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Seize the New Carpe Diem, and Deliver the Beatdown in Naruto: Ninja Arena

W. Eric Martin
United States
Apex
North Carolina
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Board Game Publisher: Ravensburger
Board Game Publisher: alea
• During SPIEL.digital 2020, Ravensburger announced that its alea brand will now be led by André Maack following Stefan Brück's decision to leave the company in mid-2020. Maack has been with Ravensburger since 2008, and he previously led development on its family games line, overseeing titles such as Asara, The Quest for El Dorado, and The Rise of Queensdale (which was, in fact, an alea release).

In January 2021, alea will release an overhauled version of Stefan Feld's Carpe Diem, with no changes to the game design (as far as I can tell), but with completely new graphics. Beyond that, Maack is working with several designers on new titles, and the plan is to release two titles annually under the alea label starting in 2022.

Board Game: Carpe Diem
From gallery of W Eric Martin
Board Game: Calico
Board Game: Marvel Villainous: Infinite Power

• As for its family line, in March 2021 Ravensburger will release the flip-and-write game Explorers in which players explore a mysterious landscape, marking things as they go on erasable game boards. (Image above taken from a press presentation.) That same month, Ravensburger will release Kevin Russ' Calico in German, with a German-language edition of Marvel Villainous to follow in mid-2021.

Board Game: Naruto: Ninja Arena
• During SPIEL.digital 2020, BGG recorded an overview of Naruto: Ninja Arena, a simultaneous play dice-based combat game from Antoine Bauza, Corentin Lebrat, Ludovic Maublanc, and Théo Rivière that will be released by French publisher Don't Panic Games by the end of 2020.

In the game, everyone plays one of the Naruto characters — Sakura, Sasuke, Shikamaru, and the main character — and they roll their dice simultaneously, keeping any dice they wish while rolling others again. Each character has a pair of dice combos, and as soon as you have a combo, you deal damage to one of your opponents, then start rolling again.

Additionally, if you do a five-dice combo, you slap the uzumaki symbol in the center of the table, then everyone else must do the same; whoever slaps lasts takes additional damage, then everyone who has enough damage to take a wound does so, with each character having different wound levels. Take enough wounds, and you're knocked out; you can possibly come back into play, but your goal in the game is to be the last one standing, so you won't have a lot of time since your KO means everyone else has fewer targets upon which to pour damage.

Board Game: Naruto: Ninja Arena

Japanime Games has announced that it will release Naruto: Ninja Arena in North America in Q1 2021, but the Japanime version will combine the Don't Panic base game and the Genin Pack Expansion into a single box. This expansion contains character cards for Rock Lee, Tenten, Hinata, Kiba, Temari, and Gaara and dice for up to six players to compete at once.
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Author Diary: How to Host a Game Night

Erik Arneson
United States
Mechanicsburg
Pennsylvania
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Author of HOW TO HOST A GAME NIGHT (October 2020) from Tiller Press
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From gallery of arneson
I love game nights.

This is BoardGameGeek, so that comes as no surprise, right? Pretty much everyone here loves game nights.

For me, a great game night (or game event) can be a quiet evening at home with my wife Beth, a few hours at the local game cafe, a daylong get-together where several dozen friends compete in our self-proclaimed Battleball World Championship, a weekend with a couple hundred like-minded gamers, or a massive affair such as PAX Unplugged or Gen Con... I love them all.

Beth and I have organized everything from small game nights up to ten-day events in which our gaming group took over an entire bed and breakfast. Each kind of gathering has its own charm and its own challenges, and sometimes it would've been very helpful to have a how-to guide nearby.

Which brings me to October 2019, when I started talking to Tiller Press about the project that would become How to Host a Game Night: What to Serve, Who to Invite, How to Play — Strategies for the Perfect Game Night.

Quick aside: Tiller Press is a cool imprint at Simon & Schuster that publishes books like these, with both of the following titles due out in 2021: Planning Your Escape: Strategy Secrets to Make You an Escape Room Superstar by L.E. Hall and The Cheap Handyman: True (and Disastrous) Tales from a Home Improvement Expert Guy Who Should Know Better by B.S. Harris.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
My editor at Tiller Press, Hannah Robinson, and I brainstormed about what How to Host a Game Night would include, how it would be organized, and who I should reach out to for interviews — basically, all the things you have to do before writing a nonfiction book. (Hannah is terrific to work with, and she's very familiar with the gaming world; she's as comfortable talking about Gloomhaven as she is word counts.)

We decided to structure the book by the size of the group that the reader would be hosting for game night, so the first few chapters focus on issues you're more likely to face when organizing small groups — things like setting expectations, explaining game rules, ensuring group chemistry, and preparing game-friendly food and drink. Later chapters get into the nitty-gritty of organizing game days and small game conventions in which you need to do things like find a venue and negotiate a contract, collect entry fees, and establish a code of conduct.

While How to Host a Game Night includes plenty of practical tips and advice about hosting game nights, we agreed from the outset that it should be much more than that. It's also packed with stories about game nights — many humorous and some serious.

And although I have a lot of experience with game nights, both hosting and attending, we didn't want the book to read like a monologue; it needed to include many voices. To accomplish that, I reached out to people here on BoardGameGeek (including forum discussions and GeekMail), on Twitter, on Facebook, and by email.

I also created a Google Form where people could tell me what they love about game nights — and what they would be happy to never see at another game night ever again.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
In all, I heard from more than 100 people, including gamers from places like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Seattle, Washington; Cleveland, Ohio; Lafayette, Louisiana; West Lafayette, Indiana; Burlington, Vermont; Omaha, Nebraska; Salem, Massachusetts; Peachtree Corners, Georgia; Nashville, Tennessee; Boise, Idaho; the Twin Cities in Minnesota; Vancouver, British Columbia; Derby, Ipswich, and Sheffield in the United Kingdom; Dublin, Ireland; Melbourne and Sydney in Australia; and so many others.

Nearly all of the survey responses were received before COVID-19 was officially classified as a pandemic. Bearing that in mind, and recognizing that this was a non-scientific survey answered by a self-selecting group of gamers, I think the answers are fascinating.

When asked how often they host game night, 34.9 percent of respondents said at least once a week, 44.4 percent said several times a month or once a month, while the remainder said less than once a month.

How many people attend these game nights? Glad you asked. The single most popular answer was 4 people, although the range was from 1 to 120. This was an open-ended question, and most people provided a range — the bulk of the ranges were between 2 and 10.

All this gaming has to take place somewhere, and it's mostly at home. A full 84.1 percent of respondents said they host game nights at home. (For this multiple-choice question, people could choose more than one answer, and they had the option to add their own.) Game stores and game cafes were the second most popular answer, followed by libraries and community centers. Other answers included churches, hotel conference rooms, and local restaurants.

My favorite survey question was this: "What's your favorite game night memory?"

The responses were all over the lot, and I loved them all. Some were game-specific ("The successful completion of a scenario in Journeys in Middle-earth because we all worked together and there was a great feeling of teamwork.") while others focused more on the relationships that game nights can build. ("I met many of my best friends at a Halloween game night back in 2007. I knew right away I'd be friends with them for a long time. We still get together regularly.")

Many people said they couldn't pick only one great memory. You can count me in that category, although playing all the way through Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 over the course of a single weekend was unbelievable fun, I've never played a game of Time's Up! that didn't result in uproarious laughter, and if you set any of the Betrayal games on the table (Betrayal Legacy, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Betrayal at Baldur's Gate, and Scooby Doo! Betrayal at Mystery Mansion), I'll practically beg to join.

Board Game: Betrayal at House on the Hill
Board Game: Betrayal Legacy
Board Game: Betrayal at Mystery Mansion
How to trap an Erik...

For the chapter on two-player game nights, I reached out to relationship experts, including Dr. Karen Melton, a Baylor University professor studying the impact of playing games on interpersonal relationships; Dr. Terri Orbuch, known as The Love Doctor and the author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great; and Bonnie Winston, a well-known matchmaker who told me a killer story about one time she played Monopoly.

I'll confess that when I first started thinking about writing How to Host a Game Night, I was a little nervous about filling an entire book with advice about game nights. By the time I turned in the manuscript to Hannah, I wondered whether we could make the book longer. (We didn't do that, but we did cut back on the number and length of the game reviews in the book so that we could include more tips and stories about game nights.)

Finally, I need to mention the cover: I love it.

I've heard authors tell horror stories about how they hate their book covers and had no input. My experience with Tiller Press was the complete opposite. I loved the concept from the start, and they wanted my thoughts. We made only a few minor modifications. First, the color of the invitation card was originally pink. Given the other colors on the cover, that felt like a little too much, so we changed it to light gray. Second, the number combinations on the 8-sided die and the 20-sided die had to be adjusted to match real-world dice. That's it.

I had a blast writing How to Host a Game Night, and I hope you have just as much fun reading it. Game on!

Erik Arneson
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Get Together for Descent: Legends of the Dark in Q2 2021

W. Eric Martin
United States
Apex
North Carolina
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Board Game: Descent: Legends of the Dark
During its 2020 Gen Con Online In-Flight report, U.S. publisher Fantasy Flight Games teased a new take on its well-loved game Descent: Journeys in the Dark, which debuted in 2012.

At the start of SPIEL.digital 2020, FFG published a thorough overview of Descent: Legends of the Dark, which I'm finally getting to now that the online event has stopped eating my work hours.

Descent: Legends of the Dark — which is designed by Kara Centell-Dunk and Nathan I. Hajek and suitable for 1-4 players — follows the model that FFG adopted for its second edition of Mansions of Madness in 2018. Instead of having one player in control of the forces that oppose the team of all the other players, these opposing forces will now be controlled by an app that handles lots of game details, allowing for fully co-operative gameplay. (FFG also used this game model in 2019's The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth.)

Here's an overview of the setting and gameplay to be found in Descent: Legends of the Dark, which will be released in Q2 2021:
Quote:
Terrinoth is in peril. The demon-tainted Uthuk Y'llan barbarians stalk the realm and the undead servants of Waiqar the Undying venture beyond their borders for the first time in memory. The leaders of Terrinoth are divided and fractious, unable to unite against these common threats. And in the northern barony of Forthyn, the stage is set for the next great confrontation between Terrinoth and the forces of darkness...

For years, your journeys have taken you across the fantasy realm of Terrinoth, venturing into dark forests, shadowy cities, ancient crypts, and misty swamps — but your true legend is about to begin.

Forge your own legend together with friends as you adventure across the vibrant fantasy realm of Terrinoth in the co-operative dungeon-crawling board game Descent: Legends of the Dark. Powered by an integrated free companion app, Descent: Legends of the Dark puts you in the role of a budding hero with their own playstyle and abilities. Together with your unlikely companions, you'll begin an unexpected adventure — an adventure told across the sixteen quests of the "Blood and Flame" campaign. Throughout your campaign, you'll face undead lurking in the mists, demonic barbarians stalking the wilds, and even more terrifying threats. With 46 pieces of 3D terrain and forty hero and monster miniatures to draw you into the game, your greatest adventure is yet before you! Your objectives will change from quest to quest as you follow the overarching story of the campaign.

Board Game: Descent: Legends of the Dark
Sample components

Core gameplay mechanisms such as combat, fatigue, skills, items, and more have received completely new interpretations with Legends of the Dark, while a new approach to scenario layout and 3D terrain creates striking multi-level scenarios.

Gameplay is fast and intuitive. You take three actions each turn: one maneuver action and two additional actions of your choice. Maneuvering gives you movement points, as shown in the upper right corner of the character sheet, and since you always have a maneuver action, you can reposition to put yourself in a more advantageous position for attack. Other than maneuvering, you can use an action to attack an enemy, rolling your attack dice and drawing upon your hero's abilities and weapons to deal maximum damage or inflict harmful conditions on your foes, or you may use the explore action to interact with a piece of 3D terrain or a token by using the app. You can also use your action to perform one of the most crucial actions in Legends of the Dark: the ready action, which lets you flip your hero sheet or one of your cards to its opposite side, unlocking new abilities!

Your hero sheet isn't the only thing you can ready. Every hero also has an attack card and skill cards! Each hero starts the game with two weapon cards, which are sleeved together back-to-back to create a single attack card. Skill cards can also be readied, switching between two complementary abilities.

Board Game: Descent: Legends of the Dark
Hero cards

The app also brings new changes to gameplay, introducing enemies with adaptable strategies, complex status effects, and triggers fully managed by the app, and the ability to develop your heroes based on the choices you make in scenarios. You'll also uncover a wealth of activity between scenarios, such as crafting, shopping in the city, upgrading equipment, and more. Because of these various differences, Descent: Legends of the Dark is not compatible with Descent: Journeys in the Dark and its expansions.
As in The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth, you might start a Legends of the Dark quest with nothing more than a single map tile, but as you take actions, the app will tell you where to place terrain, tiles, figures, and so on. As FFG writes, "Your levels will be filled with staircases up to other rooms, sturdy bookshelves, towering trees, treasure chests, barricades, doors, and statues. And all this 3D terrain isn't just decorative: you can interact with all of it through the app, plucking valuable tomes off a moldering shelf, cracking open a booby-trapped chest, or climbing a tree to scout out the terrain ahead."

Head to the FFG announcement for many more details and pics for Descent: Legends of the Dark.
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Mon Oct 26, 2020 6:07 pm
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Designer Diary: Under Falling Skies

Tomas Uhlir
Czech Republic
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Board Game: Under Falling Skies
Game cover by Kwanchai Moryia
You are facing an alien invasion. Hiding in a base below the city, you must defend yourself long enough to research a weapon and repel the enemy.

Under Falling Skies is a dedicated solo game for 20-40 minutes that uses a unique dice-placement mechanism. Place dice on rooms in your base to perform various actions, but for every die you place, the enemy in the same column moves towards the base. Higher dice rolls give you more powerful actions, but also make the ships descend faster.

Use your jet fighters to shoot down the enemy, maintain the energy supply, install robots, and expand your base — but don't forget about the research, which should be your priority.

Enemy fighters are not the only threat you face, however. The mothership slowly descends towards the city and will eventually crush you if you are not able to finish the research in time.


Under Falling Skies is a game being published by Czech Games Edition (CGE) in 2020 — but it started as a freely available 9-card print-and-play solo game.

Those of you who have been following Under Falling Skies more closely probably know that I wrote a few designer diaries already. I focused primarily on the changes between the print-and-play predecessor and the published version. They describe some interesting production ideas, graphics and user interface improvements, and the approach with the campaign.

But I still have an interesting story to share. How did it happen in the first place that a game consisting of only nine cards and designed with no publishing intention in mind became one of the awaited titles of this year?

BGG Print-and-Play Contests

It all started around January 2019 when I once again decided to enter the 9-card print-and-play design contest. In case you haven't noticed, at least a dozen similar contests happen every year on BGG. They are run by great enthusiasts, and they have an amazing community of print-and-play players and passionate designers around them. All the games are free to download, and it is assumed that people will print them themselves. Probably because the games from the 9-card contest are very easy to build, this particular contest is one of the most popular out there.

Designers of these contests actually take the role of the whole publishing team. You not only design the game, but you need to playtest it, take care of all the illustrations and graphic design, write the rules, and do the typesetting and proofreading — but all this is still not enough because there are around 100 other games in the contest, and you need to make your game stand out in the competition, so you touch the marketing side as well by starting the "work-in-progress thread", where you write about the game, hoping to attract enough players to get some desirable feedback. Oh, and you have about two months for all of this, working mostly during evenings after work, so as you can imagine, it's a very intense process. Believe it or not, there are even designers who enter with two games at once!

From gallery of uhlik
Some of the BGG print-and-play contests

To make these contests more interesting, most of them come with some kind of restriction. In the 9-card contest, the game can have only nine cards, plus up to 18 other common components: six-sided dice, cubes, tokens, etc. The design all needs to fit to one double-sided sheet of paper so that it's easy to print, but there are also 18-card or 54-card contests that don't allow components other than cards. Some contests are built around the number of players, like a two-player contest or — one of the biggest — the solitaire game contest. But you can stumble upon even more challenging restrictions like 1-card, 1-page, Postcard, Mint Tin, Video stream, 24-hour, etc.

I strongly recommend that aspiring designers try at least one of these contests. It's a great opportunity to go through the whole process of designing a game. The restrictions don't allow you to make it too big, so it stays manageable. However, the restrictions have also another big advantage: They force you into the most unique and creative solutions.

I will end this small detour by reminding you how great the BGG community really is. While the designers compete, they also playtest one another's games, provide feedback, make design suggestions, proofread other's rulebooks, and sometimes even help with the art. For me, it's this friendly community that makes it really special.

Initial Design

But back to Under Falling Skies. I had already participated in the 9-card contest in 2017 with a two-player game called First Snow, which ended up winning that year, so I had a pretty good idea of what entering the contest involved. However, when looking back at First Snow, I must admit that making a deeper multi-player game with only nine cards was probably a bit too ambitious. Equipped with that experience, I decided to go for a solo game this time.

I have to confess that at that time I had very little experience with solo games, but I took it as a challenge to design a solo game that I would enjoy playing. I realized that when there are no other players, the game itself needs to provide a satisfying challenge. Many solo games mimic the structure of multiplayer games by altering player turns with AI turns, the latter of which are mostly resolved by some kind of deck or instruction table, but I wanted to avoid any artificial AI rules or long upkeep phases.

Since you are the only player, you should play the vast majority of the time. The enemy actions should be closely tied to what you do, ideally with your own moves creating the challenge.

From gallery of uhlik
The first two prototypes — quite rough, right?
Once I decided upon a dice-placement game, the core idea emerged: The placed die's value determines both the strength of your action and the reaction of the enemy. This approach also solves the problem with dice games in which some rolls are simply better.

By that time, I was playing with the idea of designing a tower defense game, and this mechanism would fit it perfectly. The enemy would move towards your base based on the value of a die you place. After a short brainstorming about the theme, the "Space Invaders" inspiration emerged.

I won't go into much detail about other design decisions, but to my great surprise, the whole process from the initial idea to the first working prototype was really fast. I recall that I had been thinking about the details for a few evenings, doodling some sketches into my notebook and waiting for the weekend to make a prototype.

The first prototype was really rough, but as you can see, mechanically it hasn't changed much from the final version. All the core concepts are there: the drill, descending mothership, re-rolling dice, how research works, robots, the AA-gun rooms, etc. In the next iteration (about two hours later), I added room modifiers and the mothership effects; the main reason for them was to ensure that the player wouldn't forget to move the mothership at the end of each round.

Looking back at it, it still feels unbelievable how fast it all clicked. Even the very first game was fun and challenging to play, in contrast to the usual design process when it takes weeks or even months before you get at least a little playable game. I spent another week or two with details and balancing before I submitted the first prototype version to the contest.

And people liked it. Only a few tried it at first, but it kept spreading. At one point, I made a collage from various builds that people shared with me.

Board Game: Under Falling Skies: A 9-Card Print-and-Play Game
Print-and-play leads to great creativity and variety in builds

Joining Czech Games Edition

While I was working on the game for the contest, an opportunity emerged to work for CGE. I took it immediately as it was a secret dream of mine, after all. These were a super intense two months as I was working on Under Falling Skies, while quitting my previous job (as an interior designer) and starting to work for CGE.

Czech Games Edition stages a regular yearly gaming event called "Czechgaming" which is an opportunity for all employees to meet, playtest the upcoming games, and try new prototypes. I took Under Falling Skies with me, just to take the opportunity to playtest it — and you know what, it got played quite often. People were curious about that unusual tiny game, solo on top of that. I remember a really nice moment when people came to me one morning to tell me how they got an urge to try the game, then played until 3 a.m., and they wanted to let me know how it went. Word started to spread that CGE should publish it.

I should explain how it is usually decided in CGE which games are going to be published. Everyone is supposed to give their opinion, so that it will be clear that enough people are enthusiastic about the game, willing to work on the development, playtest it, go through the necessary iterations, etc. It's basically a joint decision by the whole company.

Soon after, the results of the 9-card contest came out. Under Falling Skies won not only the main category, but came in first or second in most other categories, too. It started to grow in popularity as more players built it.

By that time, we in CGE were already pretty sure that we wanted to do it; the question was when. One option was to take it mostly as it was and publish it right away (for SPIEL '19), but we wouldn't be CGE if we didn't seize the opportunity to do something extra. I had a few improvements in mind from when I had been working on the print-and-play, but in the end, we went much more generous than just tweaking some rules and adjusting the user interface.

From gallery of uhlik
Only one more pallet until we reach the weight limit for the container...

Development Process

Looking back on the process, I believe that most publishers would have released the game as it was and spread the other ideas into several expansions — but I am not a big fan of this approach. When there is something that makes sense in the base game, it should be there already.

Also, since I like to work within a predefined amount of components, I applied this approach to Under Falling Skies as well. In CGE, we made an estimate of what can we afford in the game's price range, and I started from there. At one point, it looked like we couldn't possibly fit all of the components in the box, but in the end it was the weight that surprised us. The finished game weights over 1,400g (over 3 pounds), which makes it one of the heaviest games of its size. The fun fact — or sad fact actually — is that we exceeded the weight limit for the container and weren't able to fill it completely, even though we combined boxes of Under Falling Skies with other games. Yeah, I wasn't aware that containers have a weight limit since the size is usually the limiting factor. I guess, you learn something new every day...

By agreeing to publish a game that in fact did not exist at that time, CGE gave me a great amount of trust, for which I am very grateful. The core mechanisms were there, but the amount of additional content and all the various combinations led to a quite demanding development process.

It doesn't happen often that a game designer is deeply involved in other production decisions, such as the artwork, components, etc., but since I was a CGE employee, this was not only possible, but logical. I really appreciate this opportunity.

Board Game: Under Falling Skies
Box content
Thanks to that involvement in the whole process, some unique solutions to the design became possible. Here's an example:

A big part of the retail version is the campaign. I envisioned a legacy-like experience, but replayable and without destroying stuff — yet when you want to maintain the surprise, you usually need to use envelopes, boxes and other quite expensive stuff. Since we had decided to keep the price low, I needed to come up with a different solution. In the end, all of the hidden content is on cardboard sheets the size of the box — sixteen sheets of cardboard. Now you can understand why the game weighs almost 1400g!

The sheets are divided into four chapters that are stacked in the box in layers, with the layers being divided by thin paper sheets with a comic on one side and new rules on the other. The player takes out new chapters only as they progress through the campaign. This approach required close cooperation between production and game design. We needed to decide on the size of the sheets and their number before I could start working on the content — and even then, figuring out the layout of the sheets felt a bit like playing Tetris.

But what kind of campaign would it be, without a story? Under Falling Skies offers an intriguing dynamic puzzle, but it's not a story-driven game. I wanted to avoid long paragraphs of mostly boring text that would distract you from what's the game really about.

I decided to use comics and use them so that they mostly develop the atmosphere and setting of the game, leaving a lot of space for the player's imagination.

From gallery of uhlik

The larger comics that serve as the dividers between chapters carry the main storyline, but each chapter consists of scenarios that can differ for each player and for every time you play the campaign, so the comics can't form a continuous story. Still, they are great for the atmosphere and for explaining what the scenario is about.

Finally, there are characters who join your ranks as you progress through the campaign. Each of them has their own tile with a unique ability, but they appear also in the other comics from time to time. All of this creates a sense of a rich living world filled with many interesting characters and with various events happening all around the world, from which the player experiences only a small portion.

And again, all of this required very close cooperation with the illustrator. It would be too much for one illustrator to do the cover, all the game elements, and also the comics, so we needed to ask another one. Petr Boháček, a skillful Czech illustrator who has already participated in some video game titles, joined us for this project. To be honest, when taking into account the amount of work required, I am still amazed how he was able to deliver it all in time.

From gallery of uhlik

Both Kwanchai and Petr did a great job. I am happy how the game came out, and I can't wait to play through the whole campaign once again, this time with the final components.

My gosh, this means I did it! I designed a solo game I really enjoy playing. After playtesting it for hundreds of times, I still can't wait to dive into it once more. I am looking forward to watching others play it and to reading about their experience. I am curious what variants players will come up with...

This leads me to one important thing. There is only one name on the box, but that isn't completely fair to all those people without whom the game wouldn't exist. I remember one occasion close to finishing the game when it was Sunday, one hour after midnight, and I was really tired and there was still a lot of work ahead of me. Then Jani, my girlfriend, told me after looking at the screen, "Look, can you see how many people are working on your game right now?"

And she was right. I realized that Petr was finishing the comics and he would be working all night. David just sent me a suggestion for a small graphics adjustment. Four or five other people were going through the rulebook, so that Fanda could prepare the next version over night, and so we could continue with the proofreading in the morning. Realizing that it was 1:00 a.m. on a weekend, in that moment, I felt really overwhelmed and grateful.

I thank you all for your admirable commitment, for all the wise advice, for the experience and talent which you've put into this game, and for the encouragement you've given me. Without you, this dream of mine would never come real.

Tomáš "uhlík" Uhlíř
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Sun Oct 25, 2020 1:00 pm
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Interview: Phil Walker-Harding Looks Back on His Career

Neil Bunker
United Kingdom
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Board Game Designer: Phil Walker-Harding
[Editor's note: This interview was first published on Diagonal Move on September 25, 2020. —WEM]

Phil Walker-Harding, designer of Sushi Go!, Bärenpark and Gizmos joins Neil Bunker from Diagonal Move to look back on his career to date.

DM: Hi, Phil, thank you for joining us today. You are one of the most successful game designers working today, with numerous commercially successful titles and many critical awards to your name — yet you started by selling small, self-published card games. Please can you tell us about those early days of your career?

PWH: When I got into modern board games, particularly those coming out of Germany like Catan and Carcassonne, I immediately wanted to design my own! I played lots of games growing up and had even tried making my own as a child, so it was quite natural to take it back up as a hobby.

Way back before Kickstarter revolutionized the way games are funded, marketed, and even produced, self-publishing was a very different thing. My first few releases were hand-assembled in very small print runs. I sold them online and at small local conventions, so it felt like a very small DIY beginning!

Archaeology: The Card Game was picked up by Z-Man Games, and I gradually built up my name from there. Around five years ago, I decided to fully focus on designing and working with other publishers.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board

DM: Sushi Go!, in 2013, was your breakthrough game. When did you realize that you had a hit, and how did it feel to achieve that success?

PWH: It was a bit of a gradual thing because the first edition of Sushi Go! was self-published, so there wasn't a big audience right away.

Gamewright signed the game a little bit after that, so I knew it would be marketed far more widely, but you never know how successful a game will be out in the market. I suppose I realized how well it was doing about a year after it was out and I saw a whole lot of people playing it all around the world on social media.

It was a great feeling as it had been a real aim of mine to create a popular family-friendly little card game.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board

DM: Cacao followed in 2015. It features a combined tile and worker placement mechanism. How did the mechanism and the overall game develop from the initial idea to fully formed game?

PWH: Cacao evolved from another design — a card game all about surrounding scoring cards with your cards in order to achieve majorities, so very much like the temple tiles in the finished game.

At some point I tried having your scoring cards trigger immediate actions. This worked so well I made this the whole focus of the game, and the rest of the design followed quite quickly.

I then entered the design in the [2012] Premio Archimede competition, and from there it found a great publisher in ABACUSSPIELE.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board

DM: Imhotep was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2016. What effect did this have on your career? Did you experience an increased sense of expectation for the releases that followed?

PWH: I did feel that more people knew who I was after the nomination, although probably more within the industry rather than general gamers. It did lead to new contacts and relationships with publishers. I am sure it did help my recognition generally as a designer, but this is something that has slowly grown since I began, I would say.

DM: Many of your games, including the popular Bärenpark, incorporate mechanisms seen in far more complex games, yet are accessible to players of all ages and experience. Is this accessibility intentional and, if so, how do you achieve this aim?

PWH: Yes, it is definitely an aim. One of the best things about our hobby is that it can bring people of all ages and backgrounds together around the table.

I try to make my designs as easy to approach as possible. How exactly you achieve this is a hard thing to quantify exactly, but I do have a few principles I stick to.

For example, the game should take five minutes or less to teach, and the results of the players' actions should have immediate feedback so that they know and feel what they have achieved.

Theme and graphic design also play a big part, so I try to make this a priority in my discussions with my publishers.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board

DM: Gizmos was another big success. Do engine-building games — with their multiple layers, effect combos and variable routes to victory — require a greater degree of development than some other genres? How do you approach this from a design perspective?

PWH: Engine-building games like Gizmos do have certain complexities about them, yes. Because the powers that the player gains persist for the whole game, balancing them against each other becomes very important.

In Gizmos, it was important that each card was costed correctly so that all the different paths to victory remained viable. I was greatly helped by Marco at CMON in this area. He has a background in collectible card games, so had lots of great insights about balancing and costing cards.

Board Game: Gizmos

DM: For all the success that many of your games have seen, some games remain less well known (Gingerbread House, Silver & Gold, Pack of Heroes). What factors do you think have contributed to the success of some games over others?

PWH: It is a hard thing for me to have full insight into! Some games are just better than others, but also there are all sorts of factors in the market when a game is a released that can factor into its success: Did the game stick out as different and original when it first came out, or did it get lost in the crowd? Was there good early buzz about the game, or did the marketing not quite land with the right audience?

With so many games being released each year, it is getting harder to stand out. Personally, I try to release fewer games that I am really happy with, but of course even then they can't all be hits!

Board Game: Silver & Gold

DM: You have had the opportunity to revisit older games including Archaeology and Dungeon Raiders? How do you feel when revising past projects with the benefit of experience, and is there one that you would like to revisit if you could?

PWH: It was a great opportunity to revisit both of those designs for new editions. I was really thankful to be given that chance by Z-Man Games and Devir.

I definitely felt my experience gave me some ability to knock some of the rough edges off my older designs, so in both cases I felt I could clean them up a little. However, both games already had a bit of an audience and a core mechanism that was working, so I didn't want to completely overhaul them.

Also, it was interesting to see which design choices I made back then that I would not make now that were actually probably the right fit for the design.

Board Game: Dungeon Raiders (2018 edition)

DM: Which game do you look back on and think "I'm glad I did that" and why?

PWH: Designing all the different types of cards in Sushi Go Party! was a real challenge, and at points I was not sure if I could make it work, but I am really glad I kept at it and finished the design. I think it was a great learning process for me as a designer, and the game has really helped keep the Sushi Go! line going.

DM: Do you have any design or publishing advice to share with readers?

PWH: I often say to new designers to just get your first design out there. Making your game available through print-and-play, GameCrafter, or an online design competition is a great way to get a whole lot of eyes on your work.

And it is okay if your first designs aren't fantastic because you will learn from each game you make, and the feedback you get from players will be invaluable as you progress!
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Charles S. Roberts Awards Pending, Plus Wargames for Two from Worthington, Hollandspiele & GMT

Candice Harris
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• In June 2020, I posted an article announcing the exciting comeback of the Charles S. Roberts Awards for Excellence in Conflict Simulation after seven years of inactivity. Well, today I'm happy to report that the results are in and will be announced on October 25, 2020 at 8 p.m. EDT (UTC-4) on the No Enemies Here YouTube channel. Thanks to everyone who submitted votes and the CSR Awards team who compiled the results!

The presenters for the CSR Awards include Trevor Bender, Fritz Bronner, Jack Greene, Jan Heinemann, Mark Herman, Lawrence Hung, Steve Jackson, Tim Kask, Derek Landel, Dean Liggett, Riccardo Masini, Bruce Monnin, Marc Miller, Allan Rothberg, Fred Serval, and Kevin Bertram...with a "Candice cameo" where I'll present the "Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Wargame" category.

You can check out the list of 2019 nominees on the Charles S. Roberts website and start making your guesses.

In the spirit of the upcoming CSR Awards broadcast, here are a few interesting 2020 wargame releases to check out:

Board Game Publisher: Worthington Publishing, LLC
Board Game: Freeman's Farm 1777
Worthington Publishing is releasing Maurice Suckling's American Civil War-based, card-driven game Chancellorsville 1863. Suckling's 2019 release Freeman's Farm 1777 is, coincidentally, one of the 2019 nominees for the CSR Awards' "Best Ancients to Pre-Napoleonic Era Board Wargame" category.

Here's a brief overview of how Suckling's 2020 follow-up to Freeman's Farm 1777 works, as described by the publisher:
Quote:
Chancellorsville 1863 is a card-driven game on the American Civil War Battle of Chancellorsville. Playable by 1 to 2 players in one hour, the game comes with a card-driven solitaire engine. Designed by Maurice Suckling (designer of Freeman's Farm 1777), the game uses many of the concepts from that game. However, added hidden movement, much more maneuver, and other design tweaks make this a truly unique game.

Board Game: Chancellorsville 1863

Each turn, players play one of their three in-hand formation cards to maneuver or attack enemy forces, gaining momentum cubes based on the formation activated. Each formation is a Confederate division or Union corps. Each formation card allows a major and possibly an additional minor activation: major allowing two moves for a formation while the minor allows one move. After each formation moves, combat can occur if a move ends in a location with an enemy formation. Tactic cards may be played during the formation's activation giving it movement or combat bonuses.

At the end of the formation card activation, players may spend their momentum cubes to buy tactics cards which may give them benefits in combat or movement in future turns. Players then draw a new formation card refilling their hands to three. Hooker, Lee, and Jackson have bonuses that can be played once a game, adding to movement and combat.

Board Game: Chancellorsville 1863
Game board w/ hidden map screen posted by the publisher

Victory is determined by destroying enemy formations through morale/strength loss, or the Union occupying the three victory locations that represent cutting off the Confederate army from Richmond.

Additional rules allow for fixed defensive positions, Jackson's Flank March, and even his death.
Board Game Publisher: Hollandspiele
Board Game: Brave Little Belgium
• In September 2020, "wargames and weirdgames" indie publisher Hollandspiele announced the release of White Eagle Defiant from Ryan Heilman and Dave Shaw, the design team that brought us Brave Little Beligium in 2019, which is another CSR Awards nominee, but in the "Best Post-Napoleonic to Pre-World War 2 Era Board Wargame" category.

Here's a preview of what you can expect from White Eagle Defiant, the 1-2 player, chit-pulling, wargame that partially follows the footsteps of its predecessor Brave Little Belgium:
Quote:
White Eagle Defiant recreates the German, Slovak, and Soviet invasion of Poland in September and October 1939 that marked the beginning of the Second World War. Germany and its Slovakian ally began the invasion on September 1, 1939; the Soviet Union followed suit on the 17th. Known in Poland as the September Campaign and in Germany by the codename Fall Weiss (Case White), the campaign ended on October 6, 1939 with Germany and the Soviet Union splitting the country in two.

In White Eagle Defiant, one player controls the Germans, Slovaks and Soviets (simplified as the Germans in the game) while the other player commands the Poles. The German objective is to gain control of Warsaw and other designated Victory cities while preventing Polish forces from destroying their forts in East Prussia and recapturing Victory cities. If the German player does so in less time than the historical campaign, they win the game. Anything less is a draw or a win for the Polish player.

Board Game: White Eagle Defiant: Poland 1939

This quick-playing wargame employs very similar mechanims as Brave Little Belgium, but with a modest increase in complexity. The game uses a point-to-point map and a chit-pull mechanism to simulate the campaign, with each turn representing four days. Random event chits are included to add variety and excitement to the game, reflecting the weapons (such as armored trains and aerial bombardment) used at the beginning of World War II. The combat system, while still simple, is enhanced to better simulate mechanized warfare, as well as the use of combined forces. (Players can bring forces from adjacent spaces into an attack, creating primary and secondary combat groups.)

Other new features in White Eagle Defiant include Panzers for the Germans (which can roll two dice instead of one) and cavalry for the Poles (which can roll a "first shot" at the beginning of a combat round). A Victory Point track allows for variable entry of Soviet forces (depending on the success of the German player in capturing Victory cities), as well as the possibility of the Allies launching an attack in the West (if the German player fails to do well in capturing Victory cities). Finally, a "blitzkrieg breakdown" track is used by the German player; if the turn ends before both German army group chits are pulled, the German player may elect to activate a group, but possibly suffer a "breakdown" while doing so — and if five such breakdowns occur, the German player automatically loses the game.

Players who enjoyed Brave Little Belgium will find that White Eagle Defiant offers the same tense play for both sides, while presenting new challenges that reflect the dawn of the blitzkrieg era.
Board Game Publisher: GMT Games
Board Game: Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage
• On the GMT Games front, I'm looking forward to sharing some impressions of their latest COIN series release, VPJ Arponen's All Bridges Burning, once I get a couple more plays in, but Mark Simonitch's Caesar: Rome vs. Gaul recently caught my attention since it's a reimplementation of Simonitch's asymmetrical, card-driven classic Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage, which is on my list to try.

From the publisher's description below, it sounds like you'll ease right into Caesar: Rome vs. Gaul if you're familiar with Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage or PHALANX's 20th anniversary edition of that game, Hannibal & Hamilcar, but it should be a solid entry point even if you're new to the system, like me. Here's that description:
Quote:
Caesar: Rome vs. Gaul is a fast-playing, easy-to-learn, two-player card-driven game on Caesar's conquest of Gaul. One player plays Caesar as he attempts to gain wealth and fame in Gallia at the expense of the Gauls; the other player controls all the independent tribes of Gaul as they slowly awake to the peril of Roman conquest.

Caesar: Rome vs. Gaul uses many of the core rules and systems used in Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage. Players are dealt seven cards at the start of each turn and use their cards to move their armies and place control markers. Players familiar with Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage will quickly learn this game.

Board Game: Caesar: Rome vs. Gaul

The game covers the height of the Gallic Wars, the period between 57 BCE and 52 BCE when Caesar campaigned back and forth across Gaul putting down one rebellion after another and invading Germania and Britannia. Units are individual Roman Legions or Gallic Tribes. Each turn represents one year.
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Fri Oct 23, 2020 1:00 pm
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Game Preview: Switch & Signal, or Funneling Trains to Marseille

W. Eric Martin
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Apex
North Carolina
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Board Game: Switch & Signal
BGG.CONline — our game demo livestream — starts on Oct. 22 at 12:00 p.m. EDT (UTC-4) just 90 minutes from me writing these words, so let me invite you to join us on the stream to get overviews of new games from SPIEL.digital 2020, while also leaving you with a personal overview of one game in particular.

Signal & Switch is a co-operative game for 2-4 players from David Thompson and KOSMOS in which you collectively manage a rail network that must pick up goods in four cities and deliver them to one or two port cities, depending on which side of the game board you use. Everything about the design is straightforward to understand and play, but you are nicely challenged to handle lots of uncertainty — thanks to the cards and dice — and complexity, thanks to the system of signals and switches that you need to monitor and adjust as trains move between cities.

I'd write more, but I must away and tend to my ravens prepare for my host duties during BGG.CONline. David Thompson will be on air on Sunday, Oct. 25 at 12:30 p.m. EDT should you care to ask him any questions about the game.

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Thu Oct 22, 2020 3:31 pm
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Designer Diary: Gods Love Dinosaurs, or Making Mechanisms Mesh

Kasper Lapp
Denmark
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Board Game: Gods Love Dinosaurs
I have never played the game Silk — but I heard Shut Up & Sit Down's review of the game, and they really liked the moments when the monster ate worms. ("Nom, nom, nom!")

That made me want to make a game in which animals eat other animals, too. This then turned into an idea of making an "ecosystem manager" — a game in which you have to keep the balance between populations of animals in an ecosystem.

I decided to use dominos to build the ecosystem. My aim became to make "Kingdomino, but where your kingdom comes alive." (I have a special relationship with Kingdomino because it won the Spiel des Jahres the same year that my Magic Maze was nominated, but that's another story.)

From gallery of W Eric Martin
The inspiration — Kingdomino image by Henk Rolleman

I chose the first animals that came to mind for the ecosystem. Rats, rabbits and frogs are all at the bottom of the food chain, and they are all eaten by tigers and eagles. I chose them because...well, because they are cool. But what would eat tigers and eagles? Something even cooler, hmm...

Dinosaurs, of course!

From gallery of Kasper Lapp
I never imagined that all the animals I chose would make it into the final game, but I think the fact that these animals don't make sense with each other in a zoological sense has a certain charm to it — and this mismatch fit what ended up being the narrative: Crazy gods building ecosystems.

The goal I wanted players to have in this game was to keep a fine balance in their ecosystems, but how do you measure this balance in a simple way? I realized that a balanced ecosystem would be one that allows a lot of top predators (dinosaurs) to live. If, for example, there were too few tigers and eagles, the dinosaurs would starve, but if too many tigers and eagles existed, they would eat all the prey and end up starving, ultimately making the dinosaurs starve as well.

Initially, points were given based on how many dinosaurs you had alive in your ecosystem at specific moments of the game. Later, I decided that you would score a point each time a dinosaur ate a tiger or eagle because then points were tied directly to the most exciting moments of the game: When your dinosaurs come ravaging down from the mountains to eat. (I don't think dinosaurs actually lived in mountains, but again, it just seemed cool.)

During the game, players draft tiles with two different (or similar) terrains and often with a new animal on one of those. That didn't change during the design process, except that I changed the spaces to hexagons instead of squares. That made the placement of tiles less frustrating. It can be surprisingly hard to keep similar area types together using square dominos, but it became a lot easier with hexagons. In Kingdomino, keeping area types together is a central part of the challenge, but in Gods Love Dinosaurs the challenge lies elsewhere, so I wanted to make that part easier for the players.

From gallery of Kasper Lapp

The most important development of the game was the flow. In the first version, the game consisted of a set number of rounds. In each round, players were presented with tiles and picked one each to add to their ecosystem, then a card was drawn that dictated which animals would move, e.g., rabbits and tigers.

There were two problems with this. First, it was often obvious which tile would be best for your ecosystem. Second, you didn't get any chance to plan ahead since you wouldn't know which animals were going to move.

From gallery of Kasper Lapp

Even though the game didn't really work, the playtesters clearly enjoyed the "eating moments" of the game a lot, so I knew the game had potential and set out to fix those two problems.

First, I tried less random movements. You now knew ahead of time that the rabbits were going to multiply soon, or that the dinosaur would have to eat in a few turns, but you still didn't have any control over it, and it still didn't solve the issue that your best tile choice during drafting was often too obvious.

I needed more reasons for players to want one tile instead of another, and then it came to me: I could perhaps solve both my problems at once by introducing five columns of tiles, one for each non-dinosaur animal. Whenever the last tile in a column was taken, that type of animal would move.

Suddenly, you have a lot more to think about when choosing tiles. It might still be obvious which tile would be best for your ecosystem, but what if it were in the wrong column? Players now have to balance the choice between "which tile is best" and "which animal should move". Problem one was solved! At the same time, players now had control (collectively) over which animals ended up moving instead of it being decided by random card draws. Problem two was solved as well!

From gallery of Kasper Lapp

I love the moments when a rule change suddenly makes a game "click". This was one of those moments. The rest of the design process was just about getting the details right, and it ended up being my fastest idea-to-contract-proposal process yet (three-and-a-half months).

Pandasaurus Games did an amazing job with the visuals and made ani-meeples for all the animals, so I can't wait to get my own copy once it's released on October 21, 2020.

Kasper Lapp

Board Game: Gods Love Dinosaurs

Board Game: Gods Love Dinosaurs
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Tue Oct 20, 2020 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Praga Caput Regni

Vladimir Suchy
Czech Republic
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Board Game: Praga Caput Regni
Starting Point

For only the second time in my game design history — Last Will was the first — theme was the starting point for the design process for my latest game: Praga Caput Regni in this case, with the title being Latin for "Prague, capital of the Kingdom".

So how did the city of Prague become the focal point of this new game? Well, the seeds of it were probably sown when, as a schoolboy, I'd go on many walks in this beautiful and fascinating city with my best friend at that time. I was fortunate enough to be born in this exceptional city, and from a young age I wanted to find out as much as I could not just about its famous historical sights, but also its lesser known ones.

It was clear to me even then as a youngster that, especially when viewing the panoramas of Charles Bridge and Prague Castle, that Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I absorbed its history on my regular walks through its streets and that had a great impact on me in my formative years, and those walks gave me many unforgettable memories and experiences that I look back on fondly even to this day.

From gallery of sucd
Prague's famous Charles Bridge and its gaming equivalent

In the intervening years since my childhood, inevitably the ups and downs of family and working life got in the way of my ability to explore the city as often as I did in my youth. However, my love of the city did not diminish, and I continued to learn more about the history of Prague from a wide variety of books that I read on the subject.

Board Game: League of Six
So when I started making games, it was no surprise that I was keen to introduce a historical element to the design process whenever I could. You can see this clearly in the first game of mine that was published, League of Six, a game set in 1430 about a group of wealthy Lusatian towns that banded together to defend their commercial interests and the stability of this region, which is situated in the present day on the borders of Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic). While I often considered Czech history as a potential source of theme for my games over the years, the city of Prague (and its special history) has had to wait its turn.

After having finished designing Underwater Cities and its expansion, I was casting around for themes for my next game. I had an urge to design a historically themed game — my favorite type of game — and it suddenly occurred to me that it might finally be the right time to fulfill one of my dreams, that is to say, to design a strategic Eurogame based around my hometown: the royal city of Prague.

From that point on, some thoughts started rattling around my head about designing a game in which the main goal was to build up the medieval city of Prague during the period of the reign of Charles IV (1316-1378 CE), king of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor. This was a time when the city flourished and a great many of the iconic sights of today's Prague were constructed. I was intent on including as many of those real historical sights and buildings as I could in the game, places such as Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, and the Charles University to name a few, all of which you can still see today of course.

From gallery of sucd

From gallery of sucd
The Hunger Wall and its gaming equivalent

Mechanisms

The next step in the design process was trying to find a way to incorporate as many of those historical buildings and events from the Charles IV period into the game as possible through appropriate mechanisms. It was inevitable that I would have to make compromises as it wasn't possible to include everything!

As I write this, we are at the point where the game is very nearly finished and requires only minor tweaks to balance and the odd minor mechanism. However, even now, when I think of some lesser known historical sight in the city I think to myself, "Why didn't I include that square on the main board?" or "Why didn't I include this church?" But as much as I wanted to, I just couldn't include them all. While I did have some initial concerns about connecting this theme with more complex game mechanisms in a smooth and streamlined way, I also wanted to do the city justice by how it was represented in the game. In the end, I think I managed to fit a good selection of the most interesting parts of Prague into the game.

This historical era, one of the most famous periods in the history of both Prague and the Czech kingdom, provided a lot of rich design possibilities right from the outset. In 1346, the young and able Charles IV of the Luxembourg dynasty ascended to the throne and became King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor. One of the first steps he took was to order the building of the New Town (Nové Město) next to the Old Town (Staré Město). During this period, he also initiated the construction of the famous Charles Bridge, St. Vitus Cathedral, and many of the buildings connected to the University of Prague, which was founded in 1348 and would eventually become known as the Charles University of Prague, one of the oldest universities in Europe. By the end of his reign, Prague had become one of the largest and most important cities in Europe.

Board Game: Praga Caput Regni
Prototype components

The main goal of the game is, obviously, building. At the start of the design process, I tried to incorporate these historical elements into the fabric of the game. You can see this clearly on the game board where the Old Town and the New Town are separated by the King's Road (Královská Cesta). Players also help construct the City Walls, as well as the Hunger Wall (which was built during a famine in the 1360s and is reputed to have been ordered by Charles IV as a way of providing jobs and food to the affected citizens and their families), in addition to the aforementioned Charles Bridge and St. Vitus Cathedral.

One of the main mechanisms of the game involves players selecting an action to carry out in order to help with the construction of these locations. They do this by gaining resources and upgrading those actions. When I modeled out possible turns in my head, I tried to interconnect the mechanisms as much as possible through this core action-selection mechanism. My main aim when designing this central mechanism was to encourage players to not select the same action repeatedly so that they would have to combine different action choices to make their overall strategy succeed. Although the game's mechanisms seem very logically connected to me now, I found the mental exercise of keeping tabs of the possible permutations of players' actions to be one the most demanding challenges I have ever experienced while designing games.

I like using dice in my games a lot, and they were the main component of the central mechanism in the first versions of the game. Players would roll three dice to choose their actions and the accompanying bonus actions. However, after testing this at home with my family I realized that this was not the best choice of mechanism to be at the center of this game. I tried several ways to adjust the dice mechanism so that it not only worked but was fun, yet I just wasn't happy with it; the dice were too random to base strategic decisions on.

This led to me having a new experience as a game designer. In my previous games, I've started by determining the main mechanism, then building other mechanisms around it. I sometimes had to adjust the central mechanism a bit, but generally it stayed fundamentally similar to how I first envisaged it. Realizing that my central mechanism didn't work as I wanted it to was something new that I had to deal with. I decided to keep the secondary mechanisms, but come up with a completely different core mechanism.

In the end, I decided to use a mechanism I had come up with years ago in which tiles with two actions on them are inserted into a central wheel. There are also bonuses on the wheel itself so that you get to take the bonus when you select an action tile. From the action tile itself, you choose one of the two actions indicated on it.

From gallery of sucd
The first version of the action crane

I refined this mechanism to work in the context of this specific game, and it eventually turned out to be the most suitable central mechanism for Praga. From a design point of view, I thankfully managed to find a way around the initial design challenge of having to completely change the central mechanism without having to majorly change the secondary mechanisms.

Further Development

I felt good about the change of the central mechanism at this point, but it still needed some refining. I reduced the number of possible main actions to seven and experimented with them on the wheel. I came up with different bonus actions for each slot on the wheel connected to the secondary mechanisms of the game. This led to players having to choose from a veritable smorgasbord of actions, each of which provided different bonuses depending on its location on the wheel.

Also, the bonuses on the wheel, which thematically became the wheel of a builder's crane, get increasingly more advantageous as they travel round. In more detail, when the tiles start out on the wheel, a player has to pay more resources to get the more frequently used action tiles that end up back at the start of the wheel more often, but as the action tiles move round the wheel, the bonuses to take them get better until a player eventually decides they are just too good to pass up. At this point, I was really happy with how this core mechanism worked.

Board Game: Praga Caput Regni
Final design of the action crane

The next thing I had to deal with was reducing the amount of time it took to take a turn. I didn't want it to be too long. I tried reducing it by simplifying the main actions and the complexity of the bonus actions. Initially the variety of bonus actions was too wide, which led to analysis paralysis and slowed the game down.

Following discussion with playtesters, I decided to get rid of the main action that allowed players to move on the cathedral or wall tracks and turn that into a bonus action you get when constructing certain wall tiles, thereby reducing the number of main actions to six. This turned out to be the final number of actions in the game. These discussions also led to the decision to simplify how it was possible to get an additional movement on the cathedral and wall tracks — by spending two white windows — which sped up the flow of the game considerably.

Numerous playtest games helped to balance the design. Through those tests, it became clear that it was necessary to strengthen the "upgrade actions" action. (I settled upon a bonus of advancing on the University track to provide additional motivation to do this action.) The production tracks also needed strengthening as there were other ways to gain resources without actually moving on these tracks, so I made the benefits of going up this track more enticing and together with the large endgame scoring bonuses possible at the end of them, this turned the "production" strategy into a viable one.

One of the things I'm really pleased about with Praga is that the number of players playing the game doesn't affect the flow of the game too much. Apart from the starting set-up, there was little need to adjust the game according to the number of players.

From gallery of sucd
Graphic development of houses

There are a LOT of hex tiles in this game, too, and balancing these to ensure that none of them were too powerful was a demanding part of the design process.

The increasing popularity of solo modes in games (especially in this time of COVID-19) was a motivating factor for me to include this in the game as well. I carried out a lot of testing during lockdown periods at home, so I played solo a lot, which helped me hone the game and this particular mode. This didn't replace playing games with playtesters and getting their feedback, but it was definitely a useful supplement to that process in these difficult times. I have noticed recently that solo players tend to prefer modes in which they have a "dummy" opponent. However, I still tried to make the simulated opponent as realistic as possible and less of a dummy! The rules for this version of the solo game will be published through our website at the same time as the game.

In the end, I'm very happy with how Praga Caput Regni has turned out. In my opinion, it is the most complex game I have ever created, and I believe it is a worthy successor to Underwater Cities.

Vladimír Suchý

P.S. Thanks to Mike Poole for the language corrections.

From gallery of sucd
Old Town Hall with the inscription "PRAGA CAPUT REGNI"
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Sun Oct 18, 2020 1:00 pm
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Lookout Sows Fields to Produce Hallertau, More Agricola, and Patchworks Galore

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Patchwork
Uwe Rosenberg's two-player game Patchwork was a hit when it debuted in 2014, and it's continued to find new fans in the intervening years. (Here's a quick overview of the game if it's still unknown to you.)

Publisher Lookout Games has released a few Patchwork spinoff titles, and now it has three more in the works for those who prefer the gameplay of the original but not its graphics. Note that all of these new versions differ from the original only in their graphics, with the exception of one non-game related element.

The most widespread of these new versions will be Patchwork: Winter Edition, which features red, green, and blue-and-white patches, in addition to a patch-shaped cookie cutter for those who'd prefer to eat patches as much as play with them. This version will be released initially in separate English and German editions.

Board Game: Patchwork
Board Game: Patchwork
Board Game: Patchwork

The other two editions are dubbed Patchwork: Folklore Taiwan and Patchwork: Folklore China, and they feature imagery by artists local to the regions being depicted: Gru Tsow for Taiwan and Rex Lee for China. This artwork was created for licensed versions of Patchwork that will be released in Taiwan and China by local companies, but Lookout liked the style of these versions so much that it's releasing a 500-copy limited edition version of each one, with these being available through the Lookout online shop starting on October 22, 2020.

Board Game: Agricola: Dulcinaria Deck
Board Game: Nusfjord: Salmon Deck
• Lookout Games has three other items due out in Germany on that same date, with two of those items being expansions to existing games: Agricola: Dulcinaria Deck, which contains 120 new occupation and minor improvement cards for use with the revised edition of Agricola (and the original one if you can gloss over differences in terminology), and Nusfjord: Salmon Deck, the second expansion deck for Nusfjord, which contains 44 new building cards for players who have a good understanding of the base game, as well as 25 metal coins to replace the coins from the base game.

• The final title debuting from Lookout on Oct. 22, 2020 is a giant one: Hallertau from Uwe Rosenberg. In this 1-4 player game, players each have a field in which they'll plant and harvest crops, a stable in which they'll tend to sheep, and five craft buildings that they'll progress in order to "expand" their community center, which gives them more workers to use each round.

Twenty actions are available on a shared central game board, and the cost to use an action escalates based on how many times it's already been used in a round; card-drawing actions can be used at most twice in a round, and other actions at most three times. Players manage nine types of goods, planting barley, flax, hops, and rye in the fields. Fields that remain empty will be more productive in future rounds, but the game lasts only six rounds, so sometimes you'll just have to get what you can. Sheep provide hides, meat, milk, and wool, and you'll need a varied mix of goods in order to use the cards you acquire to trade resources, gain additional resources, or spend resources for points.

For all the details of this 24-page rulebook, head to the Hallertau page on the Lookout Games website.

Board Game: Hallertau
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Fri Oct 16, 2020 3:39 pm
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