on the chosen track, even though it would outperform the other characters on the next.

We always take it seriously when people start blaming the game for their ill fortunes and want to address any underlying issues. The issue at hand was that player powers couldn't be both unique and mechanically interesting, while also being fairly balanced across the different race tracks. We had all these thoughts as we walked back to our hotel. The next morning we had decided to go all-in on upgrades and had sketched the first 20-25 rough designs before we left Paris the next evening.

The final game has 48 unique upgrades (two of each for 96 total). You draft three upgrades before each race in the advanced game, giving players thousands of combinations to explore across the various race tracks. I reckon we have probably tested twice as many upgrades and selected the best, thinking that many of these would only ever be introduced in a future expansion if the game were successful enough. When DoW decided to publish the big box, we were ready with a lot of true and tested concepts.

From gallery of AsgerSG

Daniel: During development we often laid out all upgrade cards on the table, using colored cubes to mark cards we considered too strong/weak/not interesting enough (left image). To the right, the 48 upgrades that made the final cut.

Race Tracks

As soon as we settled on a 1960s car-racing setting, we knew we wanted to create circuits where you can race multiple laps. We also knew we wanted a modular component to keep the challenge fresh if you play the same track twenty or fifty times. The solution: the weather and road condition tokens that modify corners or straights and provide a new randomized set-up every game. For example: That 4 corner you used to speed through is suddenly extra dangerous, or one sector provides more slipstream opportunities to overtake other cars, or it is raining and you shuffle Heat cards into your draw deck at the beginning, giving you a car that is harder to manage from the start line.

There are four unique race tracks in the box. The design goal for each of them was to offer the best play experience, which is why we have created our own tracks from the ground up and not modeled them around real-life tracks where our game system did not fit. They are asking you different questions, like:

• USA: Can you go into the last chicane still in contention and with four Heat cards in your engine?
• Great Britain: Will you time your speed and slipstream to clear multiple corners in a turn?
• Italy: While it is tempting to shoot through the corners, be careful not to end up with a handful of Heat cards on the very long straight.
• France: Can you cycle through your deck fast enough to be able to reuse Heat cards multiple times?

I am sure there are loads of ways to explore new track designs in the future — and hopefully there'll be a community who can challenge and inspire us.

From gallery of AsgerSG

Daniel: The very first prototype used Flamme Rouge tracks (lazy designers), but we quickly concluded that our game would need a proper game board in which you could run laps.

From gallery of AsgerSG

Daniel: How do weather and road condition tokens affect gameplay? Here's an example. Weather forecast is rain. You may draw Heat into your hand early game (bummer), but you can always cooldown Heat on the very long straight (left image). Bad asphalt in the corner. The speed limit is reduced to 1! But on the sector leading up to the corner you may slipstream extra spaces, allowing you an advantageous position as you approach the corner (right image).

Legends

From early days we knew we wanted to create bots to allow for more cars to compete against at both low and high player counts. We were also looking for a solution in which one player could easily control several bots without having to manage multiple decks and flow charts, that is, playing the game of the bots and not their own, which isn't much fun. Solution: A single deck of cards for all bots. Reveal a single card each round.

The second design goal was for the bots to behave like a human player in its most simple sense. (We had to cut a few corners.) That means if they are close enough to the next corner, they'll attempt to clear it, but only sometimes making it through. If they are on a straight, they want to move as fast as possible towards the next corner, but their top speed may vary.

The third design goal was for the bots to actually be playable by others than the two of us. More than once we made a new iteration for the bots only to have it fail miserably when met with real-life testers. In theory that bot design should work fine, but since players didn't understand how to run them, we had to come up with a better solution. Slowly we made them simpler and more intuitive with the above constraints.

The final design goal was to balance them. We wanted them to be a real challenge, while also controlling their performance to avoid having too many outliers of very strong or very bad play. A friend of ours helped us program a bot simulator so that we could tweak values and run hundreds of thousands of tests to tune their performance on a given track, tracking the distribution of rounds they would take to complete a race.
The bots are still designed primarily for players of some experience — which is why they belong to the advanced rules — as we want new players to think only about learning to drive their race car. But anyone reading this is likely to be completely fine using them from game one!

From gallery of AsgerSG

Daniel: I have run countless solo tests against bots to get the feel of opponents right. The bots are, of course, a bit stronger on some tracks. (I'll let you discover which ones for yourself.) Luckily, the difficulty level can be adjusted by increasing or decreasing their top speed.

Championship

We made an expandable core system, and from the get-go DoW was interested in making it possible for potential fans of the game to dive deep, if they felt inclined to do so. This is why so much content was ready.

For a long time we thought it would be an almost simultaneous release of two boxes, but once DoW decided to go with a single bigger box from the beginning, we and the team ended up having to decide what should go in it and what shouldn't, while trying to keep the price point as accessible as possible. Never perfect for everyone, and always hard to find the right balance.

However, the idea of adding a campaign-style experience to the game was possible without being too costly. We knew that a series of games could be linked as in the real world, with a points system based on your finishes across several races, but we wanted the experience to be a little grander, so we didn't stop there. Each such race would have an event that adds a race-wide special rule to the game, and the ten such events in the game can be shuffled and played as you wish. However, they can also be played in order across the 1961, 1962, and 1963 seasons, combining the three championships into a tailored campaign to see who would be the GOAT.

When playing in the campaign mode you gradually improve your car from race to race, starting off worse than the cars in the ordinary races and eventually ending up stronger. You fight for points in the championship, and you aim to please potential sponsors by catching the press attention when racing. Sponsorships provide single-use bonus cards that can help you win if used at the right moment.

Combine the variability of the upgrade cards with the weather and road conditions, and you've already got millions of potential playthroughs. With events and sponsorships on top, that number moves into the trillions before you would expect a repeat set-up.

Board Game: Heat: Pedal to the Metal
Daniel (l) and Asger at SPIEL '22

The official U.S. release date for Heat: Pedal to the Metal is November 25, 2022. We hope you will enjoy playing the game as much as we have enjoyed making and playing it. We truly believe in it, and the job DoW has made on production value is, as always, through the roof. Finally, we leave you with two quotes from some of the early days of racing. Quotes that we think fully apply to the spirit of Heat: Pedal to the Metal:
Quote:
Any car which holds together for more than a race is too heavy.
-Colin Chapman

If everything seems to be in control, you're not going fast enough.
- Mario Andretti
Asger Harding Granerud
Daniel Skjold Pedersen
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Fri Nov 25, 2022 7:00 am
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Become an Aztec God, Predict a Winner, and Create Tasty Peanut Butter

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Peanut Butter Belly Time
Time to go small in this post to focus on card games:

Julio E. Nazario's Peanut Butter Belly Time, which I covered in May 2022, is being Kickstarted (link) by Nerdy Nuts, LLC, the game's publisher and a specialty peanut butter manufacturer that has set an ambitious goal for this 2-7 player game:
Quote:
You are peanut butter makers for Nerdy Nuts!

Decide what flavors you want to create from Chocolate Marshmallow to Banana Cookie and everything in between, then prepare your jars and collect the right ingredients for your special peanut butter creations. You can add mystery ingredients for extra flavor, but don't push your luck too far or your sweet treats might end up too salty instead!

In Peanut Butter Belly Time, players draft ingredient cards to create jars of peanut butter. Each card also has a scoring rule on it, but only one card will score for each jar. Players may take orders from a central display if they can fulfill them, and an order replaces a jar's normal scoring. Players can also compete for ingredient majority cards.
Board Game: Linko!
• In 2023, AMIGO Games — the U.S. branch of AMIGO Spiele — will release the new version of Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling's Abluxxen in English, a new version of Kramer's Take 5! with revamped graphics (which I believe is a new version of 6 nimmt!, not the separate but similar Take 5!), and Haim Shafir's Halli Galli Junior.

Fila is a print-and-play game from Femi of Centroid Games, with a Kickstarter campaign also making physical copies available in 2023. Here's an overview of this 4-6 player game:
Quote:
Fila consists of a 21-card deck, with each card having a point value. To start, reveal a number of cards face up based on the player count.

Board Game: Fila

On a turn, draw a card from the deck and without looking at it show this card to 2-3 other players, then place it face down in front of you. After all players have three cards in front of them, write down your predictions for which player has the most points or whether there's a tie for high score, then predict how many points each player has. Players win or lose points based on the accuracy of their predictions, and whoever has the highest score wins.
Studio Tecuanis has been creating Aztec-inspired artwork, apparel, and toys for years, and it launched its debut game — NAWALLI — on Kickstarter (link) in late October 2022, with the game also being available later on its website. Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game:
Quote:
In NAWALLI, a creature battle card game based on Aztec mythology, you take on the role of a shapeshifting sorcerer known as a Nawalli to summon Nawals — allies such as creatures of the forest, ghosts, and monsters to battle in the arenas.

The game comes with four partially pre-built decks, representing Aztec gods from the four directions: Tezkatlipoka, Tlalok, Ehakatl, and Xipe Totek. In the main game mode, players select one deck, then draft a complementary team of creatures, items, and spells before doing battle in the arena.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Each creature you summon has unique abilities based on the twenty Aztec Daysigns, e.g., Eagle allows your creatures to fly one lane over to attack, Jaguar allows shifting one lane before attacking, and Snake allows eating defeated Nawals to absorb their powers.

Nawals can be combined together to create a hybrid creature with more health, power, and both sets of abilities. Shapeshifting a Nawal restores its life completely, so finish off your opponent's wounded creatures to avoid giving them a powerful play.
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Thu Nov 24, 2022 7:00 am
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Links: Unintuitive AI, Clinical Game-Playing, and Kickstarter Addiction

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Pax Pamir: Second Edition
• On Polygon, Charlie Hall argues that "[t]abletop creators are trapped in a boom and bust crowdfunding cycle", using Wyrmwood Gaming's failed Kickstarter for a modular desk as (the sole) example.

As for why this has happened, Hall interviews William Michael Cunningham, author of The JOBS Act: Crowdfunding Guide to Small Businesses and Startups, who explains that due to consolidation among banks, funding for tiny businesses is much harder to come by.

In a Twitter thread, designer Cole Wehrle responds by noting that in its ideal form crowdfunding allows people the opportunity to fund projects that they want to see exist:


Board Game: Flamecraft
• If you're curious to see what was played at BGG.CON 2022, you can explore the BGG Library check-out stats. Plenty of people brought games of their own to play, of course, but this provides a sampling of what hit the tables.

• On Ars Technica, Benj Edwards explains how a weak AI with an unexpected playing style can defeat higher-level AIs in Go, despite humans being able to beat that weak AI. An excerpt:
Quote:
"The research shows that AI systems that seem to perform at a human level are often doing so in a very alien way, and so can fail in ways that are surprising to humans," explains [Adam] Gleave[, who co-authored a paper on this project]. "This result is entertaining in Go, but similar failures in safety-critical systems could be dangerous."
Board Game: Rummikub
• The 11th Rummikub World Championships, which are abbreviated as WRC, will be held on October 20-23, 2023 in Gdansk, Poland. The event normally takes place every three years, but due to Covid the 2021 event was skipped, with the most recent event taking place in Israel in 2018.

• In an October 2022 article on Wired, Kam Burns explains how therapists are using tabletop games to help people. An excerpt:
Quote:
Role-playing can be especially helpful for people who've experienced trauma and oppression. Cassie Walker, a clinical social worker and trauma specialist, sees games and role-playing as a valuable way to connect with clients and demonstrate that therapy doesn’t have to be serious or painful.

"Trauma disconnects us from ourselves, and one of the first things we get disconnected from is our imagination and creativity," Walker says. Tabletop games allow their clients to reconnect with their imaginations, as the structure of the games provide some comfort and encourage people to start thinking about what could be rather than what is.
• Speaking of role-playing, after an election in Berlin in September 2021 marred by errors such as "long lines, polling place glitches, shortages of paper ballots, voters receiving incorrect ballots, and other issues", the German daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel "has built an immersive, in-person game with the hopes that players walk away with an understanding of how their local governments work (and possibly pique their interest in participating in the real thing)", Hanaa' Tameez writes in a Nov. 2022 article on NiemanLab. An excerpt:
Quote:
Tagesspiegel developed BVV-Planspiel, which translates to "experimental game," in partnership with the German game design agency Planpolitik. The project is managed and funded by the city's public libraries and, after an initial pilot phase, the partners plan to fully launch the game in the spring of 2023...

Planspiel centers around the made-up Berlin district of Biberfelde. The game requires at least 10 players to serve as members of the district's assembly and discuss a range of local issues. Each player is assigned to a fictional political party that's loosely based on a real one. They get a short description of who they are, what kind of values and ideas they hold, and who their character represents.

At the end of 90 minutes, the players have to come to a resolution on the issue that serves the interest of the district's residents. Hosting the game at public libraries — there's one in each of the 12 districts — makes it accessible to all residents for free.
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Wed Nov 23, 2022 7:00 am
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Design Diary: Undaunted: Stalingrad, or A Non-destructive Game of Epic Conflict

Undaunted: Stalingrad is a deep and expansive standalone game that moves the Undaunted series in a whole new direction — an immersive campaign system that plays out like a legacy game but can be replayed for very different experiences.

In Undaunted: Stalingrad, you lead a German or Soviet platoon and battle over a war-torn city in one of the most consequential battles in history. During the course of the campaign, your soldiers can be awarded for their acts of valor or they can die fighting valiantly, the city around you changes based on your actions, and your victories and defeats shape the scenarios to come.

Board Game: Undaunted: Stalingrad

At the beginning of Undaunted: Stalingrad, your platoon consists of a platoon sergeant, squad leaders, scouts, riflemen, and machine gunners. Over the course of the campaign, you will be able to add many new troops to your platoon, and you will be able to outfit your soldiers with new weapons and equipment — and your infantry won't be alone. To win in the streets of Stalingrad, you will need all the support you can muster from tanks and more. As you command your troops in skirmishes, they have the opportunity to be rewarded for their feats of bravery, with promotions bringing new roles and responsibilities as well as outfitting them with new weapons and equipment. But even though the Battle of Stalingrad offers your soldiers a chance to demonstrate their courage, it is extremely dangerous and many of the troops that you begin the campaign with will not live to see the fate of the city.

Your actions and those of your opponent will reshape the city of Stalingrad as you make your way through the campaign. Buildings will be reduced to rubble by the destructive might of the German and Soviet air forces and artillery fire. You will have to use the environment to your advantage to be successful in your battles, hiding in the rubble left behind by a destroyed apartment building, navigating secret tunnels, and forcing your opponent's tanks into your ambushes.

During the course of the campaign, you will play through up to fifteen branching scenarios, with each path driven by your successes and failures. With over 35 different scenarios in the game, every campaign experience will be different than the one before. Each player in Undaunted: Stalingrad has their own mission briefings, providing players with a story tailored to their perspective of the battle. The game includes over 150 evocative mission briefings for each side written by acclaimed author Robbie MacNiven, providing players with a story tailored to their perspective of the battle that will help immerse them in the campaign's story. And of course the game's rich narrative will be illustrated by Roland MacDonald, with over three hundred unique pieces of art.

This is the story of how Undaunted: Stalingrad came to be...

Origin

Board Game: Undaunted: Normandy
Board Game: Undaunted: North Africa
The origin for Undaunted: Stalingrad can be traced all the way back to February 2018, a year-and-a-half before Undaunted: Normandy (the first game in the Undaunted series) was released. At the time, Trevor Benjamin (my designer partner for the Undaunted series) and I had completed the design for Undaunted: Normandy and were just getting started with Undaunted: North Africa.

Publisher Osprey Games believed that Undaunted would be well received and wanted us to think about what the next game in the series could be about. In an email exchange I had with Trevor, this is what he said:
Quote:
Thematically, the game could follow the members of a single Soviet platoon, moving throughout the city. Mechanically, we could add...a sort of persistent state / pseudo-legacy thing. (The player)...saves their deck across games. Maybe?
So even in the earliest discussions about what Stalingrad might be, we envisioned legacy or campaign style mechanisms.

Throughout the rest of 2018 and into 2019, Trevor and I were focused on Undaunted: Normandy and Undaunted: North Africa, but in March 2019 as part of an email proposal to Osprey for our idea on Stalingrad, I said:
Quote:
Trevor and I have discussed what Undaunted 3 might look like. We both really like the idea of Undaunted: Eastern Front or Undaunted: Stalingrad. It would introduce the Soviets, and concentrate on urban and close quarters combat. It would also introduce more vehicles, etc.
The game was officially greenlit by Osprey in August 2019 (at the same time Undaunted: Normandy was releasing) when Filip Hartelius and Anthony Howgego — the lead developers at Osprey — commissioned the game. Their direction was that Undaunted: Stalingrad should be a "destructive legacy" game, along the lines of Risk Legacy or Pandemic Legacy.

Discussion with Osprey

Board Game Publisher: Osprey Games
A few months later in October 2019, Filip, Anthony, Trevor, and I met in Essen, Germany during SPIEL to discuss ideas for Stalingrad. Below is a list of initial ideas we discussed for the game. For those familiar with the Undaunted series, it's worth noting that at the time of this meeting, Undaunted: Normandy had only been released for a few months, the design for North Africa was being finalized, and design work for Reinforcements was still underway.
Quote:
Essen 2019 discussion: What should an Undaunted legacy game have?

Same core gameplay as other Undaunted titles
Unlock new capabilities
Soldiers get better (upgrades)
Perma-death
Perma-board state changes
Normandy (rather than North Africa) scale
Can't change combat rolls (needs to be the same basic dice rolling system)
Can't change deck-building (though we discussed that same scenarios could use constructed decks)
Core concept is supply manipulation over time
Secret objectives
Secret supply
Obfuscate end of campaign scoring
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Sappers
Artillery
Bombers
Flamethrowers

Timeline:
UKGE 2020: initial design concept complete
March/April 2021: design work complete
While some of these initial concepts didn't exactly make it into the final game, it provided us with a starting point.

Design

Board Game: Undaunted: Reinforcements
Between our meeting with Osprey in October 2019 and early 2020, Trevor and I were focused on completing the design work for Undaunted: Reinforcements. It was in April 2020 when we had our first substantive design discussion for Stalingrad, which revolved around the composition of the German and Soviet units, where they would be similar and where they would be different. We knew from player feedback for Undaunted: Normandy that asymmetry was an important — perhaps the most important — element of the game. The two sides needed to feel unique. And in addition to the general differences between the two sides, we also needed to develop a system of upgrades.

Here are the initial notes Trevor and I made regarding soldier overviews:
Quote:
• Soldier cards are double-sided. The front shows the soldier as a "recruit" — basic abilities and stats — and the reverse shows them as a "veteran" — extra abilities, improved stats, etc. The extra abilities vary both across units (Scouts have different options than Rifleman) and within units (one Rifleman within Squad A may have a sub-machine gun, while the other gets anti-tank gun).
• Between scenarios, you get to "promote" some of the soldiers in your deck, flipping them from their recruit to their veteran side.
• This will likely be done at a fixed rate (e.g., three cards per player per scenario), but it could be tweaked based on what happened in the scenario (e.g. hidden objectives, who won, etc.).
• For now at least, we think this is done randomly from the cards in your deck when the game ends (i.e., those which have taken part in this fight) (cf. Casualties, which is also random)
• Command cards are double-sided and can be flipped, too, but this only happens through scenario/narrative.
With the exception of flipping cards for upgrades (which would have required sleeves), most of this initial sketch of an idea lived through to the final version of Stalingrad.

By July 2020, Trevor and I were well underway with conceptualizing the "injury" system (which would later turn into Reserve soldiers), upgrades, scenario designs, etc. Here is a screenshot of our notes and responsibilities document from 28 July 2020:

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics

By August 2020, we had worked through the first few scenarios and drafted an initial ruleset. While none of the rules changes in Stalingrad are drastic, we did take the opportunity to make what we felt were improvements to the core Undaunted system.

We changed the way units spawned. Instead of requiring extra tokens on the board during set-up to designate spawn locations, we simplified things by ruling that units spawned at Riflemen locations, which also had the added benefit of adding some interesting in-game tactical choices. In addition, we added a new end condition for routed Riflemen. This meant that we could remove the "Beyond All Hope" rule in the game, which was undoubtedly the most confusing and least satisfying rule in Undaunted: Normandy and Undaunted: North Africa.

We also had a good sense of how the overarching campaign would work. It would be set around 9 January Square in the southern part of Stalingrad, an area that was relatively cut off from the rest of the battle. That made for a perfect location to set a prolonged conflict between the two sides. Because the tiles in Undaunted: Stalingrad map to actual locations (rather than the modular nature of the tiles in Normandy and North Africa), we were able to use a full-sized map of the tiles for our testing. This screen capture from July 2020 shows the earliest version of the campaign board. At the time we were using cards from Undaunted: Normandy to proxy the units.

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics

Between August and December 2020, Trevor and I focused all of our attention on Undaunted: Stalingrad. Usually we juggle multiple projects — other collaborations we're working on, and projects with other designers — but during this time, almost all of our design time was spent on Stalingrad. We met at least three times a week, usually for three or four hours per session. And between these design sessions we each had our own responsibilities: Trevor focusing on the rules and unit upgrades, and me focusing on the scenario designs and overall campaign structure.

In the early stages, we had multiple, sometimes competing, design goals: creating and testing new scenarios, creating and testing new units (with upgrades), settling on which new units we'd need to add to the campaign (and when they would be added), determining what impact each scenario would have on the overall campaign, etc. By September we had locked down the core rules changes, but were still working through exactly how injuries would work. This is something that was challenging for us. The injuries (which would later become the Reserve unit replacements) needed to simultaneously feel impactful, while also not feeling "un-fun". In the end, we're happy where we landed, but it was one of the most difficult parts of the design experience for us.

By December we were closing in on completing the design work for the game. We had settled on all the rules, finalized which units would be in the game, settled on a system for Reserve and Upgraded units, designed the system for damaging structures, etc. It was also at this point that we had completed the structure for the overarching campaign. In the end we had to create over 35 different scenarios to support all the different permutations for the campaign, and there were many, many different endings, depending on the result of each scenario.

Here is a visual of the scenario pathing across the entirety of the campaign:

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics

In January 2021, Trevor and I met with Osprey to brief them on our progress. We were close to completing the initial design work and ready to turn everything over to Osprey for playtesting and the beginning of development.

Development and Playtesting

Within the next few months, development was well underway at Osprey, with Anthony and Filip putting the game through its paces. At the same time, Osprey was running a large organized playtest effort. We needed lots of information from the testers: were there degenerate strategies we hadn't foreseen during the design phase, what was the overall response to the persistent effects, etc.

By mid-2021, the playtest was largely complete, and Trevor and I were meeting frequently with Anthony and Filip to make minor adjustments to units, scenario design, and the way specific actions worked.

I can't stress enough how critical this period of playtesting and development was for the game. It's what really gave it that deep look, ensuring that we — as a complete team — did everything possible to make sure the gameplay was the best it could possibly be.

The Change from Legacy to Resettable Campaign

From the very beginning of discussions about Undaunted: Stalingrad, Trevor and I were in lock-step with Osprey (that is, Filip and Anthony) about everything except one VERY important issue: the topic of destructive legacy versus a campaign system. Trevor and I preferred a campaign system, while Osprey was in favor of a destructive legacy game.

As early as May 2020, even before Trevor and I had completed the initial draft of the rules, we had developed a proposal for a resettable campaign system and sent it to Filip and Anthony for review. Trevor wrote:
Quote:
A core (if not the core) change is that effects can persist throughout the campaign. If soldiers are killed, they are permanently removed from your supply. If soldiers are promoted/upgraded, they permanently gain new abilities. If a building is destroyed, it permanently drops in defense value and blocks vehicle movement. That sort of thing.

In Essen we discussed using custom stickers and/or pens to handle this persistence. So Stalingrad would be a proper one-shot Legacy game. We wonder, though, if this is necessary. We've come up with a model which, we believe, allows us to maintain the persistence but avoid the permanence, making the game perfectly re-playable. See attached. We feel this is a much more attractive proposition for players. They can have their cake and eat it too — or rather, eat it again and again!
Filip and Anthony pushed back against this proposal, feeling that destructive legacy was the right way to go for a variety of reasons. So that's the way Trevor and I moved forward. And ultimately I feel the design was much better for it. Trevor and I designed the game to be a destructive legacy game, which meant that we could really lean heavily into a high-stakes affair.

In the end, it was not until after Trevor and I had delivered the design for Undaunted: Stalingrad that the decision was made to transition from destructive legacy to a resettable campaign. There were two major reasons that Osprey made the decision to make this change. First, the game would have actually cost more to produce as a destructive legacy product rather than a resettable game. We couldn't ask players to pay more for a destructive game than a resettable game. Second, playtesters strongly preferred a replayable game. This was especially important for Undaunted, in which you often want to experience playing on both sides of an asymmetric scenario.

Filip was the strongest proponent for the destructive legacy approach. This is what he had to say about making the transition to a resettable campaign:
Quote:
I argued the most vehemently for legacy, and I think it was largely based on making sure that everything felt weighty and full of consequence. We really wanted losing soldiers to have an emotional dimension.

However, the reasons we changed were (a) enough people, including playtesters, were asking for a replayable option, and we came up with the option of swapping out tiles and cards, and that was literally cheaper to produce than legacy, also (b) the richest legacy aspects of Stalingrad aren't the big, dramatic changes of, say, Pandemic Legacy, where there's one big rule change or dramatic betrayal, but lots of small, incremental changes. Stickering a card is fun — stickering half a deck is a chore; ripping up a card is dramatic — ripping up tens of cards feels wasteful.
In the end, this transition from destructive legacy to a resettable campaign after the design was complete was a huge benefit to the overall design, in my opinion. It meant that Trevor and I were designing the game with these high-stakes scenarios, crafting a complex web of scenario progression through the campaign — and then at the end, we were able to take that design approach and turn it into a game that could be played again and again, with very, very different outcomes.

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics
An example of the evolution of one tile: a fully intact building, damaged, and destroyed

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics
An example of an upgraded soldier (my favorite in the game, as an aside!)

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics
An example of a Reserve soldier

The Setting

Undaunted: Stalingrad is set in what was known as the northern portion of the city center of Stalingrad. This section of the battle of Stalingrad, centered around 9 January Square, was relatively cut off from the larger portion of the battle, which was situated farther to the north. The action in the game starts in late September 1942, just after the Germans had captured much of the area around 9 January Square. The game represents the actions of platoon-sized units (bolstered by supporting elements) over the course of two months (culminating around the time of Operation Uranus, when the Soviets launched a major encirclement of the German forces around Stalingrad). This location and time period is the perfect setting for Undaunted: Stalingrad as it represents a relatively isolated portion of the battle where the two forces fought for months over just a small neighborhood-sized area of the city.

I had researched this same area of Stalingrad for a different game I designed (Pavlov's House), so I was intimately familiar with the activity in the area during this time. I also just so happened to have quite a few books to draw on for additional research.

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics

Art

A discussion of the art for Undaunted: Stalingrad should really come from Roland MacDonald, the artist of the Undaunted series, but I'm happy to discuss it briefly from my perspective. First off, much of Undaunted's success is owed to Roland, who developed a fantastic look for the series that somehow manages to appeal to a broad audience, while also evoking the game's war theme. (Earlier in 2022, he did a fantastic interview with Neil Bunker of Diagonal Move discussing his artistic process.)

Trevor and I provided an overview of the battlefield area where Undaunted: Stalingrad takes place to Roland, who transformed our poor quality concept into the beautiful tiles in the final version of the game.

Here's a comparison of what we gave to Roland, and the final version of a similar area:

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics
From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics

When Trevor and I were designing the game, we used placeholder cards from Undaunted: Normandy for the first couple of sessions, but then used artless cards generated using a script that drew from a spreadsheet for the vast majority of the design work.

When it was time for Roland to start working on the cards, we didn't provide detailed art descriptions for the units. We just provided a very brief concept and Roland drew from his experience with prior Undaunted titles and his own historic research to develop the art.

Here's a comparison of what Trevor and I used while designing the game, a row of text for the card (to include what Roland used as the basis for the art) and final card from Roland. In this case, we're communicating that this is a rifleman from squad A that has been promoted to a higher rank and "inspires" other soldiers from his squad.

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics

And here's a look at the various versions of the Soviet riflemen from Squad A:

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics

Story

For the first time for an Undaunted title, Osprey hired an acclaimed author, Robbie MacNiven, to provide a narrative for the game. Rather than just provide a quick background passage for each scenario, as had been done in prior titles, Undaunted: Stalingrad follows the action with a narrative tailored for each side in the battle, focusing the story on the commanders: the platoon sergeants and squad leaders. Over the course of the campaign, successes and failures are reflected in the narrative, and the personalities of the leaders for each side will emerge.

The decision to include the evocative story is one of the many reasons that I love collaborating with Osprey. They chose to go the extra step in hiring an acclaimed author to breathe life into the game that – when combined with Roland's art – really helps set the game over others in the genre, in my opinion. Here's a sampling of the German scenario book.

From gallery of Skirmish_Tactics
A peek inside the Soviet campaign book

Release

When Undaunted: Stalingrad is released on 24 November 2022 in the UK and elsewhere outside the U.S. (and in December 2022 in the U.S.), it will mark the end of an almost five-year process to make the game a reality. From the very first email where Trevor and I discussed the idea of persistence to the published version of the game that combines Robbie's rich narratives and Roland's evocative art, the creative process for Undaunted: Stalingrad has been the most engrossing and rewarding game design experience for me. I think I can safely speak for Trevor, Anthony, Filip, Roland, Robbie, Filip, Anthony, and everyone else at Osprey when I say that we truly hope that folks enjoy playing Undaunted: Stalingrad as much as we enjoyed making it.

David Thompson
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Tue Nov 22, 2022 7:00 am
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Designer Diary: The Wolves

Clarence Simpson
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Board Game: The Wolves
The Wolves has had quite an eventful path to publication. We wanted to invite you to take a closer look at that journey with us as we share how we co-designed a game in the midst of a pandemic.

Lone Wolves No More

Clarence: The Tabletop Mentorship Program is a crown jewel of the tabletop design community. They run a service that matches up volunteer mentors with mentees across all different disciplines within tabletop game design. The program is open to everyone and completely free of charge. They matched me with my own mentor, Rob Newton, who helped me pitch what eventually became my first published design, Merchants of Magick.

Since then, I've served as a mentor myself many times, hopefully giving a helping hand to the next generation of designers. One of those times, I was assigned to mentor a passionate gamer who wanted to dive into game design. He had a lot of ideas, but hadn't made anything tangible yet. I was new myself and had only been designing games seriously for about six months, but if you know things that you didn't know when you started, then you can be a mentor, so I thought I might be able to help him out. That mentee was Ashwin, my eventual co-designer on The Wolves.

First time meeting Ashwin at PAX Unplugged 2019

Ashwin: Just being completely transparent here, with no intention of being punny, I felt like a lone wolf prior to all of this. I was/am missing home, missing family, wishing I could build something for myself. A mid-late 30s transplant in Seattle where art, music, dance and innovation at the community level is masked by not only gray skies and awful traffic congestion, but also mass transit on life support and overpriced housing everywhere you go! Struggling to find definitions in my life, I stumbled upon the Seattle Tabletop Game Designers community, a group that I once mistook for a board game meetup, but is now a group that I call family.

After being a joyous fool overly excited about everyone's projects, one person asked me a simple question, "Ashwin, where's your game?" I stopped showing my face for a few weeks. I always run away. I always do this. When adversity hits, I hit up my favorite burrito joint, play hours of Dota 2, and drown myself in box wine. This wasn't even adversity! This was just me not committing to something creative, joyful, and full of meaning that I quickly discovered about myself when I took a leap, a pounce? of faith. After overproducing a few mechanical concepts trying to show off what I found in the aisles of Michaels and Home Depot, I was guided to this Tabletop Mentorship program to sign up and be a mentee to someone who is definitely going to try to support my goals.

Clarence and I met under these incredibly unique circumstances, where if it weren't for those series of events mentioned before that led to us meeting, The Wolves wouldn't have been made, and we wouldn't have known each other. I am eternally grateful to Clarence, firstly, but I also want to give a special shoutout to the Tabletop Mentorship Program that is hosted by the lovely Mike Belsole and Grace Kendall that led to us getting together.

All right, so after a few months in the mentorship program, I had almost nothing to show for it. I was obsessing over the game Glory to Rome and wanted to do a city rejuvination game with concepts inspired by it. I was off to a coldboywinter start as while I never knew I had it in me, I was approaching things slowly, in my head, without working nearly anything out.

Clarence started to provide some guidance: "show me", not just "tell me" type of guidance. All sorts of real conversations were had to help push it out of me, but the biggest takeaway from all of this was that it's okay to ask for help, and it's a glorious thing to have a person, like Clarence, in your corner, believing in you, and attempting to hold you accountable. It was something similar to a penpal of sorts...getting to know someone cut from the same cloth, offering to be a sherpa or just a person to talk to, and we kept in touch over the weeks/months.

Oh, I remember the day. It was raining outside. I was wearing my favorite shirt and probably shorts, with my pasta water boiling over when I got a notification buzzing sensation in my pocket. Clarence asked what games I was working on and whether we could meet about a potential co-design. Grinning from ear to ear, that moment woke me right up. That was all I needed to hear. It was a pasta primapassion for those wondering what was made that evening.

I love working with others. I love building something and solving problems with others. This had the make-up of something great from the get go. We were in high spirits, and we needed a project to really motivate us, and most of all, keep us connected. We started considering different game concepts and mechanisms to work on with seemingly endless lists of random themes. With a goal of publication in mind, we looked at current games and marketability, eventually settling on basing a game on our mutual interest in wolves.

The Hunt Is On

Ashwin: Underrepresentation is a big thing for me, and not just about me being a minority, but also designing around an under-served subject matter. Shining a bright, elevated spotlight on wolves was a key driver in my desire to theme a game around them. Wolves are hunted still to this day and often characterized as vicious, villainous creatures, when they are quite the opposite. They are nomadic, territorial, and a great indicator of a thriving ecosystem. I wanted to break these harmful stereotypes, educate players about our endangered wolves, and as much as possible, make the game's mechanisms mimic what wolves are like in real life, from how they move as a pack, how they stay territorial, prowl and survey the land for what prey they typically hunt to how they make their homes near water sources.

We looked at types of wolves, and while there weren't many outside of a few regional species, most sources of material were describing wolves in a wolf pack led by a pair of alpha wolves. This clicked instantly with us as we could use wolves in different ways and maybe not asymmetrically. In certain regions, pack sizes are large, upwards of 20-30, but a loose definition of a wolf pack described them peaking at no larger than 8-12 wolves. How convenient. Pinch me. We're really doing this!

It came quickly to us. In mere hours after a 4:30am text from me saying, "Yo Clarence, you up?", we were penciling in major thematic mechanisms from wanting wolves to grow and strengthen their pack, evolve in the types of actions players would do, and hunt in this game while fighting for control of what is considered theirs. It was inspiring. Out of thin air, we found something we could really sink our teeth into.


Clarence: After settling on a wolf theme, we decided on some core design pillars. We wanted a competitive game that involved minimal randomness. We wanted high player agency and high interactivity. We wanted to support 3-5 players minimum. We wanted games to run no longer than 90 minutes and ideally closer to 60. We wanted the game to be about authentic, natural wolves and not some cartoony or anthropomorphized version of wolves. We wanted strong connections between theme and mechanisms.

We kept these design pillars in a shared Google Sheet that served as a sort of living design document and reference throughout the project. Occasionally, when thinking about what direction to take the design, we'd go back to these pillars to confirm that what we did would still be in service to those pillars.

It was almost too easy to pick a title for our game. Originally, we simply called it "Wolf". We were surprised that no existing games already used that title. Plus, it was one of those four-letter titles that seem so trendy these days.

From gallery of casimps1
Our original logo for "Wolf"

We also took some time to brainstorm all the words we could think of that might be associated with wolves. That word list would help guide what components, actions, and systems we built into the game. Mechanically, we quickly settled on grid movement and area control as key game mechanisms that made sense for controlling packs of wolves in a competitive game.

Ashwin and I also had a shared love of the game Hansa Teutonica. From the very first iteration of "Wolf", we had a core system in which you could add pieces to the shared central board from your player board, and when you did so, you simultaneously revealed upgraded abilities on your player board. That system has existed in every iteration of the game and owes quite a bit to Hansa Teutonica.

Game Design Goes Digital

Clarence: One distinctive fact about "Wolf" is that it's likely one of the first board games in which design, playtesting, iteration, and pitching was all done completely digitally and online. We never created a physical prototype or met with anyone in person. In fact, the first time we ever held a physical version of the game in our hands was when we finally received a production copy a few months ago. It was all because the pandemic changed everything.

When Covid began shutting down in-person events in early 2020 and for the foreseeable future, the tabletop game design community faced a moment of reckoning. Either designers could wait the pandemic out and put their designs on hold until some unknown day when things returned to normal, or they could pivot into unfamiliar digital spaces on Discord and Tabletop Simulator to continue creating in spite of the circumstances.

Many designers refused to take the leap to digital, but thankfully an online design community spearheaded by Gil Hova began to take shape and flourish. Although it was started by designers from New York, it quickly reached people across the nation and inspired many similar digital playtest groups that came after.

We built our first playable prototype of "Wolf" in June 2020 on Tabletop Simulator. It was the height of uncertainty with regards to the pandemic, but digital board game design was getting its legs and becoming more and more accepted. By this time, there were weekly online playtest meet-ups, online publisher speed-pitching events, and even weekend-long online playtest conventions like Protospiel Online.

From gallery of casimps1
First playable prototype (in Tabletop Simulator)

There were times during the height of the pandemic when I was unsure what would happen to board games in a world where people couldn't gather, but the rapid industry adoption of digital alternatives gave me a lot of hope for our little hobby. I also became very hopeful about the fact that the shift to digital might actually help to democratize design in a way. Suddenly, even if you lived in a very remote part of the world with no local design community or had no money to travel to conventions, you could still design, playtest, and pitch to publishers. All you needed was a decent computer. Marginalized voices had a new way to access the industry.

As strange as it sounds, I've totally embraced the forced shift to digital in this distinctly non-digital industry. Yes, digital prototyping and playtesting have some quirks, but they also have some clear advantages over in-person work. Digital allows for extremely fast iteration when you don't have to print and assemble new prototypes constantly. It allows you to network with and utilize an entire digital world of other designers and playtesters. And it makes for easy pitching and demoing with publishers without having to wait for in-person conventions. Even now that in-person events have returned, I am continuing many of my digital habits that I learned during the worst of the pandemic.

Ashwin: Digital skills were surfacing as a valuable resource, and a willingness to adapt to new, uncharted territories and vibrant communities felt like a necessary trait for which I was prepared. I have quite a unique set of skills that were able to be tapped into, and I crafted time into my schedule to be a resource for many, in addition to honing my skills to make this hobby a reality. I was attending various digital groups to learn from others how they would present, test, and work on their projects in order to implement these practices into my process. I was able to cram what could have been years of playtesting into just months, and from that, bolstered the confidence I never knew I had to exist in this space. Untethered by location, time of day, or group, I found myself in a mix of everywhere I wanted to be all at once.

How convenient! I had access to all sorts of like-minded people who want to exist in this space with me and help "Wolf" stand on its own! I will always preach: Playtest your game dozens of times, with dozens of different people. You won't know until you do that your game is ready for next steps.

Our game took various forms, and you know what — those forms were all great! Learn from those versions, and let all those ideas fly, baby! From making maps that looked like literal wolves, to mimicking 18xx and Age of Steam maps for inspiration, we were able to quickly realize the type of game we could make, and iterate live, in the moment, testing and reviewing dozens of game board designs just because we could. We could actually get a glimpse of games we knew about, but had not played and were able to compare components and table presence with just a click of my mouse.

Decisions were made, easily, with the power of co-ordination digitally, and access to an endless shelf of resources ready for us to utilize. The game Silk had these very distinct-looking wooden meeples. Let's just copy and paste them in! A game similar to Agricola had wooden donkey pieces — and they could easily be used to represent wolves! We're just playing and prototyping with ideas here, finding inspiration along the way.

I also took this time to consider what the game could look like with modular set-ups. Revisit it a hundred times with different permutations, then see what lands and what could work in a physical setting. Digitally, things won't slide or shuffle, but maybe to prevent an issue with a physical copy, perhaps we can design to have the pieces nest within each other, leaving no doubt. Using NURBS Software and the Adobe Creative Suite in conjunction with free vector and .svg sites like thenounproject, we were rolling. Now, if only we could figure out how players would meaningfully enact these wolves on the board!

Building Our Lair

Clarence: During those first design iterations, we already had most of the actions you could take on your turn. You could move, build a den, howl at lone wolves to recruit them into your pack, and mark territory by placing scent markers which also revealed upgrades on your player board. From researching different real-life varieties of wolves, we knew that we wanted the central board to be a hex grid composed of five different terrain types, each of which could support its own wolf type — but we didn't yet know what impact terrain should have on the game. Everything was working fine, but the central board was meaningless.

As days passed looking for an answer, I found myself listening to a game-design podcast, and they briefly mentioned a prototype that utilized double-sided action cards. When you used an action, you flipped it over and revealed a different action you could take next time. I was fascinated by that idea and was quickly inspired to figure out how something like that could work in "Wolf", hopefully in a way that made terrain meaningful.

I started by giving each player five double-sided terrain cards — much like the tiles in the published game — but they were only for movement. To move through grass hexes, then forest ones, you had to flip one grass and one forest card. I also wanted to be able to flip two matching terrains to move a nature spirit component we had at the time.


Soon after, the way movement worked was tweaked and the nature spirit was scrapped, but the idea of flipping terrain cards to move and flipping multiple matching terrain cards for more powerful actions remained — and it ultimately became the core of what I consider the most unique and interesting system in The Wolves.

Ashwin: You're not wrong, Clarence! Okay, so wolves don't literally pick up pieces of terrain and flip them, but a mechanical hook that leaned into a very popular typology in games, and a heuristic gamers of all kinds can understand — flip this, it becomes that — really helped expedite the feel we wanted in this game.

We quickly glanced at a game called St. Petersburg in which the cards file down and clog up when players are not interacting with them. Before we figured out that five terrain cards were what we wanted, we played around with a deck of cards, as well as cards that were played and arranged, but quickly we became deranged.

We wanted the actual execution of actions to be snappy, quick, and serviceable. Approaching each action may take a quick sweep of the game state, but each action was purposeful and, with the action system implemented, intentional.

So yes, as Clarence mentioned above, we landed on five double-sided terrain cards and quickly made these cards to match the types of terrain, delivering a system in which both sides of the tiles represented a unique sequence. The dark green wolves had grass turn into forest, and another card turning forest into ice, while the light blue wolves had ice turn into desert, and ice turn into grass. With these overlaps, each faction will inevitably be fighting for different types of terrain, but this felt off in one aspect: Shouldn't the dark green wolves have an easier time in their dark green habitat? While we struggled initially with the fluidity of the mechanism, we were determined that we could find an answer that both improved player agency and added tension to the puzzle to make it feel rewarding. To the digital drawing board!

Awoooo

Clarence: Once we had the core action system figured out, it quickly became our and our playtesters’ favorite part of the game. The constant mini-puzzle on your player board was just the right amount of challenge to keep every turn interesting. The game was starting to sing.

We continued to test and iterate over the next few months. We added a faction-specific sixth terrain card to each player, giving the game just a hint of asymmetry. We added the powerful three-terrain dominate action that provided conflict, tension, and memorable moments. We switched from a static central board to modular tiles that could expand with player count. We introduced wild terrain tokens, bonus action tokens, and countless other minor tweaks.



However, we were still missing one crucial piece. We didn't know how the game would end. We initially thought the game would end based on a player placing all their wolves or dens. What actually happened was that for the first ten or so playtests, we just called the game after an hour when it was clear we weren't going to reach the end trigger within our desired playtime. The answer, it turns out, was moonlight.

From the first day of brainstorming we thought about having some sort of timer element related to moon phases. As we were searching for an endgame trigger, it seemed like a good time to revisit that notion, so we made a moonlight tracker board that looked a bit like a calendar and put moon phases on certain dates that would trigger scoring of certain regions on the board. Players would control the timing because every piece that came off the central board would move to the moonlight tracker, advancing it to the next date.


It was exactly what the game needed. It gave players agency and a reason to go to a region quickly. It created the sense of migration that is key to the finished product. Most importantly, though, our playtests now actually started to finish within our desired playtime!

Ashwin: This is the meat and potatoes of The Wolves story! You were fed a few appetizers, a glass of wine with notes of tree bark, but this is the main course. The SIXTH Terrain Card! People! This completely changed our game for the better. What was sticky started to feel smooth. Players were able to work with the puzzle, but not be hamstrung because of it. Players could create combinations now, prepare for future turns, and also uncover contingency plans, knowing that their cards won't change, but the drama of what happens on the game board inevitably will!

Most area-majority games come with a feeling of withholding and passivity. What's mine is mine, and if I show aggression, it often benefits the other players. With a pillar of design being engagement and interaction, starting players off in their corners of the world seemed a bit off-putting.

Early in development, we came up with an idea in which players start in the middle, in each other's way from the jump. Listening to feedback and revisiting conversations of our own, we determined that the pair of alpha wolves needed to split off and not necessarily clump up. We wanted players on their toes, sure, but also as a means of flexibility to have options on which action to take when. We created a chasm or donut hole in the middle of the central tile and forced players to split up their alpha wolves. Thematically, this works as often one is hunting, while the other is training or nursing the pack. While grouping up could still inevitably happen, this was now a choice we are giving the players to add to their strategy.

Beyond the elegance and beauty that the game presents in its appearance, which was beyond our wildest dreams by the way, we wanted the game to feel elegant — elegant in that nothing was out of reach or inaccessible and that everything happened to have a purpose. No long-term artificial aspects were talked about as wanting to find its way into the game.

The region tiles, as mentioned before, took on many forms. The patterning math behind it all was set to five players, with every combination appearing twice, but no region tile had the same exact patterning. Intentionally, the free action of hunting prey happens around multiple terrain types, which means it takes more actions to surround the prey. Keeping prey token accrual as unique and not repetitive meant that all wolves had to keep moving, allowing for planning and preparing for future turns while also staying present in your current state of affairs.

We tuned the game to create more story and arc. We added and affixed extra action tokens to hunting prey to give permission to players to go crazy and have everlasting memories and moments in games that often miss the intention of why games exist. Similarly, as mimicry often leads to stagnation, offering another path towards extra exciting and potentially threatening future actions through the use of wild terrain tokens gave players the chance to compete and get out of any possible tricky spot easier, potentially even ramping up the pace of the game.

Lairs being required to be next to water features was a way of guarding players against themselves because if lairs could be built on edges of the map, it could lead to stale game states. By going into each region tile, it enriched the meaning and intentionality to do these actions over others. I could keep going with all the subtleties, but through each iteration and revision, things felt cleaner, refined, and cared for, which reflected how players were feeling.

Finding Our Pack

Clarence: We were now getting consistent positive feedback on the game. Playtesters unfailingly mentioned our action system as the most unique and interesting thing about the game, but maybe more importantly, we finally knew how the game would end. That was the last missing piece before starting the pitch process and looking for potential publishers.

We looked for publishers that had done medium-weight games, had done an animal theme, had done area control and/or grid movement, and had a good track record with their production values. There actually weren't a huge number of publishers that fit all these criteria. We ended up picking out about a dozen publishers and, starting in October 2020, sent out pitch e-mails with a sell sheet and overview video.

From gallery of casimps1
Our checklist to prep for pitching

About one-third of the publishers never replied at all. Another one-third said "no". Some had full production pipelines. Some didn't want to publish a wolf theme, but also realized that changing the theme would likely do it a disservice. Some said the idea didn't excite them or didn't fit their plans. But the last one-third were curious about the game and wanted to spend some time evaluating it.

Around this same time, there were a few programs emerging that were trying to help designers get matched up with publishers in this new digital world brought on by the pandemic. We entered "Wolf" into the Board Date Project and The Pitch Project. "Wolf" was selected for the Board Date Project, but we received no contacts from publishers. "Wolf" wasn't selected at all for The Pitch Project. This was pretty disappointing, but we still had a lot of faith in the game.

About a month later, Heather O’Neill of 9th Level Games ran another one of her great Publisher Speed Pitching events. It was at this event that we got to pitch "Wolf" to Alex Cutler at Pandasaurus Games. After demoing the game, Alex was immediately enamored with the terrain-flipping action system and felt like "Wolf" could fit well in their line-up and be developed into a published product with minimal mechanical changes. After a demo with the owners, we were given an offer to sign the game! We also received a comparable offer from a second publisher, but Pandasaurus was a bit higher on our list, so we decided to become part of the Pandasaurus family.

A Wolf in Pandasaurus Clothing

Clarence: After signing, Alex took the lead on development of the game. He liked most of what we had designed and didn't want to make any broad, sweeping changes. It would be more like tweaking rules and massaging numbers.

For most of our design process, we had felt that the interaction between players was key to the fun of the game, and that you needed at least three to get that interaction, so we pitched "Wolf" as a 3-5 player game. However, there was a strong preference from Pandasaurus for adding two-player support, if possible.

Luckily, one of the very last things we did before signing the game was trying it once at two players with no rules changes, just to see what would happen. To our surprise, it didn't completely break or fall apart. It was still an enjoyable game, but it did have some quirks. Alex ironed those quirks out with some special rules for a two-player variant, including tweaked score values and a neutral wolf pack.

Alex also added bonus tokens and VP to the attribute tracks. He also simplified the distribution of prey tokens. Originally, we had a rule that two opposing pieces could never occupy the same hex. Alex introduced the concept of pushing and the piece hierarchy to allow for more interaction.

From gallery of casimps1
An early 3D rendering to explore what the board and pieces could look like

There were also a few non-mechanical changes that needed to be made. The double-sided terrain cards would become thick punchboard tiles. That would make them much easier to handle once they finally existed in the physical world.

Scent markers would also need to be changed because dominating a scent marker by howling doesn't quite make sense. Also, there was never a good plan for what a scent marker would actually look like as a wooden piece. The team eventually settled on changing scent markers into small dens and dens into large lairs. This change meant the end of all the pee jokes that inevitably happened during the prototype versions of the game.

Of course, I can't talk about the production process without mentioning Pauliina Linjama. Pandasaurus brought her on to do the art, and we could not be more thrilled with the work she created. It really takes the game to another level. The wolf eye box cover is jaw-dropping and is consistently one of the first things to draw people in.




With a sold-out debut at SPIEL '22 and a brief trip to the top of the BGG Hotness charts, it's been quite the whirlwind journey for us and The Wolves. We are both very proud of the finished product, and we're excited to see it soon on your gaming tables!

Clarence Simpson and Ashwin Kamath

[Editor's note: I'm aware of the Nov. 16, 2022 Dicebreaker article regarding accusations of non-payment by and "a toxic environment" at publisher Pandasaurus Games, but Clarence and Ashwin started working on this diary months ago, and I want to give them a chance to tell their story. Please direct any comments about the publisher's business practices to this thread instead of posting them here. —WEM]
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Fri Nov 18, 2022 7:00 am
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Age of Annihilation Averted; HeroScape on Hold

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: HeroScape: Age of Annihilation
In August 2022, the Hasbro studio Avalon Hill announced HeroScape: Age of Annihilation, a new standalone game from a design team led by Craig Van Ness that would be fully integrable with previous HeroScape titles.

At the start of October 2022, Hasbro launched a crowdfunding campaign for HeroScape: Age of Annihilation on its own Hasbro Pule site, and the $250 price tag for the "Vanguard Edition" (i.e., the only edition) caught a lot of people by surprise given the retail price of earlier HeroScape sets.

When the crowdfunding campaign ended on November 15, 2022, more than 4,300 people had backed the project — committing more than US$1.08 million dollars — but that number was just over half of the 8,000 backers that Hasbro required to meet its funding goal.

Many publishers regroup and relaunch when their crowdfunding projects don't succeed, reworking their financial targets or adjusting the game itself to make it a more attractive package for backers, but Hasbro has instead announced that it will move on to other projects for the time being:
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What's next for HeroScape?

Our unfortunate answer is... nothing. As we said during the campaign if this project doesn't meet its goal, we won't be able to produce Age of Annihilation. That has not changed. HeroScape as a project will be shelved, and there are no current plans to attempt a resurrection at this time. The Avalon Hill team will refocus our efforts on the exciting games we currently have coming soon, such as the next HeroQuest Game System expansion, Mage of the Mirror, or the upcoming Yawning Portal D&D strategy board game.
We've all been saved from annihilation! Hurrah?

From gallery of W Eric Martin
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Thu Nov 17, 2022 6:02 pm
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Links: Overprinting Magic, Surviving Industry Challenges, and Competing for CATAN

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Imperial Steam
Imperial Steam from designer Alexander Huemer and publisher Capstone Games has won the 2022 Jogo do Ano, Portugal's game of the year award, beating out the other nominees: Ark Nova, Coffee Traders, Golem, and Messina 1347.

If you're curious about Imperial Steam, Candice Harris covered the game in depth in December 2021.

Board Game: Magic: The Gathering
• The value of Hasbro stock fell in mid-November after Bank of America analyst Jason Haas downgraded the stock twice from "buy" to "underperform". From CNBC: "The move comes after BofA conducted what it calls a 'deep dive' on Hasbro's Magic: The Gathering trading card game business. BofA said Hasbro has been overprinting cards and destroying the long-term value of the business."

John Ballard at The Motley Fool had a longer article on Hasbro's status, noting that "Magic is estimated to make up over a third of the company's adjusted operating profit, so if sales were to fall, it would be problematic for Hasbro's business. The analyst cited feedback from players and store owners who said Hasbro is over-distributing cards to drive up sales, but this could backfire in the long run if players grow tired of chasing down more and more cards."

• The 2022 CATAN World Championship takes place November 18-20 in Valletta, Malta, with 87 contestants from 48 countries participating in the event. The CATAN World Championship is normally held every two years, but the 2020 event was cancelled due to a worldwide sheep shortage. The CATAN website will livestream from the event starting on November 20.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

From gallery of W Eric Martin
• In August 2022, Charlie Hall of Polygon interviewed Jonathan Ritter-Roderick of Lay Waste Games, who had just been promoted within Kickstarter to senior outreach lead for tabletop. An excerpt:
Quote:
"My goal at Kickstarter is to pass off the knowledge that I have and, if I don't have the knowledge, get people in touch with those who do," he said. "My hope is to kind of make sure that people are as informed as humanly possible, and that will turn help them be as successful as possible."
• SPIEL '22 hosted a panel to discuss various crises in the game industry, such as raw material shortages, supply chain issues, energy costs, and so on. The guests were Frank Jaeger, who handles product development for manufacturer Ludo Fact; Udo Fischer, sales director for Asmodee GmbH; and Matthias Nagy of Frosted Games and Deep Print Games. (The discussion is in German, but you can probably set subtitles to the language of your choice.)

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Wed Nov 16, 2022 7:00 am
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Destroy Rebel — or Empire! — Bases, Then Build Squads for Star Wars: Shatterpoint

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Star Wars: The Deckbuilding Game
In case you thought that the number of games based on the Star Wars franchise was two short of the ideal number, then you'll be pleased to know that the gap will be filled in 2023.

Star Wars: The Deckbuilding Game, due out in March 2023 from Caleb Grace and Fantasy Flight Games, takes a straightforward approach to the central Star Wars conflict, with two players each trying to eliminate the other as a force in that universe:
Quote:
The Rebel Alliance fights valiantly against the tyranny of the Galactic Empire. Each new victory brings the Rebels hope, and each heroic sacrifice strengthens their resolve. Still, the Empire's resources are vast, and the firepower of its Empire Navy is unmatched. With neither side willing to accept defeat, their war rages across the galaxy...

In Star Wars: The Deckbuilding Game, a head-to-head game for two players, the galaxy-spanning war between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance comes alive on your tabletop. In this easy-to-learn game, you and your opponent each choose a side, playing as either the Empire or the Rebels, and as the game progresses you both strengthen the power of your starting decks and work to destroy each other's bases. The first player to destroy three of their opponent's bases wins.

In more detail, each player starts with a unique ten-card deck, with seven of those cards providing only resources to acquire new cards. Six cards from a galaxy deck are always on display, with Rebel cards facing the Rebel player, Empire cards the Empire player, and neutral cards turned sideways. You can spend resources to acquire cards in the galaxy row that don't belong to the opponent, and you can use attack power to take out cards that do belong to them, gaining a reward in the process.

Board Game: Star Wars: The Deckbuilding Game

Each player starts with a base that lacks abilities (Dantooine for the Rebels and Lothal for the Empire), but when that base is destroyed, you get to choose a replacement from your base deck, with each base having a special ability. Choose wisely to counter your opponent's plans! In addition to having special abilities, capital ships absorb damage meant for your base.

Players also fight for control of a Force track to gain additional resources or make use of "If the Force is with you..." abilities on their cards.
The other title is Star Wars: Shatterpoint, a two-player miniatures skirmish game from Atomic Mass Games, which also publishes Star Wars: X-Wing (Second Edition) and Star Wars: Legion. Here's an overview of this June 2023 release:
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Star Wars: Shatterpoint lets players alter the fate of the galaxy from the Core Worlds to the Outer Rim.

Board Game: Star Wars: Shatterpoint

To start, each player builds a strike team of iconic Star Wars characters, whether thematic squads straight from the Star Wars galaxy such as Ahsoka Tano and Bo-Katan Kryze, or Lord Maul and his loyalist super commandos, or a custom squad that's optimized to complete the various mission objectives for the current game. You then pit your squad against another one, using your characters' special abilities and diverse combat skills to control the flow of battle as you race to complete dynamically evolving mission objectives.
And here's a teaser video from Atomic Mass Games that shows off miniatures from the game:

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Tue Nov 15, 2022 5:00 pm
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