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New Game Round-up: Escaping from Alcatraz, Excelling as The Beheaded, and Erasing Minds in Dungeon Mayhem

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• Hanno Girke of Lookout Games reports that the long-awaited reprint of Uwe Rosenberg's Ora et Labora has been produced, with English, German, and Korean editions of the game due to hit stores whenever copies make their way to distribution outlets.

• All I know about video games, I learn through their adaptation into tabletop games, as with Level 99 Games' introduction of The Beheaded into its Exceed Fighting System. The Beheaded comes from the video game Dead Cells from Motion Twin, and as that character, you "adventure through an ever-changing castle of monstrous foes as you endeavor to solve the mystery of your own death and the mysterious illness that plagues the kingdom".

Exceed: The Beheaded is a solo character available only directly from Level 99 Games online or at conventions, with this character able to be pitted against any other in the Exceed game system.

• To follow up yesterday's news of KOSMOS' ever-expanding Exit line of games, Italian publisher dV Giochi has announced two new titles in its Deckscape line of escape room games, a series that has sold 600,000 copies of its six titles to date.

In 2020, dV Giochi will release title #7 in this series designed by Martino Chiacchiera and Silvano Sorrentino: Deckscape: Escape from Alcatraz, with the imprisoned players getting to choose whether to release other prisoners in exchange for help — assuming you can trust those crooked souls, that is.

Deckscape Duel: Pirates' Island, another 2020 release, twists the Deckscape formula by adding a competitive element to the game. Players split into two teams and try to correctly solve the puzzles before the other team does, with the puzzle-based mini-games being specially designed for a competitive experience.

• Another game line being extended in 2020 is Dungeon Mayhem from Wizards of the Coast, with Dungeon Mayhem: Monster Madness including rules for playing the game with up to six players as well as six decks that allow you to take the role of six D&D monsters, from Dr. Tentaculous the mind flayer and Mimi LeChaise the mimic to owlbear Hoots McGoots and beholder Delilah Deathray. This game, which can be played on its own or combined with earlier Dungeon Mayhem decks, is due out February 14, 2020.

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KOSMOS 2020: Save Dodos, Build a City Worthy of Legacy, Explore Andor with Kids, and Exit from Even More Terrible Situations

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• German publisher KOSMOS reports that it's sold 4.5 million titles in its Exit: The Game series of escape room games since their debut in 2016, so as you might anticipate, more are on the way in 2020.

The basic line will be expanded with EXIT: Das Spiel – Der verwunschene Wald ("The Despised Enchanted Forest"), a title aimed at beginners set in "a fairytale world full of surprises", and EXIT: Das Spiel – Der Friedhof der Finsternis ("The Graveyard of Darkness"), with advanced puzzle solvers needing to banish the mystery from an eerie crypt.

In Q2 2020, fans can look for EXIT: Das Spiel + Puzzle, which offers players "four challenging and surprising puzzles and an exciting adventure story, in addition to the tried-and-true EXIT puzzles"; two different EXIT: Das Spiel + Puzzle titles will be released, one for beginners and one for advanced players.


While we're still on the north side of Christmas in 2019, you can look ahead to Christmas 2020 for the release of EXIT: Das Spiel – Der Adventskalender and EXIT: Das Buch – Der Adventskalender, with the former including 24 original puzzles at a beginner's level that lead the solver through an adventure story and the latter allowing the reader to puzzle their way through a juvenile detective story.

• Not content to dominate the KOSMOS catalog through Exit titles alone, designers Inka and Markus Brand are also behind Andor Junior, a standalone game aimed at players aged seven and up. A short description:
Quote:
In Andor Junior, you slip into the roles of warrior, mage, dwarf, and ranger to move across the land and save the lost wolf cubs. You can win the game only if you work hand in hand and make wise decisions.

Each game offers new challenges, which you must master together before the dragon reaches Rietburg.
• Aside from those titles, KOSMOS has announced a Q1 2020 release date for My City from Reiner Knizia, this being a competitive legacy game in which you develop a city on your own playing board through the ages. From the publisher: "Over 24 game levels, you experience new challenges again and again. Innovative, simple and, due to the short playing time, super suitable for families!"

• KOSMOS has also released info on the co-operative game Dodo from Frank Bebenroth and Marco Teubner, a design for players aged 6+. I imagine that the video overview we'll record at Spielwarenmesse in February 2020 will be ideal for demonstrating gameplay, but for now we have this write-up:
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Speed is of the essence in the co-operative game Dodo as the bird has laid its egg on the highest mountain peak, but then unobservantly let it fall out of the nest and towards the cliff...

By using teamwork, you can bring the rolling egg safely to the foot of the mountain! Quickly roll the building material you need, collect hammers and nails, and attach bridges to the sides of the mountain. If you manage to steer the egg safely into the lifeboat, you've won together.
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Wed Dec 4, 2019 1:00 pm
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Publishing Diary: Lair, or It's A Long Story

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It's currently Saturday night, a couple of hours after a Friendsgiving day full of creamed ham and playing the fifth round of a game I like to call: "What Else Can We Fit Into a Food Processor to Make a Spread?" The answer to that is anything that can fit into a food processor and can be mixed with fat or some kind of liquid substance. I'm sitting here on a grey couch with cheese stains and a sequined Nicolas Cage face as I type this out. Why am I telling you all of this? W. Eric Martin reached out to me a while ago to write this publisher diary. He's wonderful, and he's great to chat with, but I'm also on my third helping of processed food spread — which is also why I think right now is the best time for me to write this diary. (Sorry, Eric.)

Now that you know me as the food drunk narrator behind this, let me formally introduce myself. My name is Banana Chan. I'm the owner of a small box board/card game publishing company called Game and a Curry. I also write RPGs (larps and tabletop), flavor text for board games, and short stories. I'm a Capricorn, and that should tell you a lot about me.

It's Honestly All About the Lasers

I got my start in board games about seven years ago. My partner Herb and I wrote reviews of games and restaurants. (Hence the name "Game and a Curry"; we spent a lot of time in Japanese curry houses back in the day.) During that time, we also met many people in the board game industry.

One of those people was Tam. He showed us his game, Lair, which was (and I quote) "a big game in a little box". It's a worker placement game that's easy to understand and set up. Players are super villains who are trying to keep their super villain boss happy by building out this underground (wait for it) lair. You have minions who will do all the heavy lifting for you, building rooms with both laser sharks and regular lasers. As you burrow deeper and deeper into the ground, you also get closer to the end of the scoretrack. The person who reaches the end first wins. The game looked great and played great, and I was really impressed.


Getting to Know Yourself

Back then, I was also struggling with my mental health. Anxiety is one hell of a state to be in. Things were slow to start, and I was no stranger to the occasional nervous breakdown. Coming from a studio art background, I felt my world was caving in; I wasn't creating as much as I used to in art school. When I got my graduate degree in management, I got even worse.

But I didn't stop going to conventions. I found myself getting closer to RPG and storygaming folx. I started writing and creating again after a couple of years of creative neglect. I also discovered something called therapy...which was hit and miss the first, say, seven therapists I saw. But when I finally found the right match, I got focused.

Around this time, I also discovered that I wanted to get into publishing. Not for the money because, let's face it, it's hard to make money in this industry as a small indie, but to get my designer friends' games into people's hands. I wanted to provide people with interesting experiences through games, whether through board games or roleplaying games.

Our first game, Yeah! Diamonds by Dave Beever and Bryan Soriano, was small and easy for kids and new gamers to pick up. Our second game, Judge Dredd: Block War by Herb Ferman, was for an older audience, and it got us to a place where we felt comfortable with moving forward with more games — and that's where Lair came back in. It had been six years when we realized the game still hadn't been picked up yet. We played the latest iteration, and we realized, hey, maybe we have the funds to do this. And we did. This introductory worker placement game has honestly been in the works for years. (Heck, the New York gaming group will tell you.) And that's when we finally said enough was enough and signed a contract with Tam to get the game onto shelves.

The Process

I won't bore you with all the details, but think of it like a heist movie. You have your team: Tam, the designer himself, the strategic one with the brains, who's a bit of a mad scientist himself. You've got Udara Chinthaka, the artist, focused, yet flexible with different styles. Hayley Birch, the editor — detail-oriented, wise, and in need of more screen time in this movie. Next you have Herb Ferman, the graphic designer, the guy who talks to printers, think of him as the muscle. And then you have me. Think of me as George Clooney.

Like any good heist movie, this is the part where Clooney tells you the plan. After multiple rounds of playtesting, developing, and iterating, the game finally got to a good place. The art was ready, the editing was all set, and then it was sent to the printers. Now we've got our first few units ready for PAX Unplugged 2019, with the rest of the games on their way over, but the movie's not over yet. Now we see whether our hard work pays off.

I could say that the publishing journey is simple, but it isn't. It's time-consuming, it's energy-draining, and you never know what will happen — but it's incredibly rewarding because this isn't just a business; it's building a community and sharing the things that you enjoy, kind of like how you can't have just one Nicolas Cage sequin pillow. You need to cover your couch with them, so visitors can thoroughly enjoy the Nic Cage...

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Tue Dec 3, 2019 1:00 pm
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New Game Round-up: Key Signs of 2020 as We Roll Out 2019

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• Just ahead of GridCon, a convention run by Paul Grogan of Gaming Rules! from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1, 2019, designer Dávid Turczi‎ posted a teaser image of Keyfoundland, a game he's co-designing with Richard Breese of R&D Games.

No details on the gameplay, so consider yourself teased...

Turczi's comment: "Let wider playtesting begin...."

• Along similar lines, designer Stefan Risthaus notes that Level X, which was published in 2010 as part of Schmidt Spiele's "Easy Play" line, will be released in a new edition in 2020.

Chronicle Books is primarily a book publisher, but recently it's been releasing a handful of games each year aimed at a mainstream audience. For 2020 it plans to release at least five games, two of which first appeared in other editions: Cat Rescue, a slide-three-style card game by Ta-Te Wu and Sunrise Tornado Game Studio, and Karmaka, a game about advancing up the karmic ladder to achieve transcendence from Eddy Boxerman, Dave Burke, and Hemisphere Games.

New titles in Chronicle Books' 2020 line-up include:

Aunt Agatha's Attic from Doug Levandowski, with 3-6 players trying to negotiate their way to the best collection of stuff.
S'Mores Wars, a 3-5 player game from Prospero Hall in which you race to create card-based s'mores.
Play the Patriarchy, a Cards Against Humanity-style party game from Beth Newell with adults trying to string together Subject, Verb, and Descriptor cards in humorous ways.

• Joey Schouten, one of the editors of Dice & Ink: A Roll & Write Anthology, is embracing that game genre even further with a roll-and-write Christmas card. For a grand total of US$1, you can purchase the files for yourself, then print cards of your own to send to others. Ho-ho-hope you roll what you need!

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Mon Dec 2, 2019 1:00 pm
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New Game Round-up: More Fantastic Factories, More Evolving Zombies, and More UNO for More Players

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Time for the annual inbox clearing, with short takes on many announcements that got stuck in the convention gears and dislodged only now:

Fantastic Factories, the first title from designers Joseph Z Chen and Justin Faulkner and publisher Metafactory Games, was Kickstarted in mid-2018 and reached backers in October 2019 — at which time Deep Water Games announced that it had partnered with the company to release the title on a wider basis to retailers starting in January 2020. An overview of the game:
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In Fantastic Factories, you race to manufacture the most goods or build the most prestigious buildings. There are elements of dice rolling, worker placement, engine building, resource management, tableau building, simultaneous play, and some card drafting. Each round is split into two phases, the market phase and the work phase.

During the market phase, you choose to either acquire a new blueprint for free or pay to hire a contractor. Blueprints are used to construct new factories during the work phase. Contractors can be used to reinforce your strategy by providing resources or allowing you to roll additional dice. You need to be mindful of what cards are available in the marketplace and the strategies your opponents may be pursuing.

During the work phase, all players simultaneously roll their dice and use their dice as workers to run factories. Factories start as blueprints and need to be constructed. Once constructed, each factory can be used once each turn. Worker placement can happen in any order and figuring out the correct sequence can enable a powerful chain of actions. Additionally, you can build training facilities that allow you to manipulate the dice values of your workers. Each work phase is like solving a unique worker placement puzzle in order to optimize your output of resources and goods.

Once any player has manufactured 12 goods or constructed 10 buildings, the game end is triggered and one additional and final round is played. The player with the most points wins (combination of building prestige and manufactured goods).
• In September 2019, Le Scorpion Masqué uploaded an ultimate "Tough Zombies" challenge (PDF) for its legacy game Zombie Kidz Evolution from Annick Lobet. Notes publisher representative Matthew Legault, "It is only for those who have opened all 13 envelopes, so it is really a thank-you to the dedicated players who have played the game enough to have explored all the surprises the game has to offer." (Disclosure: I was paid to edit the rules of this game. —WEM)

• In October 2019, Mattel introduced UNO: Braille Edition, which plays the same as ye olde UNO, but with Braille on all the cards and with audible rules for blind and low-vision players.

• Designer Donald X. Vaccarino posted errata and rules tweaks for Dominion in September 2019, noting that the text of a few cards would be changed in future printings and changed more immediately for online play.

• Many messages in my inbox take the form of a random tweet I sent myself in the hope of researching the title later. Does the game sound interesting? Does it lack a BGG listing? Will I actually get to this title in a reasonable amount of time?

Here's one such example of this phenomenon:

The game in question is Die Pest im Pott ("The Plague in the Pot"), a 2-6 player design seemingly published by LWL, that is, the municipal association Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe, which employs 17,000 workers that operate schools, hospitals, museums, and visitor centers in the German region of Westphalia.

What's the game about beyond something associated with the plague? I don't know, but I can tell you that you need to supply your own d6s. Maybe someone else can follow up on this and get it in the database...
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Sun Dec 1, 2019 1:00 pm
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Links: An Infamous Traffic in Profiles of Kwanchai Moriya and 10 Games

W. Eric Martin
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Gamers Geekery & Tavern is a board game café that opened in July 2019 in Cary, North Carolina — just one town over from where I live! — and I still haven't made it out to visit. For shame. The café did pick up coverage from one of our local news stations in October 2019, so good for them in getting the word out there!

• On Nov. 8, 2019, the Thai-language version of Voice of America posted a profile of artist Kwanchai Moriya that has text in Thai, but a video of Kwanchai in English giving background on his career.

Image from VOA

• Have you been on the fence about picking up Cole Wehrle's An Infamous Traffic from Hollandspiele? A note of appreciation and explanation from company co-owner Tom Russell explains why you don't have much time left to do so:
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After Traffic, Cole continued to move from strength-to-strength, creating games that were both critical and commercial successes: John Company, Root, and Pax Pamir 2e. With the success of that last one, in particular, published through Cole's own company Wehrlegig via a quarter-million dollar kickstarter campaign, Mary and I knew going into 2019 that it likely wouldn't be in Cole's interest to renew the license for Traffic with us when it expired. We exchanged emails about it over this summer. Cole acknowledged that he would derive much greater benefit not renewing the license, but said, essentially, "I don't want to do anything that's going to hurt your company. If it will help you, let's renew."

That was a lot of money to leave on the table like that. It was another act of kindness, and one I found deeply moving. But Mary and I didn't want him to do that, and so are letting the license expire after this year's Hollandays Sale.
• On The Boardgame Detective, Jeremy solicited answers from folks in the game industry for this question: "What's a 10/10 Game to You?"

I'm not sure how I'd answer this question since the titles that I've rated a 10 on BGG — Abluxxen, Ave Caesar, Innovation, The Mind, Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, and Qwirkle — don't share anything in common other than me being the one who played them all. In some ways, the 10ness of those games relates to the desire of others to play them with me as that desire led me to play them more times than I likely would have otherwise, which in turn drove my appreciation for those designs.

How would you answer that question?
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Sat Nov 30, 2019 1:00 pm
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New Game Round-up: Explore Fallout Underground, Spike Top Guns, and Revisit The Thing

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• The video game series Fallout has already been the inspiration for one tabletop design from Fantasy Flight Games — 2017's Fallout — and now a second standalone game is coming from FFG courtesy of designer Andrew Fischer: Fallout Shelter: The Board Game. Here's an overview of this February 2020 release:
Quote:
Build a better future underground in Fallout Shelter: The Board Game, a post-nuclear worker-placement board game for two to four players. Based on the hit mobile game from Bethesda Softworks, Fallout Shelter sees you take on the role of a vault officer fostering happiness among the citizens of your vault. With the election of a new Overseer looming, the officer who can gain the most happiness among the dwellers is sure to lock up the election and attain victory.

As an officer, you'll have to direct your dwellers to where they'll spend their time in the vault, whether it's spending some time relaxing in the lounge, gathering vital resources like food in the community gardens, or battling a radroach infestation in the game room. The choice is always yours, but remember, you'll have to balance happiness and efficiency to lead your people to a brighter future underground!
• For another case of tabletopus sequelitis, let's look at the 2017 release The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31, the debut title from Mondo Games in co-operation with Project Raygun. The movie that inspired that work — John Carpenter's The Thing — is also the inspiration behind The Thing: The Boardgame, a design from Giuseppe Cicero, Andrea Crespi, and Pendragon Game Studio that shares nothing with that earlier game other than a love of the source material.

Pendragon announced this title at SPIEL '19, noting that the game originates "from the strong passion that the two authors feel towards Carpenter's movie, passion that led them to work for years on a title that would be able to capture and transport to the game table the same anxieties and sensations that the movie transmits to the viewer". Pendragon plans to Kickstart this title in 2020, but for details we'll probably have to wait until we travel to the Spielwarenmesse trade fair in late January 2020.

• For even more game industry nostalgia for the 1980s, let's turn to Top Gun Strategy Game, which is due out from Mixlore in January 2020, reaching retail shelves a few months ahead of the Top Gun: Maverick movie sequel due out in June 2020. Here's an overview of the gameplay:
Quote:
Top Gun Strategy Game puts players in the pilot seats of Team Maverick/Goose and Team Iceman/Slider. Each team takes on the other during a intense air-combat training exercise. Pilots must strategically maneuver their planes and coordinate with their Weapons System Operator. Conducting intense gravity-defying aerial maneuvers and securing a valuable target lock on their opponent will secure a swift victory.

Being "Top Gun" is a mental challenge as well as a physical one. When they aren't in the air, pilots will face off in a volleyball card game in which they strut their stuff to gain rewards or intimidate an opponent. In order to ensure victory, players must succeed at their ground game to increase their education and confidence, giving them the tools and the nerve to excel in the air game.
I have not seen the original movie, so this sounds bizarre, but I'm sure it all makes sense to those familiar with the original work, yes? Volleyball skills improve your piloting abilities? I've heard that learning how to juggle knives improves your ability to speak Polish, so who knows?
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Fri Nov 29, 2019 1:00 pm
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New Game Round-up: Steal Paintings, Loot the City, and Convert Your Wealth into Coins

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• Sometimes a particular feature about a game strikes you in an odd way, and you think, "Wait, really?" I recently ran across the BGG game page for Bruno Faidutti's Stolen Paintings, due out in 2020 from Eagle-Gryphon Games, and the 2-8 player count caught my eye.

Of course, Camel Up has that same player count, and the game works well at all numbers, although the experience changes vastly when you're playing with two compared to eight (not to mention how specific players can sour or sweeten the game experience no matter what the player count), and I'm curious to see more details of the gameplay to learn how this game might change or not change in similar ways.

For now, though, I have only this brief description:
Quote:
In Stolen Paintings, players take turns playing as a thief attempting to steal and auction off paintings from a museum display. The other players are detectives who attempt to spot the paintings stolen before they are auctioned. The thief earns points for each painting they sneak by the detectives, and the detectives earn points for paintings they correctly identify as stolen. Whoever earns the most points as both a thief and as a detective wins.
• Another Eagle-Gryphon Games title due out in 2020 with a slightly odd player count is Gangster's Dilemma, an Adrian Adamescu and Daryl Andrews design for 3-7 players. Check out that cover from Kwanchai Moriya!

As for the gameplay, here's the short take:
Quote:
In Gangster's Dilemma, players control a group of gangsters eager to please the mob boss. Each round, players send a gangster to loot one of the locations within the city, in hopes of satisfying the Boss's changing demands.

However, each round the cops are also on patrol and could arrest any gangsters they come across. Players need to bribe their way out trouble or rat out the other gangsters as they compete to fulfill the Boss's demands first.
Moriya had been posting images from this game on Facebook and Twitter for weeks prior to it being announced, and my main thought when seeing them was not wondering what the game was, but whether he sold prints of his artwork. If not, I'm sure he'll have an assistant someday who can make that happen.

For now, though, here's another example of his dynamic work on this game:

Lions of Lydia is a new design from Jonny Pac Cantin, who caught players' attention in 2019 with Coloma and Sierra West, and publisher Bellwether Games. Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game due out sometime in 2020:
Quote:
The ancient world is changing. King Croesus of the historic kingdom of Lydia has minted the world's first coin from the legendary gold and silver of the river Pactolus. Traditional bartering and trading will soon be supplanted by currency as the dominant form of exchange throughout civilization.

Lions of Lydia is a bag-management and engine-building game about the dawn of currency in the ancient world. As a wealthy aristocrat at the turn of the era, you will hire merchants to barter at the city gates for goods you can use to grow your landholdings. When Lydian merchants arrive from the capital, you will gain access to the versatile Lydian Lion coins they bear, which are needed to establish valuable retail property for the first time in history.

To achieve victory, you must effectively manage the merchants you hire, keeping the best assortment in your bag, while leveraging the unique abilities of each when it is drawn. Traditional merchants will help you specialize in basic resources, but if you fail to convert your surplus into bullion, you may not be able to buy the most useful properties in the city. Lydian merchants, in contrast, are especially suited to help you transition to the new monetary system.

Will you be able to maintain the right balance of merchants to maximize your goals every turn? Will you gain the most valuable and prestigious properties before your rivals? Future generations may hear of your economic triumph or defeat. After a significant number of properties have been purchased and developed, the game will end, and a winner will be declared!
Everything I know about Croesus and coin-minting, I learned from Don Rosa's "The Treasury of Croesus", a 1995 story in which Uncle Scrooge hunted for that first coin. (Don Rosa is a comics master, and I highly recommend the Fantagraphics Books collections of his duck stories.)
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Thu Nov 28, 2019 1:00 pm
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New Game Round-up: Become an Elite Sniper, Travel to the Moon, and Fight Death

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• Once again I'm reminded of how little I know about video games thanks to the announcement of Sniper Elite: The Board Game from Rebellion Unplugged, the new board game publishing division of Rebellion Developments, which has sold more than ten million copies of titles in the Sniper Elite video game series. This new division will be run by Duncan Molloy, who started the board game line at Osprey Games in 2015. A press release for this brand notes that "Rebellion Unplugged will release new physical games and collectibles based on the company's diverse and extensive collection of properties. Several games are already in the works."

Sniper Elite is designed by Roger Tankersley and David Thompson, and Rebellion Unplugged will demo the title at PAX Unplugged 2019 ahead of a Kickstarter campaign in early 2020 and a scheduled release in 2021. Here's an overview:
Quote:
In this hidden movement game, one player takes the role of the sniper, who is trying to make their way past the German guards by stealth or violence. Up to three other players control squads of German soldiers, striking a balance between defending their objectives and hunting the sniper.

Sniper Elite features a bag-manipulation element. The sniper draws chits from a bag to target the defenders, though canny defense can decrease the sniper's likelihood of making their shot...

• Speaking of Osprey Games, Peer Sylvester's The King Is Dead was the first board game released by that company, and a second edition of the game with new art, new graphic design, and a new asymmetric game mode for advanced play will be released in July 2020.

• That Osprey Games title will be followed in August 2020 by the release of Wildlands: The Ancients, which is described as a big box expansion for Martin Wallace's Wildlands.

• And that title will be preceded in May 2020 by Judge Dredd: Helter Skelter – The Dark Judges, also from designer Martin Wallace, with that expansion introducing new characters to the Judge Dredd: Helter Skelter base game, characters perfectly depicted by Brian Bolland in a story that I re-read oh-so-many times in my youth:
Quote:
The barrier between worlds has shattered. Now, the Dark Judges have returned to exact judgement on Mega-City One. The city is guilty. The crime is life. The sentence is death.

Judge Dredd: Helter Skelter – The Dark Judges is an expansion for the base game that introduces The Dark Judges, a new team that can be played against others in Judge Dredd: Helter Skelter or competed against on your own in a solitaire game.
"Gaze into the fist of Dredd!"

• To continue the chain of this post, let's end with a quick look at Martin Wallace's The Rocketmen, a 1-4 player game that Polish publisher PHALANX plans to release in 2020:
Quote:
They have set up their empires of trailblazing innovation and groundbreaking technologies on a somewhat unremarkable planet circling around a rather average star. Years of hard work and steadfast dedication to their clear-cut vision of looking further than day-to-day toils and chores of humanity have grounded their reputation as the forefathers of the future of humanity. Secretly, they have never ceased to dream about the main flywheel of all their entrepreneurial actions and deeds — reaching out to the stars above. Now, the time has come for them to embark on a second giant leap for mankind, to make the solar system our home. Only one of them shall go down in history as the first entrepreneur of space and a person who truly forged their will and power according to the bold words: citius, altius, fortius — faster, higher, stronger.

Immerse yourself in a fast-paced race to the final frontier: space. A deck-building confrontation of swift decision-making and tactical estimates, The Rocketmen gives you the feel of taking a front seat in a technologically wonderful spectacle of space exploration. It's up to your predicting abilities and cash flow maintenance know-how what kind of endeavor would be most suitable for paving the way to Earth's celestial neighbors. It doesn't matter whether it would be a low Earth orbit satellite or a manned base destined for Red Planet; plan your mission carefully, equip your shuttles and rockets craftily, yet do not hesitate when your gut instinct tells you to go for a lift-off! The universe might wait for you eternally, but your opponents won't!
For more details on the gameplay, albeit preliminary since the game is still in development, check out this overview from Ravindra Prasad, a Martin Wallace fan who played the game twice at BGG.CON 2019. (I spoke with Wallace about this design at the end of that show, but we had only eight minutes to chat before I headed to the airport, so no playthrough report from me!)
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Wed Nov 27, 2019 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Carrossel, or How an Over-the-Top Dungeon Brawler Became a Merry-Go-Round Game

Antonio Sousa Lara
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Dear Diary,

How the hell did this happen? Could you please tell me how a weird over-the-top dungeon brawler became a game that features...a merry-go-round??

Well, to make a long story short: time.

Wow, that sounds so incredibly boring, so let's go back to the beginning and look at things in more detail...


Concept (or not)

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away from here, there was this young designer working on a game that featured a sort of Indiana Jones: Temple of Doom vibe coupled with a Cutthroat Caverns type of theme.

This theme was the most interesting part of the game because the mechanisms were not. It was any insane combination of three different boards connected together in which each player would play on all three boards — wait for it — simultaneously! The boards that had a player's character(s) when that player was the one playing on that board would activate: move, attack, get treasure, yada yada. When a player would play on a board with none of their character(s), then that player would perform a bunch of boring upkeep steps for that board: refill treasures, spawn monsters, activate monsters — the whole shebang. Suffice it to say that the game was nearly impossible to play as so many fiddly things were going on that players' brains started to melt due to the sheer number of options they had, let alone tracking other player's options.

Like many other prototypes of this young (and quite handsome) designer, it was thrown in the (trash) drawer. Later that year, the theme would be salvaged and converted into a (upcoming) great game. Also later that year, some people involved in playtesting that first game demanded to have their brains melted again. (It seems there is a kind of masochistic pleasure in doing that.) Since they refused to take "no" for an answer, finally the young and quite handsome designer reconsidered and began reworking the crazy-simultaneous-multiple-board-brainburner (which was now themeless at this point).


Prototype-ish

I knew that the game would have to be dumbed down to a very (very) basic set of options, something like "On your turn, draw a card and boom, you're done, son", but better obviously. Also, I knew that the game would have to be playable by both young and old, noobs and leets, so yeah, I had my work cut out for me.

When building a prototype, I decided to save on cardboard (because ecology, man!) and joined the three boards into a single board divided into playing areas separated by thick borders. Since I had no theme, I began using simple abstract strategy solutions based on classic games like Rummikub and Go. I loved the idea of using other players' pieces to gain points. From that idea came a grid with numbers on the different spaces that matched a set of numbered cards for each player. Then a bunch of cardboard tiles (in different colors) would be shuffled and dealt randomly to each player; these tiles would be placed on the board via the numbered cards. The board, the cards, and the tiles allowed players to play simultaneously and have zero downtime.

However, the game still wasn't playable, this time due to the physical aspect of needing to place tiles in areas farthest away from the players, which would result into players bumping their hands as they stretched to reach distant areas. It was one big mess.

Then a few geniuses (not me) suggested that the board could move instead of the players. It could rotate like (guess what) a merry-go-round. BOOM, there was the theme knocking at the door — and that theme brought its best friend, playability, to join the party.


Developing with a Theme

So yay, we've got our theme going forward, but the game is still lacking that brain-burning fix; it was a mere activity that functioned well, but nothing in it allowed for deep strategy and forward planning.

Thankfully, yours truly works much better when a theme is in the mix, and it was natural for the "merry-go-round" game to have things like wooden ponies on a stick (i.e., an equal starting set of animal tiles for each player) and kids (client cards awarded to the owners of the animal tiles on which they ride).

Now the story is that we're building the merry-go-round while the kids are at the door screaming their lungs out to jump in for a ride. What this means is that players are no longer trying to do fixed combinations of sequences as in tic-tac-toe or four-in-a-row games, but rather variable combinations for three types of kids (of four different colors/animals). These card combinations do not move with the board rotation, which means that a specific set of three kids (clients) will be waiting in a ticket booth for the right sequence of animals (in a row) to rotate their way. Sounds simple, but because each player plays only one tile, then the board rotates away with that tile, players are constantly forced to work with tiles from other players and have other players work with theirs. The burn is on!



The Brain-Burning DNA

In the final design, it's almost impossible to complete any sequence with only your tiles. At best you can complete a sequence with two of your tiles if this sequence is on the edge of two separate areas. (You'll place one tile near another player's tile on the edge, then rotate and the complete the sequence from the other side of the same border.)

Most of the time, you'll be completing a sequence with two tiles from different players and only one of your own. This is fine if you are getting the most valuable card of that particular sequence. Oh, I forgot to mention, but points points points. You win the game by having the most points when the game ends (which is not a novel concept, but hey, it works). You earn points from client cards and from endgame objective cards (which give the game a nice replay value). On top of that, client cards that you win during the game have special powers that can be used alongside your card plays for really cool effects.

With all that going on, as soon as the game starts, you are immediately faced with objective cards and groups of client cards that have variable values according to their points. You start to wonder: "Should I play tiles for the value cards, or should I play the tiles that match the type of card most present in play currently so that I increase my chances of having it used by another player? Do I place them in the center or somewhere on the edge, or should I save up a specific tile or card for later...ssssssssssss..." Brain burn! And it gets worse as the board gets more and more crowded.

Still, at its core, the game is just "play a card and a tile". Simple, right? NO!

Do not let this game fool you into thinking it's a pleasant ride on a merry-go-round. You are not the kids; you are the short-tempered, sleazy salesman who owns part of the merry-go-round. Though the game is designed to be accessible to anyone — heck, you could even shuffle all the cards and tiles, then just play from the top and the game would still work (kinda) — it carries this brain-burning DNA that will eat you up for breakfast. And isn't that fun? YES!

If you ask me, I love the idea of the hardcore Chess players having this innocent-looking little fella on their shelves at home to play with the spouse and kids. To me, that says "Job well done. Let's move on to the next crazy game" — and I will happily do so.

Thank you so much for reading this diary of mine. Great games to all of you!

Antonio Sousa Lara
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4 Comments
Tue Nov 26, 2019 1:00 pm
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