• Another day, another announcement or seven from one publisher or another, with Queen Games teasing info on three early 2019 releases for now. Let's start with the trendiest title of the bunch: Cøpenhagen, a 2-4 player game from the familiar design duo of Asger Harding Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen that plays in 20-40 minutes.
Why does this one get the "trendy" tag? Because the game features polyominoes, which seems to be the go-to component for designers and publishers worldwide. That said, I have no idea when Queen signed this design and how long it's been in development. Perhaps Asger can reveal all in a designer diary down the road. For now, here's a summary of the gameplay:
The Danish city of Cøpenhagen is traversed by canals and harbors, and part of it — "Nyhavn" (New Harbor) — is famous for the colorful gabled houses along the water.
In the game Cøpenhagen, players must design new façades for these houses so that they fit seamlessly into this beautiful harbor setting. By using the cards on displays, players receive the corresponding façade polyomino tiles, with which they beautify their houses. Overbuilding certain spaces and floors gives them additional skills for the rest of the game. Floors that consist of a pure window front are particularly rewarding and bring the players many points.
• Luxor: The Mummy's Curse, due out in May 2019, is an expansion for Rüdiger Dorn's Luxor, which was nominated for the German Spiel des Jahres award in 2018. Queen is attempting to fund this title on Kickstarter through the end of January 2019 (KS link), and as is the habit with many a Queen title, Luxor: The Mummy's Curse contains multiple modules that can be mixed-and-matched as desired, as well as components to allow up to five players at once. Here's a rundown of the modules:
—The Mummy: An ancient cursed mummy has woken and is not amused at the adventurers intruding on her temple. Whenever an Osiris card is played by any player, the mummy moves forward as many spaces as the number of eyes on the card. Any adventurer she lands on or passes through falls into a deep slumber and must be woken up by spending an activation. The player controlling the mummy receives Talisman tokens that grant them a one-time special ability.
—Equipment: Players choose their starting hands from five of seven equipment cards. Once played, the equipment cards are discarded as normal and will be shuffled into the deck. Each equipment card is a variation of the normal movement cards and allows players to choose a starting strategy.
—New Treasures: A fourth treasure type is added to the game, along with new rules for set collection.
—Special Adventurers: Each player chooses from one of eight special abilities that are unique to them for the entire game.
• As you can tell from a glance at the cover, Voll Verwackelt is the Queen title in this batch aimed at young players, and like many such titles from Queen's past, this Wolfgang Dirscherl and Manfred Reindl design has a dexterity element:
Tim Löwe and his friends have found the tastiest coconuts imaginable, but unfortunately these coveted fruits are growing on a palm tree that stands in the middle of a shaky rock.
In Voll Verwackelt, players must balance the animals constantly as they move them gently across this unstable rock because only if the balance is kept do you receive coconuts as a reward. Collect the most coconuts by the end of the game, and you win!
• Ravensburger has posted information about the children's games that it plans to release in the first half of 2019, but information about its titles for more general audiences has been scarce so far. Las Vegas Royale appears to be a new edition of Dorn's Las Vegas, which debuted in 2012 from Ravensburger's alea brand, but there's no sign of anything new in this edition other than the title and (possibly) the artwork since nothing has been posted for this release yet.
• Even less info is available for Minecraft, a 2-4 player game for ages 8+ that plays in 30-60 minutes. All I know now is the brief description below:
The video game phenomenon comes to your table with the Minecraft board game, in which you try to grab rare resources from your fellow players and avoid getting surprised by monsters like creepers and zombies. Craft your collected resources into new, better gear, and design your personal dream home to secure victory!
U.S. publisher Restoration Games, which most recently blew the doors off Kickstarter with its campaign for a new edition of Fireball Island, has announced the next title to be "restored" as part of the company's efforts to revive nostalgic favorites and make them play as well as we think they played at the time: Eric Solomon's Conspiracy. Here's an overview of the gameplay in that design, which first debuted in 1973:
There are four capitals, four bankbooks, one top secret briefcase and eight greedy spies that anyone can control. The object is to move the briefcase to your headquarters. Players can either secretly pay off or openly move a spy one space on their turn. Each player has an account of $10,000 and can bribe spies in increments of at least $100. If you move a spy, another player may challenge the move. The two players then slowly reveal how much money they each have on the spy in question. If the challenger wins, the move is rescinded. If the defender wins, the move stays and the challenger loses his next turn. Players need to cooperate against whichever player is closest to victory. You can conspire openly to swipe the case or murder a spy and turn the tables on a player who is a mere one space away from winning. No dice, no cards, no luck involved. Learn to work together or games will end in a hurry.
Conspiracy was released under a number of different titles over the years — Sigma File, Agent, Casablanca — and anyone who's seen the game will recall its distinctive components for the spies:
The Restoration Games version bears the title Conspiracy: The Solomon Gambit to honor the game's original designer, and it will debut at the 2019 Origins Game Fair in June. In addition to now supporting 2-4 players (instead of 3-4, as was the case with most earlier versions), the game has a few other changes to the game as well, thanks to co-designers Rob Daviau, JR Honeycutt, and Justin D. Jacobson:
This restored edition offers two new twists on the original gameplay. First, each agent has a unique ability that lets them move an agent or the briefcase for free. Second, an alternate win condition eliminates stalling and potential stalemates. If no one wins within a certain number of turns, Dr. Solomon can end the game immediately, and whoever has paid off the most to him wins the game. However, if you pay off too much to Dr. Solomon early in the game, that can leave you with little control over the other agents, forcing you to strike a tricky balance between immediate and long-term goals.
Restoration notes that it won't feature the marble busts of the earlier releases, modernizing the game with art by Matt Griffin and spy components that look like this:
Ben Pinchback here, one of the co-designers of Beta Colony. I'll be doing the main writing on this designer diary, with Matt Riddle, Beta Colony's other designer, chiming in with his comments, such as this:
Did you hear the one about the monk who walked into the bar? Ouch!
For real, hey everyone. In this post, Ben spends about five thousand words exploring the journey that brought us to one of our 2018 releases — Beta Colony from Rio Grande Games, with Piepmatz and Fleet: The Dice Game being the other two — and I will pop in randomly to break up the monotony of Ben's prattle.
Also, it is interesting how themes change over time. Each step, we did work to make sure the current theme is integrated and made sense. Even though this game is a Euro, there are thematic elements throughout Beta Colony — even a cool backstory written by our buddy Mike Mullins.
If you've heard of me and Matt up to this point, it's most likely from our card game Fleet from 2012 or from our 2017 post-apocalyptic romp Wasteland Express Delivery Service (a.k.a., WEDS). WEDS is kind of like a sibling to Beta Colony in that they both share the same parent — "Space Vikings!!!". Technically Beta Colony is from "Space Vikings!!! 2.0", as we had dubbed it, so I guess that makes Beta Colony a nephew or niece to WEDS with "Space Vikings!!!" proper being the granddaddy. The "Space Vikings!!!" family tree also includes unpublished sibling "4 Brothers of Love", who begat published cousin Morocco, as well as crazy cousin "Alcazar" and his sister "Wolf and the Fox", both of which have been committed to the shelf of misfit protos.
So why do you care about "Space Vikings!!!" and all of Aegir, God of the Sea's children and grandchildren? Well, you don't and you shouldn't. It's just the long way of explaining where the central idea for Beta Colony — the "Rolldel" — came from. In short form, the Rolldel is a dice rondel. Players use sets of rolled dice in pairs to first move their token around the action circle with one die, then activate the spot with the other die.
But we're getting way ahead of ourselves. To properly explain the Rolldel, we need to start back at the beginning, with the vikings in the Baltic sea when Chief Forkbeard passed on and his five worthless sons were left to carry on his legacy. (We'll soon be getting to voyagers constructing colonization pods on the chosen planet, Victus, I promise.)
Get it? Roll... like dice... plus rondel = Rolldell! Boom. You're welcome. Also, the "Space Vikings!!!" tree is like the Belichick coaching tree: mildly successful, but better in theory than in practice.
Back in the Baltic Sea, the brothers Forkbeard went about their business pillaging and expanding with great abandon, forgetting their roots and also forsaking tribute to Aegir, God of the Sea. Enraged by their behavior, Aegir banished them to space, where they would be forced to work their way back into his good graces on their quest home.
This was 2012, and Matt and I would spend the better part of 3-4 years trying to make this ridiculous premise into an actual functional game. Mechanically it had this cool octagon- and square-patterned modular board with an action-selection player mat and upgradeable ships, but thematically it was a mess. I can't imagine why. Also, if this sounds kind of like Wasteland Express Delivery Service to you, then you've cracked the code — but that was not until waaaaay later.
During this journey, we took a left turn at one point and created "Space Vikings!!! 2.0". We had decided that the Forkbeards needed dice to spice things up and that gameplay needed to be cut down to 60 minutes tops. "Space Vikings!!!" was inherently a pick-up and deliver game, and 2.0 would be the same, but instead of a sprawling modular board, the game would take place on a circular array. Players would use dice to move around the galaxy clockwise in a circle and stop on the different planets to perform actions. Players would use dice in tandem; one selected die would move a player around the circle, and a second selected die would be used to perform the action at that location. The Rolldel had been born!
Even so, the Forkbeards were not doing so well. The pick-up and deliver in a circle was a little too on the nose and lacking in dynamics. Everyone who played the game loved the dice mechanism, but the game as a whole was just not working. And, shockingly enough, the theme wasn't making any sense. But again, everyone loved the dice thing.
The dice thing then went on to spawn a few other games that didn't quite make it to the finish line, crazy cousins "Alcazar" and "Wolf and the Fox" among them, but in the end it became just a cool idea in our tool belt, waiting for the proper time to come out again.
I really liked "Wolf and the Fox", which is still my favorite shelved proto. It even has cute art courtesy of Eric J Carter (the now retired Fleet artist). It is just a simple rolldell game — pick a die, move that many spaces around the rondel and take cards where you land — then later the cards score Ra/Sushi Go-style set stuff. (PWH isn't the only one who can borrow from the good doctor. He just does it way, way better.) Seriously, though, "Wolf and the Fox" is a totally fun 20-30 minute family game, but alas, it just never quite found a home.
In a parallel world, Matt and I traveled to Baltimore in January 2013 to attend our very first Unpub convention. Unpub is an amazing event in which rooms full of designers play their prototypes with the general public, who show up in droves to test these games and give critical feedback. In the winter of 2013, Matt and I were showing off/working on Monster Truck Mayhem (which deserves a Shakespearean tragedy written completely unto itself) and a mid-weight Euro called "Bagan".
"Bagan" used a hex grid, tiles, and a little resource acquisition mechanism to have players control monks building a temple. The tiles had fun powers on them when built, and the tile-laying had a cool double area control type of scoring. Throughout the weekend, players super enjoyed the tile portion of the game but were continually left feeling flat regarding the resource acquisition. It was too direct and didn't feel clever at all. The game needed a slick layer to pair with the fun tile building...
Fun note: The resource acquisition in "Bagan" was the draw mechanism in Fleet Wharfside. Two piles/queues of three cubes (cards in Wharfside) and you can take two but from only one of the piles. I do not honestly know whether it was in Wharfside first or "Bagan" first — but it worked way better in Wharfside.
Matt and I generally don't add more content to "fix" game designs. Our typical pattern is that we start with way too much fun stuff and end up sculpting the final game down like a statue as opposed to building it up from different pieces. "Bagan" was different. It totally worked but was begging for another layer. It was begging for what Matt and I call "The Feld", that is, the first part of most Stefan Feld games, the clever thing you do which then allows you to do the basic Euro stuff later. Think of the mancala in Trajan, the card drafting in Strasbourg, the dice placement in Bora Bora, the dice trick in Macao, the card play in Bruges. All of these slick things define the games they're in, then give way to otherwise familiar Euro mechanisms. "Bagan" had fun, familiar Euro tile-laying, but it needed — say it together now — the Rolldel.
Combining "Bagan" with the Rolldel made perfect sense to us. Once united, the game began to sing and players were having a blast. The puzzle of the dice selection with movement around the circle, then activation coupled with the tile-laying was perfect. We continued to work the game and ended up with three different areas to in which to build, each with a unique rewards track as players level up in those particular areas. Everything was making sense except the theme. We were still monks building a temple, but for some reason...three areas of the temple. We kinda liked the theme though, so we stubbornly stuck with it when we started to pitch the game around 2015-ish.
It was a pretty good theme. We even explored a two-phase mechanism in which an earthquake happens and the second phase builds off the remnants of the first phase. It was interesting and worked and was historically-based as Myanmar is located in an earthquake zone, but it was not salable as it turns out and, in retrospect, not socially something that Ben and I would embark on now. We have learned a lot over the years from our great gamer and Twitter friends about social consciousness and something with the depth and history of this theme should be handled carefully, if at all. Also, yes the monks have guns in that proto.
Matt and I had always dreamed of having a design published with Rio Grande Games. After we got deep into the hobby as players, seemingly half or more of our initial collections were Rio Grande titles — all the huge ports from Europe like Power Grid and Puerto Rico, plus favorite originals like Dominion. Add to that Rio Grande's presence at conventions like Origins and Gen Con, and they always felt like the big leagues to us.
Adding to this dream was the fact that Rio Grande's owner, Jay Tummelson, was always very responsive to Matt's inquiries for meetings at those conventions. We pitched Jay a minimum of twice a summer for years. He had taken some of our games overnight to further evaluate, but we had never reached the finish line with him and his team. Ever persistent, we showed him "Bagan" in the middle of 2015. Jay liked the game enough to keep it overnight and have his team evaluate it. The next morning we came back, and his basic response was "Pretty cool game, but it needs some development. Oh, and it should be in space."
Space monks!!! No, not this time. We'd play it a little more straight this time around, especially since space made total sense in this context. The Rolldel was an orbit around a central body stopping in at the moons, etc., and the tile-laying created different settlements. It was a perfect fit, so we worked on integrating the new theme and changing things around over the next year.
You read that correctly: the next year. A year sounds like a long time, but consider that for a 60-ish minute game, two designers working full-time jobs who get together once a week are getting one, maybe two, reps a week. When you start making changes and need the plays, it just takes time. During this time, we had loose contact with the developer from Rio Grande, Ken Hill, who encouraged us to keep working the changes and bring the game back in 2016 to show Jay and the team.
The summer of 2016 went well. We showed the new game to the Rio Grande team, and they were very excited about it. Ken began his development, and we embarked on another period of testing and changes. Like the sculpture mentioned before, extra tasks and scoring opportunities that we felt were fun got chipped away as Ken and the dev team trimmed the fat. (We had additional contracts to complete that you could pick up at the Ridback and a convoluted auction for player powers.) When as a designer you play some form of a game for the better part of four years, you get really good at it. As you get better, the tendency is to add more and more to keep it challenging, not realizing that you've outpaced your audience. This is why testing at events such as Unpub as well as with the dev team are so important. You get the impressions from real players playing for the first time. Inevitably you end up trimming things out you thought you needed.
All the bits
I miss the contracts...maybe for an expansion if it sells well? They were basically dice puzzles that you had to complete while doing other things, so you needed to, say, drop off an orange cube at The Ridback with a green die range 4-6. I realize that unless you've played the game that makes no sense, but they were fun — and unneeded for the target audience. But honestly, super fun, at least for me...
Also, I want to piggy back on what Ben said and thank Ken Hill. He did make some great strides on Beta Colony. Originally the tile-laying influence was disappointingly mathy. It was similar to the system in Santiago (tiles • your markers), but you had to do it constantly instead of just at round's end. It worked and added some nice depth, but was work. Turns out not everyone likes doing algebra.
Ken did a great job over that next year working with his testers and going back and forth with us, and we got the game nailed down enough to begin art assets, graphic design, and production talk. A long story short on this effort is to say that this took longer than we expected for Beta Colony. There were some specific challenges with the tiles, colors, the Rolldel, symbology, clarity, the board layout, and tracks that required a couple go-rounds.
To Ken and Rio's credit, they never settled with good enough. When it was determined that the board wasn't going to be usable by most players, they went back and worked it to make it better. The end result is that Beta Colony is a beautiful production with nice, chunky wooden bits and bright colors reinforced with fun symbols. The dice puzzle leading into the tile play has been well received, and we super hope you enjoy it, too. From "Space Vikings!!!" to "Bagan", Forkbeard to the Rolldel, to the marriage of it all on Victus — our new chosen planet to colonize — thanks for reading and enjoy the game.
Yes, thank you to everyone who read this, or even lightly skimmed it, or just read my parts. Consider checking out Beta Colony as it is in retail now. If you ever have any questions, hit us up in the forums or on Twitter because we will always answer. Matt = @mdriddlen, Ben = @pinchback21
• On Sunday, January 5, 2019, game designer Michael Stackpole resigned from the Board of Directors of Game Manufacturers Association, a.k.a. GAMA, a position that he's held for eleven years as an Emeritus member following a three-year term as an elected member. Here's an excerpt from his public resignation letter:
I feel the Emeritus role on the board is a crucial one, since board turnover requires a repository of knowledge so we can avoid the pitfalls of past mistakes, and maintain the benefits of what we have learned in past times.
I regret that I must now tender my resignation from that post.
I have not reached this decision based on any political divide within the Board. I have come to it because the Board is broken. Since June, the board has had more meetings than ever before, and has done less than ever before. In one recent meeting, it took the board 45 minutes to word a resolution empowering a committee to hire a lawyer to negotiate with another lawyer. Three-quarters of an hour, in a meeting scheduled for two hours, which stretched to four.
The board is broken when the organization's membership indicates its will; and then the board commissions a poll to second guess the membership's will. When that poll comes back confirming what the membership wants, the board hires a lawyer to tell them they can ignore the membership.
The board is broken when it, having previously enjoyed robust and detailed discussions about GAMA harassment policies, down to the minutia of the structuring of an investigative team to be in place at our shows, chooses only to censure an officer who physically assaulted a female security guard.
The board is broken when, in wishing to discuss me in email, without my being aware of the chain, they actually send it to a list which includes me. (Thought I'd let you know about that so you didn't think your emails were leaked to me.)
• In the "What did Asmodee buy this time?" slot in these round-ups, we have the news that in January 2019 The Asmodee Group acquired Bezzerwizzer Nordic, which is primarily known for the trivia party game Bezzerwizzer and dozen other titles that bear the "Bezzerwizzer" name, a word derived from the German "Besserwisser", which means "smart aleck" or "know-it-all". An excerpt from the press release announcing the deal:
Established in 2006 by Birgitte and Jesper Bülow, Bezzerwizzer is one of the leading game publishers in the Nordics with its main titles Bezzerwizzer and Hint. Asmodee already distributes both games in Nordic countries.
"We are excited and proud to become part of Asmodee. Having built a strong Nordic position in trivia and party games, we are ready to bring our games to players in other parts of the world as a member of the Asmodee family, who shares our dedication to high quality board games." said Jesper Bülow, Bezzerwizzer Nordics CEO.
Bezzerwizzer becomes Asmodee's 14th studio and brings its expertise in developing successful trivia games with creative developing & marketing teams to the Group.
Asmodee has offices in 18 countries: USA, Canada, France, UK, Germany, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Poland, Chile, Belgium, Brazil, Taiwan and China. The company also relies on 14 publishing studios spread around the world and distributes products in over 50 countries.
Fourteen studios! Many publishers don't even have fourteen games in their catalog...
• Uwe Mölter is retiring from AMIGO Spiel after spending 25 years at the company as a game editor. Titles he's worked on include Bohnanza, 6 nimmt!, Wizard, and Elfenland. More recently, he brought ICECOOL to AMIGO, where it won the Kinderspiel des Jahres in 2017, and in 2018 he oversaw Krass Kariert, which won the 2018 Fairplay A la Carte award and Tief im Riff, a children's game that was claimed a Spiele Hit award from Austria's Wiener Spieleakademie.
• Netflix is being sued for trademark ingringement by Chooseco, the publishing company that holds the "Choose Your Own Adventure" trademark, over Netflix' use of the term in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch in December 2018. The lawsuit itself doesn't relate to the game industry in any way, but in the legal complaint filed by Chooseco, the company notes that the licensed Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger title from Z-Man Games has "sold over 150,000 units since its launch in June 2018". Thought that sales figure would be interesting to note since Z-Man usually doesn't publicize such things. (HT: Chris Cieslik)
In the village of Tiefenthal lies "The Tavern of the Deep Valley". There, all citizens from the area gather, but it's important to attract new, wealthy guests for only then is there enough money to expand the tavern, which will then lure nobles into the tavern as well. But which tavern expansion is best? Should you focus on money? Or rather ensure that the beer will keep flowing?
In Die Tavernen im Tiefen Thal, the challenge is to skillfully choose the dice and develop your personal deck of cards as profitably as possible. The game is structured with five modules so that each player can set their desired level of difficulty.
Okay, we need more gameplay details to know what's going on, and thankfully BGG will be at the Spielwarenmesse fair in February 2019 to record video overviews of this and dozens more upcoming games.
• Speaking of Warsch, Schmidt has a spin-off title from Ganz schön clever, which like Quacksalber was nominated for the Kennerspiel des Jahres in 2018.
Doppelt so clever ("Double so clever") appears to follow the gameplay model of GSC, with the active player rolling dice on their turn up to three times in order to mark off spaces in their scoring sheet, after which everyone else uses one of the dice not chosen by the active player. This new game includes a new action beyond the re-roll and "use one more die" actions of GSC, an action that looks like a block with a backwards arrow on it. My guess would be flipping a die to its reverse face. We'll see...
• Schmidt's "Klein & Fein" line of small dice games has a second entrant in the first half of 2019: Dizzle by Ralf zur Linde, which like Doppelt so clever is for 1-4 players with a 30-minute playing time.
In Dizzle, players draft dice turn by turn during the round, and they need to match what they already have in order to continue drafting. At the end of a round, everyone marks boxes on their scorecard for what they've collected, then a new round begins. More details are needed to see what's going on here.
• So typisch! from designers Matteo Cimenti, Carlo Rigon, and Chiara Zanchetta is a 3-8 player co-operative party game "full of stereotypes and clichés", according to the publisher. Each round, a single player decides which item to assign to a person, then everyone else must assess how this player has decided. In the end, players win only if they've made more matches than mistakes.
• Overload is a racing game for 3-5 players from Wolfgang Riedl. At the start of the game, each player decides how many discs to place on their figure. The more discs you have, the more you score! Whenever someone passes you during the race, you add another disc to your figure — but if you collect too many discs, then you go out of control and need to start the lap again...
Ratto Zakko features fast food for gourmets — but hopefully you can grab the right dishes, despite the changing colors of the hoods that hide the dishes, the rancid cheese or rotten eggs that might await there, and the darn fly that keeps showing up when you least expect it! Who can grab the most delicacies?
• Finally, let's end where we began — with Wolfgang Warsch and Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg, more specifically with the Die Kräuterhexen expansion that adds components for a fifth player, more ingredient books, a new "fool's herb", and the introduction of herbal witches for more variety.
• French publisher Super Meeple, which to date has focused on new edition of older games, has given details of its first original release: Couleurs de Paris (Colors of Paris) from first-time designer Nicolas de Oliveira. Here's a teaser of the setting and gameplay, with this game due out in May/June 2019:
You are a painter, and you've decided to participate in "Bateau Lavoir", a friendly competition between several painters in a workshop in Montmartre, Paris. The newspapers know about this challenge, so perhaps this is a good opportunity to become famous, following the path of Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Monet, or Renoir...
Couleurs de Paris is a management game in which you must take care of your paint tubes, mixtures, and time to create works, all the while anticipating others to perform as needed within a rotating set of actions.
• German publisher ABACUSSPIELE has a number of licensed titles for release in the first half of 2019 — Roberto Fraga's Crazy Eggz, a new Deckscape "escape room" card game — as well as the new card game Pearls from designers Christian Fiore and Knut Happel. Here's an overview of this game for 2-6 players:
In Pearls, players dive for valuable pearls, then try to sell them at local markets. You either collect or score pearl cards of the same color (and value) on your turn. Cards with higher value score more points, but are less common. Pearls with lower value may seem weaker at first, but if you score a larger quantity of cards at once, you receive a necklace card with bonus points, if available. With a hand limit of ten cards, however, this requires clever hand management and timing.
At the end of the game, all pearl and necklace cards in your scoring piles score positive points and any cards left in your hand score minus points. The player with the highest total score wins.
• In April 2019, Renegade Game Studios will launch its "Solo Hero Series" with Kane Klenko's Proving Grounds, which includes both a novella by Monica Valentinelli to introduce its hero and the game itself, which takes place in a gladiatorial setting. This solitaire design consists of a training game as well as six mix-and-match modules that can be used individually or in any combination.
Kibble Scuffle is a tactical card game of area control to try to get the best food for your feline friends. With cards like the Robo-Vac and Laser Pointer, you can use toys to strategically distract your opponent's cats. Using the game box as a cat food box to store the food cubes, players take turns placing their cats and resolving their abilities. For example, the Pounce Cat removes a cat at a bowl. The Greedy Cat eats two food cubes. The Mangy Cat forces another cat to move away from their bowl. Once five cats are at any food bowl, the feeding (scoring) phase begins, followed by a new round.
Once a player reaches 20 points, the player with the most value of food cubes eaten at the end of the feeding phase wins.
• Smash City is a design from Stephen Avery and WizKids currently due out in March 2019 in which 2-4 players roll large foam dice in order to knock over buildings and spread poisonous gas throughout the city. Each of the four kaiju characters in the game include unique special powers.
• Japanese designer Mitsuo Yamamoto has released many abstract strategy designs through his Logy Games brand, with most of the games including handmade ceramic or wood components.
For those who argue that Kickstarter is intended to bring to life games that might not exist otherwise, Yamamoto's creations provide an interesting case study. His most recent five projects have raised $1,400-$4,300 in support from a few dozen backers, so they're not putting up big numbers — yet because the games are handmade, you can't argue that they exist solely thanks to Kickstarter. These games would have existed anyway, but with 40-80 fewer copies being made and sold. Kickstarter is as much a store for Yamamoto as it is for CMON Limited, yet on a far smaller scale, so do the arguments against CMON using Kickstarter hold equally true for Yamamoto, and if not, why?
In any case, in December 2018 Yamamoto ran a KS (link) for Dubai Race, a game for at least two players, with copies due out in Q1 2019. Each copy of the game comes with two colors of components, with each set of components containing 10 hexagonal tiles and 10 "building units" composed of 1-4 cubes; as long as the tiles and building units can be distinguished by color, you can have any number of players participate in the same game.
To start the game, players take turns laying out their tiles in a contiguous shape, then they take turns placing one of their building units on one of their tiles until everything has been placed. They then take turns rebuilding the shared city. Specifically, you take a building that's yours — that is, one that has your color on top — then move that building in one of the six available directions until you can place it on top of a higher building.
If you topple anything, you're out of the game; if you can't move, you must retire, but your pieces remain in play. After all players have toppled something or retired, whoever owns the tallest building wins.
• Aside from this new game, Yamamoto has signed a licensing deal in which his polycube-stacking game ACTOP (short for "Ancient Construct Tower of Philosopher") will be released in the U.S. in 2019 by Winning Moves Games under the name KOZO.
In the game, which can be played co-operatively, competitively, or solitaire, players take turns placing one of the twelve polycubes — which are constructed from 3-6 cubes — on a central tower that has a 3x3 grid. No parts of a polycube maybe placed outside that grid or over the central square. After placing a polycube, a player has to place a tiny "balance" cube on one of the horizontal faces, thereby blocking that space from play.
This promotional image is...unfortunate
• Okay, those previous two games feature polycubes, but surely we can find one more to write about to make this an official "trend" post, yes? With the number of games hitting the market, I never doubted this for a minute.
Adam Spanel's Project L was crowdfunded (KS link) in October 2018 by Czech publisher Boardcubator for release in October 2019. In this game for 1-4 players, you start with a single piece, take various actions to complete one of the mini-puzzles on display, which then gets you your pieces back along with one bonus piece. As the game progresses, you can solve multiple puzzles at once.
The sample pieces shown in the prototypes below don't look like proper polycubes, but rather polycubes sawed in half. Ideally the finished production will include beefier blocks.
Has it really been seven years already? In 2012, U.S. publisher Bézier Games released the tile-laying, city-building game Suburbia from Ted Alspach, with the title winning a Mensa Select award in 2013, then being boosted by expansions such as Suburbia Inc and Suburbia 5★.
Now Bézier is getting a jump on SPIEL '19 plans by announcing the October 2019 release of Suburbia: Collector's Edition, which will include the original base game, the two expansions mentioned above, the Essen SPIEL and Con Tiles mini-expansions, and a new "Nightlife" expansion that features "buildings and locations that are more active in the evening hours and dramatic nighttime artwork".
The entire game has been redesigned with 3D artwork by Brett Stebbins, which will be featured on larger game tiles that will be housed in a tile tower that's integrated into a Game Trayz market layout. This edition retails for $100, and Bézier Games plans to run a Kickstarter campaign for it sometime in 2019.
Sample "Nightlife" tiles
I've asked about the availability of the "Nightlife" tiles outside of this edition, and Bézier's Ally Gold says, "There is currently no plan of releasing Nightlife on its own. I would not say never but definitely not anytime soon."
If you're unfamiliar with Suburbia, here's a summary: Each turn, you buy a tile from the market and add it to your borough. Each tile has a cost on it and an additional cost ($0-10) is added based on the position of the tile in the marketplace. As tiles are purchased from the cheap side of the market, other tiles slide into those slots — which means you can spend big for a tile that you really want or hope that others will push it up so that you can buy it for less later.
Some tiles give you a one-time income boost, while others raise the income you receive each turn; some tiles boost your population on a one-shot basis, while others increase your town's reputation, which will keep your population rising turn by turn. Placing tiles adjacent to one another might give you bonuses or penalties based on what they are — factories shouldn't go next to houses! — while other locations are affected by tiles anywhere in your borough, or even in other player's boroughs. In the end, the player with the highest population wins.
For more details, you can check out this overview video I recorded in 2012, apparently while attempting to impersonate Nicolas Cage:
Every year, Matt Loomis and I try to get together for a weekend to design games. Between our spouses, kids, and dogs, it's not easy to get some peace and quiet. To make it worse, Matt and I don't live near one another. I live in Connecticut, near New York City, and Matt lives in the Chicago area. Truth is, aside from conventions, our one design weekend a year is the only time we get to spend time together in person.
In 2017, Matt came over in February. My family cleared out of the house for the weekend, and Matt and I got to work on the games we wanted bring to Unpub for testing. That's the annual cycle: In October we start getting momentum on new ideas, and right around the beginning of the year they come together. We whip them into shape for public playtesting at Unpub in March and get them ready to pitch at the summer conventions like Origins and Gen Con.
Matt and I were hard at work. We bounced between a few games: a game about raiding and trading inspired by Liar's Dice got on the table, and after a while we switched over to a mancala game about rain and crops. We kept hitting a wall with each game. That's normal, but it doesn't mean it's not frustrating. At some point we decided to take a break.
And that's when I pulled out Tangoes. Matt had grown up playing with tangrams, but my first introduction to them was when I was a freshman in college. There was a copy of Tangoes in my college dorm's common room. Tangoes features two sets of tangrams in two different colors and a deck of silhouette shapes that can be made from one set of tiles. The case has a slot that serves as a card stand. You place the card in the slot, and two players race to find the solution. Folks were absolutely cutthroat about it and played all the time. I had fond memories of working my way up from a novice player to an expert, capable of hanging even with the masters of the game, the architecture students.
Matt and I played for a bit, and as we played we started wondering whether a different kind of game could be made from these tiles. We soon realized that as much fun as it is to puzzle out how to assemble an image, it was even more fun to make your own pictures. Right then we decided that we would find a great game buried in this four-thousand-year-old Chinese puzzle.
With the seed of this idea of using tangrams in a more free-form way, I ordered a bucket of tangrams in different colors from an educational supplier and raided my Codenames for a bunch of word cards. Matt and I decided that each player would get two sets of tiles in two different colors. This was the first key iteration to the game. We decided to call the game "Tell-A-Gram" and to keep our ears open for something better.
At Dreamation, a playtesting convention held by the fine folks who run Envoy, I showed this germ of a game to other designers and to playtesters. I knew there was something fun in here, but I wasn't sure how to make it shine. My early artwork efforts were not promising.
My attempt to make "teeth" was underappreciated
Peter C. Hayward, founder of Jellybean Games, was one of the people to see the game, and he was immediately hooked. He made the second key suggestion, which was to not just give players two sets of tiles in two colors, but to make each tile have two colors: one on one side, one on the other. I went home that night and glued 32 set of tangram tiles (224 tiles in total) back-to-back to bring that idea to life.
Peter's early work included this cubist representation of his native Australia
While people were starting to get the hang of the game, it was clear that Codenames cards weren't going to cut it. Too many words weren't really suitable, and players were getting frustrated. Fortunately, the Dreamation community is generous and supportive, and I ran into a designer I knew, Zintis May-Krumins, who had a prototype on hand of a cave-painting game. That game included a stack of cards with a few nouns per card, and Zintis let me borrow them to run the game. (Zintis' game, Cave Paintings, was published by R&R games at the end of 2018!) This was another big moment in the game's development as allowing players to select from a few different words on a card helped give players more choices and a greater sense of ownership of their creations.
Michael R. Keller, designer of heavy euros like City Hall and Captains of Industry reveals a more thematic side with this picture of a dragon
It was clear, coming out of Dreamation, that we had a fun game on our hands. Now it was time to get to work. What was the best list of words? Which were easy to make and which were hard? We tried lots of variations and kept showing the game off wherever we could. Peter reached out to let us know that Jellybean Games would be interested in publishing the design, and Nicole Perry, the operations expert at Jellybean, started sourcing components, getting quotes and imagining all the product features.
Tanya Hrabsky's scorpion was an early hall-of-fame entrant
One bittersweet moment from this time period was the addition of the playmats. The mat that comes with the game is an incredible work of design. You can basically give someone the mat, and it teaches them to play in moments — but I'll confess that one of the experiences I most enjoyed about the game had to be left on the cutting room floor.
As you can tell from the photos, seeing the sculpture in the right orientation is critical. But before there were playmats, which allow an artist to easily rotate their work, players would grab a piece of paper and a pen and walk around the table. Players were like art critics or gallery-goers, examining each piece of art in its proper orientation, making appreciative or puzzled comments, then jotting a guess down on their papers before walking over to examine the next piece. This was kind of a pain, and players don't typically like to have to get out of their seats during gameplay. For this game, however, it felt really thematic.
It's only a lawnmower if you look at it the right way
Today, that element is gone from the game, and instead we have these awesome playmats. The whole way we got to them was an accident: While setting up to show off Show & Tile — more on that name below — at the Connecticut Festival of Indie Games, I realized I hadn't brought a tablecloth. Next door was a dollar store, so I ducked in, hoping to find something I could use. There were some plastic tablecloths that were too flimsy and a gingham vinyl tablecloth that I thought would be too distracting to serve as a background — but then I spotted some black placemats!
When I laid out the tiles on the placemats, I really liked how it looked. People started taking more pictures of their artwork because of how nicely they were framed — and what was especially cool was that players could now rotate their artwork to make it easier for other players to guess.The playmat makes it possible to play the game more easily in situations with less room to move about and with players who have limited mobility. Its accessibility convinced me that this was the right way forward for the game.
Shortly after that, I went to Chicago to see Matt and we visited Ben Rosset's playtesting night. There, we played a new prototype called Black Hole Council, from Don Eskridge, the designer of The Resistance. A bit intimidated by the high-octane group, we nonetheless pulled out our game. It was a hit! We had worked out the scoring system by then, which gave points to players for guessing right, but also incentivized players to create artwork that others would guess. We had also stabilized the overall turn structure, settling on four rounds for the game length. At the end of the successful playtest, everyone was excited about the game...but not the name "Tell-A-Gram". Fortunately, a very creative player suggested "Show & Tile", and we immediately knew we had a new title.
Even a wholesome game like Show & Tile can't avoid a bit of bathroom humor!
All of us worked really hard over the next few months. We playtested all the different words and added new ones. Peter suggested that we make additional word packs that were based on categories, and we started adding more words to those lists, eventually developing four category packs. Tania Walker developed our iconic logo and box as well as the scoring pad and playmat that made the game easy to teach and play.
In all, hundreds of people were involved in creating, designing, playtesting, printing and shipping Show & Tile. More than any other title of ours, Show & Tile was designed out in the open, through public playtesting and crowdsourcing, and our jobs were to curate and edit as much as to invent. Tangrams are themselves an ancient Chinese puzzle, and humans have been enjoying them forever. We're excited to share this newest way to enjoy tangrams with you today.
Yes, two editions in the same year! Those JP publishers move quickly, and it often (far too often) seems like nothing sticks around in print, but if you wait another year or two, maybe you'll get another shot at yet another new edition. Sure, you might have wanted the artwork in an earlier one, but shopping at Game Market in Tokyo is akin to buying from one of those Art-o-mat vending machines: You just need to put in your money and take what you're given because the slots might be empty the next time you visit.
In any case, Ninja Star Games released Yokai Septet in December 2018 following a Kickstarter funding campaign in May 2018. The game is played with three individual players or with four players in teams of two. The game has a unique deck of 49 cards in which the cards are in seven suits with one suit going 1-7, the next 2-8, and so on up to the final suit of 7-13. Thus, the deck has seven 7s in it, and in general you're trying to capture the most 7s while playing by standard trick-taking rules. (One card remains after you deal cards out to players, and that card determines the trump suit; you must follow the suit of the lead card in the trick, if possible.)
You must keep won tricks separate from one another, and you turn captured 7s face up so that everyone knows who has what. The game ends when a team has captured four 7s (winning the round), when a team has captured seven tricks without capturing four 7s (losing the round), or when the final trick is taken (with the team taking this trick winning the round). You can play best two-out-of-three or use a point system that leads to a longer game.
• Another trick-taking title that has taken an international journey for a new edition is Mit List und Tücke from Klaus Palesch. This game first appeared in 1999 from German publisher Berliner Spielkarten, and now nearly two decades later it's seen a new edition: 知略悪略, which possibly translates as "Intelligent Strategy" from Japanese publisher Suki Games. Here's an overview of the gameplay:
Mit List und Tücke ("With Cunning and Treachery") is a trick-taking game with quite a few twists. The deck consists of cards in four suits, and the deck is adjusted based on the player count so that everyone receives a hand of 14 cards to begin a round. At the start of a trick, the lead player plays any card, setting trump for that trick. Each other player plays any card that they like — except that once three colors of cards have been played, the fourth color cannot be played. Whoever plays the highest trump card wins the trick and collects two of the cards played (or three cards in a game with five or six players), placing these cards in front of them. Whoever plays the lowest non-trump card collects the remaining cards; this player leads to the next trick.
Once a player has cards of all four colors in front of them, they must choose two colors and leave cards of this color face up, placing all other cards face down. As they collect more cards, they place them face up or face down based on their colors. The round ends after 14 tricks or when a player would be forced to play a card of the fourth color to a trick; in this latter case, the round ends immediately. Each player then scores the cards they've collected. For their two face-up colors, they multiply these numbers together; they then divide this product by the number of cards that they placed face down, rounding this number down. For example, if you have 6 yellow cards, 4 red cards, and 2 blue cards, then you have (6 • 4)/2 = 12 points. If you collect cards of only one color, then you score 0 points!
Play as many rounds as the number of players. Whoever has the highest total score wins!
Shuffle the deck, then deal ten cards to each player. The leader plays any prime number from a combination of 1-3 cards (see below), then in clockwise order, players may pass or play a larger prime number than the most recently played prime using the same number of cards as the leader. (A player can optionally draw a card from the deck prior to playing.) The round continues until no player wants to play. The last player who played a valid number leads the next round. If you get rid of all cards in your hand, you win the round and whoever first wins two rounds wins the game.
To play a prime number, take 1-3 cards from your hand and arrange them to create a single number by using all the digits on those cards. If the number is prime, your play is valid. For example, if playing "3" and "5", you may arrange their order and play them only as "53" because "35" is not a prime number. To play three cards, all of the cards must have single digits on them (so you can't use "10" or "12") and at least one of the cards must feature a "play three" icon.