W. Eric MartinUnited States
• In June 2019, global consumer goods company Newell Brands — which owns the brands Rubbermaid, Papermate, and Coleman among many others — announced that "to make progress on its Accelerated Transformation Plan, designed to create a simpler, faster, stronger consumer-focused portfolio of leading brands" it had signed an agreement to sell The United States Playing Card Company ("USPC") to Cartamundi Group. To quote the press release: "USPC, based in Erlanger, KY is the leader in the production and distribution of premier brands of playing cards, including BICYCLE®, BEE®, AVIATOR®, HOYLE®, and FOURNIER®. In 2018 net sales for USPC were approximately $112 million."
Newell Brands followed up that announcement with another on Dec. 31, 2019 to note that it had completed the sale of USPC to Cartamundi: "This transaction marks the conclusion of the Accelerated Transformation Plan that the company had initiated in January 2018."
announced the founding of Unexpected Games, "a new board game studio centered around innovative design and spearheaded by renowned game designer Corey Konieczka". Here's more from the press release:Quote:The philosophy behind Unexpected Games arose from Konieczka's desire for a studio focused on innovation and idea incubation. "Our goal is to create games that are novel, fun, and accessible," he explains. "We hope to surprise people and create experiences that they've never had before." ...Good timing, Eric. Here we are now in 2020 awaiting more details...
The first title from Unexpected Games is expected to release in 2020. While no details about the game have been made public, Konieczka explains that it will be a multilayered experience that tells a story in a unique way.
Fantasy Flight Games, which he's held for more than a decade, and FFG has also said goodbye to Andrew Navaro, who left his position as FFG's Head of Studio at the end of 2019. Here's an excerpt from his farewell designer journal on the FFG website:Quote:FFG owes much of its creative success to the spirit of collaboration that inhabits the studio. A lot of thought, effort, and attention goes into everything we make, and while designers and developers tend to get the majority of the credit for a given product's success, they're able to achieve that success in large part due to the strength of their supporting cast. If you haven't done so already, I urge you to read the credits lists of your favorite FFG products. The artists, art directors, graphic designers, producers, writers, editors, play-testers, sculptors, managers, and many more make extremely meaningful contributions to the products on which they work — oftentimes beyond even the definition of their credited role.Uhrwerk Verlag filed for bankruptcy in late May 2019, which meant that an administrator would be assigned to review the publisher's economic situation and approve or disallow future actions.
On Dec. 15, 2019, founder Patric Götz posted an update noting that (as far as I can tell) all employees have been let go (although they might still do work as freelancers), the business now runs out of a home office, and many projects are still moving toward completion.
Lucky Duck Games announced the founding of "Lucky Duck Partners", which is "aimed at facilitating access to distribution through our operation in North America and Europe". Along those lines Lucky Duck has signed a distribution partnership with ThunderGryph Games, with worldwide retail availability of ThunderGryph's Hats and Rolling Ranch due to start at the end of January.
By the way, Lucky Duck's Vince Vergonjeanne stated at the end of 2019 that "the company just passed the $4M revenue [mark] for 2019 alone" and now has 19 full-time employees.
Pandasaurus Games has joined the orange logo brigade — BGG welcomes you! — and in a press release announcing the new look, the publisher included this fun detail: "If you pay close attention, you'll notice the Panda bits of the logo match the color of the word 'Panda', and the Dino bits match the color of the word 'Saurus'. It's a fun nod, and breaking our name up also makes it a heck of a lot easier to pronounce and spell."
• Brieger Development is a game development studio in Sunnyvale, California. Says owner/developer John Brieger, "We do contract development and production for board game publishers, refining prototypes into the final product. Our clients and licensees include Deep Water Games, Indie Boards and Cards, Tasty Minstrel Games, Thunderworks Games, and many more."
In a post announcing new hires, he writes:Quote:When you look at how creative work is done in other industries, you'll find studios and design agencies are the default model. The current hobby boardgame industry runs primarily by licensing designs from independent designers, similar to the book industry, with only larger companies having employees who can solely focus on design and development.Developers John Velgus and Michael Dunsmore joined the company in the last quarter of 2019, and to start 2020 Brieger Development has brought on board developer Brenna Noonan (formerly of Starling Games) and producer and project manager Chris Solis (formerly of Level 99 Games).
As the boardgame industry grows there are a significant number of publishers who are expanding their catalogues, but don't yet need multiple full-time employees handling development. One of the hardest things as a publisher is that your time and attention is limited — which can put a cap on executing creative work. Hiring an external development studio helps free up that time to focus on their core business. All of that is to say: this is a model that works, and demand is currently pretty good.From left: John Brieger, Michael Dunsmore, Brenna Noonan, John Velgus, Chris Solis
To submit news, a designer diary, outrageous rumors, or other material, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mergers, Splits, and Distribution Deals: Unexpected Studios, Non-United States Playing Cards, and Ducky Distribution
18 Jan 2020
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17 Jan 2020
Ravensburger has announced the next standalone game in the Disney Villainous line — Perfectly Wretched, a Prospero Hall design that will feature Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians, Mother Gothel from Tangled, and Pete from Steamboat Willie.
Let me interject here to note that Donna Murphy is fantastically good as Mother Gothel, both in the songs and in overall voice performance. I've watched Tangled at least a half-dozen times and would be fine watching it again now if I didn't have work to do. You probably didn't need to know this, but I don't have much to say about this title beyond its impending existence, which will become a reality on March 1, 2020.
The game will be available at multiple retail outlets, with Target selling "a limited, Target-exclusive edition of the game that features a removable Dalmatian-spotted sleeve as well as a spotted Cruella" figure.
As for how Villainous plays, here's an overview:Quote:On a turn, the active player moves their character to a different location on their player board, takes one or more of the actions visible on that space (often by playing cards from their hand), then refills their hand to four cards. Cards are allies, items, effects, and conditions. You need to use your cards to fulfill your unique win condition.
One of the actions allows you to choose another player, draw two cards from that player's fate deck, then play one of them on that player's board, covering two of the four action spaces on one of that player's locations. The fate deck contains heroes, items, and effects from that villain's movie, and these cards allow other players to mess with that particular villain.
Disney Villainous: Perfectly Wretched is playable on its own, and its characters can also face off against those in the Disney Villainous base game from 2018 and the Disney Villainous: Wicked to the Core and Disney Villainous: Evil Comes Prepared standalone games in 2019.Check out the classic black-and-white look for PeteMore black and white!
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17 Jan 2020
Rather Dashing Games is releasing a standalone 2-4 player card game that also serves as an expansion for one of its earlier releases. That's a neat way to link your back catalog to something that might introduce your company to new people. Here's an overview of Mike Richie's ALDR: The High Sage, which is due out at the end of January 2020:Quote:Long before sages battled in the arena, Aldr, the first High Sage, mastered the elements and passed his teachings on to his students. However, even the most powerful cannot train every day. Aldr himself created this game of strategy to reinforce sharpen their minds and reinforce is hard-won lessons.Trophies from Travis and Holly Hancock and Facade Games, with this title being the first in its "Games for Thursdays" line of party games:
ALDR: The High Sage is a card game unlike any other. Tactically place drafted cards to build the four elemental patterns before your opponents can. Place your sages strategically to restrict the options of other players, and move Aldr himself to further thwart your opponents. Be the first to place your four sages and claim victory in this unique card game of area control.
Although ALDR: The High Sage is a standalone game, rules are included to use ALDR as an expansion to Element!Quote:Trophies is a quick, easy-to-learn party game for 2-30 players.Squire for Hire is a 1-2 player game from Jon Merchant and Letiman Games that was Kickstarted in September 2019 and will reach stores at the end of January 2020:
In the game, the judge holds the deck, reads a topic from the back card, and shows the group a random letter on the front card. Be the first to say a word that matches the topic and the letter and you win a trophy card! The player with the most trophies wins the game and gets to hoist the tiny metal trophy high above their head in triumph! The person who "tried their best" gets a participation trophy.Quote:Your day has finally come — a famous adventurer has hired YOU to be their squire! When your hero completes quests, defeats baddies, and takes all the credit, they also earn loot, which you get the great honor of carrying!Animal Kingdoms is a 1-5 player area-control and hand-management game from Steven Aramini and Galactic Raptor Games that was Kickstarted in January 2019 and that will begin its U.S. retail journey in January 2020. Here's what you'll find:
Squire for Hire is an 18-card, tile-laying inventory management game for 1-2 players that takes about 15-20 min to play. Players compete to get the highest scoring bag of items for their hero by the end of the story deck.
Each player takes on the role of a random squire card, taking turns completing story cards and adding loot to their bag for points. You can complete story cards one of two ways: 1) having enough item value (the combined number of spaces an item type takes up in your bag) or 2) using an item (covering up an item in your bag with a new loot card). If you can complete a story card, you get to pick one of two loot cards to add to your bag; to do so, at least one full item must be placed within empty or full squares. You can cover any number of other items in your bag as long as the entire item is covered.
Once all story cards have been exhausted, players add up their scores. Add 1 point for each regular item, 1 point for each pair of identical items side-by-side, and extra points for conditions met on your squire card. Visible junk items reduce your score by 1 point each, so cover them up whenever possible! Play solo to beat your own high score with all of the cards.Quote:In Animal Kingdoms, each player takes on the role of a house leader, battling to gain control of the five kingdoms. Cards in your hand represent noble beasts that have pledged their allegiance to you. Over the course of three ages, you must deploy your beasts to the various territories – making sure that you adhere to each kingdom’s decree – to try and improve your influential position in the kingdoms. The house that gains the most influence by the end of the third age is declared the one true leader of the realm.
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Repos Production, founded by Cédrick Caumont and Thomas Provoost in 2004, has been acquired by Asmodee, bringing the number of publishing studios in the Asmodee Group to fourteen and adding two more "core" titles to its catalog: 7 Wonders, which celebrates its tenth anniversary in 2020, and Just One, which won the Spiel des Jahres in 2019.
Here's part of the press release announcing this deal:Quote:Repos Production is both a great human adventure and a brilliant economic success, whose reputation has been built on the attention the team pays to the development of its games. The Asmodee Group has been supporting the growth of Repos Production games since the beginning and distributes them in many countries, materializing a long-standing partnership.Let me jump in to comment on that reputation as I've seen it in action. I started writing about games full-time in 2006 as the owner and primary writer for BoardgameNews.com, and I've interviewed Thomas Provoost many times over the years. One thing he has stressed multiple times was the company's playtest process, with games being tweaked continually and their publication delayed (or cancelled!) until the design was exactly what they wanted.
In any case, on with the press release:Quote:"For 15 years we have been successfully exercising our passion: to create the best possible games for young and old alike. The Asmodee Group is a partner with whom we have been working since the beginning of our adventure. By joining the great Asmodee family, Repos Production will be able to move on to a new stage in the development of its games and its intellectual property by benefiting from the distribution capacities of the Asmodee Group, as well as synergies with all the other studios of the Group", said Cédrick Caumont and Thomas Provoost, the founders of Repos Production.Congrats to Cédrick and Thomas for building something wonderful! I wish them bonne chance on their future endeavors...
Present in 18 countries on 4 continents (Europe, North America, South America and Asia), the Asmodee Group has 14 publishing studios worldwide and distributes its products in more than 50 countries.
"We are delighted to welcome Repos Production to the Group. This acquisition is the logical outcome of a fruitful collaboration that has been going on for many years. We share the same playful culture and a common ambition to offer the best games to as many people as possible. Through this acquisition we will continue to grow our intellectual property portfolio with world-renowned titles. Within the Asmodee Group's ecosystem of 14 studios, Repos Production will thus be able to benefit from synergies enabling it to express all its creativity, the hallmark of its identity, by inventing tomorrow's hits", underlines Stéphane Carville, CEO of Asmodee Group.
Cédrick Caumont is leaving Repos Production to develop an independent studio, Captain Games, combining game publishing and consulting.
Thomas Provoost joins the Asmodee Group as Studios Coordinator. His mission will be to support the studios in implementing the group's editorial strategy, coordinate all releases and catalogues, and share his publishing expertise with studio managers.
Repos Production will be headed by Thomas Vermeir, who has worked with Repos Production for 15 years as an external consultant, with the support of Géraldine Volders.
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Create Panoramic Gardens, Collect Fruit, and Examine Monster Teeth in 2020 Thanks to Korea Boardgames
16 Jan 2020
Candice HarrisUnited States
Korea Boardgames has revealed three titles for early 2020 release that feature a variety of themes and that all play in 45 minutes or less.
• Four Gardens is an Asian-themed set collection game for 2-4 players from Martin Doležal:Quote:Long ago, in a beautiful Eastern kingdom, a queen and her people pleased their Gods by building a mystical pagoda. The pagoda housed the four Gods and towered strong over the magnificent kingdom.
As time passed, the queen fell ill, and she summoned her people to compete for her crown. The crown would be passed on to the person who could build the most pristine garden around the pagoda. The heir would be chosen by the four Gods themselves.
In Four Gardens, players compete to score the most points by pleasing the gods with beautiful panoramic views of gardens called (as you might expect) "panoramas". In order to create panoramas, players first need to lay groundwork cards that each have specific resource requirements. Players must then gain the necessary resources to complete their groundwork cards by turning a 3D pagoda. (We'll be recording an overview video of this at Spielwarenmesse 2020, but for now you must imagine what "turning a 3D pagoda" entails.) Once a groundwork card's requirements are satisfied, it becomes a landscape card, and multiple landscape cards placed in the correct order form completed panoramas to score points.
Jun-ichi Shinde's Fruit Picking first appeared in 2014 as a co-production by ChagaChaga Games and Shinde's Uzumaki Switch, and at the end of January 2020 Korea Boardgames will release a new edition of the game — still bearing the Fruit Picking name — that features new artwork, game boards, and rules for solo play.
Here's a quick summary from the publisher:Quote:In Fruit Picking, the players become fruit farmers who plant and pick fruit and trade them with Market Island. The goal is to collect a set of all market cards from one of the four districts of Market Island.On a given turn, players use a mancala mechanism to take all seeds from one space on their fruit island board, then distribute them clockwise to establish their "pick" farm for this turn. Then they can optionally choose to either add more seeds to their "pick" farm or pay seeds from their "pick" farm to trade and receive the corresponding Market Island fruit card. The game ends as soon as a player collects all cards from one of the four sets of market cards.
• Luca Bellini and Luca Borsa's Monster Dentist is a fast-paced, pattern recognition game in which players simultaneously use "mouth mirrors" — those small round mirrors on plastic handles that you find almost exclusively at a dentist's office — to examine monster mouths, then place tooth tokens on their player boards with the goal of matching the game's problem cards faster than their opponents.
A round ends when the first player to complete their board shouts "Diagnosis!", and if their player board matches the problem card, they keep the card. The game ends as soon as a player collects their third problem card.
[Editor's note: I was hired by Korea Boardgames to edit the rules for Monster Dentist, so I asked Candice to write up this post about the company's offerings instead of me doing it myself. —WEM]
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15 Jan 2020
Renegade Game Studios has announced that effective immediately, its title will be available to hobby store retailers in the U.S. solely through Alliance Game Distributors and ACD Distribution. From the press release: "Renegade will continue to offer games to Canadian retailers exclusively through Universal Distribution and other international distributions lists will also remain unchanged."
More from the announcement:Quote:"Focusing our sales and marketing efforts through ACD and Alliance will allow us to more closely monitor and rebalance our stock levels, offer clear promotional programs, and communicate more regularly with the sales reps which stores rely on for their regular orders," said Renegade's Director of Sales and Marketing, Sara Erickson.• In other news from the company, Renegade notes that designer Matt Hyra, formerly with Cryptozoic Entertainment, has joined the Renegade team. Here's an excerpt from the press release announcing this move:
Stores can look forward to the continuation of programs including Play Renegade, which utilizes promotional kits to encourage in-store play. A Play Renegade kit for Eternal: Chronicles of the Throne is on pre-order now through both Alliance and ACD. The upcoming release of Architects of the West Kingdom: Age of Artisans, will also be supported with a free Architects of the West Kingdom promo pack with pre-order of the upcoming expansion.Quote:"I came to Renegade to join a great up-and-coming company that moves fast, and makes great games," said Matt Hyra. "Having worked at two previous game companies with Scott Gaeta [those companies being Upper Deck and Cryptozoic —WEM], I knew the environment, ambitions, and creative direction would sync with my own. I look forward to working with the great stable of designers that already work with Renegade."Matt Hyra
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15 Jan 2020
Off the Page Games is a new game publisher founded by designer Jay Cormier that's "dedicated to making games based off of creator-owned comic books". Interesting guideline!
For its first release, which will be Kickstarted in March 2020, Off the Page Games will release Mind MGMT: The Psychic Espionage "Game.", a one vs. all game co-designed by Cormier and frequent design partner Sen-Foong Lim. Here's an overview of this 2-5 player game:Quote:Working from the shadows, Mind MGMT once used its psychically-powered agents to put a stop to global crises. However, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and Mind MGMT is now rotting from the inside. To tighten its iron grip on the world stage, Mind MGMT deploys covert operatives around the world to recruit other psychically-attuned individuals to their side. How can this enigmatic organization, hell bent on global domination, be defeated?The game features something the designers call the "SHIFT System", described by Lim as follows: "At the end of each game, whichever side loses, they get to open a package which will give them more components, cards, and rules to give them a better chance the next time they play." Each SHIFT System package includes a mini-comic story by Matt Kindt, writer and artist of the MIND MGMT comic series from Dark Horse Comics.
Thankfully, a few renegade agents have figured out that Mind MGMT has been compromised and have defected, turning their backs on the syndicate. They now use their own psychic abilities to prevent Mind MGMT from achieving its nefarious goals.
In Mind MGMT: The Psychic Espionage "Game.", one player controls Mind MGMT and must scour the city for new recruits. They move around on a secret board, trying to visit locations that match one of their three randomly drawn recruitment cards. They can also use their four Immortals to protect locations from being exposed.
All other players control the rogue agents who must try to stop Mind MGMT before it's too late! When they move onto a block, they can ask the Mind MGMT player whether they have ever been on a block that contains one of the features shown on the block where the rogue agent is currently located. If the Mind MGMT player has been on one, they place a step token on that block on the board. If a rogue agent lands on a block with a step token, they can use their action to reveal it, and the Mind MGMT player then indicates during which of their turns they were on that block. Rogue agents can use "mental notes" to track all the information they're given. Even when Mind MGMT answers no to a question, that means that they've never been on a block with that feature (and there are always five blocks with each feature).
Mind MGMT wins by either collecting thirteen recruits or surviving fifteen turns. The rogue agents can win only be capturing Mind MGMT, which they do when they believe they're on the same block as Mind MGMT.
MonsDRAWsity is a design for 3-8 players coming from Eric Slauson and co-publishers Bread & Circuses and Deep Water Games. Here's a short overview that is still pretty much a complete overview:Quote:Imagine seeing a real alien stomping through your backyard. Now imagine describing what it looked like to a police sketch artist. That is exactly what you are expected to do while playing the frantic drawing party game MonsDRAWsity.
One player, known as "the Witness", has twenty seconds to examine a picture of a bizarre-looking creature, then they must describe it to the rest of the players, known as "Sketch Artists". At the end of the round, the witness awards points to the artist who was able to most closely match the monster seen by the witness!Pic from Deep Water Games' Nolan Nasser
Burnt Island Games has signed a licensing deal with IELLO and Gen-X Games to release In the Hall of the Mountain King in, respectively, French- and Spanish-language editions in 2020. These editions will include both the Cursed Mountain and Champions mini-expansions.
• Eduardo Baraf at Pencil First Games is Kickstarting a new deluxe edition of his first release — Lift Off! Get me off this Planet! — with this edition including a new solo variant, components for up to six players, and other upgrades (KS link), but aside from that what I really want to highlight from Pencil First is The Whatnot Cabinet, a co-design by Baraf, Steve Finn, and Keith Matejka, with art by Kim Robinson and Beth Sobel. Here's a summary of this 1-4 player game:Quote:Everyone enjoys discovering small, precious objects along beaches, trails, and the wilderness, but a special few have a knack for assembling those found objects into a curio collection. Leave your house, uncover intriguing objects, assemble them in your whatnot cabinet, and create a wonderful collection of curiosities.Charming!
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Cosmic Encounter has always been a chaotic experience, with players butting heads constantly to form partnerships, sneak onto planets, and dump those former partners in favor of new ones. You had to keep an eye on everyone because challenges could come from anywhere.
That won't be the case with Cosmic Encounter Duel, a two-player-only game from lead designer Frank Brooks and publisher Fantasy Flight Games that tries to transform the chaotic feel of CE into a head-to-head competition. Here's an overview of this April 2020 release:Quote:The Cosmic Citizenship Council has announced it will allow two new alien species to join its ranks, but they forgot to make two copies of the filing form — which means that only one species can join! Now, the two candidates must battle for control of the planets to determine who deserves the right to become a Certified Civilization.
Cosmic Encounter Duel is a competitive standalone two-player game in the Cosmic Encounter universe in which you and your closest frenemy race to be the first to control five planets. Each of twenty-seven alien species comes equipped with its own unique abilities that play with the game mechanisms in some way, offering you an edge in the fight, e.g., the Cheater, who can reserve an additional tactic that they can put toward any fight in the game — as long as their opponent doesn't call out how they're trying to "cheat". How your game of Cosmic Encounter Duel plays out will inevitably be affected by which powers each dueling species has and how they play off of one another.Quote:In addition to your unique species and its ability, you have twenty spaceships to traverse the cosmos and maintain control over the five planets you need to become a Certified Civilization. As long as you have a ship on a planet, you have control of it, even if your opponent also has ships there and you must share control. You can deploy these ships to fight in duels, use them to act as reinforcements, or draw them back for a tactful retreat. Just don't lose them to the Warp or let them be claimed by the black void between the stars and end up lost in space forever!
To play, players draw and resolve Destiny cards, which come in three types: Discovery cards, Event cards, and Refresh cards. Discovery cards have you and your opponent discover a planet and duel for control, while Event cards ask you both to test your mettle against a variety of challenges and cosmic calamities, and Refresh cards offer a respite in which you can recover ships, gather allies, and ultimately prepare for another clash.Quote:At the start of a duel, you and your opponent secretly decide how many ships to send to the planet, and once they have been deployed, you can call upon any befriended envoys. To plan your attack, you secretly choose a card from your hand and a standing tactic from your collection to either guard your ships or blast your opponent's ships, then you fight, sending ships to face-off for control of the planet until the winner claims their prize while the loser retreats. After you and your opponent resolve a Destiny card, you check the icon on the bottom of the card to determine which deck to draw from next, then the race continues.
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14 Jan 2020
brief descriptions of two future releases from French publisher Super Meeple. One of those titles, Reiner Knizia's Tajuto, debuted at SPIEL '19, and I've posted a written and recorded overview of that game.
The other title — Genesia from Eric Labouze — was described as a Q3 2019 release and bore only the briefest of descriptions: "a quick-playing, card-drafting civilization game". I've now been able to check out the rules of this FIJ 2020 release, and I offer this summary of a game that despite its brief playing time seems like it could be heavy on expansion and non-random conflict along the lines of a Barony or Inis:Quote:Genesia is a quick-playing game of placement and civilization that includes a card-drafting system and a lot of interaction between players.Demeter from Matthieu Verdier, who works for publisher Sorry We Are French (SWAF). Demeter is a standalone flip-and-write game that features the same graphic style and is set in the same universe as the publisher's earlier game Ganymede.
In more detail, the game is played over three ages, which roughly correspond to ancient times, medieval times, and the modern era. At the start of each age, players receive six cards from that age, then draft a hand of five cards for use in the current age. Each age has four phases — growth, expansion, attack, end — and the cards include icons that show when they can be played and when their powers take effect. You also receive 15 coins at the start of an age. Within each phase, players take all the actions they want in player order, eventually passing, and once all players have passed, the next phase begins. At any time during your turn, you can discard a card from your hand and take 4 coins from the reserve. The phases are:
• Growth: Play cards that show this phase's icon (paying their cost, if required) and recruit as many clans as you wish, paying 2 coins for each and placing it in your homeland or (in later ages) in one of your cities. Each player has their own game board, with all player boards surrounding a shared "Genesia" board.
• Expansion: As before, play cards with the proper icon, recruit clans for 2 coins each, or move your clans as much as you wish, paying 1 coin for each space than an individual clan moves (although in age III you can move a stack of clan tokens for 1 coin per space); when moving, you can pass through occupied regions, paying that player an additional toll of 1 coin, but you cannot stop on those regions, except for a player's homeland, which can house any number of clans from any number of players.
• Attack: Simultaneously reveal your war/peace token with all other players. If everyone has chosen peace, this phase ends; otherwise, each player who has chosen war performs exactly one attack, choosing a region that contains your clans and an adjacent region controlled by an opponent that contains fewer clans. Choose a number from 1 up to the number of clans in your attacking region, then remove that many clans from each region. If the defending region has a city and no more clans, you can remove one of your clans to besiege the city and replace it with one of your own. If the opponent has now been removed from that region, you can move any number of clans from the attacking region to this space.
Once each "war" player has attacked once, players once again simultaneously reveal their war/peace token, repeating the process above until all players reveal peace.
• End: If you have at least two clans in a region without a city, you now place one of your cities in that region. Then you play any cards you wish with an "End of Age" icon, discarding all other cards for 4 coins each. Score progress points for this round's "End of Age" cards as well as all invention cards you've played to date.
After three ages, you sum progress points, score 2 points for each region on a foreign continent you occupy, score points for every region you occupy (1-15, with the central Genesia regions being most valuable), and score points if you achieved your secret objective. Whoever scored the most total points wins!
• At FIJ 2020, SWAF will also be demoing Paris 1889, a sequel of sorts to designer Florian Fay's Greenville 1989. Here's an overview of this design:Quote:Paris 1889 is a co-operative narrative game, a follow-up to Greenville 1989 in which each player represents a character who has survived the supernatural events of Greenville and decides, ten years later, to investigate further by going back in time to find and hopefully close the gate to the monsters' realm. With illustrated cards, they must describe these events to their fellow players, who must then locate this character and plan actions. This lead role changes each round, giving everyone the chance to be step up. The game concludes with a Boss battle.news from Jan. 10, 2020, Riot Games has dropped a few lines about its second outing into the world of tabletop games:Quote:Tellstones: King's Gambit is a bluffing game with perfect information for two or four playersIn a note announcing the founding of Riot Tabletop, the developers write, "Our first tabletop game [2016's Mechs vs. Minions] was a huge, cooperative game loaded with miniatures and narrative content. Our second game is competitive, much smaller, and plays faster. They're worlds apart..."
Variants of Tellstones are played throughout Runeterra, the world of the League of Legends card game, with this being a Demacian variant.
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designer diary for Three Kingdoms Redux, and now we are back to discuss our second game design, Race for the Chinese Zodiac. In this designer diary, we will share some of the decisions behind its design. We hope you will enjoy reading it!
HOW THE IDEA COME ABOUT
Our first game design, Three Kingdoms Redux, happened to be a heavier board game. It is also language dependent, primarily due to the 69 generals and 42 state enhancement cards. That unfortunately made it inaccessible for my parents. They were unable to try the game even after the final product was launched, though we did share the progress of artwork with them. They also helped us with the logistics as we had chosen to self-publish our first board game. I always felt it is a pity that they could not get to try our first game design...
During brainstorming for our second game, we decided to aim for something family-friendly so that my parents could join in, too. In addition, my dad retired a few years ago, so I thought it would be a good idea to involve them in the playtesting of our second game. That was when my Significant Other thought of designing a game based on the Chinese Zodiac. It sounded like a fun setting and therefore suitable as a family game. That was how our second game design started...
Brainstorming led to preliminary ideas. Since the game was to be based on the Chinese Zodiac, which in turn was founded on an ancient folk story about a race between the animals, it seemed natural to us that the design would be a racing game.
Other design objectives included a low rules overhead so that it would be easier for my mum and dad to understand and a shorter playtime. With these in mind, our initial plan was for a pure card game.
Here are the core game mechanisms behind these initial ideas:
Number of players
The initial plan was to have a different player count from our first game (which was for exactly three players), preferably with a player count range. We penciled in 4-6 players. As the race revolved around twelve animals, we pondered whether all twelve animals should be included in each play of the game. However, that implied some of the animals would have to be non-player controlled and require certain dummy player rules to control their movements.The twelve animal sign tokens
Different skills for each animal sign
Each animal sign featured in a different part of the folklore, but with a different twist. This offered us the opportunity to design a different special ability for each animal sign, thereby enhancing the theme and improving replayability. However, these were not included in the initial playtests as we wanted to playtest the core game mechanism to ensure the heart of the game was working before making any further improvements.
Simultaneous card play
With 4-6 players in mind, downtime may become significant. To reduce downtime, we included simultaneous card play as a core game mechanism. The initial idea was for the active player to play an action card while other players played the benefit cards, which would together determine the amount of benefits gained by the active player. Some of the actions available include move, rest, seek karma, cheat, and strategize. The benefit cards are also divided into different sections, including an associated animal sign and the amount of benefits associated with each action.
Special card effects
To enhance the Chinese theme in the game, we tried to include other Chinese-related ideas or philosophies, such as the stars under the Purple Star Astrology (紫微斗數 or Zi Wei Dou Shu). These are special effect cards that players can purchase during the game.
Players felt restricted in their choice of benefit cards to play for the active player. The play of the benefit cards also felt somewhat random as players didn't have much information with which they could deduce the possible action cards that may be played by the active player. Similarly, the active player also found their decisions to be uninteresting as they did not have much control over which benefits they would receive. Overall, the playtesting results were negative, and we went back to the drawing board for other ideas.
The next idea involved blind bidding. After much discussion and a few playtesting sessions between ourselves, which seemed to click, we tried this second idea with my parents.
INTENSIVE PLAYTESTING WITH MY PARENTS (FOUR-PLAYER VARIANT)
Here are the core game mechanisms behind the blind bidding idea:
Movement and resource cards
There is a stack of cards representing different movements (either forward or backward) and/or energy collection. As each of the animal signs is associated with either yin or yang, we also tried to incorporate this aspect onto these cards to add an additional dimension to the game.
Closed economy blind bidding
There are two types of resources in the game, namely energy and karma. Energy is used to bid for movement cards, while each karma token doubles the amount of energy used in that bid. The energy used by the successful player in the bid is then distributed among the rest of the players who failed to gain the movement from the cards.One of the playtests involving the closed economy blind-bidding mechanism
We playtested the closed economy blind-bidding mechanism fifteen times. Between these playtests, we made numerous changes to improve the game mechanism as it seemed promising initially. My parents were very supportive of us and offered their time willingly for the playtesting sessions, often trying out the game multiple times in a single session. (At times, we even made minor adjustments on the spot and tested them out immediately.) On the flipside, my parents were reluctant to make negative comments on the game. Each session almost always ended with them commenting that the game was fine as is and therefore ready for publication, though both of us felt otherwise.
Thus, we relied on our own intuitions to assess the state of the game. We discussed what we enjoyed and disliked openly after each playtest, making tweaks along the way. During one of these playtests, my Significant Other and I commented that the game felt boring and repetitive after numerous plays. That was when my mum and dad also professed that they had felt the same way all along. My Significant Other and I looked at each other and chuckled when my parents finally broke the truth to us.
We explained to my parents that they could have been upfront with us about their thoughts on the game, instead of worrying that we may be upset. That would help us greatly to improve the game play experience for players since our aim is to design a family game that can be enjoyed by all. With a unanimous vote, we abandoned the blind-bidding idea and were back to starting point once again.
To be honest, both of us had thought designing a simpler board game would be easier than a heavier game. It turned out otherwise. With Three Kingdoms Redux, our initial idea sort of worked, and we had to make only progressive changes to it. In the case of Race for the Chinese Zodiac, we found ourselves having to throw the entire idea away — repeatedly! Many a time, I found myself running out of ideas, and it was my Significant Other who encouraged me. He would often tell me, "At least we found out what doesn't work. This is also useful information for us."
MORE DISCUSSIONS AND PLAYTESTING BETWEEN OURSELVES
After yet another unsuccessful attempt, we tried a few other ideas, but none of them lasted beyond two or three playtests before we discarded them. However, in one of those ideas, we felt a sub-idea relating to the play of an action card coupled with an energy card was worth salvaging, so we kept that for further consideration.
Nonetheless, we struggled with how to assign rewards and penalties to the actions. As mentioned, we were aiming for an interactive game with a lower rule overhead. On numerous occasions, I was tempted to include more game mechanisms to solve this issue, but that would defeat the purpose of our initial goal, and my Significant Other would often point out these loopholes to me...
The breakthrough came during one of the days when my Significant Other and I were idling and chatting on the bed. He suddenly asked, what if we had a rewards track for each different action and the reward would depend on the total energy played for that action? This concept tickled my interest, and after thinking about it over the next few days, I proposed the track length for each of the actions in the initial prototype.
MORE PLAYTESTING WITH MY PARENTS, THEN WITH CLOSE FRIENDS (FOUR-PLAYER VARIANT)
Here are the core game mechanisms behind the action card and energy card idea:
Action card with energy card
All players start the game with the same number of action cards and energy cards. Players play an action card and an energy card from their hand each round.Energy cards with traditional Chinese wordings for the numbers 1 to 6
The actions available to all players are (number attached to each action is shown in brackets):
• Run (1) – Movement action card
• Walk (2) – Movement action card
• Cheat (3) – Movement action card
• Co-operate (4) – Movement action card
• Help (5) – Non-movement action card for karma collection
• Copy (6) – Depends on which action card it is copying
• Rest (7) – Non-movement action card for energy collection
Different reward track for each action
Every action has a corresponding reward track that players refer to in order to assess the potential benefits of that action.
Karma has to be paid when players play a smaller numbered action card than the previous played action card. No payment of karma is required when a higher numbered action card is played.Karma token with the endless knot design
Exchange to strengthen your energy cards
Players may exchange their lower numbered energy cards for higher numbered ones.Prototype with different reward track for each action
Things certainly looked more positive with these changes. We continued to playtest with this version while making minor tweaks along the way. Some of the feedback that came up during these playtesting sessions were:
1) Confusing reward tracks
The reward tracks had too many numbers on them, and it was difficult to take in all of them at the same time. In addition, the distribution of the rewards on each track affected greatly how players played their action cards and nudged them towards a certain order or style of play.
Replayability gradually became a concern with every completed playtest because the reward tracks remained the same in every game.
Karma had limited usage.
4) Energy cards overly abundant
There were too many energy cards available for exchange. As a result, players did not experience any urgency to change for higher numbered energy cards.
5) Numbering of the action cards
The numbers on the action cards may affect how players played their action cards. Coupled with the rewards available for each action card, there were certain action cards that were favored by the players and others that were shunned.
6) No differentiation for movement cards
The movement action cards were not differentiated. Although they have different names, i.e. run, walk, cheat and co-operate, they differed only by each of them having a different reward track.
1) Simplify the reward tracks
The various reward tracks were combined into an inner wheel and an outer wheel. The inner wheel contained the actions and total energy played for the corresponding action while the outer wheel reflected the reward available for each action.
On the outer wheel, the initial change was for two bands, with one band for non-movement actions and the other band for movement actions. This was subsequently simplified to a single band based on playtesters' feedback. The inner wheel would turn at the end of each round so that the rewards for each action would shift. With one combined wheel, this made it easier for players to assess potential rewards. Furthermore, the rewards change after each round, lending a stronger story arc to the game.One of the initial versions of the inner and outer wheel
2) Increased replayability
Special abilities were added for all animal signs.
3) Increase the usage of karma
An additional use for karma was introduced. Besides using it to play a smaller numbered action card, a few of the reward spaces on the outer wheel were based on payment of karma, i.e., players could discard karma in exchange for additional movement.
4) Limit the number of energy cards available
The number of "2"/"3"/"4"/"5"/"6" energy cards available in the game was now limited, though the number of "1" energy cards remain unlimited. We hoped players would have an increased urgency to exchange for higher energy cards due to the "while stocks last" effect. The energy "6" cards were limited to one per player.
5) Changing the number associated with each action
With the various reward tracks, some of the action cards were favored by players due to more movement potentially being available via those actions. After the implementation of the wheel, which rotates by one segment after each round, the rewards became more dynamic. Game play now depended largely on the position of the wheel during a particular round and the cards played by other players. Players also have a bigger incentive to look around the table to check what other players have played before deciding what they should play.
Previously, players had preferred to focus on movement instead of collecting energy and karma. We therefore re-numbered the movement and non-movement action cards, spacing out the movement action cards, with non-movement action cards associated with karma and energy collection being assigned smaller numbers. If players would like to go for the higher numbered movement cards but do not have any karma or limited energy cards on hand, they would be restricted in their choice of actions in later rounds.
The re-numbered action cards are (number attached to each action is shown in brackets):
• Cheat (1) – Movement action card
• Help (2) – Non-movement action card for karma collection
• Run (3) – Movement action card
• Rest (4) – Non-movement action card for energy collection
• Co-operate (5) – Movement action card
• Walk (6) – Movement action card
• Repeat (7) – Depends on which action card it is repeating
• Strategize (8) – Non-movement action card to collect previously played action and energy cards
6) Differentiating the movement action cards
We made small revisions to each of the movement action cards to differentiate them from one another and also to add to the theme.
Only the player with the single highest energy card receives the reward on the wheel. Other players move back one step, which is thematically associated with the penalty for being caught cheating!
Only the player with the single highest energy card receives the reward. Other players move forward one step (thematically associated with moving forward a little bit, since an attempt to run was made).
The player or players with the highest energy card receive the reward (thematically associated with expending the same amount of effort to receive the same amount of reward). Other players receive no reward or penalty.
Only the player with the single highest energy card receives the reward. Other players receive no reward or penalty (thematically associated with not moving, since only an attempt to walk was made, as opposed to running).Action cards
Subsequent playtests with the above changes yielded favorable results. We therefore continued with this core game mechanism, and playtests were now geared towards game balance and replayability.
1) Increasing replayability 1: Breaking up the inner wheel
During one of our playtest sessions, my brother commented that the planning aspect of the game felt a little similar after numerous plays. My brother is an excellent player of the game and would often plan several moves ahead, i.e., envisioning how the wheel would turn during the next few rounds and planning which actions to go for in those rounds. This aspect of the game felt samey for my brother after many a playtest with us.
From that feedback, the idea of "dismantling" the inner wheel by breaking it into separate pieces was broached. Specifically, each action would be a separate piece, shaped like a slice of pizza; these pieces are then placed together to form the inner wheel. For the purposes of our prototype, we purchased soft magnetic strips and pasted them on the underside of the pieces as well as on a circular inner wheel. That way, it is easy to change the set-up for each new game.
After implementing the above change, the order of the actions on the inner wheel became different for every game, and the replayability of the game was greatly improved as a result. My brother now had to plan in a different way from game to game.Four-player version wheel, with inner wheel pieces broken up
2) Increasing replayability 2: Variable starting positions
Every player had until now started the game on a clean slate with nothing in the play area and with a fixed number of karma tokens. This gave the start of every game a somewhat familiar and repetitive feel. We therefore tried to make the starting position of every player different instead.
Our initial idea was for each player to play an action card from those numbered 1 to 6. The player with the highest number would collect the largest number of karma tokens, but the cost of doing so would be starting the game with a high-numbered action card in their playing area.
This certainly improved the repetitive issue at the start of each game — until my dad started playing the highest numbered action card allowable — 6 "Walk" — almost every time. He explained that it was "riskless" anyway. We reasoned that the penalty of having a high-numbered action card as the first card was not high enough, and therefore came up with an improved version that builds on the initial idea. After collecting the karma tokens, all players who played the highest numbered action card (6 "Walk") had to give one karma token to all who played the lowest numbered action card (1 "Cheat"). Similarly, whoever played the 5 "Co-operate" has to give one karma token to all who played 2 "Help", and whoever played 4 "Rest" has to give one karma token to all who played 3 "Run". There was now really no gain without taking any risks!
3) Reduction in energy while in river
We observed after many playtests that the actions giving energy cards — "Rest" in particular — became progressively less important as a game developed. (After players have exchanged up to the higher energy cards, they would focus only on the movement actions and the collection of energy became less important.) To maintain these actions' relevance, we added a rule whereby one energy card has to be returned to the general supply each time a player plays 8 "Strategize", which allowed the player to collect all of their played action and energy cards, while in the river section.Four-player variant set-up with finalized prototype
Playtests with these subsequent improvements went well, and we knew that we were firmly on the right track. These developments made us feel comfortable enough to affirm the core game mechanisms for Race for the Chinese Zodiac, and we could then move on to playtest other aspects of the game.
All of our playtesting sessions thus far were with four players. Upon settling on the core game mechanisms, we started keeping track of our playtest results. This was for the purpose of testing the power balance of the animal sign cards. The four-player variant ultimately saw a grand total of 124 playtests with many different players. A large portion of those were played with my parents.
With the core game mechanisms nailed down, we were ready to expand our horizons and ponder other player counts, e.g., five or six players. We were both skeptical about playtesting with three players due to the suspected lower player interaction but still kept our options open for that possibility.
PLAYTESTING WITH MY BROTHER FOR FIVE-PLAYER VARIANT
We fully expected that minor tweaks to the four-player variant would be required to cater to different player counts. For the five-player variant, we roped in my brother to help, starting without making any changes to the four-player variant to identify any potential issues.
1) Exchange of energy becomes tougher
The first thing we observed during the initial playtests with five players was that exchanging for higher energy card(s) became much tougher to accomplish. You had the same number of ways to get an energy exchange action, but now one more player was competing for it.
2) Tighter resources
Resources also felt tighter due to the non-movement action cards providing an additional benefit only to the individual player who played the highest energy card. As before, with competition from an additional player in the game, it became more difficult to receive this additional benefit, thereby reducing the number of resources per player in the game. For the same reason, collection of all previously played action and energy cards also became more challenging because only the individual player who played the highest energy card with 8 "Strategize" would collect their played action and energy cards.
3) Balance of animal sign skills
The balance of the special abilities of the animal signs was affected. Some of the special abilities became more powerful with the higher player count, while others became weaker. This implied more playtesting and rebalancing of the special abilities would be required.
An example of this would be the monkey's special ability, which gave the monkey player an additional "1" energy card if they resolved the same action as another player. With an additional player, this special ability is strengthened.
1) New outer wheel
A different outer wheel with one more way to get an energy exchange was designed to cater for the five-player variant. The four-player variant's outer wheel has three energy exchange icons while the five-player variant has four.Five-player version wheel
2) Reducing the resource tightness
We did not have a solution for this issue initially. Indeed, this issue was to remain the main reason for my Significant Other's dissatisfaction with the five-player variant for a substantial period of time. The eventual solution came as a by-product from our playtesting for the six-player variant, but I will jump the gun and elaborate on that change here.
A different set of non-movement action cards was designed for the five-player variant. The additional benefit would now be awarded to all players who played the highest energy card and not only the player who played the individually highest energy card. This not only reduced the tightness of resources, players would also experience less difficulty collecting their played action and energy cards with 8 "Strategize".
3) Balance of the animal signs' skill
The five-player variant was ultimately playtested over 83 times to ensure that each animal sign was adequately powered. After these playtests, we adjusted animal sign special abilities fairly frequently (and the rules less frequently) to ensure the game balance.
Returning to the example with the monkey, we eventually included a hand size limit of twelve energy cards per player. This naturally limited the strength of the monkey's special ability at higher player counts.Five-player variant set-up with finalized prototype
PLAYTESTING THE SIX-PLAYER VARIANT
Playtesting continued for both four-player and five-player variants every week. We also planned to give the six-player variant a try to test the limits of the core game mechanisms, but the main challenge was finding a sixth playtester who was able to commit their time to repeated plays instead of simply a single play. After all, only with repeated plays can we get a better feel of the feasibility of the six-player variant.
Our hope was answered when my brother introduced his girlfriend to us! We started by introducing other board games to her to test her interest in gaming because if she didn't like those, we wouldn't want to bother her with a playtest. Happily, she did enjoy the board games we brought to show her. My brother then helped us check whether she was keen to participate in playtesting, and she readily agreed to the prospect!
The problems that existed in a five-player variant were amplified greatly in the six-player variant. Everything felt tight, so much so that we introduced another action card to try to address the issue. This action card, which we named "Sprint", is a separate movement card and does not appear on the inner wheel as we didn't want to create a new outer wheel if we could help it. With two outer wheels, we could use the two sides of the same board, but three outer wheels would not enjoy such synergy.
The additional action card seemed to work initially, but we soon realized that its reward was too situational. We went on to playtest the six-player variant 11 times, but decided not to force the issue in the end. We concluded that the game design could not support this high a player count unless we upsized every single game component, but that would make it technically a different game.
We don't think it's fair to the end customer to add an additional player count to the box for the sake of more easily marketing the game. Being board gamers ourselves, we often found ourselves questioning the player count claimed to be supported by a particular board game (in our humble opinion) and do not wish to repeat such an error ourselves.
PLAYTESTING FOR THREE-PLAYER VARIANT
What remained for us to playtest was the three-player variant, which you may recall both of us were skeptical about. We had earlier playtested the three-player variant a few times, but it turned out rather bland, with a strong multiplayer solitaire feel due to reduced player interaction. This removed a big part of our enjoyment in the game.
Capstone Games (publisher of the second edition of Three Kingdoms Redux) to assess whether they might be interested in publishing Race for the Chinese Zodiac. Initial discussions with Clay Ross, president of Capstone Games, indicated that he preferred a game with a wider player count range as a 4-5 player game would be a much harder sell. We understood his stance and told him we would give the three-player variant another try.
Our main challenge was to retain most of the core game mechanisms and make only minor adjustments to accommodate the different player count. For the case of the three-player variant, we needed to increase the player interaction between the players as well as to tighten it up. We first tried one of the obvious ideas, i.e., removing one of the movement actions (we chose 6 "Walk") from the three-player variant.Three-player version wheel
1) Reduced tension
The removal of one of the actions helped in tightening the game play. Nonetheless, players were still able to avoid each other a little too easily. Certain decisions also became a lot more obvious with the current form of the three-player variant. In short, part of the tension and excitement in higher player counts was now missing.
2) Balance of animal signs' skill
As before, the animal signs' special abilities would have to be playtested and potentially be rebalanced.
1) Increase the reward for outbidding other players on the same action
In the four- and five-player variants, whenever a player played a higher energy card than someone else for the same action, the player would gain one additional movement for each person who played a lower energy card. With the three-player variant, we increased this bonus to two additional movements to make the reward of outbidding other players much more attractive.
Based on feedback from players, this was a favorable change, so much so that my brother declared the three-player variant his favorite as we wrapped up playtesting. The three-player variant was ultimately playtested over 33 playtest sessions.Three-player variant set-up with finalized prototype•••
With the completion of the playtesting across all viable player counts, we are happy to introduce Race for the Chinese Zodiac as a 3-5 player board game. We have worked on the game for over four years, playtesting it a total of 279 times with our family and friends. As with our first game design, we are very grateful for the time spent and the valuable feedback from all playtesters!
We had initially set out to design a board game that my family could enjoy together, especially my parents. We are happy to declare that we have achieved our goals because my parents would still routinely ask to play the game — and get really aggrieved when they narrowly finished second. This is despite them having played it over two hundred times with us over the four years of game development. How cool is that?!Game set up (four-player version) and ready for play!
- [+] Dice rolls