wrote about a new edition of The Princes of Florence hitting the market courtesy of Korea Boardgames. Turns out that's not the only older game seeing a comeback courtesy of KBG as SPIEL '22 will see the debut of both that Kramer/Ulrich design and a new edition of Henri Jean Vanaise's stock-trading game Shark, which debuted in 1987. Here's an overview of this 2-6 player game:Quote:Shark is a stock-trading game slightly reminiscent of Acquire in that abstract play on the game board determines the share values of the various companies. The similarities end there, though, as Shark is more free-wheeling than Acquire.I'm pleased to see that sharks continue to dress with style as they attempt to dominate our financial institutions.
At the start of your turn, you can buy shares (up to five) and sell shares (as many as they want), then you roll dice to determine which of the four company markers you place on the board and in which region. A company marker on its own doesn't contribute to the value of a company; only groups of at least two markers count, so groups of 5, 4, 1, and 1 markers would create a value of $9,000 for each of that company's shares. If you place a marker that combines those two lone markers, then you'd have groups of 5, 4, and 3, so the share price would shoot to $12,000. If you placed that marker on its own, the share price wouldn't change. When you place a marker, you gain money equal to that company's new share price, so you have an incentive to boost a company's size — but all players receive funds equal to the difference between the old share price and new for each share they hold, so are you enriching them more than yourself?
Of course, you can also place a marker to tank a company's share price. When a company's group expands to touch a smaller group, that smaller group is removed from the board, lowering the value of that company's shares (as long as the group had at least two markers) and costing everyone money equal to the loss in value. (Groups of equal size cannot touch, and you cannot place a marker to force a smaller group to touch a larger one.) To end your turn, you can again sell as many shares as you want and buy shares up to the per-turn limit of five.Earlier editions
Removed markers are banished from the game, not returned to the supply. Once all of a company's markers have been used, or a company's share price reaches $15,000, or all of the shares have been sold, the game ends, and players cash out all their shares to see who has the most money.
Expedition by Jason Lee is a 1-6 player design in which you're digging for relics on an island, using your first finds to fund the hiring of others to work for you, moving them over a grid of tiles as you play cards. When an expedition member lands on a tile, you flip it for immediate rewards, a dig site that will require additional effort to uncover, or relics that will fuel you toward victory. By returning to base camp, you can buy new cards for your deck.
Fake Art Inc. is a 3-5 player game from designer Ikhwan Kwon that intrigues me due to its general air of messing with everyone else's stuff in order to put money in your pocket. That's not my thing in real life, but making it happen at the game table feels great:Quote:For some reason, several portraits from famous painters have poured out into the market. Most of them have to be fakes, but even the experts are having difficulty distinguishing them from the real thing. The price, of course, will vary greatly depending on whether it is assessed to be genuine or not.
In Fake Art Inc., you are expert brokers who must collect fake masterpieces and distribute them in the market. After all, you need to make a profit. Increase the emotional value of all the art in your collection, and disrupt the market by dropping the appraisal value of other player's art. With the right timing, even an artwork of no value can be sold at a high price to another broker. See how easy it is to make money by selling art?
In more detail, players first decide the turn order by bidding. On their turn, players can either trade their hand with others or place it on a space between players to set up an auction. Cards are placed face down, and equivalent cards are placed down together. You can make money by selling your hand cards, and the price is determined by the number and location of "genuine" and "fake" cards that have been placed down. Players can change the selling price by replacing existing cards.
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13 Aug 2022
- [+] Dice rolls
Avalon Hill surprised the gaming world with the announcement of HeroScape: Age of Annihilation, a new standalone "Master Set" for the beloved HeroScape game line that last saw new titles released in 2010.
At the show, I spoke with design lead Craig Van Ness, Tanya Thompson (Senior Director of Inventor Relations and Innovation for Hasbro Games), and Angus Walker (Head of IR & External Innovation) about plans for HeroScape: Age of Annihilation, and the information they could share was minimal:
—The miniatures will come unpainted, but they will be created in different colors to match the generals.
—The miniatures will be backwards compatible to everything released previously.
—No release date has been set, and no method of release has been announced.HeroScape display at Gen Con 2022 with painted miniatures
Despite that last line, the sense I got was that you will find the project going live on Hasbro Pulse, the company's direct-to-customer sales platform, before too long. Everyone agreed that painted miniatures would be great, but one thing Van Ness pointed out is that the current tools for miniature creation allow for more detail than in earlier releases — and that level of detail makes painting more of a challenge, i.e., costly.
As for what's coming in the box, that's still to be announced. I imagine Hasbro execs have laid out a chart of possible figure counts and cross-referenced those numbers with what the resulting retail price would need to be in order to maximize what's possible without turning off potential buyers. We'll see where that dart lands.
Dungeons & Dragons: The Yawning Portal, a 1-4 player game designed by Kristian Karlberg and Kenny Zetterberg that works as follows:Quote:The Yawning Portal is an iconic inn that attracts fascinating adventurers with two things in common: They're famished, and they have unique tastes in food.
As part of the tavern's staff, you need to feed them by matching up food tokens with the orders pictured on their hero card. You earn colored gems (and points) for every matching food token, and a bonus for completing an order. The colored gems that appear most frequently on the board receive the highest value, so strategize to tip the scoring scale in your favor — and don't be afraid to use potions to make patrons love your food! Collect more points if you're the first to achieve an objective challenge or earn an endgame bonus. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.
Dungeons & Dragons: The Yawning Portal is already listed on Hasbro Pulse with a March 2023 release date.
• Risk: Shadow Forces, a legacy game for 3-5 players, was released at the start of August 2022, and that game sprawls across a display case as fine as any other.
• Betrayal at House on the Hill: 3rd Edition was another early August 2022 debut from Avalon Hill, and a small expansion that contains one new character, two new miniatures, and five new haunts is due out later in 2022. That expansion is Betrayal: The Werewolf's Journey – Blood on the Moon.
• Finally, Avalon Hill announced a December 2022 release date for The Rogue Heir of Elethorn, a small expansion for HeroQuest that consists of two miniatures, a story card, and twelve game cards.
It's interesting to see Avalon Hill acting like a "regular" game publisher — announcing expansions of popular titles, using direct sales to bypass the retail market — but these moves make sense for a company that sees a market for which it can provide games on a scale that's below Hasbro's normal level of operations.
- [+] Dice rolls
preview of Splendor Duel, I'll now detail the other Bruno Cathala co-design that captivated me at Gen Con 2022: Sea Salt & Paper, co-designed with Théo Rivière and due out from French publisher Bombyx at SPIEL '22.
Sea Salt & Paper is a pure card game that might seem overwhelming at first glance and will likely take more time than it should to explain given the multiple card types in the deck.
To get started, let's examine my holdings at the end of a round:
Note the ColorADD player aid in the upper right, which indicates the number of cards of each color in the deck. (Bombyx's Yann Droumaguet told me that the company intends to use the ColorADD symbols as much as possible in the future to make its games more accessible.) Card types can come in a range of colors, and the colors matter for two purposes that I'll explain in a bit.
In the top row you see four pairs of cards: ships, crabs, fish, and the swimmer/shark duo. When you collect one of these pairs in your hand, you can play it in your holding area for 1 point and the special power of that pair, which from left to right are:
• Taking another turn.
• Picking the card of your choice from one of the two discard piles.
• Drawing a card from the deck.
• Stealing a random card from an opponent.
The four cards in the bottom row were in my hand until the end of the round. A mermaid is worth 1 point per card in your collection that's a color of your choice; if you have multiple mermaids, you must choose different colors. I chose yellow and dark blue, so that's worth 7 points on top of the 4 points for my pairs. (The other two cards are worthless, but if they had been yellow or dark blue, the mermaids would have counted them.) If you manage to collect all four mermaids in your hand, you win the game instantly!
Now let's consider a pic from a different round:
Other cards score points as sets, so I have 3 points of octopuses in hand and 0 points of shells. Alternatively you could collect penguins or sailors. Each card has a number at the lower-right indicating how many cards of that type are in the deck. Finally, some cards score points based on other card types: the lone lighthouse is worth 1 point per ship in your collection; the school 1 point per fish; the colony 2 points per penguin; and the captain 3 points per sailor.
Okay, with that background out of the way, how do you play the game? Shuffle the deck, then deal one card into each of the two discard piles. On a turn, take the top card of a discard pile into your hand or draw two cards from the deck, keep one, and discard the other. If you have a pair, you can choose to play it.
When you have at least 7 points — whether in hand, on the table, or in a combination of both places — you can choose to end the round immediately, at which point everyone reveals their hand and scores for all their stuff. Alternatively, if you have at least 7 points and think you have more than anyone else, you can reveal how many points you have and call "Last round", after which everyone else gets a final turn. If no one manages to have more points than you, then you score those points as well as a bonus for the color most present in your collection, whereas everyone else scores only for the color most present in their collection. If someone does top you, however, then you score only for your best color, while they scores their points and a bonus.
Play multiple rounds until someone hits the 40/35/30 point threshold depending upon whether you have two, three, or four players."I always feel like somebody's watching me..."
Droumaguet ran me through an overview of the game, which seemed overloaded with too many card types and choices, then we played a sample round...then another and another and another and everything flowed smoothly and I stopped only because I had another appointment.
Yes, the game might have a lot going on, but that's okay because you're building up a hand only one card at a time. Not everything will show up in a round, so the value of any particular card is relative only to what you have and what's been discarded, which means you need to be flexible to piece together points.
The action of a turn is simple and takes only a few seconds, yet it generates all the uncertainty that good card games do: Are you making the right choice? Are you giving the opponent something they want? Are you covering the right pile, or leaving exposed something they want? Every little choice shapes the flow of the round, and the effect of those choices builds over time. With more players, more cards would be buried in the discard piles between turns, giving additional information of what's out of play.
The gamble available to you regarding the end of a round is a great touch. How confident are you? What does the opponent have on the table, and how many cards do they have in hand? Have you been tracking what they picked up? What's the most they could have? If you gamble correctly, you can get a huge leg up in the score since you add on a bonus, while others get only a bonus, swinging a round that might have ended 8-7 in your favor to something like 11-3.
Sea Salt & Paper doesn't feel innovative in terms of scoring choices or gameplay, yet the game was incredibly compelling, combining the double mystery of the card draw with the satisfying bump from a pair power and the thrill that comes from holding valuable cards that will snakebite the opponent should they call last round. The final package will be on the scale of an Oink Games release, perfect for every purse, backpack, overnight bag, and airplane tray on the way home from SPIEL '22.•••
While at Gen Con 2022, I also tried Bombyx' other SPIEL '22 release, a flip-and-write game for 2-8 players from Romain Caterdjian titled Look at the Stars.
Each player gets a board with a couple of constellation-style images on it, a few ringed planets, and a grid of stars (dots), giving everyone a slightly different view of the night sky. (Imagine we're at different points on the meridian.) In each round, six cards are revealed, with a card showing a pattern of two lines or (rarely) a shooting star. When you see lines, you can choose to draw them on your board in that same arrangement or rotated, connecting two stars each time you draw a line. When you connect three or more lines, you have created a constellation, and ideally you'll make six constellations from size 3 to 8.
For a shooting star, you can draw a diagonal line 1-3 segments long that doesn't touch anything else on the board. Nothing else can be drawn later that touches this shooting star.
After the first round, you can no longer draw on the bottom two rows of your board. Imagine that the sun is starting to rise, making it harder to see stars at that level. After the second round, you can't draw in the bottom four rows, and after three rounds the game ends, and you score for the following:
• For a constellation of size 3-8, score 3-8 points, with no points scored for a second constellation of the same size.
• Score 1 point for each constellation that is orthogonally or diagonally adjacent to a planet.
• Score 1 point for each segment in a shooting star.
• Score the listed points each time you have created the shape revealed on a bonus card.
Bing, bang, boom — that's it! The game includes more than 18 cards, so you won't know which line patterns are being used in any particular game. As you can see from Yann's board on the right, constellation lines can cross, and you can make tightly nested patterns given the right cards and experience to see how to fit everything together.
- [+] Dice rolls
The two games I enjoyed most (that I can talk about at this time) are Splendor Duel and Sea Salt & Paper. The former game is from Bruno Cathala, Marc André, and Space Cowboys, and the latter from Cathala, Théo Rivière, and Bombyx. Given that I'm also excited about Sobek: 2 Players, a Cathala and Sébastien Pauchon design that Pandasaurus Games had at the show, this event was pretty much a "Cathala Con" for me. For this post, I'll focus solely on the former game.
Croc from Space Cowboys told me that Cathala had reached out to Splendor designer Marc André with an idea for a two-player-only version of the game — which might seem odd given that Splendor already plays fine with two players — but André, perhaps considering the success of 7 Wonders Duel, said sure, let's collaborate. Space Cowboys didn't even know about the project until the designers were mostly done, but I'm sure the publisher didn't object to being delivered a spinoff title to the best-selling game in its catalog.
As with most spinoffs, Splendor Duel maintains as much fidelity to Splendor as possible: Take one action of several on a turn; have at most ten tokens in your reserve at the end of your turn; collect cards from three strength levels; reserve a card by taking a gold. The three main differences, however, are what drive everything in gameplay and what make this design compelling.Set up and ready to play
First, you collect tokens by drafting them from a grid, taking up to three adjacent, non-gold tokens in a row, column, or diagonal, then adding them to your reserve. The grid contains 25 tokens at the start of play: four of each of the five colors, three gold, and two pearls. Roughly half of the cards in the game require you to hand in a pearl, so you'll compete for them constantly. (Gold can be spent as a pearl or as any color.)
As players spend tokens to acquire cards, you place those tokens on the refill bag. When someone doesn't like the choices on the board — which can happen quickly since both empty spaces and gold break up adjacency — you can decide to refill the board before choosing tokens for your turn. When you do this, the opponent gets a privilege token, represented by a plastic scroll. You then shuffle all the tokens in the bag, take them in a stack in your hand, then refill the board by starting at the center and following the line outward, dropping one token in each empty space. After a refill, you typically have a tightly filled space with a few outlying tokens, but with far fewer tokens than 25 since you both have some in your reserve.
At the start of your turn, you can spend a privilege token to grab any non-gold token from the board, then you take your turn like normal. If your opponent collects two pearls or three tokens of the same color in a single turn, you receive a privilege token to compensate for the random token placement that fell their way.The board after a refill
Second, some cards have one-time special powers that you gain when playing them, so you value cards in more complex ways than Splendor cards that feature only a color and (possibly) points. These powers are:
• Gain a privilege token.
• Take another turn.
• Take a token matching the color of this card from the board.
• Take a non-gold token from the opponent.
I used this last power multiple times against Candice in our game, and it's a great two-fer power serving as both attack and resource-building toward your next card. If someone is clearly working toward a particular card — and you can't reserve it away due to a lack of gold on the board (as you must take a gold in order to reserve) — then swiping a token can be devastating. They might need to refill the board to get that last token again, which gives you a privilege token and knocks them out of rhythm.
Third, instead of mirroring Splendor's 15-point threshold for bringing about the end of the game, Splendor Duel gives you three victory conditions — 10 points in a single color, 20 points total, or 10 crowns — and as soon as you meet one of them, you win.
As with the addition of one-time effects, this change complicates how you value cards. In all likelihood, you'll value everything somewhat while keeping your options open and looking for opportunities, especially since crowns serve as a victory condition on their own, but they can also help you toward victory elsewhere. When you acquire your third crown, you take one of the nobles on display, and with six crowns you take a second noble. The game includes only four nobles, and they are worth 3 points or 2 points and a special power. These points aren't colored, so they help only toward the 20-point threshold, but the powers (stealing a token, taking a privilege, or taking another turn) are flexible.My holdings, which include 20 points of victory
In my game with Candice, I raced to six crowns relatively quickly — as in Splendor, the initial focus is all on token collection until you have enough cards to accelerate further card acquisition — then Candice reserved a two-crown card, and I was somewhat adrift given the lack of crowns in the card pool. At some point I reserved a colorless 6-point card that costs eight white, then managed to get another white card, that allowed me to get a black card that costs 4W3G, which got me a joker card I made white, and the 4 points from those three cards, along with the 6 from the closer, brought me to exactly 20 points, a total that had seemed quite distant just a few turns earlier.
As intended, Splendor Duel mirrors the feeling of the original game, such as the slow early game in which you are finding your footing and figuring out which of the high-level cards to target, or the desire to reserve a card an opponent is eyeing only to see something even better be revealed. The spatial puzzle of the token collection is a welcome addition, and it combines well with the color starvation you might try to practice on an opponent, with you holding off on spending tokens until after they refill the board to make it harder to get what they need.
The pearls add another wrinkle to gameplay. If your opponent lacks a pearl or gold, then you know which cards are currently inaccessible to them, which helps you better determine which cards they are targeting should you want to acquire or reserve them first.
Given the strength of both this game and 7 Wonders Duel, I'm sure that other designers would be eager to hear from Monsieur Cathala about any ideas he might have for duellifying their creations...
- [+] Dice rolls
10 Aug 2022
• The Board & Dice booth was an early stop for me on day one. My good friend Steph Hodge did an awesome job demoing the new dice management Renaissance game Tiletum, an upcoming SPIEL '22 release from Daniele Tascini and Simone Luciani, the designer duo behind Tzolkin: The Mayan Calendar and The Voyages of Marco Polo.
In Tiletum, 1-4 players take take on the roles of rich merchants traveling throughout Europe during the Golden Age of the Renaissance. Each turn, you choose a die and gain a number of resources based on the pips and the color, then you take the corresponding action a number of times. The power of the action is inversely proportional to the value of the die, so the fewer resources you gain, the more powerful the actions you take and vice versa.
As an action you can move your merchant and architect to different cities on the map, placing pillars and houses and more. You can also advance on the king's track and complete contracts. After playing a round of Tiletum, I got Red Cathedral vibes from the resource dice drafting and some Orléans vibes from the map portion. It almost feels like an old school euro with modern twists. I'm looking forward to playing a full game when it comes out in October 2022.
Przemysław Fornal and Adam Kwapiński's Terracotta Army thanks to another lovely demo from Steph at the Board & Dice booth. In Terracotta Army, 1-4 players compete as craftsmen and artists laboring to build the wondrous assembly of statues or the Terracotta Army to protect Emperor Qin Shi Huang in the afterlife.
Terracotta Army is played over five rounds, where you place workers around a rotating action wheel to take actions mainly to place and activate warrior miniatures within the mausoleum, forming groups which score at the end of each round based on the placement of two red pillars which players can manipulate.
Clay is the primary resource you need to build statues in Terracotta Army, but your clay dries at the end of the round so you need to maintain keeping it wet to build the statues. There are four main types of statues which each have their own abilities when activated, plus there are special statues you can build that have helpful powers to enhance your statues' placements for scoring.
The kind folks at Board & Dice sent me home with a copy of Terracotta Army which I'm looking forward to digging into so I can provide more insight on how it plays.
• I enjoyed playing a few rounds of John D. Clair's Empire's End at the Brotherwise Games booth. Empire's End is a catchy game for 2-4 players where you spend resources to avoid disasters for your civilization, and to rebuild as necessary. In a similar fashion to No Thanks!, players bid until eventually there are enough resources piled that it's enticing for someone to claim the disaster, losing a part of their civilization (and victory points). As a consolation prize, you get a special power you can add to your civilization. Empire's End plays in 30-45 minutes and is coming to Kickstarter in Q4 2022.
• I had a moment to chat and geek out with designer Mark Swanson to share my recent, awesome (!), 6-player Feudum experience with him. No major updates on the Odd Bird Games front, but I'm looking forward to hearing more updates on Fir and whatever else he's working on.
Flatout Games booth, I got a quick rundown of Tiny Towns designer Peter McPherson's upcoming real-time, puzzly, tile-laying game, Fit to Print. In Fit to Print, 1-6 players compete as editors racing to arrange the best front page of a local newspaper. Fit to Print plays in 15-30 minutes, features excellent artwork from Ian O'Toole, and will be launched for crowdfunding on Kickstarter in Q4 2022.
Kevin Hamano's real-time, co-op Kites from Floodgate Games with Amy and Maggie from ThinkerThemer. Eric and I played a prototype of Kites at Gen Con 2021, so it's awesome to play the finished version and see it's finally available for people to try it out. We certainly had a blast great time playing while being completely stressed every game immediately after flipping the first sand timer.
War of the Ring: The Card Game at the Ares Games booth on the last day of Gen Con, but I'm really glad I got to check it out. War of the Ring: The Card Game, from Quartermaster General series designer Ian Brody, will be available at SPIEL '22 and allows up to 4 players to compete in two teams, the Shadow against the Free Peoples, with each player using a specific and different card deck representing the strengths and weaknesses of the different factions involved in the war.
During the game, players take turns playing cards representing the characters, armies, items, and events of War of the Ring. Each round, the starting player activates one battleground and then one path, and the teams compete over each for victory points. Each card you play helps or hinders the journey of the Fellowship as it progresses on its Path, or can be used to defend or conquer the strongholds of Middle-earth, as you fight to control the new battleground cards activated in each round.
There is a lot of hand management involved akin to a living card game (LCG) since you have to cycle a card every time you play a card. When you cycle a card, you discard it facedown. Plus you can only play armies to a battleground if the battleground card shows the corresponding faction's army. Similarly, you can only play characters on a path card if the character is eligible to be played on the corresponding path number. You can also play cards into your reserve tableau to deploy in future battles.
It was hard to get a real feel for the game in a quick demo, but if you're a fan of Lord of the Rings and/or enjoy LCGs with tough decisions from hand management, you should definitely check out War of the Ring: The Card Game.
• Keepers was demoed at the Van Ryder Games booth during Gen Con. I didn't get a chance to play it, but I observed a game and discovered it's essentially a nature image spinoff of Dixit with a twist. Copies were available at Gen Con, and should be available at retailers in late August 2022.
Players take turns being the curator choosing one word (a non-noun) to describe one of their cards. The cards all feature stunning nature images from Byron Jorjorian’s portfolio of over 600,000 images of the natural world. Then all players play a card they think aligns best or least with that word. All players vote, and the cards with the most votes (best or least) are considered "keepers" which score their owner one point. The goal of the game is to have the most "keepers" at the end of the game.
- [+] Dice rolls
I jest. I had no obvious symptoms of illness throughout Gen Con 2022, and I still don't at this point. I did have a dry mouth at night, but that happens at every hotel I visit in the U.S. thanks to air conditioning that eliminates all humidity (and I had forgotten to bring my portable humidifier), and I was tired in the evenings, but that was after being on the go from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., so the tiredness seemed reasonable.
I went to bed each evening early enough to get at least eight hours of sleep, something I never used to do, but I've finally wised up to the realization that playing 1-2 extra games isn't worth feeling terrible the next day, especially when I have scheduled meetings for most of my waking hours. Sure, I could more easily hide yawns behind a mask, but better to just get the sleep.
Anyway, someone I met on Friday informed me Sunday night that they had tested positive, and now I've tested positive as well. I've already started Paxlovid, and I'm confining myself to the guest room at home.
Gen Con 2022 Preview — so I want to be as public as possible about this. Maybe you've already tested yourself after returning home from Indianapolis, but if not, please do. I'll also write directly to all those I saw in meetings.
After two-and-a-half years, I'm now out of the BGG Covid pool. (Kidding: We don't actually have one.) Perhaps it was dumb to attend Gen Con 2022, but I had attended Gen Con 2021 and BGG.CON 2021 and BGG.Spring 2022 and all went fine for me at those shows, so I made plans for Gen Con 2022 anyway. In some ways, I figured if my time was up, it's up. To quote Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security: "You cannot avoid a respiratory virus like this forever, unless you completely cease interaction with all other human beings."
I wore my mask pretty much all the time, except at dinners, but here I am anyway...possibly because of dinners, but possibly not. Who's to say? I still support Gen Con's "mask and vaccine required" policy. I understand that being vaccinated and boosted and that wearing masks in all indoor spaces will not make you immune from infection, but that policy increases the chances of both you not getting sick and you not getting others sick. Those who don't like the policy are welcome to set up their own convention. (Please DO NOT COMMENT on the effectiveness of masks and vaccines as a preventative measure. The research supports their effectiveness, and we're not engaging in a debate about this here.)
Over the next several days, I'll catch up on email as I can, post Gen Con 2022 round-ups of what I saw and played, and get back to updating the SPIEL '22 Preview. Initially I had planned to attend that show as well as Gen Con 2022, but now this one trip to Indy will keep me away from my family for two weeks instead of one, so I'm rethinking whether I want to risk having this result once again in October. Anyway, that's my decision to figure out, not yours.
I hope you and your family are well, wherever you are.
- [+] Dice rolls
Stranger Things: Attack of the Mind Flayer game at Walmart, with the first five hundred copies debuting at Gen Con 2022.
I noticed that CMON chose this past week to announce Rob Daviau's upcoming Stranger Things game, which is a full year away from release. These are two different games for two different audiences, and the world can handle multiple Stranger Things games. I'm actually flattered if they were concerned my game would take sales away from theirs.
This won't be a very technical designer diary, not because social deduction games don't deserve deep analysis, but because sometimes a rose is a rose. My games don't have anything to hide, and I generally avoid games with airs of sophistication or arbitrary mechanisms; the chaotic complexity of human psychology is mechanism enough.
I really like Stranger Things. I like the writing and characters and friendships, and I like how rarely the show dips into the postmodern; the characters treat the world they live in as their real world; they don't see things as merely a stereotype of their decade. These are characters who learn and grow, and the show has value and stands on its own (all the Easter eggs and nostalgia shout-outs aside).
Stranger Things: Attack of the Mind Flayer began life as GROWL, which was a project I funded on Kickstarter. There's not too much to say about the design; there's not much TO the design; it's a light little game that, for the most part, is beloved by casual gamers and disliked by some hobby gamers. Yes, it has player elimination, but it is very rare to get eliminated until the game is nearly over (and it's a short game anyway). If you get killed early, you probably should have passed away your wounds...
Tom Vasel hated the game, but I agreed with pretty much everything he said in his negative review. His biggest complaint was that GROWL has the same theme as Werewolf — but I chose that theme because it helped my branding; it helped my sales to have the werewolf theme because I could pitch the game as "Werewolf, but as a quick card game without a GM or app". In other words, it's a game designed for the mainstream gamer, not even something competing with Bézier Games' One Night series.
I never took GROWL very seriously as a design; I didn't worry about trying to make it anything other that what it is. Playtesters liked GROWL, so I published it. It got great reviews in the casual market for the most part, with one reviewer calling it "the most tense 10-15 minute game I've ever played in my life". I think that is a bit hyperbolic, but trust me, I milked that quote like crazy during the Kickstarter:
Despite the werewolf theme, however, GROWL was not inspired by Mafia/Werewolf very much. It's actually the grandchild of parlor games from the 1950s where you wink at someone to murder them or perform a handshake with a finger-tickle. Casual gamers don't mind the "honor system" that drives hobby gamers (and reviewers) crazy. Most casual gamers also don't mind player elimination as long as the game is short and you were not the target of bullying that resulted in the elimination. The basic rules didn't take me long to concept, and I designed and published six expansions for GROWL pretty quickly.
I didn't worry about potential issues, like the fact that it uses the dreaded "honor system" to change into a wolf, or the fact that a subset of players don't like how easy it would be to cheat. My comeback would be "Why would you play with people who cheat, and why would the idea of cheating come so easily to your mind?" I've had the same experience with all of my games: most people like them and a small subset of people loathe them. I can't complain about that; I would happily play 1980s dice-chuckers over almost any modern social game or Euro-style game, so it's normal for some gamers to be on a different wavelength.
I don't worry about people who don't like my games; my goal is to brand them correctly so that people who would like them can discover them. This gets risky when working with IP because there's a lot of love for Stranger Things, and it isn't easy to satisfy everyone. My guess is the Walmart crowd will buy the game but not play it, and the hobby gamers will play it but not buy it — except for you delightful people (you know who you are) who will buy every version of the game. Salut!
I began my journey by playing a bunch of other social deduction games. I wanted to make sure my idea was at least semi-original. The goal was to not reinvent Werewolf (or One Night Ultimate Werewolf, which I knew would be a potential rival).
The initial idea probably started in 2017 when I was playing a prototype for Little Red Riding Hood: Full Moon Rising by one of my favorite designers, Ta-Te Wu. In that game, you can walk in the woods (draw a card), but there's a single Big Bad Wolf card that can turn you into a werewolf. (There's a similar system with the exposure cards in Who Goes There?)
I suggested that it should take three cards to turn you into a wolf because it's a slower, less radical role change. Ta-Te didn't use the idea for that game, but he was kind enough to let me explore that one mechanism. I imagined a game in which you can get "bitten" but still have time to say "Guys, help me out, I have two bites already and I'm almost a wolf" and a player who is secretly already a werewolf can say "Here's a charm to fix you", but actually gives you a third bite — and you can't now be mad and yell that she's a wolf because you just switched to her team.
I knew I needed a night phase a few times during the game so that a small amount of new information can get added and prevent the discussion from circling endlessly. I may have been inspired by Lifeboat by my friend Jeff Siadek, a game in which players have an end-of-round phase when they must drink enough water to make up for their actions, or else they take wounds.
I designed GROWL on a weekend gaming retreat in Dallas, and I had the luxury of other designers willing to try different formulations of the prototype over several days. The main mechanism is simple:Quote:Look at the top card of the deck. Show it publicly, then give it to someone other than yourself, then pass the deck to the left. Your hand represents your role, so if you get three bites you turn into a werewolf, and if you get three wounds, you die. A charm negates an active bite, and a salve negates an active wound. If a night card is revealed, players pass a card to each of their two living neighbors and shuffle the two cards they get in return before looking at them, so if they got a bite, they aren't sure which neighbor is the wolf. When the deck is empty, the wolves win if all players are dead or wolves, and humans win if at least one human is still alive.
I needed a neutral card. Someone suggested that food could be neutral, and two food could supplant a wound, but I thought it would get too complicated. I am not sure why I ended up going with gold as a neutral card, but I think it was the idea that you can collect gold over several games and thus collect personal "points". Some players like this, but ultimately I think this was a mistake. I now think I should have gone with the food concept, especially since each night could require players to eat dinner (discard a food), which could reveal information.
Perhaps I leaned away from this concept because the werewolf theme is already a bit wrong — wolves are not killing humans so much as purposely turning them — so adding an abstract food that humans and wolves both want seems weird. I didn't want to slow down the game by having wolves learn who the other wolves are (except in high-player counts), but if they did know early on, they could facilitate other wolves getting the necessary food. I explored the gold/food concept a bit more in the Spells expansion and the Plagues expansion, and I added some fun things in 7 Sins. (The greed sin card kills a player if they accrue too much gold!)First prototype; note the individual player powers and poison
I vaguely remember that Bang may have played some small role as one of the inspirations for GROWL. I'm not a fan of that game (especially the length), but I remember that some weapons can target only your neighbors, which likely got me thinking about adjacency. I remember thinking I was very clever for realizing that wolves should have the ability to bite their neighbors only at night — then I got my copy of One Night Ultimate Alien and was embarrassed to learn that all my werewolves have the same rules as the cow in that game. Ob la di, ob la da. (By the way, Ted Alspach from Bézier Games has been very supportive and generous to me over the years, despite my game riding on a thread or two of his coattails. Thank you, Ted, and I enjoy your games very much.)
One goal I had that never came to pass was to have a simple set-up; I wanted to add more night cards to the deck depending on players, and shuffle the deck once before dealing. I thought it would be faster to balance the number of nights to the player count rather than adding more wounds and bites, but obviously that didn't work, so now there are cards that say "6+" and "9+".
Ultimately I was convinced that a major flaw in many social games is the lack of a "dramatic reveal". It's embarrassing to say "I'm the wolf" if there's no big card to flip over, so I committed to the idea early on that there needed to be a "growl" at the end of the game where players vocalize and physically mime if they are a werewolf. This part never changed and has been a core part of the original conception of the game and its branding.
Anyway, the game was tested, people liked it for the most part, a few people hated it, but the feedback from the latter was generally that there was simply "no game here" and that I should not make it. Lots of my friends told me this, and I might have listened except for one glimmer of hope: The people who were not fans of GROWL didn't usually suggest specific changes to improve the game system; they simply didn't like the system. So I decided that this game would not be for everyone, and I moved into heavy playtesting. The biggest problem in playtesting was that humans would accidentally pass bites, or that wolves would be too timid and refuse to pass bites. This led to various problems that mostly got ironed out in the balancing stage.Old-school GROWL from 2017, with homemade box and fur bag
The Kickstarter did well despite my unfinished art and renderings. Regardless of the fact that I did the so-so graphic design myself, I sort of knew the overall concept and branding was on-point. I like to pretend I'm Don Draper sometimes, even though I usually feel like Harry Crane. (Sorry, Rich.)
I sold about 12,000 copies of the game, and eventually decided to send a bunch of copies to bigger publishers as I was nervous that I would never get a distribution deal otherwise. I hired a wonderful Dutchman named Richard to demo the game at SPIEL '19, and he attracted the interest of Repos Production, which shortly afterward became a subsidiary of Asmodee.
Asmodee picked up the license but had a different game with a conflicting theme (Werewolves of Miller's Hollow), so they asked me to think of re-themes:
• I suggested CULTS! (Nope, they said, not family-oriented.)
• I almost suggested POD PEOPLE, but then I remembered that I'm working on a pod people game, and I didn't want to compete with myself.
• I suggested VAMPIRES! (Maybe, they said, so I whipped together a version in which three stakes kill you.)
• They suggested STRANGER THINGS! (Yes!)
I hadn't gotten to season 3 yet, but the Mind Flayer seemed to be an obvious match for the game, so Repos paired with another Asmodee subsidiary named Mixlore to make the licensing deal with Netflix, then a talented developer at Repos named Pierre began percolating ideas.
Netflix didn't give us any advance information about season 4 — remember how mad the Duffer Brothers were when Stranger Things Monopoly spoiled minor plot points? — so this game is set in season 3, which has lots of fun locations for meetings (nights).
Ultimately, very few things changed from GROWL, but I like the changes:
1. Simplified event cards (meetings/nights), and the third one isn't a special, crazy "Final Night".
2. Lots of events were canned, and there are several new events that I would not have included due to fears of balance issues — but this is a casual game, and I suspect Pierre knows what he's doing!
3. The deck is now face-down rather than face-up, but the rule to show the card before giving it away is still the same.
4. Mind Flayer players know who the other Mind Flayer players are at the beginning if you have at least six players rather than the eight-player limit in GROWL. My guess is that playtesting revealed the Mind Flayer players had trouble winning in casual game groups.
5. Gold coins are now waffles. Eggo — I mean, ergo, we can play around with waffles as a mechanism rather than just as a point system. We can have meetings (nights) in which players have to reveal waffles, discard waffles, or have waffles serve secondary functions if we do expansions. I love the waffle cards. They make me so happy for some strange reason.
• I was disappointed that the English edition uses the word "possessed" rather than "flayed". Admittedly, "flayed" is a pretty gory-sounding term.
• I don't know why Repos got rid of "wound" and instead used "hard hit". Imagine a Belgian accent, and it makes more sense for some reason. This was a co-production between Belgium/Canada/France, so there's bound to be some minor differences in speech.
• You flip your "in play" side to "knocked out" when you get three hits — but the game box strongly suggests that the shadow versions of the characters represent the flayed/possessed versions of the characters, or at least indicates a connection to the Upside Down. I guess showing a bunch of mortally wounded 14-year-olds is not really "family friendly" either, so I accept this decision. (In GROWL, there's a gravestone on the back of your tile that says "I died".
Stranger Things: Attack of the Mind Flayer will be at Gen Con 2022, and it should be popping up in your local Walmart stores over the next few days. It's definitely a mass-produced game as far as the card thickness goes, but I am very proud of how I was able to help shepherd my game without any real compromise all the way through the process. I would like to thank Pierre B., Tanguy G., and everyone else at Repos Production for their hard work.
I'm hoping to add player-power expansions or make other games within the license. Fun stuff could be in store for the future if the game sells. If it doesn't...then we still have Rob Daviau's Stranger Things game to look forward to in 2023.
P.S. I'll be at Gen Con 2022: booth 520 (Vigour Games), and Stranger Things will be at booth 815 (Asmodee).
- [+] Dice rolls
HeroScape Returns with Age of Annihilation, Imperium Approaches New Horizons, and Patrick Bateman Wants to See Your Cards
04 Aug 2022
BGG's Twitter account as time allows between meetings...
But ahead of the show publishers teased a few upcoming titles, with the largest announcement coming from this teaser video from Avalon Hill:
What do we know about HeroScape: Age of Annihilation? This minimal info courtesy of Heroscapers.com:Quote:With the incomparable Craig Van Ness at the helm, design work on the new Master Set is well underway. Craig's team has included our own community's dad_scaper, dok, kevindola, skyknight, and xorlof, and Craig himself has been running point.
There is lots that the team members can't discuss right now, but some that it can. For instance, we were told early on that this revival is possible because of you! That's right, the ongoing community support for our beloved game was one of the essential ingredients in the decision to bring it back.
• UK publisher Osprey Games announced Imperium: Horizons from designers Nigel Buckle and Dávid Turczi, with this 1-4 player game due out in 2023. Here's the teaser text for this set:Quote:Formidable adversaries are arrayed against you. Your people stand ready. History beckons.• In the category of "topics I would never have expected to see in a game", we have American Psycho: A Killer Game, due out in 2023 from Renegade Game Studios.
In your hands lies the destiny of one of most storied peoples of history. Under constant threat of attack, you must conquer new lands, oversee dramatic scientific and cultural advances, and lead your people into the era of empire. Expand too rapidly and unrest will bring your civilization to its knees; build up too slowly, and you might find yourself a mere footnote of history. As one of fourteen radically asymmetric civilizations, you will compete to become the most dominant empire the world has ever seen.
Imperium: Horizons is a standalone game that contains an astonishing fourteen unique civilizations, each of which makes for a unique and challenging opponent in a solo game. The game is fully compatible with Imperium: Classics and Imperium: Legends for players wanting to expand their pool of civilizations even further, and the game incorporates a new trade module that allows players to recreate all the intrigue, wealth generation, and dynamic politics of a thriving economy.
Here's an overview of this 2-5 player trick-taking game:Quote:In American Psycho: A Killer Game, a game of yuppie one-upmanship set in the world of high-stakes investment banking at Pierce & Pierce, you compare your accomplishments as you seek to obtain the most valuable assets, secure reservations at the trendiest restaurants, maintain your personal appearance, and have a better business card than your hated colleagues — all while trying to keep your psychotic rage in check and that rising body count under control. After all, sometimes getting ahead in this world can be absolute murder!
In game terms, you lead "meetings" where all players contribute a card, usually of the matching suit. The highest played card wins, but each meeting will have a "killer suit" that beats the leading suit. A scene card drawn for each meeting further complicates things, forcing players to always remain on their toes. In this merciless world of high finance, some players will be forced to draw murder cards, and eventually those bodies will start to pile up. Bodies are worth negative points — unless you happen to have collected the most, in which case they might actually help you secure your victory.
- [+] Dice rolls
Collect Chilies for Spicy Sauces, Escape Saboteurs in a Collapsed Mine, and Roll Dice to Grow Beans — Again
04 Aug 2022
On August 1, 2022, German publisher AMIGO announced its upcoming games for the second half of the year, and in keeping with tradition for the past decade or so, its largest release is still rather small: a deck-building game of sorts by Wolfgang Kramer and Christian Stöhr titled Sauscharf. Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game:Quote:Can you prepare the hottest collection of chili sauces in Sauscharf?Würfel Bohnanza, AMIGO and designer Uwe Rosenberg are bringing the game back in a streamlined form — Bohnanza: Das Würfelspiel — that trims one-third of the original game's playing time:
Mild, hot or super hot? Depending on the selected level of difficulty, players start with 8-10 cards in hand. A card display is filled with the remaining chili pepper cards, with up to three cards of the same value being placed on top of one another.
The game is divided into two phases: In the first phase, players collect chilies, taking cards from the display and placing them on their personal ingredient stack. Whoever plays the highest combination of the same cards is the first to use the display. After all the ingredients have been taken, the card display is refilled and the chili collecting continues. This phase ends when no one has cards in hand.
For the second phase, the previously accumulated chilies are taken into hand. In addition, a new display with sauce tasks that can be fulfilled is made available. Now the players can decide each round whether they want to collect more ingredients or use their chili-card combinations to complete a sauce task to receive chili points. The hotter the sauce, the more points you score. Depending on the number of players, the game ends as soon as someone has prepared 3-6 sauces and has no more chili cards. Whoever collects the most chili points wins.Quote:At the start of the game, each player receives two order cards, each of which shows five orders; the player tries to complete orders on one card while using the other to cover completed orders. The easiest orders to complete — say, three beans in any combination of two types – are at the bottom of the card, and the hardest ones — requiring, say, a three-of-a-kind plus a rare bean – are at the top. Orders must be completed from bottom to top.Armadillo from Rudi Biber, with up to six players trying to dump their cards as quickly as possible:
On a turn, the active player starts by rolling the five bean dice, three of which have one combination of beans and two of which have another combination. This player must set aside at least one bean, then they reroll any remaining dice, setting at least one aside, etc. After at most seven rolls, they complete as many orders as they can, reusing the dice as needed to complete orders. Once a player completes three orders, they can "harvest" the card for one coin. Each additional completed order is worth a coin, up to a maximum of three. When a player harvests the order card, they draw a new card and use that to record completed orders (possibly on the same turn) on the order card they already had.
In the Bohnanza card game, players trade cards to improve the standing of both parties involved in the trade. In Würfel Bohnanza, the active player doesn't trade dice, but opponents do get to benefit from that player's rolls. After each roll by the active player, all other players can use the dice just rolled — and not dice already set aside — to complete orders on their own cards. Thus, the active player has some incentive not to dawdle too much as their opponents might benefit from their turn more than they do.
The game ends as soon as one or more players have collected ten Bohnentalers. The player with the most Bohnentalers wins!
Bohnanza: Das Würfelspiel features the same gameplay as Würfel Bohnanza, but uses fewer dice, has only five orders on a card instead of six, lowers the victory threshold from thirteen to ten, and has a few other changes.Quote:Each player starts the game with ten cards randomly numbered from 1 to 20, as well as two chips. On a turn, roll whatever combination of the six dice you like, with the two blue dice being numbered 1-3, the two yellow 4-6, and the two red 7-9. If the sum of the rolled dice matches a numbered card you have in hand, discard it! Of course, if someone else has that number, they discard it, too. You can spend chips to raise or lower the rolled number, and if you spend four chips, you can discard any card!Fréderic Moyersoen is further expanding on his long-lived game Saboteur with the release of a new, standalone game for 2-8 players. Here's an overview of Saboteur: The Dark Cave:
Wait, four chips? Yes, any time you don't discard a card on your turn, you gain a chip from the pool. The round ends as soon as someone empties their hand, and everyone else scores 1 point per card still in hand. Whoever has the fewest points after three rounds wins.Quote:After your dwarf clan found gold, you suddenly felt an earthquake and the mine is now collapsing. Time to escape! But the dark cave is full of dangers, such as spider webs, monsters, and of course the saboteurs who make your life miserable. Whose dwarf team can escape the cave with the most gold?While this title and all others mentioned so far will be released in Germany on September 1, 2022, the U.S. branch of AMIGO will debut Saboteur: The Dark Cave at Gen Con 2022 ahead of its Sept. 2022 retail release.
At the start of the game, each player assigned to a clan, although possibly they will be a saboteur for the other clan. Starting from the mine card in the center of play, you take turns laying down tunnel cards to build outward from the mine toward the four corner cards, only one of which is the exit. In addition to building new tunnels, you'll play cards to give yourself equipment, place monsters in front of others, discover who's actually on your clan, and reveal the exit before trudging all the way there.
As soon as you leave the mine, you reveal your true identity, with any gold you have going toward your clan's total. As soon as all members of a clan have left, the game ends, and whichever clan has the most gold wins.
• Other titles coming from AMIGO are Unsolved: Der Jagd-Unfall, which might be seen as Fréderic Moyersoen's take on the escape room genre. In the game, players look at picture cards drawn from a deck that includes thirty base cards and six case-specific cards, with the game including three cases. Over the course of the game, you can lay up to twelve images face up, with these images ideally helping you answer what happened in this situation that might be an accident, might be a murder.
Richard Garfield's Würfelhelden debuted in June 2022 in Germany and will be released in English as Dice Hunters of Therion in September 2022. Each player is a hero who has their own set of dice with which to capture villains and gain coins. You try to best one another by having more swords in order to capture the current villain on display, or you can settle for a few coins instead of being shown up.
Ken Fisher's Wizard is getting yet another edition: Wizard Deluxe, with Franz Vohwinkel providing new character art and metal coins included so that players can note their bids on the table. More importantly, for the first time that I can recall the German edition will have distinct symbols for wizards and jokers. Hurrah!
- [+] Dice rolls
03 Aug 2022
While a few German publishers will be present at Gen Con 2022 — which opens August 4, 2022 (BGG preview list) — most of them will debut their new titles at SPIEL '22 in October.
• Feuerland Spiele, for example, has announced a Q4 2022 release date for La Famiglia: The Great Mafia War from first-time designer Maximilian Maria Thiel. Here's an overview of this four-player-only game that takes 2-3 hours to play:Quote:In the 1980s, a merciless battle raged in Sicily that would later go down in history as "The Great Mafia War". Different mob families fought with and against each other for supremacy in southern Italy.• In January 2021, I wrote an overview of upcoming titles from Edition Spielwiese, mentioning Matthias Cramer's Swindler as a title due out "near the end of 2021". As has often been the case these past 2.5 years, however, plans change, and now this 2-4 player game that takes 45-60 minutes will debut at SPIEL '22. Here's an overview of the setting and how to play:
In La Famiglia: The Great Mafia War, you play against each other in teams (2 vs. 2) to take control of Sicily. Six different mafia families, each with special abilities, are at your disposal. The game rounds are divided into two phases: In the planning phase, you develop your abilities and bring fighters as well as secret orders to the board. In the combat phase, these orders are revealed and executed. Here, you use your fighters and bombs to dominate as many regions as possible. The combat system is both simple and innovative, making every fight an exciting psychological duel. The team that best combines and coordinates its abilities will finally dominate Sicily.
La Famiglia is an extraordinary team game that provides lasting excitement through asymmetric abilities and a variable game set-up.Quote:Life in London isn't easy. The city is run by moneybags, though, and now it's time to seize opportunities as swindlers and cutpurses to claim your share of their wealth.Emanuele Ornella's Pioneers, which was released in 2017 by Queen Games, will be born again in 2022 as Future Energy, with this being the first title in a "Green Planet" line from Queen.
Swindler combines press-your-luck with take-that mechanisms for a fun and thematic game set in Victorian London. Each round, players must steal from one of the five moneybags, drawing tokens from the chosen bag. Each bag is filled with coins, jewelry, and other loot — but each bag also contains at least one skull! If you draw a skull, you've pressed your luck too far and got caught in the act. Not only will you lose the loot you stole that round, you also lose everything you stole from the same bag in previous rounds. The moneybag not only found your hand in their pocket, but they also recognized the small but precious ring on your finger...
It's wise not to sit on the loot too long in case you get caught. Dealers will pay you for the loot you turn in, giving you points. You can also use your loot to complete orders, but one of your fellow swindlers might be faster and push you aside to complete a task, costing you valuable points. Thankfully, you don't have to swindle on your own! Hire accomplices to gain advantages or affect the other players with disadvantages.
The player with the most points after a set number of rounds will be recognized as the most notorious swindler of London and thus win the game.
Here's the pitch for this 2-4 player game that will debut at SPIEL '22:Quote:In Future Energy, each player attempts to construct a network of non-carbon-based energy production plants around Europe. Each player's turn consists of three phases. First, they earn income. Second, they make 1-3 purchases of new power networks or contracts. Finally, they move the shared surveyor piece along the built networks (paying other players for their share of the network they use), replacing the old power plant they end on with a new one. Each type of plant they replace gives a special ability or one-time benefit. The old plants are placed randomly on the board each game for a different puzzle every time.Powerline from long-time Queen collaborator Dirk Henn. This 2-4 player game works as follows:
At the end of the game, each player is rewarded with additional points based on the number of their plants in their largest network of connected cities. The player with the most points wins!Quote:In Powerline, players attempt to connect cities with new sources of energy production.
In each of the 16 game rounds, six colored dice are rolled and arranged on their designated spaces on the central board. Each player has a player board that shows power lines ranging in length from 3-12 spaces, with each space showing the result of a die. Players may choose to use the six dice going from right to left or left to right in order to build the power lines on their board. However, they may use a certain number of dice only a fixed number of times, and a die may be skipped only by taking a penalty.
During certain rounds, each of the three game objectives will be evaluated, and at the end of the game players gain points for completed power lines and fully connected cities, then lose points for lines they started but did not complete. The player with the most points wins.
- [+] Dice rolls