On July 8, 2019, designer Reiner Knizia caused a stir in the game industry when he tweeted the following:
THE QUEST FOR EL DORADO – I am proud to announce our upcoming international edition with all new graphics by Vincent Dutrait. Available in many countries and languages later this year… Large format cards… Many expansions waiting… pic.twitter.com/4a0JcYknDq
People started speculating what this announcement might entail for the future compatibility of base games and expansions, not to mention their availability. After seeing this new version listed on the Lautapelit.fi website — a listing removed almost immediately — I contacted Toni Niittymäki from Lautapelit.fi, who suggested that I contact lead publisher 999 Games, the representative of which gave me additional information while also suggesting that I contact Reiner Knizia himself, which is perhaps what I should have done in the first place since he's the one who kicked off this hullabaloo, so I did.
In this article, I might not answer all of your questions about this new edition, but I will address them as best as I can. As you'll see, though, answers might not come for a year or more — and in many cases, the answers will depend on you.
I've spoken with Knizia many times since I started covering the game industry full time in 2006, including an hour-long retrospective in 2015 of his thirty-year career as a game designer that remains my favorite interview to date. I've spoken of my love for Knizia designs many times, most recently in my video overview of LAMA, and aside from being a fan of his designs, I'm also a fan of his business practices. More than anyone else I've encountered, Knizia merges the art of design with the business of ensuring that those designs get into print and stay there, and that's where this story begins.
"The first challenge is to find a publisher interested in the game," says Knizia. "Ideally that would be a publisher who is willing and able to take the game and market it to its largest potential worldwide. No publisher can do that by themselves, but many publishers have built up networks that extend their reach. I would like to work with a publisher who can do that because I'd give the game to one publisher, deal only with them, then everyone would work from the same template, which leads to bigger co-publications, which is more cost effective."
Learning about a publisher's plans for a design before you sign a contract with them is crucial. After all, if a publisher doesn't have a network of licensees or doesn't plan to market your game to others, then you don't want to give away rights that you could sell to others — and even if a publisher does have such a network, Knizia says that his contracts for worldwide rights typically contain a clause that allows unused languages or territories to come back under his control. "Publishers might want to try to make something happen, and in two or three years, if it doesn't work, then we might want to give it a try ourselves."
Knizia and Ravensburger have worked together on dozens of releases over the past two decades, with their first such collaboration being in 1995 (as best as I can determine) on the classic auction game High Society. Regarding The Quest for El Dorado, Knizia says, "Ravensburger has contributed an enormous amount to the success of the game. They've put their heart into it, and the game wouldn't be where it is today without them. That is clear. There is no rift with Ravensburger."
Interestingly, Ravensburger initially had no plans to release expansions for The Quest for El Dorado, but if you look at the company's publication history, that decision wouldn't be a surprise given that almost no expansions have been released for any of its titles. (The alea brand stands apart here as many expansions exist for The Castles of Burgundy, Puerto Rico, and other titles in that line, but for Ravensburger proper, I'm aware only of expansions for Verflixxt, Asara, Abluxxen, and now The Quest for El Dorado. Instead of expansions, Ravensburger releases spin-off standalone games, as with its Labyrinth and Make 'n' Break game lines.) Says Knizia, "I was surprised by how much convincing it took to make expansions for a deck-building game, but the editorial department was on my side, and we finally convinced management that this was ideal."
Since the game's debut in 2017, Ravensburger has released versions of The Quest for El Dorado in German, English, French, Spanish, and Italian — and that was it as far as the company was concerned. Says Knizia, "Ravensburger did not want to cover the other territories, which meant that I had all the other territories to cover myself. This game is too close to my heart, and if they didn't want to cover it, then I wanted to do it myself."
There was one complication to this plan, however: Ravensburger didn't want to allow its graphics for the game to be used by other publishers. Publishing partnerships exist in many different formats, and while you might have a straight co-publication — with publisher B paying publisher A a licensing fee to be part of the same print run with only the text translated into a different language — you might instead have publisher B paying solely for the use of the artwork owned by publisher A and handling the manufacturing on its own.
Sometimes publishers go their own way, of course, using a different theme or art from the original publication because they think it will be a better fit for their market or the game design itself. (When I brought up Lato z Komarami, Egmont Polska's edition of LAMA, as an example of this, Knizia said that actually the Egmont version of that game matches his prototype as he had called the game "Mosquito" to highlight the annoying nature of them being left in your hand at the end of a round. "For AMIGO, the mosquito wasn't the most sympathetic character", says Knizia, so that publisher swapped the mosquito for a llama. Given the Spiel des Jahres nomination for that game, AMIGO might have made the right call...)
Knizia emphasizes that Ravensburger is perfectly within its rights not to license its art for whatever reasons it wants, but this decision made things difficult for his licensing efforts given that Ravensburger was already covering the largest markets — North America and much of Europe — on its own. "For smaller publishers with smaller markets, they might have a harder time paying for new art and graphics given how much is needed for this game," he says.
As a result, says Knizia, "For the first time in my career, I've financed and commissioned artwork for a game. I decided to step in and make sure that we would have unifying graphics. It cost me a lot of time, but that's what I had to invest to ensure that the game would exist in many countries." That said, Knizia knows that despite all of his years in the industry, his expertise is not in publishing and game production, so he went looking for someone who could handle all of the artwork, graphic design, and pre-production work.
He found Vincent Dutrait.
"He had done my Medici for Grail Games, along with other titles for them, and he's very experienced in multiple areas," says Knizia. "When he told me that The Quest for El Dorado was his favorite game, we had a deal."
At this point, Knizia says they have the graphics, a working template of the game in the English language, and the ability to license the game in territories or language/territory combinations not covered by Ravensburger. When publishers want to join the project, they need only to replace the English in the master template with a translation of the text into the language(s) specified in their license with Knizia.
In a tweet on July 9, Knizia had stated that the game would appear in eleven languages not covered by Ravensburger, but following the publicity of his original announcement, a twelfth language edition has been signed. Those languages are Dutch (from 999 Games); Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish (from Lautapelit.fi); and (from publishers still to be announced) Chinese, Greek, Hungarian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, and Russian. (The Lautapelit.fi edition will include components and rules in English, but it cannot be sold by the publisher outside of Finland and Scandinavia.)
Knizia declined to name the other publishers so that they could make announcements on their own schedule, although he chose to announce the existence of this edition himself in order to bring awareness of it to game markets worldwide because at this point he's still looking for a Baltic publisher, a publisher for a Portuguese edition, and a publisher able to cover New Zealand and Australia. During our call, he referenced a map with pins in countries around the world. Not every country has a pin, of course, so he's open to hearing from publishers in other areas as well...
In terms of the actual manufacturing of the game, that's another area outside of Knizia's expertise. Dutch publisher 999 Games is overseeing production of the base game — getting costs to licensees, ensuring that they submit translations for their part of the production line, etc. — for those publishers that want to sign up, which so far consists of 999 Games and Lautapelit.fi, as well as the publishers of the Hungarian, Japanese, and Korean versions. Eduard van Buggenum from 999 Games told me that "the coordinated production" of these games will allow for their release in early 2020.
Knizia notes that some of the licensees have their own production facilities, so they have decided to produce the game themselves with the new Dutrait graphics under the license with Knizia, and some of these versions will be on the market before the end of 2019.
The large cards in this edition are intended to highlight Dutrait's artwork
As for the aforementioned expansions, Knizia says, "Being able to control doing the graphics, it gives me freedom to do expansions myself for different territories. There are lots of expansion opportunities in El Dorado, and the advantage now is that I don't have to convince an individual publisher. I discuss it with Vincent, and we do it."
That said, this doesn't mean that expansions for The Quest for El Dorado will appear for this version of the base game right away. "It's a bit too early for us to talk about those", says van Buggenum. "Speaking for 999 Games, usually a board game first has to 'prove itself' in our market before we print an expansion. For now, the currently planned production of the Vincent Dutrait version is for the base game only."
Knizia says that Dutrait has completed artwork for the cards in the promo pack for The Quest for El Dorado that was released in Spielbox and at Gen Con 2018. (The "Binoculars" card in the Twitter image at top is from the promo pack.) "Some publishers will include this in the box, and some will give it away as a promotional item."
The hat serves as a first-player marker
"We have many ideas", continues Knizia. "They are in development, and it depends on individual publishers what we will do with them. For some publishers, it's important to have ideas of expansions, and others focus solely on the base game. The publishers will decide what they want to do. I will build the world, then the publishers can take one thing or another from it."
Admittedly, says Knizia, the situation is unusual compared to what existed before. "Now we have two arms, two different worlds: the Vohwinkel world and the Dutrait world. What is important to me is that Ravensburger has their market, their channels, and I'm now covering different channels, different markets. For many people in those markets, the game is brand new, which will create a drive for new expansions." Speaking of which, Knizia confirms that The Quest for El Dorado: The Golden Temples is on track for release from Ravensburger at SPIEL '19 in October.
As for what follows after that, it largely depends on the market — by which I mean "markets", specifically the seventeen language-based markets that currently exist or will exist within the next twelve months for The Quest for El Dorado. People might be frustrated that the new Dutrait version of the game won't be sold in their country or their language, but keep in mind that the Heroes & Hexes expansion from Ravensburger currently exists solely in a dual English/German edition. Perhaps French, Spanish, and Italian versions will exist in the future, and perhaps not.
Publishers produce games because they think they can sell them, so you can't be assured that a Dutrait version of Heroes & Hexes or The Golden Temples will ever exist until you see them announced — and if everyone holds off from buying the Dutrait base game because they want to know first whether they can get the "whole" line, then poor sales will doom any chances of that. That situation can be frustrating, yes, but the alternative would be for not even the base game to exist in these languages. Knizia thought he could do more with his creation, so he created his own opportunities to do more. As for what treasure we'll find next in this line of games, we'll all find out together in the years to come.
For those who don't know, Las Vegas is a dice-based, area-majority game that no one outside of BGG would described as an area-majority game. You play multiple rounds, and at the start of each round, you lay out money next to six casinos. On a turn, you roll all the dice you have, then place all the dice of one number in the casino that matches that number, taking back the remaining dice to roll on your next turn. Once everyone has placed all of their dice, you payout the money in each casino, with the player who has the most dice in a casino getting the largest denomination bill in that casino, then the player with the next most dice getting the next-largest bill, etc.
The twist is that before divvying out the money, if you have the same number of dice in a casino as someone else, then you must remove your dice from that casino. Open that collar because ties are worthless in Vegas!
Las Vegas is brilliantly simple, with rules that get people playing within a minute. I've had great success over the years teaching it to casual players because all of them got into the gambling aspect of the game immediately, especially since you feel like you have staked a claim on a bill as soon as you place dice in a casino. You're invested in the game. Hands off my bucks!
Camera-shy opponents let the game stand on its own...
Las Vegas Royale changes the base game in small but meaningful ways, such as giving players two chips each round that they can spend to place no dice in a casino after rolling; this lets you pass after terrible rolls or delay placing dice so that you can see which casinos have the most competition, but at the end of the game each chips is worth $10,000, so you have to weigh whether the cost is worth the potential of a better payout down the road. Each player also now has a giant die and seven small dice instead of only eight small dice — a change that originated in Las Vegas Boulevard — and that giant die counts as two dice when determining who takes home money from a casino. It feels good to have that giant die amongst all the others, the threat of it in each roll, with you being able to swing a casino into your column quickly.
The third main change is how money is placed at the casino at the start of each round. In Las Vegas, you dealt bills — which were valued from $10-90,000 — one by one until a casino had at least $50,000, which meant that many casinos had only a single bill or lots of little bills; in Las Vegas Royale, the bills are valued from $30,000 to $100,000, and at the start of each round you deal out six pairs of bills, then you arrange those bills at the casinos from high to low in the 6 to 1 casinos. Now two bills are in play at each casino, which changes how desirable those casinos are: two big bills will make you happy for second, and the two players with the most dice try to play nice; one big and one small creates a king of the hill feeling; and two small bills has the feel of a wasteland, yet one you're okay competing for only a die or two. Small bills are still better than no bills, after all.
The "Royale" part of Las Vegas Royale comes from the expansion tiles, with the game featuring eight double-sided tiles. The rules suggest playing with tiles on the 1-3 casinos, juicing up those casinos with a poor payout by giving players something else to fight over. Each of the sixteen tile sides has different rules, with some of them adding mini-games to the main game (which means more ways for you to win chips or money), some of them adding tools to thwart others at casinos, and some of them just being a way to grab more bills.
The base game of Las Vegas continues to dazzle as one of the best quick-playing dice games on the market, and the expansions — should you choose to use them — beef up the gameplay with twists that allow you to reclaim dice or gamble on the side apart from the main action at the casinos.
Preorder Ultimate Werewolf Legacy now from beziergames.com
Ultimate Werewolf Legacy
While this is a designer diary, it's also in many ways a developer diary, as I tend to wear two hats these days. Despite having played what must be thousands of different board games over the years, I had never played a "point shedding" game until I was introduced to Cabo (first edition) at Greg Schloesser's weekly East Tennessee Gamers game night a few years ago. A recent transplant to Tennessee from California, I was discovering all sorts of great games that were super common in the southeast, while introducing west coast staples to the good folks here.
Cabo had been a surprise hit for the group. Lots of players who normally stick to heavier games enjoyed it, as well as casual gamers. I liked it right away, and when I tried to purchase a copy afterward, I discovered that it had been out of print for several years. After a little research, I found all sorts of similar card games that had the mechanism I call "point shedding", which is the process of reducing the sum of points in your hand by trading out your cards for other ones, and even reducing the number of cards in your hand overall. These games included Rat-a-Tat Cat, Skyjo, and the public domain Golf, played with a traditional card deck.
Cabo stood out because it provided abilities along with the base mechanisms, adding spice without too much randomness. It had a good chunk of interaction between players, a light memory element, and a dramatic reveal at the end of each round.
However, as a gamer, I wanted more. During many turns, I found myself going through the motions because there was an obvious play (take a lower card or one that matches an existing card) or no real option (just discard the card you drew).
With that in mind, I started working on a Cabo variant in which more cards had abilities. These abilities were offshoots of what Cabo did at a base level, but as I added them, the variant turned into something quite different.
The first thing I did was to reduce the memory element by keeping cards drawn from the discard pile face up. These were known cards already, and by placing them face down in Cabo, you have to remember their value along with the other cards you've viewed. Keeping track of seen cards was tiring and sometimes frustrating, and players with highly developed short-term memory skills would do better than those of us without that particular talent. Keeping cards face up that everyone has seen created a more level playing field.
Abilitizing Face-up Cards
The next thing was to add abilities to the low-number cards that work only when face up in your village. One of the first cards was the Bodyguard (#3), which could protect another card in your village from abilities that allow players to move or swap your cards. I quickly discovered that the only way to get a card face up in your village to protect your other cards was to draw it from the discard pile. This caused players to hang onto unseen cards, making the "peek" ability (which allows you to look at one of your cards) much more valuable. Further, no one wanted to give up a face-up 3 because it handed a huge advantage to the player on your left.
Thus, two new abilities were added: the Exposer (#5), which allows you to turn one of your own cards face up, and the Revealer (#6), which allows you to turn any card face up. These cards were valuable in the early game as they allowed players to find out what unknown cards were, and maybe add an ability to the mix if those were low cards.
Other low card abilities came soon after: The Empath (#2) allows you to view a face-down card each turn, and for each Rascal (#4) face up in front of you, you can draw an extra card from the deck (returning unchosen cards back on top of the deck). Just having these three abilities made drawing a 5 or 6 an interesting choice. If you've seen those three cards in front of you, which one do you turn face up? Being able to view unseen cards is huge, but protecting your low value cards is also valuable, and then there's the extra options you have by drawing two cards each turn (which also tells you what the player to your left might draw). That sort of decision is the kind of thing I look for in games, where the right answer is both subjective and situational.
Later in development, I added the Squire (#1) ability. Having a 1 is valuable by itself (and an easy target for other players), so I gave him an ability that benefits everyone. For each face-up Squire, a card from the top of the deck is also displayed face up. Players can then choose from the face-up deck card, the unseen top card of the deck, or the discard pile. As a bonus, taking a face-up deck card keeps it face up in front of you, so you don't have to memorize what the card is and can use its ability if it is a low card. Face-up Squires help keep games different and fresh.
It's great to have all those choices, but not so great that the other players have those choices, too. When multiple deck cards are face up, your opponents can learn a lot about your hidden cards by watching which card you choose.
The last card to get a face-up ability was the Villager (#0). For a long time the Villager was just a zero, already an amazing card to have in front of you. During the thousands of playtest rounds, I realized that I wanted more tension; if no one called, the deck would slowly run out, and the round would end with more of a whimper than a bang. The Villager's ability changes that. The game includes only two Villagers, and if, and only if, both of them are face up in front of players, the round ends instantly. No one else gets a turn, and you have to turn your cards face up.
The interesting thing about this is that the game runs along as usual until one of the Villagers is turned face up. At that point, it's a time bomb, especially if you don't know where the other Villager is (or even if anyone has him). Anyone can turn over a card and it could be the other Villager, ending the game suddenly, so with one Villager face up, your strategy has to adjust for this sudden end because you don't want to be stuck with any high value cards. On the other hand, if you've got a pretty good hand and you know where the other Villager is, flipping him face up could be huge for you — a low score for you and a potential high score for your opponents.
Adios Cabo, Hi-Yo Silver!
It wasn't long before the game became more than a Cabo variant. It needed its own identity. I also realized some things that weren't working were holdovers from Cabo (first edition) and could now be easily changed. On the chopping block were the following:
• The Cabo theme (or lack thereof)
• The funky artwork of the original edition • The lack of variety in special abilities with a single deck • The name of the game • Playing up to five players • Having only four cards in front of you • Pretending your cards match just to see what they are • Different length rounds based on how many players were playing • Playing until a player reaches more than 100 points total (the game was too long) • The lowest total always scores 0 points, whether that player called or not • You can play a round forever if no one calls • The 50-point kamikaze (if your four cards = 50 points, you get 0, everyone else gets 50) • Jumping back down to 50 points if you hit 100 exactly • The dreaded 13 card (only useful for the kamikaze)
First up was deciding whether this new game should have a theme, and what it might be. As I developed the game, I had been using familiar names for the cards from our other werewolf games and tried to match up some of the mechanisms loosely. The numbers though...what could they be?
Well, in most of our games, werewolves are the bad guys, and usually you want to eliminate them, so the numbers became the number of werewolves in your village, which showed how many werewolves followed the different characters. Thus, the high-powered Robber (#12) would have twelve werewolves hanging around him, while the lowly Villager wouldn't have any. Treating each player's line of cards as a village worked well (an idea borrowed from Legend Dan Hoffman's excellent Ultimate Werewolf Inquisition). Other themes could have also worked, but it was nice to fold this into the werewolf mythos, with similarly named characters and abilities to other games.
No, Really, It's Not from 3D Software
While developing the game, I used artwork from our other games, usually One Night where roles matched up. Once the theme was locked down, I went in search of an artist to fulfill the vision I had, and finally found one: Andrey Gordeev.
Andrey's art is absolutely amazing, and I was thrilled when he agreed to join the project. He's still working on artwork for future games in the Silver line even now, and my favorite emails are the ones I get from him that contain new sketches and color versions of new roles. Andrey's art looks like something you'd see in a Pixar or Dreamworks feature, but he actually creates it all the old-fashioned way (well, digitally old-fashioned, by painting in Photoshop, not with a dedicated 3D program). Each and every character he's created has a ton of personality and all sorts of great little tweaks. Since you're slogging through this really long diary, here's a fun secret for you: Each card has werewolves on it equal to the number on the card. Some are obvious, while some are hidden. When you, erm, spot the Cow in Silver Bullet, you'll know what I mean.
As there were more cards with special abilities in development than would fit in the game, I had been considering releasing this game on Kickstarter and using the other special ability cards as Kickstarter bonuses, then selling the bonus cards later as a bonus pack. It worked for the One Night games, after all.
But soon the number of cards in development was in the dozens, and I realized that the number would continue to grow. (We're currently testing about one hundred unique cards in addition to the ones that will be published this year.) That this might be a series of compatible games was forming as an idea, and I tentatively called the base game the A deck, with the next one being the B deck, etc.
The Game Names Themselves
As a game designer and publisher, trying to find a unique name for your game that somehow communicates what the game is about, while still being interesting and memorable is always a challenge — but in this case, the name came pretty naturally.
Once the Amulet of Protection (which had debuted in Ultimate Werewolf: Ultimate Edition) was added to the game, I didn't realize it, but the name was already decided once I started naming the decks/games with items alphabetically. The A deck had an amulet. The B deck should have (it seems so obvious now) a bullet! And what's more awesome for fighting werewolves than a silver bullet? Silver is something that's traditionally been used to defeat werewolves, so why not have a different object in each game? And they could all be silver!
The toughest part was deciding the name of the first game. I went back and forth between Silver and "Silver Amulet" for a while, before deciding on Silver, knowing that each follow-up game would start with the word "Silver" and have the item after it. The word "Amulet" is on some of the box sides, so if you do collect them all, you'll have a nice Amulet/Bullet/Cxxxx/Dxxxx/etc. display.
Goodbye, Player #5
Cabo supports up to eight players if you mix two decks together. Like "Trichu" (the horrendous three-player variant of Tichu), you should avoid this at all costs. With a single deck, up to five players could play. Unfortunately, this results in waiting wayyyyy too long for your turn, trying to track all of those face-down cards (since in Cabo every discard pile draw goes face down in front of you), and having opponents get five chances to destroy your call.
Four players makes the game more snappy, and with the new abilities, two and three players results in an entirely different feel. I've played hundreds of games at all player counts with Silver, and while everyone has their preference for the "best number of players", I truly couldn't tell you if one is better than another as I like all three different player counts for different reasons.
Hello, Card #5
Having four cards in front of you was less satisfying in terms of the rush you get when you exchange matching cards, so Silver starts with you having five cards. You still look at two at the beginning of the game, then have to figure out what the other three are. This fifth card provided more interesting options when you had face-up card abilities, too.
Fake Matchers, Beware!
The "fake matching card trade" trick that gamers did with Cabo always bugged me. In Cabo, you can always exchange any number of matching cards. If they don't match, you put the card you drew on the discard pile and flip your cards back down. The only penalty was a loss of your turn, but in the process, you learned what all your unknown cards were, without waiting for a "Peek" card. Gamers, hmmmph!
So a new rule said if two cards you tried to exchange didn't match, you had to keep the card you drew as well as the cards you tried to exchange. And if three or more cards don't match, you get the card you drew plus another card off the top of the deck. The goal was not to penalize folks who can't remember their cards, but to stop rampant fake-matching card trading, and it worked.
Consistency Between Player Counts
Because a Cabo deck ends up being smaller when you have more players, it changes the rhythm of the game, making abilities harder to balance.
In Silver, you deal out four sets of five cards regardless of how many people are playing. With fewer than four players, you place the unused sets of cards off to the side. This results in a deck that is always 31 cards (plus a face-up discard). It might seem like a little thing, but five extra cards in a three-player game, or ten extra in a two-player game changes the feel of the rounds as well as strategies — and not in a good way. Every round of Silver still has a varying number of turns (since players can draw from the discard pile as well as the draw deck), but there's less variance than if the deck was a different size for each player count.
Four Rounds Is Just Right!
Lots and lots of rounds of Silver later, we realized that a specific point total as game end wasn't right. Not only did it feel too long, there wasn't a good flow to the game. After a ton of experimenting with different ending conditions (Time limit! Lowest score to reach X! X successful calls! X rounds!), I settled on four rounds. It made the first game, as players learn the mechanisms and base strategies, take about 45 minutes, with subsequent games clocking in around 30 minutes.
Calling Is a Dramatic Event
Calling for a vote in Silver is higher stakes than in Cabo. In Cabo, you call "Cabo" if you think you have the lowest total. If you do, great, you get 0 points. If not, you get your sum +5, and the player with the actual lowest total gets 0. Calling isn't particularly a great strategy since if you have the lowest total you'll get 0 anyway, and you're mostly risking 5 points to end the round quickly.
In Silver, the reward and penalties are more dramatic. When you call for a vote in Silver, and you have the lowest (or match the lowest) number of werewolves in your village, you get 0 points. You also get the Silver Amulet of Protection, which gives you a special, one-time ability to permanently protect a card the next round. If you're wrong, you score the sum of your cards, plus ten points.
Rounds Should End, Right?
In Cabo, each round continues until someone calls. The deck is out? Shuffle the discard pile and keep playing until someone calls. In Silver, the round ends in one of three ways: someone calls for a vote, the deck runs out, or both Villagers are face up in players' villages. The round will end, often sooner than you originally expected.
Shooting the Moon
You have a way to catch the leader in Cabo — but only if things go according to plan. You must get both 13s and two of the four 12s, then someone else has to call, and no one can mess with your cards. Then you get 0 points and everyone else gets 50. I've played a lot of Cabo, and this is incredibly rare. We removed this from Silver because final game scores are much lower than in Cabo. Also, getting both 13s is easier because of the Master (#10) ability, which lets you grab a card of your choice from the discard pile.
If You Reach 100, Something Went Very Very Wrong
One cool thing in Cabo is that if you're losing, you can redeem yourself if your score equals 100 points exactly. It sounds hard, but it's fairly common among Cabo players. Since Silver scores should never get to 100 (at least, not with the base set of cards), we threw that rule out.
The 13 Is One of the Best Cards in Silver
As opposed to Cabo, where the 13 is only good for a kamikaze, the Doppelgänger (#13) in Silver automatically matches any other card(s) you are discarding, so having it in your village is a good thing (and it's usually a top choice when someone plays a Master, and a Doppelgänger is in the discard pile). Of course, if the game ends suddenly via double Villager exposure, you're hosed. But that edginess adds a lot of excitement to the game.
Cabo: Second Edition
Through all of the playtesting and developing of Silver, I had been trying to secure the license for Cabo itself. The good news, as you probably already know, is that we got it and made a whole bunch of little tweaks to Cabo, including:
• Cards from the discard pile stay face up • A unicorn theme (some would say pasted on, but...whatever)
• Redid the artwork (inspired by the original very funky art) • Removed the fifth player • Added an anti-"fake matching card trade" rule • Removed the "lowest total always gets 0" rule • Changed the round-ending conditions to include running out of cards in the deck • Lots of other little tweaks
All of which make Cabo even better!
Silver Now and Silver Bullet Soon
Silver launches with a limited number of copies at Gen Con 2019, and it should be available in stores in September 2019. Just one month later, we'll launch Silver Bullet at SPIEL '19. Silver Bullet has the same gameplay, but with fourteen new ability cards and a Silver Bullet in place of the Amulet.
As Silver was in development, there were a ton of ideas and thoughts about abilities. Only one ability from Cabo made it into Silver directly: the Apprentice Seer (#8), who can view a card in another player's village. "Peek" from Cabo was thrown out and replaced by the Beholder (#7), who can view two cards in your own village; knowing your cards is incredibly useful, and viewing two instead of one made a lot of sense with three initially unknown cards. "Swap" was also thrown out, replaced by the Robber (#12), who lets you steal a card from another player, then view your new card.
The new abilities in Silver Bullet change the game in some interesting ways, with a heavier focus on flipping cards face up and face down, the ability to use powers of cards you didn't draw that turn, and even the ability to slow down and speed up the round.
A Grand Design for Abilities
Once you play both games, you'll see some underlying rules we have for what abilities do with certain numbers. The 10 card in all decks is some sort of Vampire who interacts with the discard pile. The 7, 8, and 9 cards give you more information about face-down cards. The 5 and 6 are about flipping cards, and the 11 and 12 are interactive cards that affect other players directly. There are other guidelines, and they'll start to become apparent as we reveal additions to the Silver line. That's right, we are currently developing a whole bunch of additional Silver games (after all, we have a whole bunch of cards to work with), with two or three scheduled for 2020, and even more in 2021 — and some of the abilities are crazy fun.
These guidelines were really important when developing both the base game and the sequels because these aren't just standalone games. You can mix and match cards from the games together by replacing all the numbers from one set with the same numbers from another set. We spent a lot of time with Silver and Silver Bullet playtesting combos, such as evens and odds, lows and highs, and even primes and non-primes. Those are all seven sets of numbers from each, but you can mix any number of numbers and the game will still be balanced and fun.
We did some testing of other ways to combine the game, and while they work, the end result wasn't as solid as simply removing all of one number from one game and replacing it with all of that number from another game (for any number of numbers). We tested having two of each number from two different games, having one of each number from four different games, randomly picking 52 cards from a giant pile of cards from all the sets available (that wasn't fun), and even playing with multiple sets of the same number (like twelve 3s, sixteen 9s, and no 1s, 2s, 5s, 13s, 0s, or 12s). But the most consistently good games were those that swapped out complete sets of numbers.
The Silver App
While Silver has been in development, we've been hard at work developing an app for it. This free app has all the cards in the base game and provides a compelling two-player (you versus the AI) game that allows you to try out the game to see whether it's for you. Look for the app on iOS and Android soon!
Special Silver Components
Once we decided on including a silver amulet, we were determined to make it metal. (Real silver would have been nice, but it would've jacked up the MSRP a little too much.) Both the silver amulet and the silver bullet are solid metal, with a great feel and great table presence.
Silver includes a scorepad that is fifty double-sided pages, good for one hundred games or even more if some are two player. It even has dedicated rows for subtotals (after rounds two and three), and a total row at the bottom.
The four reference cards are great for your first few games, telling you things you can do each turn, and what the icons on the bottom of the cards mean.
Because we knew that there would be more games in the Silver series, and players would want to combine cards from each game, we worked with Noah at Game Trayz to create an insert that allows players to sort each numbered card set in the game (as well as the set of reference cards), whether those cards are sleeved or not. Because Noah is awesome, he created a pocket for the scorepad, and then he went totally nuts and designed another pocket for the silver token that will be in each game, and gave it a snap-tight lid so your amulet/bullet/whatever won't fly around the box — all out of a single piece of plastic. Game Trayz rock, if you didn't realize that before.
The Silver Debut with Game Mats
If you stop by the Bézier Games booth at Gen Con (or SPIEL), you'll notice that our tables are covered with giant 36" x 36" player mats specially designed for Silver and Silver Bullet. These are so awesome that we had extra ones printed for Gen Con attendees. (They aren't included with the game, but should be reasonably priced.)
We'd love to have you stop by at Gen Con, take a look at Silver (and Silver Bullet), and maybe pick up a copy. We're tight on timing, so we've air-shipped only five hundred copies to the show, so stop by early if you think it's something you'll enjoy.
Now, I'm back to working on the next batch of Silver games due in 2020! Thanks for reading the Silver design diary!
Some people hate the one-and-done nature of escape room games and legacy designs, viewing them as wasteful, antithetical to what games are, or both. I can appreciate the first concern, although I don't view such games as necessarily more wasteful than other designs, but in a grander sense, each playing of a game is one-and-done. Yes, some game designs invite and allow for repeated playings with the same components, but that quality isn't inherent in determining what is — and what isn't — a game.
The gist of each episode of Undo is that someone has died. People die all the time, of course, but for some reason you and fellow players, Weavers of Fate that you are, have taken particular interest in this person, so much so that you will revisit past events and meddle in those happenings to try to prevent this death.
You're not all-knowing, however. The past is laid out in eleven story cards (as well as one story card that takes place after the person's death), and over the nine rounds of the game, you encounter nine of these twelve story cards, piecing together what's happening so that when you're confronted with the A, B, and C choices of what should happen at the end of each story card, you make the best decision possible.
Based on my experience with each of these titles on review copies from Pegasus Spiele, each mini-scenario on a story card and its related choices spur lots of discussion among players, then you look at the fate card associated with your choice, e.g. 6C, to discover whether you've been assigned a 0 (meaning that you changed nothing about the person's fate), a positive number (which suggests a positive change), or a negative number (which suggests that you shouldn't meddle with such things because you're just making the situation worse).
After visiting nine locations in time, you sum the points on the fate cards, then look at the concluding elements to determine whether you saved the person. You also get to read a summary of events that brought the person to that critical moment as well as the most important elements in their past, the ones that ideally you will have switched onto a new track to undo the past.
That revamped version is Yggdrasil Chronicles, a game solely by Lefebvre for 1-5 players that keeps the co-operative nature of the earlier game, while adding a campaign mode with a fifty-page saga book. Here's an overview of the setting and gameplay:
In Yggdrasil Chronicles, each player takes the role of a Norse god and attempts to keep evil forces from devastating the nine worlds, destroying the world tree Yggdrasil, and surviving the onset of Ragnarök.
To set up, each player takes one of the seven Norse gods, 5-9 life points (depending on the player count), and a set of cards showing the six enemies who are attacking the nine worlds; you shuffle these enemy cards and place them next to you. These nine worlds are represented on a three-level, 3D game board, with the board having locations for artifact cards, creature cards, hero pawns, elf pawns, anonymous pawns, and more. Each level of the board depicts three worlds on it, and the middle board rotates.
At the start of a round, each player places the top card of their enemy deck on the "Wheel of Enemies". Players can take turns in any order. On a player's turn, they first reveal their enemy card. If this is the first appearance of this enemy this round, the player continues their turn; if not, then the enemy is activated, typically moving to a different world, then taking some action. If the enemy can't move, e.g., Surt is supposed to move up a level, but is already on the top level, you lose the game. If the enemy can't take its action, e.g., Loki needs to place an Iotunn pawn, but none remain in Iotunheim, you lose the game.
While normally you hope to avoid duplicating an enemy, you want to double up on Nidhögg as that enemy starts on the leftmost space in your saga book, and if Nidhögg moves all the way to the tree icon, you win the game. (Nidhögg might also trigger effects when moving to a new location.)
If an enemy moves to where another enemy is located, that world is devastated and no action is possible there except for healing the world tree.
Whether or not an enemy is activated, you can then move — either to a different world on the same level or a different level above or below your current location — then act, either performing the action of the world in which you're now located or fighting. Powerful god that you are, you always win a fight, but you suffer "risks" equal to the strength of the enemy. You can sacrifice heroes in Valhalla to remove risks or make saving throws on dice, possibly with an elf assist, but each risk you don't prevent costs you 1 life point — and if any god runs out of life points, you lose the game.
As for performing world actions, you can collect elves, heroes, artifact cards; remove Hel's anonymous minions or Surt's fire giants; or receive help from worldly creatures. If another god stands in this world, your action is improved; if an enemy stands in that world, then your action is penalized.
In addition to that base game, you can play Yggdrasil Chronicles on the hard mode, which increases the challenge of gameplay while giving each god unique powers. The game also includes a six-saga "Ragnarök campaign" that begins with Baldr's murder, then carries on from there.
• Rio Grande Games has a second printing of Vladimír Suchý's Underwater Cities heading to market, with this version now including the Biodome promo that was originally released separately (and that's still available via the BGG Store). This edition also features an extra sheet of single resource chips, cardboard player boards instead of a paper ones, and a reinforced box bottom to keep all this stuff in place.
Ken Hill, production manager at Rio Grande, notes that while an upgrade pack is available via some European retailers to make the original English-language release from Delicious Games match the production of the first printing of the game from RGG, no upgrade pack is available for earlier editions to match the new edition coming from Rio Grande. "There was no real practical way to make this happen", says Hill. That said, "Current plans from Delicious Games include even better player boards to be made available in the expansion which will be out at SPIEL '19." Rio Grande Games will distribute that expansion in English for those not making the trip to Essen.
This is the story of a nice story, one of those that should never end, such as a Ken Follett book or an HBO episode.
I work at Libellud with the best job in the world, awesome colleagues, nice projects, and a workplace located one hundred meters from my flat in the center of a welcoming city. My game has now been published by Libellud, a great French game publisher, as far as I know, even if I had never stepped around to the other side where designers and illustrators are interacting with us.
Episode I: Frustration
The Incident happened on the 24th of May in 2017. Wikipedia notes that May 24 is the birthday of Daniel Fahrenheit, Charlie Taylor, Bob Dylan, and Kristin Scott Thomas and that... Funny how the time can be wasted on Wikipedia!
This 24th of May was quite an event for me because it was the first time a publisher played one of my games — and this playing was involuntary.
I have made a lot of game prototypes, starting when I was ten with my bro Clément and my friend Camille, but the only purpose was to entertain our friends. Each time, it began with "Man, it would be awesome if we could do this", then we proposed some ideas. These ideas became games that existed in no more than a single sample, which gave us some bad/good times for an afternoon or evening. As we were far from the gaming world, we never thought one of our creations could be published. We also never used the word "prototype".
It is weird, but I did not have more expectations with this "Spies" prototype.
At that time, Libellud — especially the game designer team — was thinking about new image interpretation games that would function differently. This story begins with a Dixit-like prototype from Alexandre, who has done a great job of various experimentations with this game mechanism. I LOVE his One Key, and I like Illusions. Regarding the third prototype, I'm frustrated. It's May 15th, nine days before the Incident.
Do ideas come from frustration? In my case, often. Sometimes by writing, regularly by playing. A kind of internal "Man, it would be awesome if we could do this" that plants in the head and waits and grows. Then — sometimes — it meets some other seeds and Wham! something is born.
A light bulb turns on in my head: "Man, it would be awesome if we could plan several Dixit/Mysterium enigmas", that is puzzles that the guesser must solve. I talk about this idea to Alexandre and Valentin since both work as game designers for Libellud. One of them gives me the right answer: "That's a good idea. Guys from the game design team will think about it." The other one asks me why I don't do it myself. Funny question. Why not? The idea goes through my mind for several hours, and I decide to try that very evening.
In my view, the game plays out like a line. I know I have several consecutive enigmas to solve with my deck of cards; I must think about the best way to manage them all in a row, as a road — which will mean accepting that I cannot play the best card if it matches with an upcoming enigma. Hmm, a line could quickly become boring. I want to choose. I need to choose. Other roads? Some intersections? A map! As if we would move on a Mysterium/Codenames board card by card.
Then comes another flash. I have already had a similar "pictures-map" idea: The game takes place in 1944 in a Paris made from square cards viewed from above. Players are members of the French Resistance or German invaders. Moves are done from card to card, based on image interpretation. The Resistance leader gives several cards to their team, and some of these cards can be intercepted by the invaders' team. There's no real-time gameplay in this idea. Only a draft of this idea exists among everything else in my online sandbox on Google Docs. It has never been materialized.
Playing something similar, but in a competitive way fits the new idea. However, going from a square card to an adjacent one gives only four possible replies to an enigma. This is not enough for a Dixit player. By allowing for diagonal movement, each enigma would have eight possible replies, but this would be too complex while playing in real time. In the middle, there is the number six, as in Dixit.
Six, and therefore the hexagon.
Before building the first map, I decide that I want the first moves to be easy, then for gameplay to crescendo. By removing a few hexes around the central starting space, I can give players first the possibility of moving to one of three spaces (which helps them start in the desired direction), then one out of four, then one of five or six, which is where the adventure begins!
I think I missed my graphic designer destiny
Players now have missions. They must find two spots of the same color (one of them is probably on a purple hexagon) without stopping on the forbidden tiles marked "Ø". The game is team-based and real time. In each team, a leader provides information by giving one or two cards to make their teammates move, then refills their hand to six cards. When receiving one card, teammates move their pawn from one space to an adjacent space. Receiving two cards enables teammates to move their pawn two spaces, which helps them move more quickly during the game, but which increases the number of spaces that they must consider, thereby increasing the risk that they go where the leader doesn't want them to. Receiving two cards enables them to move through forbidden tiles without penalty.
It's still May 15th. The night was fruitful, but nothing exists outside Google.
Episode II: Spies
I don't like cutting and gluing to make prototypes. This is an exhausting task that will be repeated 2, 3, 8, 42 times, possibly for nothing. Lots of ideas are here, crouching in a link in the toolbar of my browser, thirty pages of ideas, with 95% of them never having been used.
How to produce in an easy way around sixty cards? That's not difficult, but you have to commit an irredeemable act by selling your soul to the devil. Faint-hearted, please avoid reading the remainder of this paragraph and shield yourself from the image below while going directly to the next one. I gathered cards from Dixit that are related to mystery, doors, keys, races, vehicles, city, streets, documents, men in suits, money...and I used a pattern to cut them up. Four snips of scissors to shape the mythic Dixit cards into hexagons. Two evenings later, the result is quite satisfying.
Those with faint hearts should look away...
Technically, I have all that I need. On Tuesday, May 23rd, I informed Valentin. His answer: "Cool. You'll bring it tomorrow, won't you? - Oh… well... OK." The goal was to playtest it with colleagues before they would go to Libellud's games night.
Battle stations! I needed to come up with an ending for the game. Once brooding in bed, I came up with one, with poker chips standing for the markers that need to be collected because I love the Splendor effect.
I then tested it with my former partner in order to confirm that the movement mechanism does work. I set up the game. It looks like Codenames, a bit. I haven't figured that out before. At this moment, it freaks me out. (Today, I think that the game screen in Mysterium is also a kind of giant Codenames key-card. The matrix is just transcripted in a different way.) We start playing the game, me proud and anxious.
And it's a flop. Sure, there is only one team, but the game itself does not work. There is no tension, and we keep moving around the board several times without winning or losing. I am peeved. It's 10 p.m. I have a spatial Mysterium/Codenames that does not work. We are the day before the Incident.
I can't go to bed after this. I know I will not be able to sleep. I reopen InDesign, needing to correct two things: tension and experience time. Yes, the game will have more tension when two teams are competing in real time, but the game still needs more. However, there must be an accomplishment, too, and for the moment, that is too weak. I increase the number of markers in the game to nine, with them becoming briefcases containing intelligence. Some spaces now contain several briefcases in order to bring interaction and decrease frustration. By adding markers to the game, I create room for players to make mistakes; even if you start moving the wrong way, you have more of a chance of arriving next to another briefcase.
I create nine stickers ready to be glued on poker chips the next day. I also add two "Exit" spaces where you have to go after having collected three briefcases. The theme is slowly being shaped, largely thanks to the images: In a cold-war atmosphere, two CIA teams have infiltrated Moscow. Each team must pick up three briefcases, then be the first to exfiltrate.
To increase the stress, I add a new element: Each team's pawn is a 30-second sand timer. If a team arrives on a KGB agent space (the spaces that previously showed a Ø), the team has 30 seconds to move two spaces away from the agent without running into another agent. At 3 a.m., I go to bed. It seems to be clearer, but I didn't playtest it.
The day after, at lunchtime, all is printed and glued, ready to play.
Episode III: The Incident
I set up the game at 6:15 p.m. seven players are here to play. I start explaining in a desultory way. In addition to my fatigue, all the information seems to come out randomly. The aim of the game is hard to comprehend, even by my colleagues which are used to Dixit and Mysterium. I decide to observe rather than play.
The first game starts, some additional explanations are required, then it ends after a two-minute hesitation following a KGB agent's encounter.
The second game is longer and, for the first time, intense. The race is real, stress is present as well as some insults and bullying. I can't remember how it ends, but it is quite positive — except for comments about the 30-second sand timer mechanism.
A third game starts with Alexandre and Léa as chiefs of their respective teams. You can feel the stress everywhere.
Then the incident occurs: Everybody likes or enjoys the game. I hear some sentences such as "heart-stopper", "ready to be published", and "Régis must play to it!" — Régis being Régis Bonnessée, the founder of Libellud and the designer of Himalaya, Seasons, and Dice Forge.
To my mind, it was an incident, meaning something abnormal was happening. I was expecting a bit of employer benevolence with a sentence such as "Quite cool game, but you should maybe rework some mechanisms...". Instead, I was destabilized by this positive feedback. That was completely confusing!
Back home, I created a file to follow up the versions: V0 for the version of the previous evening, and V1 for the first playtest version:
• V0 - Moderately smooth. goals are too linear. We go round in circles. Multiple exit spaces are needed. • V1 - Hard rules explanations. The aim is not easy to get. It works. Poor interaction.
The next day, I bring the game to the Game Design department to present it to Régis. They have already got some development ideas. One week after, they do the presentation to Régis, and I do not join them since I have work to do. A few days later, Régis calls me into his office to tell me that Libellud will take my game into development in order to publish it. That's a surprise, a very amazing surprise.
• Every year ahead of Gen Con and SPIEL — the two conventions with the most new game releases — I discover that we've added lots of new titles to the BGG database in the early months of the year that I thought would have been fleshed out by the time the convention opens, but they haven't been. When possible, I poke publishers to see whether they can provide more game details or pass along the rules so that I can do the fleshing.
With that in mind, here are detailed descriptions of two titles from Blue Orange Games that will debut at Gen Con 2019, with one of them being the 2-5 player game Pappy Winchester from Jérémy Pinget. Turns out that Pappy Winchester is an auction game through and through, with 19 nineteen plots of land being auctioned over the course of the game and with the winning bids being distributed among the other players a là Traumfabrik. Here's a detail description of the game:
Pappy Winchester has kicked the bucket! Poor thing, he was the king of swindlers and everyone knows he was filthy rich! His final wish was that his descendants would share his fortune and the plots of his ranch, with the richest becoming the new head of the family. After all, for him the most important thing was that his money stayed in the family! Pappy thought of everything and left an outline of his belongings. In Pappy Winchester, you and the other heirs are now assembled around this map to divvy up Pappy's possessions...
The game board features 19 plots of land, divided into seven desert plots, six prairie plots, and six forest plots, with train tracks and a river running crossways through the land, and a saloon set apart from everything else. To set up play, give each player $8,000 and two secret objective cards, then place a bonus token face down on each plot of land.
On a turn, the active player draws a plot token at random, then players hold an auction for that plot, with the winner marking it with one of their tokens, then revealing the bonus token and carrying out its effects. This token might let you look at the face-down mine or ranch cards to determine the value of those plots; move the train or boat along the tracks or river, with players owning properties adjacent to this vehicle's location earning money; or collect funds from the saloon. The winner of the auction then divides their bid as equally as possible among all other players, with any remainder being placed on the saloon.
Each player starts the game with a duel token, and when a player is involved in an auction that's down to them and someone else, they can decide to sped that token. If they do, a third player shuffles two duel cards — one showing a gun being fired, and the other not — then each bidder takes one of them, with the player holding the firing gun winning the auction.
Five piles of banknotes are laid out at the start of play, with a different shared objective card placed on each pile. If the completion of an auction allows a player to meet one or more of the objectives, such as owning one of each type of land or having three plots that don't touch the river, then that player claims the banknotes under that card. After the 19th auction, players reveal their secret objectives, earning money for how well they've met those goals, and whoever owns the most plots of land receives $5,000. Whoever now holds the most money wins!
In Dragon Market, players attempt to manipulate boats on a river in order to pick up the items they need to complete objective cards.
In more detail, each player starts the game with their figure on a pontoon in the corner of the board, and they take turns placing boats on the board, with each boat taking up three spaces; some boats have a sailor in the center space, while others have a sailor in the end seat. Each of the two empty spaces of each boat are then filled with two identical merchandise tokens, with the game including twenty types of merchandise. Each player starts the game with an objective card showing four different types of merchandise.
On a turn, the active player rolls the dice to determine how many actions they can take; they can spend 1-2 coins to add to this number of actions. Actions are:
—Slide a boat: You can move a boat any number of unoccupied spaces either forward or backward; a boat cannot move sideways. —Rotate a boat: You can rotate a boat 90º around its sailor through unoccupied spaces. —Move your figure: You can move your figure one space from a pontoon to a space on the boat that's empty or occupied by merchandise tokens or from one boat space to another or from a boat to a pontoon; you cannot move your figure over a sailor. When you move your figure onto a merchandise token showing on your objective card, you can pick it up.
If you don't spend all of your actions, take coins equal to the number of unspent actions to bank them for later. As soon as you have all of the merchandise needed for your objective card, return to your pontoon. Once you do, you draw a second objective card, and whoever completes two objective cards first wins.
Dragon Market also contains advanced objective cards that show 3-4 types of merchandise as well as a bonus. At the start of the game, each player draws two cards and keeps one of them. As soon as the player returns to their pontoon with the depicted goods, they reveal this objective card, then have access to this bonus, which provides either a one-time effect or an effect that can be used once each turn. They also draw two new objective cards and keep one of them. Whoever first completes three objective cards wins!
The game also includes team rules for both the regular and the advanced objective cards.
Okay, that's two more games detailed for our Gen Con 2019 Preview, which recently topped five hundred listings. Far too many to go...
• Rather than talk of a game's theme, I prefer to talk about its setting — that is, the environment in which the action of the game takes place. When you have an understanding of that environment, you can then imagine your role in it and make sense of game actions in those terms. I realize that one meaning of "theme" is "setting", but if I can use the word "setting" instead, then why not remove that additional mental step and be more direct in what I'm saying.
One of the most common go-to settings for game design is Wonderland, as in "Alice's Adventures in". Lewis Carroll's novel is a fixture in cultures the world over, and the book provides a multitude of fanciful environments, conflicts, and characters that designers and artists can draw on when deciding on a setting for their own creative works.
One such upcoming release that draws on that setting for source material is Gabriele Bubola's Hats, which ThunderGryph Games will debut at Gen Con 2019. In this 2-4 player game, each player starts with a hand of nine hat cards. On a turn, either you place a card face down in front of you as a "black hat" for 1 point, or you swap a card from your hand for a card of the same type (color) from the tea table board or a card of any type but of a lower value, adding this newly acquired card to your collection. At the end of eight rounds, the final card in your hand earns you points for all collected hat cards of the same type, while losing you points for the value of that particular card, and the placement of cards on the tea table board determine the value of matching cards.
Hats doesn't need to feature the Mad Hatter, of course, but the character and world of Wonderland provide material upon which to draw for imagery. I've played the game twice so far on a review copy and will post an overview video ahead of Gen Con 2019. ThunderGryph plans to release the second title in its "Made in Wonderland" game series — Tuned — at SPIEL '19 in October.
War is on the horizon for the future of Wonderland. Gather the resources you need to build legendary items, gain strange tactical advantages, and recruit the infamous denizens of Wonderland to fight for your side. Each Wonderlandian you encounter offers a unique ability to help you further your goals, but will you be tempted to turn on them to push yourself ahead of your enemies? Gather your army and take them through the looking glass and onto the field of battle. Unleash your soldiers with all the fiendish tricks, powerful items, and recruited Wonderlandians to gain control of the realm and seize your destiny in Wonderland's War!
• Alice Assemble, a.k.a. アリスアセンブル, is a puzzle-y card game from designer Hakushi and publisher Kuuri Keikaku that was released in 2018. Players build automatons by drafting cards that depict gears, trying to connect their gears to make patterns and score points.
• Alice is also a playable character in Unmatched: Battle of Legends, Volume One, a design from Rob Daviau, JR Honeycutt, and Justin D. Jacobson that Restoration Games will debut at Gen Con 2019, and some characters from Wonderland show up on the cards in her deck, in addition to other story actions being referenced:
Rodney Smith just posted a "how to play" video on this game if you're curious to see the game in action:
Amul is for 3-8 players, and the deck scales based on the player count so that you use every single card no matter how many people you have at the table. What's more, the nature of the cards in the deck change as you add more players to the game, so while in some cases you're adding more spice and silver cards so that players can create sets of them or pair them with traders to complete orders (sort of), at other times you're adding a new type of card that wouldn't make sense with fewer players or a card that plays off of all the cards already in the deck, thereby varying their values with this particular player count.
Gameplay is straightforward. Start with traders in the bazaar equal to the number of players (with these cards being specified by player count), with cards equal to twice the number of players in the palace (ditto), and with each player having a hand of five cards.
On a turn, you receive a new card from the deck, choose one card to add to the market, add 1-3 more cards to the market from the deck based on the player count, draft cards in player order (which sort of rotates), then add a card to your personal collection at the same time as everyone else. Some cards score based on you collecting a set of them, some score based on what your left- and right-hand neighbors collect, some score based on you and your neighbors, while still others score based on how many are in play overall.
End of game tallying a là 7 Wonders at BGG.Spring 2019 (pic by Steph Hodge)
You need to watch what everyone else is drafting so that you can play off of their actions for your own benefit. If lamps have been discarded a few times (as all leftover cards in the market are removed from play at turn's end), then oil becomes less attractive since you can't pair with a lamp for additional points. If the spices are being hoarded by others, then avoid collecting a trader since the contract will likely go unfilled. If you see camels being drafted but not played, expect them to trample out at game's end, lowering the value of all camels played.
In addition to their point values and other symbols, each card shows a table, a hand, or both, which tells you where the card must be to score you points. Over the nine rounds of the game, you'll play nine cards to the table (all of which better have a table icon), possibly claiming other cards from the palace, bazaar or market, then at game's end you'll still have five cards in your hand to score (all of which better have a hand icon). Thus, over the course of the game you're trying to piece together points in sets and combos, while also balancing your public and private scoring (since any table cards in hand are worthless at game's end) while also watching what your neighbors do so that you can profit from them, too.
I've played Amul five times to date on a pre-production copy from Lautapelit.fi, with three, four, and six players, and it's been fascinating to see how the gameplay changes with different player counts. One additional wrinkle: After each player has been the first drafter once, the drafting pattern changes, with whoever has the most military symbols drafting first, then the player with the secondmost military symbols, and so on. In a three-player game, the player with early military can (potentially) draft first for the final six rounds of the game — yet that's not necessarily going to be a winning strategy since you still need to pair and combo cards to get the most out of everything you grab.
I just couldn't think of a way to do it. The key issue I had to tackle if I wanted this Unlock! scenario to work — namely, the translation of a detailed mystery solution into abstract mechanisms — seemed impossible. Can I do this? I asked myself, and the answer seemed to be negative. But there was some part of me convinced that I could eliminate the impossible, and then a way to do it, however improbable, must come soon.
A few days earlier, I had sat down at the table and picked up a deck of blank cards. I was meeting with Space Cowboys in just over two weeks to discuss my box set for Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (due out before the end of 2019), and had suddenly been gripped with the idea that a Sherlock Holmes scenario for Unlock! could be an awesome thing. What's more, the skeleton of a murder plot had presented itself to me almost immediately, and I knew I had to see whether this vague notion might actually have legs.
At heart, I'm a storyteller, so I asked myself: How can I bring out the storytelling potential of Unlock! to its fullest? How can I make players feel immersed in Holmes' world with just a deck of cards and an app? And then there was that third question, which I soon realized represented the biggest challenge I faced in making this scenario. In Unlock!, the main things players do are combine cards and enter four-digit codes, but I wanted a murder mystery. How could I translate the intricate solution to a murder mystery — in essence, a story — into a combination of two cards or a four-digit code? And how could I do it in such a way that if players worked out what to do, it meant they had definitely solved the mystery?
I decided to put that question aside for the time being and consider more broadly how to represent a murder investigation using Unlock!'s established mechanisms. I realized that although the idea of combining red and blue cards was originally about combining items, it was incredibly flexible. Combining one card with another could represent (minor spoiler)
Spoiler (click to reveal)
asking someone about something, for example.
This gave me the way into the story that I needed to get the design off the ground: I could have a crime scene, then players would do things in a fairly realistic way to discover clues and track down suspects.
As I worked, I discovered interesting new directions for my original plot and more ways to insert realistic deductive elements into the scenario. It took me a weekend to create the first set of prototype cards, and I play-tested it two days later. The puzzles worked well. The way I used the blue-red combinations worked well. People really liked the theme and the story — but there was one big problem, and I could have guessed what it would be.
When they got to the end, the way players had to give their solution to the mystery was based on letters in certain key words that could be turned into numbers. At the end of the day on Sunday, as I was finishing the prototype, it was the best answer I'd come up with to my key question of how to translate a murder mystery solution into an Unlock! mechanism, but it just didn't work. No one saw how they were supposed to use the letters, and when I told them what they were supposed to do, they said it was too vague.
Worse than that, I quickly realized that the way I had constructed the ending didn't do what I wanted it to do. A group could do the correct thing and complete the scenario, but it wouldn't necessarily mean they had actually solved the case. They might have a vague hunch about the sequence of events or have guessed the culprit correctly, but have no real idea of what had happened, no real idea of the story. And this is when I began to question whether what I wanted was actually possible.
As Holmes might say, it was a three-pipe problem, and viewing it that way, I realized what I had to do. There was nothing else for it. I donned my deerstalker, told my landlady I would take no callers*, sat at the window, and began to think.
It was probably a good hour or so of thinking before an idea began to form in my mind. Yes...what if players had to do that? They wouldn't be able to do that without knowing exactly what had happened, right? And then that could lead to...
Suddenly, there it was. The answer to the main design question I faced for this game. Very simple, really. If you want to know it (and it's a big spoiler), click on the box below.
Spoiler (click to reveal)
I realized that if cards represented specific events leading to the murder, they would tell a clear story of that murder, including the motive, if placed in the correct chronological order, which meant that I could conceal a four-digit code in those cards that was discoverable only if they were placed in that order. As players would have to know exactly what had happened to place the events in that sequence, they could get the final code only if they worked out the full story, the killer, and the motive.
The icing on the cake was that this solution gave me the title of the scenario (coming directly from a famous quote by Holmes) because to find the final code players had to trace "the scarlet thread of murder".
I took my scenario to Space Cowboys two weeks later and sat there as they played it with a series of questions going through my head: Will they like it? Does it make sense? And, most importantly of all: Have I succeeded in bringing out Unlock!'s full storytelling potential in the way I wanted to? I sat watching, on the edge of my seat, waiting to find out the answer.
When they finished the scenario, there was a moment of silence, then Cyril Demaegd, the original designer of Unlock!, sat back in his chair and smiled. He nodded, looked at me, and said, "It's like taking part in a real investigation."
*I'm not sure I actually have a landlady, so I might have just shouted down the stairs to an empty house and a confused cat. Still, I had no callers while I was busy thinking, so if I do have a landlady, she did a great job.