Robot Quest Arena, a design from Paul Waite being published by Perfect Day Games and Wise Wizard Games that BGG got a sneak peek at during GAMA Expo 2020 before life ground to a halt in the United States. (KS link)
WWG is pitching the game as "Star Realms-style deck-building combined with battling miniatures", and this longer description hits those same notes a tad more detail:Quote:Your battery cards give you the energy to move, power your weapons, and buy powerful new cards for your deck. Navigate around the hazards of the arena, and blast your opponents to score points. Destroyed bots respawn each round, so you're never out of the action! Alliances are made and broken! The robot pilot with the most points at the end of the game wins!Honestly, this miniature is going to be the selling point for many people:
covered Keystone: North America from Jeffrey Joyce, Isaac Vega, and Rose Gauntlet Entertainment in January 2021, and now that title is nearing the end of its Kickstarter campaign.
The short take: Over the course of the game, you develop a personal 4x4 player board with a variety of species that ideally share habitats with their neighbors, with a species having up to four habitats. On a turn, you either introduce a new species to your player board by drafting it (and paying for those species you skip), use the power of a face-up skill card, or use the powers of all face-down skill cards, after which you turn them face up, then advance the game's timer.
At the end of the game, you score based on how well you met your secret objective and how many ecosystems you created, with those being composed of adjacent species in the same habitat in ascending or descending numerical order, with keystone species and research tokens giving the ability to boost those points. The game includes a story-driven campaign with twenty challenges for solo play."Take me home with you..."
• Thera looks like an old-school design from Zach Hoekstra and publishing veterans L4 Studios and Mr. B Games, with this Kickstarter project delivering in Q3 2022. Here's the rundown of the why and how of the game:Quote:In 1646 BC, the island of Thera (present day Santorini) was the site of a volcanic eruption one hundred times more powerful than Pompeii. This eruption coincided with the decline of the Minoan civilization and the rise of the Mycenaean civilization. Due to Thera's strategic location, the Mycanaean wanax (king) has decided that it is time to rebuild Thera and has tasked you, one of his koreters (governors) with this responsibility. The koreter who best rebuilds Thera to its prior glory will be victorious.• Spanish publisher 2Tomatoes Games has launched a Kickstarter (link) for Peak Oil Profiteer, a standalone board game by designers Tobias Gohrbandt and Heiko Günther that's set in its Peak Oil universe.
In the role-selection and resource-management game Thera, each player has a map of the island where they will engage in trade, clear ash, generate resources, move those resources to building sites across the island, and construct economic and luxury buildings. On a player's turn, they select one of five roles from the rondel. Every player can benefit from this role, and the one who chose it gets benefits that scale with the amount of favor on the role. Favor accumulates on roles over the course of the game and is redistributed every time a role is chosen. Here's an overview of the five roles:
—The Priestess prays for rain, bringing the life-giving resource to the island.
—The Worker consumes that water and produces resources.
—The Planner moves those resources around Thera so that they can be used for construction or trade.
—The Builder uses those resources to construct buildings on undeveloped sites across the island.
—The Trader buys and sells resources at the port.
Players earn points by constructing buildings. You must get the needed resources to the desired building site, then acquire the building plans (which are available to all from a common building tableau). Should you build another quarry (a resource-generating building), or are you worried one of your competitors will take that temple (a luxury building) that aligns with your strategy? Time is of the essence in Thera, so efficient planning and resource management are important in winning the day.
In this 1-5 player game, you're trying to wreck everyone at the table in a game that simulates everyone getting wrecked:Quote:As the top executive of an oil corporation, you are sent to a war-torn nation that's got a lot of oil — and no one who can help sell it! That's where you come in: Your task is to make the most cash before corruption ruins the land.Amazingly enough, we recorded a preview of the game (under a slightly different name) at SPIEL '19. I'm not sure how much has changed in the design from what we saw nearly two years ago, but maybe this will serve as a on-target peek:
This card-driven tactical game features area control, simultaneous action selection, and a healthy dose of player interaction. Progressing in rounds, players improve their workforce by investing in powerful consultants and vie for influence over the nation's three warring factions. As control of the oil fields passes between the hands of the so-called "government", the "National Liberation Front", and the noble "Guerilla Militia" you have to ensure you're in the right place at the right time with the right faction leader in your pocket.
Double guess your competitors, blackmail politicians, and sell weapons to whoever needs them to ensure you keep the oil — and money — flowing in your direction. Remember, your sole goal is to make the most profit before corruption destroys this sorry region.
To submit news, a designer diary, outrageous rumors, or other material, contact us at email@example.com.
16 Jun 2021
- [+] Dice rolls
Gen Con 2021 being held on September 16-19 (instead of in early August), Origins Game Fair 2021 from September 30 to October 3, SPIEL '21 on October 14-17, and (admitted self-interest here) BGG.CON 2021 on November 17-21.
I've started assembling game previews for the first three of these shows, and while they're sparse at the moment, many publishers are uncertain which shipments will arrive when due to all the difficulties related to international transport. In any case, we're three months out from Gen Con, so I have lots of time to add to these lists. Here's what I have now:
• Gen Con 2021 Preview
• Origins Game Fair 2021 Preview
• SPIEL '21 Preview
You can view all convention previews, along with the bimonthly game release catalogs here. I'm currently updating lists for May-June 2021, July-August 2021, and September-October 2021.
Publishers, please contact me for a link to my RFI survey if you haven't received it. You're welcome to complete the survey whenever you feel you're ready to share info, and you can complete the survey multiple times, say, now for games due out in June and July, then in two months for games due out at Gen Con or SPIEL.
- [+] Dice rolls
Henry Audubon's TRAILS from Keymaster Games will debut at the U.S. retail chain Target, with TRAILS being a standalone sequel to the 2019 game PARKS from the same designer/publisher team. (Keymaster has noted that the game will have wider availability later in 2021.)
TRAILS is a relatively straightforward design: On a turn, advance one or two spaces in the direction you face, then take the action shown on that space: collecting one of three resources, swapping one resource for others, or taking a photo. If you land on the space where the bear is located, the bear
rips your face offmoves to the location you roll on the bear die, then gives you the action of that space in addition to the action of the space where you moved.
When you reach the trail's end, you turn around, receive a sun bonus, move the sun toward the trailhead, then use the resources you've collected to claim merit badges. By expending your canteen, you can move any number of spaces, but you refill that canteen only at the trailhead, so at minimum you need four actions to complete a round trip, with the maximum being twelve actions.
When the sun moves off the trailhead, each player takes a final turn, then you count points from badges and photos to see who wins.Chase that bear for extra action
More abstractly, TRAILS is a game of getting resources, then converting them to points. To get resources, you land on a space, swap for what you need (since you gain one resource with each swap), get lucky with the bear, or (possibly) use a badge as claimed badges sometimes reward you with resources or a swap in addition to points.
Resources will rain upon you steadily as you criss-cross the trail, and they may or may not be relevant for the badges available. You have one badge in hand and two at each end of the trail, giving you a mix of public and private targets to work toward. Sometimes an opponent will snipe a badge that you were hoping to claim, but the replacement badge revealed at the end of that player's turn has nearly the same cost, so whatever; at other times, you'll be left with a pocketful of useless acorns. Maybe you should have used that canteen to hop to trail's end, but perhaps doing so would have left you one acorn short because you needed to stop in the forest first. Hmm...My holdings at the end of a three-player game
As you add more players to TRAILS, that badge you hold in your hand becomes more important since only you have access to it, giving you something to work toward that can't be claimed by another. The randomness of the badge flips adds a luck element to the game that you have to live with. You can try to squat on resources so that you can acquire a badge no matter what turns up, but you have a resource limit of eight, so when you have a badge that costs five acorns or three rocks+two leaves, you don't have room in your pouch for much else, which can lead to you feeling like you're trudging for multiple turns just to finish the thing so that you can move on to something else.
In addition to the badge in hand, the photos provide another mystery element to gameplay. When you take a photo action, you draw two cards from the deck, keep one, and discard the other; alternatively, you can claim the top card of the discard stack, but that's another person's trash, so why not take your chances on drawing two cards and keeping one since you will (almost) inevitably get something at least as good as the trash? Besides which, if you draw, then the card you collect is secret. Points from photos are revealed at game end, and whoever has seen the most birds — which are present on both photos and badges — receives a bonus 4 points.
These hidden elements — the birds and photos — keep you from calculating everything, but the pace of the game is determined by player movement, and aside from photos you have to move to the end of the trail to score, so you have only limited control over how long the game lasts. The same can be said for the bonus bear actions. If you jump ahead of others so that you can land next to the bear and roll the die, you might luck out and move the bear behind opponents so that they can't bear on their turn, or the bear might end up in the perfect spot for them to use. More generally, you can try to take actions to hinder others — swiping badges ahead of them, moving the bear out of their path — but the luck of the die and card flips might make your efforts meaningless.
The pace of badge acquisition escalates over time as the game board tiles flip when the sun moves away from them, with a space now providing two rocks, leaves, or acorns instead of only one. This allows you to move those more expensive badges to your collection, but everyone else is collecting more resources, too, which increases the difficulty of planning to collect certain badges at trail's end since they're likely to be claimed by someone else first.
For more of my thoughts on TRAILS, which I've played seven times on a review copy from Keymaster Games, check out this overview video:
- [+] Dice rolls
U.S. publisher Capstone Games has acquired the English-language license to Orléans from originating publisher dlp games, which is owned by the game's designer, Reiner Stockhausen.
The Capstone version of Orléans will include components that allow for play with up to five players, whereas the game originally had a player count of 2-4, and the Orléans base game — along with the Orléans: Invasion expansion from 2015 and the Orléans: Trade & Intrigue expansion from 2016 — are scheduled for release on the U.S. market on September 16, 2021.
For those not familiar with the game, here's an overview:
- [+] Dice rolls
Interview: David Digby, solo mode designer and developer for Undaunted: Reinforcements, Merv, Waggle Dance and many more.
12 Jun 2021
Neil BunkerUnited Kingdom
Editor's note: This interview was first published on Diagonal Move in May 2021. —WEM
In this month's Diagonal Move interview, we take a look behind the scenes of board game development with solo mode designer and developer, David Digby.
DM: Thanks for joining us today, David. In recent years, you have developed a growing reputation as a designer of solo modes for games such as Dice Theme Park, Chocolate Factory, and Undaunted. However, you are also involved in the "background" of the board game industry as a developer and rule book editor. Can you tell us a bit more about yourself, and how you first became involved in the industry?
DD: Hey there, I'm David Digby, a board game designer and developer based in Essex in the UK. Outside of games, I work in theater as a technical manager, coach cricket, and play golf. Clichéd as it sounds, I've been playing games since childhood; my Mum was a keen board gamer and I took up the mantle. Typical story of family games, D&D, and Magic until I discovered there was a lot more out there at university. When I stopped playing cricket three years ago, I decided to get back into board games properly, joined Facebook groups and local clubs, and the rest, they say, is history.
DM: A rulebook editor is surely one of the unsung heroes of the industry. Can you describe the role in more detail, and what makes a good rulebook from your point of view?
DD: I was incredibly lucky to learn under Paul Grogan of Gaming Rules! I started just proofreading, then Paul started to ask me to edit rulebooks under his supervision, and then on my own. Paul is one of the best in the business, and I try my best to follow his methods and systems in the work I do now.
Most rulebooks follow a similar structure, and I've learnt the types of games I can do a good job of. Good rulebooks teach you the game and allow you to find things once you're playing. Sounds simple, and it really isn't. We start with the designer's rulebook as a Google Doc, hack it about, rewrite a lot of it, then it goes to a graphic designer for a layout PDF, then we go through it all with a fine-tooth comb, adding images and examples, etc. It can easily take 10-20 hours for the small-medium sized games I do.
DM: You have been a "developer" on games such as Villagers and Waggle Dance. Game developer is a far less high-profile role than game designer despite some similarities in function. How do the designer/developer roles differ?
DD: There are many definitions, and it very much depends on what the relationship is like between the designer, the publisher, and the developer. Generally speaking, as a developer I'm hired by the publisher to playtest and tweak an existing design to take it from whatever state the designer got it to to something that the publisher can produce. A developer will often change small elements of a game without making big changes to the core feel. Sometimes the designer produces only a cool idea, and the development work is very involved.
DM: How does game development differ from playtesting? Can you walk us through the development process for one of the projects you have been involved in as a developer compared to one where your involvement has been limited to that of a playtester?
DD: A playtester plays the game, often multiple times, to produce results and give opinions. The developer runs the playtesting process — collecting all the info and deciding what merits thinking about and what doesn't — and suggests changes to improve the game based on the playtesters' feedback. Development involves a lot of playtesting, particularly early on, and later involves it much more analysis and fine tuning.
A lot of the work I do for Dávid Turczi is playtesting. I'll play the solo mode a bunch of times and give feedback on what worked, what didn't, what was fun, how many points were scored how etc. Perseverance was a good example of that as I played that quite a lot, and my nagging won through in the end when Episode 2 got changed to asymmetrical AI opponents, but I didn't do much of the design work with that one.
Something like Merv for Osprey Games was more of a development job as I played the game a few times, then sent in a few small changes that I felt would improve the solo experience. I then played those changes with a few adjustments and that's what we went with. Like a lot of solo games, though, I must have got too good at it as a lot of people have struggled to win it since it came out.
DM: Gaming during the coronavirus pandemic has seen a growing focus on solitaire modes, digital versions, and online interaction. How has this altered the game design and development process in terms of both games scheduled for development and the process itself?
DD: Almost all of my work has moved onto Tabletop Simulator. Since March 2020, I have logged almost 1,800 hours on Tabletop Simulator! A large crop of online testing groups have sprung up; I moderate one of them, and they have built great communities for playtesting, but it's not without its challenges. Luckily I have a few friends who enjoy testing and don't mind playing the same things a lot.
Having previously had only my own Facebook page, I now run a Discord server which organizes all my testing and development. There's just short of one hundred people on it now, which is great. It can be really tough, though. Games are meant to be social experiences, and solo modes can make a nice change but spending all day (and I mean all day as my days are often 12-15 hours) on TTS can be very draining. I'm not that computer smart, but I can make my own mods, limited more by my infamously terrible graphic design, and it's the go-to for almost everyone now.
I think solo has been on the climb for some time, and hopefully it doesn't slow down anytime soon. Publishers are making more of an effort; more designers and developers are learning the skills; and players are still able to connect through social media.
It will be great to get back to in-person testing for a lot of games, but the way we work has changed forever.
DM: You have a growing list of solo mode credits to your name. What qualities do you feel a great solo game needs?
DD: I identify solo games into three categories: puzzle, challenge, and opponent. However, I see these as a Venn diagram with a lot of overlap. Only rarely does a design fall entirely into one category. Puzzles have a single solution that the player is tasked with finding. Challenges give the player a framework to see how well they can do. Opponents simulate another player or two that you need to beat. Designing the right solo mode for the right game is really key.
Undaunted obviously has to be an opponent. It is a very strong two-player experience with a lot of interaction, which is perfect for building an AI or bot or Automa. Chocolate Factory or Dice Theme Park are low interaction and the fun of the game is in what you do entirely independent from other players, so they require a more challenge style. I like operating in the grey areas or the overlaps between the categories as I see them. Whatever it takes to bring the best out in the game for the solo player.
DM: When designing a solo mode as opposed to a dedicated solitaire game, what process do you follow for recreating the multiplayer experience?
DD: I've never tried a solo-only game, so I'm not much use in comparing the two, but I imagine a lot of things are very similar. I did mentor someone who was designing a solo-only design and found a lot of the principals I use still apply. First thing I do is play the game a few times at two-player. Work out how strong that is, find the really important bits of interaction, and work out how to best abstract stuff out. It's a fine balance — you want most of the fun to be on the player's turn, which means simplifying things for the bot so you don't have lots of complex stuff to do is key. But abstract too much and it doesn't feel right. It's about finding the right bits to do and not do.
Dávid Turczi is the master of this; some games he can do after less than one play, which is bewilderingly impressive. It takes me a lot longer! Working with him on Undaunted was great. When I came on board, he had already built a core system based on a few scenarios. We talk a lot about flow charts in solo design; the more spatial or tactical a game, the more flowcharts you need, and Undaunted was a lot of little flow charts. If this is true, do this. If not do this, and so on. My job was to design all the little flow charts for all the troops in all the scenarios. I think there's around 36 scenarios, two sides in each, and on average around six troop types. That's around 432 flow charts to work out and test! Now a lot of them are the same, but getting them all right was really important. There's some pretty good fan-made solo modes out there, but because they don't change regardless of the scenarios, they aren't as smart or as accurate as the ones we created.
I played each scenario at least four times to get the instructions right, and some were harder than others. Spurred on by Anthony, a developer at Osprey, and Dávid saying that I didn't need to do them all from both sides if it was too hard, I finally cracked them all. Anthony then did an incredible job of fitting all my notes onto a card-based system, and the Undaunted solo was born.
There are never any shortcuts in solo design — you have to play the game a lot. Most of the time that means finding lots of testers, but on this one it was just me. Credit to Osprey for investing that heavily in the solo mode!
DM: In addition to the development and solo-mode design roles, you are working on several original designs. Can you tell us more about these?
DD: I can, but if any get published is a different question! I have absolutely no intention of self publishing anything ever, so I'm very reliant on a publisher picking up my designs. I am working on a few things directly for publishers, which I'm hopeful for, but it means I can't talk about them!
"The Seven Dwarves" was my first design, and I still enjoy playing it. It was popular at UK cons, but there's a few things stopping it being publishable right now. I've just re-themed my multi-use card drafting game to be about social media, so perhaps that'll give it a new lease of life. I've agreed to bring some co-designers in on some ideas, like "Rock Band", a real-time co-op, and "Theatre Land", a tableau builder, to try to take them to the next level. I think my gateway-plus "Octopus" game deserves to get made; it's about finding the right market for it. I have a design inspired by my work with Martin Wallace that's been going well, but that's quite early. There's a handful on my drawing board, too, but it's all too easy to get waylaid with development or solo design work.
DM: Can you tell us more about some of the forthcoming projects you are working on?
DD: Err, let me think what I'm allowed to talk about! The three titles from Alley Cat Games that have been on Kickstarter recently all feature my solo modes, and I was a lot more involved with Tinners' Trail. Bright Eye Games, an offshoot of PSC, are re-releasing Waggle Dance and publishing its new sequel Termite Towers, both by Mike Nudd, and I've done the solo for those. Scrumpy has just been on Kickstarter and Distilled is coming soon, two booze-themed games from smaller publishers. Two games that have just been announced are Ruthless and Ahau: Rulers of Yucatan. I don't think I can mention any others yet, but there's always plenty going on!
DM: Finally, do you have any advice for anyone looking to enter the games industry?
DD: Give it a punt, but don't expect to earn big bucks. There is an enormous variety of skills within the industry so you can probably find something, but it's really, really hard to make a living out of it. The community is extremely friendly and helpful, for the most part, and advice and information is everywhere, so use it. Much like theater, the industry is very small and pretty close; most people know most people, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. Do the stuff you enjoy and see where it leads.
More details regarding David's design work can be found on The Games People.
- [+] Dice rolls
U.S. publisher Fantasy Flight Games has announced a new game in its Arkham Horror universe, one that has its roots in the (distant) past.
Unfathomable is a 3-6 player game that plays in 2-4 hours from Tony Fanchi with a "Based on design by Corey Konieczka" credit to acknowledge that this title is a new version of his 2008 Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game.
Here's an overview of this September 2021 release:Quote:The year is 1913. The steamship SS Atlantica is two days out from port on its voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Its unsuspecting passengers fully anticipated a calm journey to Boston, Massachusetts, with nothing out of the ordinary to look forward to. However, strange nightmares plague the minds of the people aboard the ship every night; rumors circulate of dark shapes following closely behind the ship just beneath the waves; and tensions rise when a body is discovered in the ship's chapel, signs of a strange ritual littered around the corpse.In its announcement, FFG includes lots of "We'll talk more about this in the future" statements, and one of those future times is Wednesday, June 16, 2021 at 2:00 EDT (UTC-4), when the publisher will conduct a live unboxing and Q&A session on its YouTube channel.
Lurking within the depths of the Atlantic Ocean are a swarm of vicious, unspeakable horrors: the Deep Ones, led by Mother Hydra and Father Dagon. For reasons unknown, they have set their sights on the Atlantica, and their minions, taking the form of human-Deep One hybrids, have infiltrated the steamship to help sink it from within. Each game of Unfathomable has one or more players assuming the role of one of these hybrids, and how well they can secretly sabotage the efforts of the other players might mean the difference between a successful voyage and a sunken ship.
If you're a human, you need to fend off Deep Ones, prevent the Atlantica from taking too much damage, and carefully manage the ship's four crucial resources if you want any hope of making it to Boston, all while trying to figure out which of your fellow players are friends and which are foes. Everyone shares the same resource pool, but humans will try to preserve them while traitors will strive to subtly deplete them. Being able to tell when someone is purposefully draining the group's resources is harder than you think, especially when you take crises into account!
At the end of each player's turn, that player must draw a mythos card. Each of these cards represents a crisis that the whole group must try to resolve together. Some of these crises, such as "Food Rationing", call for a choice that could potentially put the ship's passengers or resources at risk, while others, such as "Hull Leak", call for a skill test in which failure could have disastrous consequences.
During a skill test, each player contributes skill cards from their hand to a face-down pile shared by the group. Once everyone has contributed (or chosen not to), the cards are shuffled, then revealed. If enough of the correct skills were contributed, then the group passes the test! But if the wrong skills were contributed, they can actually hinder the results, leading to failure. Thus, skill tests are dangerous opportunities for traitors to sabotage the humans' efforts, so you have to stay on your toes at all times.The past becomes the present...again
- [+] Dice rolls
10 Jun 2021
• I've already covered a few of the early 2021 releases from Austrian publisher Piatnik — Reiner Knizia's Family Inc. here, Andrea Mezzotero's Day & Night here, and Pencil Nose! here — but I've yet to cover what is possibly the most brilliantly (or awfully) named title of its line-up: Mozzaroller, from designer Jeffrey D. Allers.
Here's an overview of this 1-4 player game:Quote:The newly opened pizzeria "Angelo" cannot save itself from orders. As a scooter-driving pizza deliverer, it is your job to deliver these pizzas to as many customers as possible — but first the pizzas have to be topped with the right ingredients! Can you establish yourself as the customers' favorite deliverator?• Yet another Piatnik title is the card-and-die game Jinx from Klaus Altenburger that players with 2-4 people and that works as follows:
Your goal in Mozzaroller is to place dice on customer cards to complete as many orders as possible and to secure the most valuable deliverer tiles. On a turn, you roll the eight ingredient dice, then place at least one die on a matching ingredient on any customer card; if you place more than one die, you must place all dice after the first on the same customer or on adjacent ones. Next, you decide whether to:
—Re-roll with all unplaced dice
You can re-roll as often as you want, but after each roll you must be able to place at least one ingredient on an already started customer card or a customer card adjacent to a card that already has a die on it. Fail to do this, and you must pass, losing all customers that have not had their orders fulfilled.Image: @Start2game
You collect all finished customers, and if you now have the most customers of one color in front of you, you take the corresponding deliverer tile and add it to your order cards. Players continue to take turns until the draw pile is emptied, after which players tally their points.Quote:Jinx is played over three rounds. At the start of each round, draw 16 cards and place them face-up; cards come in eight colors, and each color has cards numbered 1-6. On a turn, you roll the die, then optionally roll it again. After your first or second roll, you collect a card from the table that matches the number on the die. If you can't collect a card, the round ends and if the color of a card in front of you is present among the face-up cards, then you lose that card. You might lose everything depending on how jinxed you are!• Let's continue with another 2021 Piatnik release: Melanie Haumer's 4Mation, a two-player game in which you're trying to be the first player to get four of your pieces in a row. Haven't we seen this a hundred times? Is there a new way to do this?!
Players who lost a card receive a random bonus card for any remaining rounds. These cards have different powers such as adding or subtracting 1 from the die roll, rolling a third time, and choosing a card numbered 4-6 instead of rolling the die.
Cards that are safe in one round might be lost in a subsequent round, so ideally you can roll well or use the bonus cards to clear out troublesome colors. At the end of three rounds, players sum the cards in front of them, and whoever has the highest score wins.
That seems to be the case given this description: Players take turns placing cubes of their own color in an empty space in the 7x7 grid — but you must place orthogonally or diagonally adjacent to the block most recently placed by the opponent. If no one creates a four-in-a-row, the game ends in a draw.
That's it! Seems brilliantly simple and easy to try at home should you have, well, almost anything suitable at hand.
- [+] Dice rolls
Known mostly for the design of Lewis & Clark, which debuted in 2013 and was updated in 2020, I've been designing games for ten years and haven't had many of them published for a few reasons: designing games is not my main job; the game-publishing process is usually very long; and I keep trying to dig for fresh mechanisms, which is definitely not an easy path!
This process has led to very different published games, which have all been released in a period of twelve months: Tea for 2, which is the card game War revisited with the Space Cowboys; Glow, a beautiful card- and dice-drafting press-your-luck family game published by Bombyx; Lost Explorers, a simple, quick and brainy chip-collection race game published by Ludonaute; and Shamans, a social-deduction game using a trick-taking mechanism from Studio H that is the subject of this post.
So let's go with my second BGG designer diary!
Birth of an Idea and Inspiration
Shamans is by far my design that creates the most social interaction. The initial spark came at the end of 2016 after numerous plays of Time Bomb. Before that, I used to play The Resistance a lot, and when I was in college long ago — and yes, I got my degree! — traditional French trick-taking games like Belote and Tarot. They all might have had an impact on this first spark.
I thought about designing a social-deduction game that would not rely only on bluffing like most of them. The situation in a trick-taking game where you have to provide a certain color seemed to be perfect: If you are allowed to play any card, you can pretend not to have a card of the color asked and play a card of another color. This principle immediately worked very well!
Then I looked for a rarely used theme that would fit and I ended up using the Blade Runner setting (which I love) to develop the prototype. The first version of early 2017 had the same core mechanism as the final published game, so sorry everybody, I will not have many big design questions and changes as is usually the case. The first idea was strong enough.Oh, you can choose the Voight-Kampff tile to prove you're a Runner!
My playtesters and I played this game a huge number of times to finely tune every possible situation. The tiles/tokens were added to create variety while respecting the setting, and the player-count scaling was also adjusted. The final gameplay is exactly what I wanted, and I saw that the game could also be enjoyable with kids aged 10+, despite some "gamer" mechanisms.
Finding the Right Setting and Art Style with Studio H & Maud Chalmel
I had known Hicham for many years at Matagot before he joined Studio H, a new publisher created by the big French book publisher Hachette. I thought Hicham was the right person to show the prototype to at SPIEL '19. A few months later, Studio H confirmed that it wanted to publish the game and to have it released by the end of 2020!
When later I played Oriflamme and Hagakure, two card games published by Studio H, I understood that my "Blade Runner" game would fit perfectly in that game line.
Studio H brought the thematic idea of Shamans and decided to trust the talented illustrator Maud Chalmel to give a soul to this world. She managed to transform the visual aspect of Shamans into a huge plus, and I'm really impressed by her work! She said she was inspired by a former game she illustrated, (Siggil), and also by the artists Hari and Deepti.Mischievous Maud and I in the Studio H offices just before Christmas 2020
Releasing Shamans in 2021
As I wrote previously, I like to explore the game mechanisms in my designs, whatever they can lead me to. Shamans is no exception and a very good example of that. It is far from the current "satisfying" games trend as it produces some harsh interactions between players. Therefore, this is quite a risk for Studio H to release such a game now, so I'm thankful and glad they did.Demoing at Orléans Joue con in August 2020
Shamans has been well received in France but is still flying a little under the radar in the U.S., so I hope that Tom Vasel's April 2021 review will give it a bit more visibility.
Closing Thoughts and Future Projects
I'm sure that Shamans will make its way among the players themselves as it is a very unique game. It's not for everyone, but the social-deduction lovers should enjoy it as much as I did designing it!
All the games mentioned above are already released in the U.S., except Glow, which will be released in mid-2021 in many countries after a very warm welcome in France in February. Its print-and-play solo variant (PDF) was released last week by Bombyx for its tenth anniversary.
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Keymaster Games has announced a new title from Henry Audubon, designer of its 2019 hit game PARKS, with this new release having a similar look and feel thanks to artwork from the Fifty-Nine Parks Print Series, but being a standalone game for 2-4 players.
Here's a quick overview of TRAILS, which will debut on June 20, 2021 at the U.S. retail chain Target:Quote:In TRAILS, players hike back and forth along the trail, collecting rocks, acorns and leaves; taking pictures; and encountering wildlife to gain bonuses. At trailhead and trail end, you can turn in resources to earn badges, after which you start back in the other direction.In more detail, each player starts the game with one of each resource (acorn, rock, leaf) and one badge card in hand that they can fulfill; two badges are visible at each end of the trail. On a turn, you move one or two spaces forward, then take the action of the space on which you land. If you land on the bear space, you roll the die, then move the bear and get the action of that space. Who doesn't want to cozy up to a bear for extra action? In this game, no one!
As players visit the trail end, the sun sets over the trail. As night falls, trail sites grant more powerful actions, but they won't last forever. When the sun leaves the trail, the last round of play takes place, then the player with the most points from collected badges, photos taken, and bird sightings wins.
You have a canteen that you can drink to move any number of spaces, but no matter what, you must stop at the end of the trail, at which point you can spend resources to collect any of the three available badges (two visible, one in hand), after which you replace those badges. Badges often give you extra resources or actions in addition to points.
As the sun moves across the trail, the tiles flip over to reveal more powerful actions — collect two acorns instead of one, take a photo action for free instead of paying one resource — so the badge collecting tends to escalate. You have an eight-resource hand limit, so you can't always get everything, and other players will get in your way, claiming the badge you were sure was yours.
I'll post a complete overview of TRAILS on Monday, June 14, 2021.Gotta catch that bear!
• French publisher Origames and U.S. publisher Renegade Game Studios are partnering for The Hunger, a new Richard Garfield design in which 2-6 players race across the land to feed on humans. No, they're not cannibals because that would be disgusting; instead they are vampires, which somehow makes them cool. I'm not sure how that works, but here we are.
In any case, here's an overview of this September 2021 release:Quote:The Hunger is a race in which each vampiric player must optimize their card deck, hunt humans to gain victory points, fulfill secret missions, and eventually acquire a rose and return to the castle before sunrise. The more you hunt, the slower both you and your deck become, which will make it harder and harder to get back before daybreak. Can you become the most notorious vampire without burning to ashes at sunrise?
During the game, players spend "speed" to move their vampires around the map, hunt humans worth victory points, and add new cards to their deck.
The game ends at dawn, after which the surviving player with the most victory points on their cards wins!Sample cards and missions
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Where in this grid would you place four of these five cards so that the written clues "match" the printed words on the adjacent cards?Cover and design not final
That one sentence describes the essence of So Clover!, a party game from first-time designer François Romain and non-first-time publisher Repos Production that is due out June 26, 2021 in Europe and July 16, 2021 in the United States.
Do I need to write more so that you understand how the game works? Or can you decipher pretty much all of it from the image above?
So Clover! is essentially a successor to Just One, a 2018 design by Ludovic Roudy and Bruno Sautter for which Repos Production won the 2019 Spiel des Jahres. The details of gameplay aren't the same in the two designs, but they're both co-operative party games in which you need to give clever — but not too clever — clues so that someone can figure out what you're trying to get them to guess. (More thoughts on Just One here.)
The game lasts only a single round. Each player has a secret clover board, and they place four cards at random in the center spaces. They look at the two keywords next to each a blank space, then write a single word — whether a common word, a proper noun, a number, an acronym, or a compound word — in each blank space. Remove the four cards, placing them face down and shuffling them with a random fifth card from the deck.
Once everyone has prepared their boards, someone reveals their board and five cards, then keeps a blank face while everyone else argues and deduces which cards go where. If they guess everything correctly on the first try, the team earns 6 points; if not, the clue giver removes incorrect cards from the board, and the team takes another shot, earning 0-4 points depending on how many cards they place correctly. The maximum score for a game is six times the number of players.
In all likelihood, you will not care about the final score, another similarity with Just One, as well as with Repos' 2013 party game Concept. I've now played eight times on a mock-up preview copy from Repos with all player counts, and I have no idea how we've scored in those games — but I do know that I've had a blast trying to generate clever clues and figure out the cleverness of others.
So Clover! is one of those games that I want to play with people who I'm meeting for the first time so that I can find out what they're like. In that way, the design is much like Vlaada Chvátil's Codenames, but now with all players having the opportunity to both give and guess clues in the same game.
Another similarity to Codenames is that each time you play, you're confronted with a combination of cards that you might never see again, a situation that pushes your mind to be creative because you can't rely on what you've done the previous times you've played — and as in Codenames, your clue choices are audience dependent. You need to imagine yourself in their position to consider whether they could possibly make the backwards connection.
Similarly, when you're the one guessing which cards go where, you can sometimes reverse engineer your choices by trying to imagine whether given the two printed words next to a written clue, you would have written that same clue — or you at least understand why someone else would have done so.
So Clover! is somewhat harder for young players to participate, with one preteen giving a clue of "IDK" in one game and not great clues another time. In Just One and Codenames, you're not in the spotlight with your clues — or you're just part of the guessing team — so you don't face the stress of giving bum clues and feeling like you've let everyone down. When teaching So Clover!, you might consider telling players that if nothing seems like a great clue for the pair of words, give a great clue for just one of the words and hope your other clues can carry the day.
I give more examples of gameplay in this video, giving you yet another set of cards to place in a grid while solving a grid that my wife created before I started recording. See whether you think I made the right placements:
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