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Fight Free Radicals Thanks to the Antioxidants in Coffee Traders

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Free Radicals
• Sometimes you look at a game and think, "The title has to be what inspired the entire design, right?"

That thought came to mind when I ran across Free Radicals, the first game to be published from designer Nathan Woll, which WizKids plans to release in 2021. Here's an overview of this 2-5 player game that plays in 60-90 minutes:
Quote:
In Free Radicals, players take control of one of ten fully asymmetrical factions, each with its own path to earn resources, power, and the knowledge stored in the "Free Radicals", which are giant mysterious objects that appeared around the world, causing a huge evolutionary leap in technology. You might play as the merchants, using action points to travel to different markets, and grow in influence and efficiency; the Couriers, using your drones to pick up and deliver valuable goods; the Entertainers, using card placement and abilities to maximize powerful abilities; or one of seven other entirely unique factions!

Players also interact through the main board, where they can visit each other's buildings and try to unlock the technology in one of the free radicals. You can even help your opponents' research in return for influence and other rewards!
Board Game: Wildcatters
• U.S. publisher Capstone Games has a reputation for releasing heavy games that feature an economic element, such as Arkwright (the title with which it debuted in 2016), The Ruhr, Pipeline, and Wildcatters.

The designers of that latter title — Rolf Sagel and André Spil — now have a new design coming from Capstone in June 2021: Coffee Traders, a game for 3-5 players that takes 120-150 minutes and that includes "over 650 components" as Capstone boasts in its announcement. Here's a summary of the game's setting, with the rulebook scheduled to be released on December 1, 2020:
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Thousands of coffee farmers all over the world support their families by using small stretches of hillside land for their coffee plantations. Farmers work day in and day out for very little, but the future of coffee farming is bright. Fair Trade organizations strive to improve living conditions for these farmers by helping them set up cooperatives. This enables them to establish better pricing agreements and take out loans for new plantations, all to help provide education and improve the quality of their lives, families, societies, and environment.

Board Game: Coffee Traders

In Coffee Traders, set in 1970s Central and South America, Africa, and Asia, the delicious Arabica coffee beans farmers harvest are sold in Antwerp — and all over the world — to coffee roasters large and small. Work with your competitors to develop the regions you see fit for the best coffee beans while keeping a watchful eye on the market. Construct buildings to help your Fair Trade coffee plantations thrive while enhancing your network for trading coffee. Will your plantations fall to ruin, or will you rise to the top and become the world's greatest coffee trader?

From gallery of W Eric Martin
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Mon Nov 23, 2020 1:00 pm
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Tell Weird Stories, Race in Three Dimensions, and Create Peacock Plumes

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Reality Shift
• Let's run through a few game-based Kickstarter projects in this post, starting with Reality Shift by Mat Hanson and Academy Games, which leans heavily into a Tron vibe for a 3D racing game in which you can shift blocks to create new paths for your lightbike, obstruct existing paths, or crush opponents to force them to respawn elsewhere.

The Kickstarter campaign (link) includes options for a regular game and a deluxe one so that you can take the nine cubes in each game and combine them to create more challenging racetracks — although I would think you could do this with two regular games as well. Reality Shift is due out in mid-2021.

Board Game: Reality Shift

• U.S. publisher Calliope Games is Kickstarting (link) a trio of releases due out in Q4 2021, with Brendan Hansen's Enchanted Plumes being a 2-6 player game in which you collect cards in a peacock tail-shaped array, with the longest row of cards counting against you and everything else being positive. You can make the first row of a plume as wide or as narrow as you wish, and each subsequent row must have exactly one fewer card and the color of a card in this row must be among the cards in the row immediately above it; if you complete a plume by placing a row of one card, you receive a bonus equal to the number of cards in the plume.

Zach Weisman's Allegory is another 2-6 player card game, but in this game you bid to collect cards in three themes, with you allocating your winning bid for a card on the remaining cards on display. Instead of placing a bid in a future round, you can pass to claim the card with the most money on it; that card might be worth negative points, but at least you now have money! When a player claims their tenth card, the game ends at the end of that round, then everyone scores only for their lowest-valued theme.

Board Game: Enchanted Plumes
Board Game: Allegory
Board Game: Mass Transit

Mass Transit from Chris Leder and Kevin Rodgers is a co-operative game for 1-6 players in which dual-use cards create train, bus, and ferry routes out of a city and allow you to move commuters along those routes. If you get everyone home to the suburbs before all the cards are played, you win.

Board Game Publisher: Monkey Gun Games, LLC
Tales of the Fabulist is the first release from Stacey Welchley, Jason C. Hughes, and Monkey Gun Games, and it falls into the category of "party game that you likely won't keep score on", similar to Concept and others. Here's an overview of this 2-10 player game that's due out (KS link) in the first half of 2021:
Quote:
Tales of the Fabulist is an interactive fiction device, a party game, an improvisation system, a drinking game, an ice-breaker at retreats, and an excellent gift for the young and old. You don't have to be William Shakespeare to have a great time making sh*t up regaling your loved ones with a fabricated fable. Here's how easy it is:

After the decks are shuffled and cards are dealt, The Fabulist begins by introducing the characters in the context of a grand quest upon which the characters will embark. The Fabulist has sixty seconds to weave the beginning of the tale, then play rotates clockwise. The next player selects a plot twist (PT) out of their hand and places it on the included playmat in the next open PT space. That player continues the story for 30 seconds, working in the words or phrases on the newly played card into the story. When the time runs out, draw a new plot twist card. Play continues clockwise. The lucky person who places the final plot twist card has sixty seconds to wrap up the story as best they can.

Board Game: Tales of the Fabulist: Fantasy Deck

Now that the fable has ended, everyone gets to suggest a "Moral of the Story". The player with the funniest moral wins the quest card. If your group is competitive, the person with the most quest cards at the end of the session wins.
SquareOne is a board game console from Wizama that's intended to merge board games and video games, with you having physical elements that you do stuff with while the console shows the results of actions, resolves die rolls, and does other things depending on whatever game you're playing.

The device is pricey at €500 (KS link), and it's launching with licenses for titles such as the virtual trading card game Urban Rivals and the giant board Cthulhu Wars, in addition to original games such as Crystal Bay by Roberto Fraga, who visited the BGG booth at FIJ 2020 to demo this design.

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Sun Nov 22, 2020 1:00 pm
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Interview: Train Games and War Games with Tom Russell

Neil Bunker
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Board Game Publisher: Hollandspiele
[Editor's note: This interview was first published on Diagonal Move on October 19, 2020. —WEM]

Tom Russell, co-founder of independent publisher Hollandspiele, joins Neil Bunker from Diagonal Move to discuss her unique take on game design and publishing.

DM: Hi, Tom, thank you for joining us. You are known for three things: unique takes on historical war games, train games, and co-founding publishing company Hollandspiele. Can you tell us the story of how you got to where you are today?

TR: Well, what it ultimately comes down to is, I'm the luckiest girl in the world.

It's not that I didn't work hard because I did, and not that I'm untalented because I do all right for myself, but there are plenty of folks who work a lot harder and are a heck of a lot more talented who don't get the same traction that I did.

Mary (Holland-Russell, co-founder of Hollandspiele) and I get to publish board games for a living, as our full-time gig. More than that, we get to do it while making very weird, very niche games in a very weird, very niche way — and that really comes down to one lucky break or coincidence after another.

For example, one of the earliest games I had published was Northern Pacific through Winsome Games. That game brought my work to Cole Wehrle's attention, and so years later as we were prepping to get Hollandspiele off the ground, I could write to Cole and ask him whether he could do a game for us, and he would have some idea who I was.

That game was An Infamous Traffic, and it brought our company to the attention of a wider audience, which ultimately made our model sustainable as a full-time endeavor.

Board Game: An Infamous Traffic

Now, we stumbled upon that model because Mary and I worked for a publisher who had a somewhat similar model, which ultimately came about because of a magazine wargame I had done for another publisher.

One thing lead to another, and I can trace similar interweaving chains of coincidence and cause-and-effect all leading up to the present moment. I will say that I tried to position myself to take advantage of those opportunities.

By being interested in a lot of different things, I increased the probability that those opportunities might arise.

Our work with the other publisher gave us the model, and Cole's game gave us a head start, but we needed to put in the work and have the skill-set to grow our business and its audience.

DM: Your historical wargames cover a wide range of eras, game mechanisms, and player count. Can you describe your process for developing these three strands within a single game?

TR: These historical designs start with the history and with research. Most of this research is "passive", in that I'm not reading up on a topic trying to make a game.

If I go into it with my game designer hat on, I'm going to be looking for mechanisms or chrome and what-not, going to be focusing on the details, but what I'm looking for is the big picture, a general understanding of the topic so that I'm reasonably conversant in it.

Maybe this turns into a game, and maybe it doesn't. It helps that I'm interested in a lot of different things, so I read up on a lot of different things.

Once I decide to do a game on a topic, my research gets a bit deeper and more detailed — then I wait for the idea to fully form in my brain.

I don't start making counters or writing rules or any of that, not until I have a complete, coherent, and cohesive picture of exactly what I want the game to be, what I want it to feel like, what I want to look like, what tensions I want to be present, what thesis I want to express.

When all that is clear in my head, then I start working on the game, and I keep working on it until it looks like that picture. Sometimes that picture forms very quickly; sometimes it takes a while.

Board Game: Westphalia

For example, in 2019 we released both The Toledo War and Westphalia. The Toledo War took maybe two or three days to come together. Westphalia took ten years.

Regarding the question of player count, it's actually pretty simple. I tend to think of player counts as falling into three buckets: solo games, two-player games, and games for three-plus.

Each of these to me suggest a very different space to explore. A three-plus game is a game about alliances and shared incentives. A two-player game is very much about direct and bitter conflict, control of tempo, control of the balance of the game itself.

I wouldn't be comfortable calling a solitaire game a "puzzle" or an efficiency game, but there are elements of that in my solo designs.

You'll likely never see me do a game these days that scales from one to six or from two to five because each of these experiences are so distinct that for me there isn't really much overlap between these kinds of games.

DM: Your games share many mechanisms with other games within the historical wargame genre, yet will often have something that sets them apart (a stack of steps, three draw cup system, a focus on logistics). Are these "twists" born from a desire to innovate, to better reflect a historical period, personal design challenges, something else?

TR: Honestly, it just feels natural to me to do it the way that I do it. I like having clever mechanisms, of course, and am reasonably proud of some of the things I've come up with, but I'm not necessarily trying to be "twisty".

I do feel like a good historical game needs to have a thesis or view its subject through a lens. It's not enough, I think, to have a game be "a game about the American Revolution", but "a game about the function of logistics during the American Revolution" is worth doing.

In the end, it's a matter of what you're trying to say and how you're trying to say it.

Board Game: Aurelian, Restorer of the World

DM: Complex historical train games are another niche genre with a devoted fan base. How would you describe their appeal to an interested passerby?

TR: Well, I don't know if I'd call train games "complex". Most train games are actually very simple. Even something like the 18xx, which has a daunting reputation, isn't usually very complicated in terms of rules overhead.

I also wouldn't call them "historical". At least personally I don't approach the train games in the same way as I do the wargames. I'm not expressing a thesis, but creating a sort of a mechanical exercise to explore player dynamics.

That's probably the key I would zero in on: the interaction between players. Sure, I'd talk about building the track and investing in stocks, but I also know there are people who couldn't care less about that.

These are very competitive, very interactive games in which each player's portfolio gets hopelessly entangled with that of other players; everything you do to help yourself has the potential to help someone else, everything you do to hurt someone else might hurt you.

Every action matters, and if you make a mistake, it can sink your position and make it irrecoverable. That kind of experience isn't for everyone, but I think the people who would be into that would recognize that if you described it to them.

DM: When creating a series of historical train games, are there specific issues that you model with each game and how do you reflect these in a design?

TR: I've done several train games, of course, and in a way many of them are iterative, expanding upon what I did the last time. But each game is generally its own thing, conceived for its own reason and with its own emphasis.

Northern Pacific was intended to focus on shared incentives and chains of "if I do this, she'll do that".

Board Game: Irish Gauge

Irish Gauge was, I think, an attempt to create a simple, streamlined, introductory take on Winsome's action selection-style cube rail games. I say "think" because unusually the entire game sprung forth fully-formed like Athena over the course of an hour while I was stuck in traffic, so I didn't so much go into Irish Gauge with a goal in mind as I decided that was the goal after the fact!

Trans-Siberian Railroad is a messy sort of game in which I was trying to do something heavier and a bit more capricious. This introduced the "track-leasing" mechanism that ran through my next three games. Those next three games are also interested in exploring more co-operative rather than destructive play patterns in the context of a competitive game.

Iberian Gauge has numbered shares, and players who are invested in a company build one track per share according to the order in which those shares are bought.

London & Northwestern is unique in that you can invest only in other player's companies and that their stock values only go up, never down.

Board Game: The Soo Line

The Soo Line is the last of those track-leasing games, and it's the weirdest of the bunch. It very deliberately breaks some of the "rules" of "good train game design".

For example, in games where majority shareholders make all decisions for a company, you want at least as many companies as you have players. Well, this is a game for up to five players with only three companies, which means that some players take a less active role, having to make their fortunes as pure investors.

Asymmetry is common in train games, and sometimes some companies are kinda rubbish, but here the three companies are rubbish in wildly different ways.

Some people like it. Some people hate it. That's to be expected as it's a deliberately abrasive game.

The newest choo-choo game that I have pulling into the station is Dual Gauge, and this is a multi-map train game system. How this happened is that Mary told me I needed to do a new train game every year, and I thought to myself, "Wow, that sounds like a lot of work — but if I do a system, I can do the base game this year, then just do a couple of maps every year to fulfill Mary's requirement."

Well, Mary was really happy to hear about me doing a system that could have expansions, but she told me that this didn't cut the mustard, and that I will also be on the hook for new standalone train games each year.

Board Game: Dual Gauge

Dual Gauge borrows some elements of the 18xx — track shared by all companies, blocking by way of placing stations, buying trains and running routes, some of those trains become obsolete, and a two-dimensional stock market — but it's very much a cube rails game at heart (despite not having any cubes). It is, I think, its own thing, and the system is robust enough that each map should have some unusual tweaks and fresh challenges.

DM: Do the train and military game strands of your design career have more in common than meets the eye at first glance — simulation concepts, for example?

TR: Not really. The historical games are built to explore or express a thesis through a model. Sometimes this is a very serious subject where what I want to express is very important to me; This Guilty Land is about the complicity of compromise in oppression. Sometimes the subject is less serious, or at least less immediate: With It Or On It is a coarse-grain model of the advantages and disadvantages of hoplite formations.

The train games, on the other hand, are purely about mechanisms and player dynamics, and playing with genre conventions and expectations.

Board Game: With It Or On It

DM: Hollandspiele is a small, independent company in a crowded field. How do you manage to stand out from, and compete with, other companies?

TR: Well, the secret is that we don't really "compete" with anyone. We're off to the side of the market proper, catering to more adventurous tastes.

We use a print-on-demand model: You order the game from us, pay us for it, we turn around and pay our printer, who manufactures and ships you the game. So these games are essentially made one at a time. We never "over-produce", never have any inventory to sell off.

We don't deal with distributors, don't sell games at conventions. We're completely insulated from all the hubbub, and our model allows us to tackle more unusual and less commercial topics and approaches.

There's an audience for that which has traditionally been underserved, and I think that's a large part of our success.

DM: In addition to your own games, Hollandspiele also releases games by other designers. From a publisher’s point of view, what makes a game stand out from the masses? Are there any games that you are particularly glad to have been able to release?

TR: We're mostly looking for a game with a point of view or a strong authorial voice.

We're proud of all our releases, but the jewels in the crown, as it were, have been the aforementioned An Infamous Traffic, which went out of print last year, and Erin Escobedo's Meltwater, which we're still printing.

Both games were strong sellers, which is always nice, both were well-received critically, and both expanded our audience, bringing eyes to our other titles.

From gallery of Bunkelos Board

DM: What do you think the future holds for niche historical games? Do you feel they will remain in a niche genre, or will they become more (or return to the) mainstream as their mechanisms and design ideas become more frequently seen in popular games?

TR: I mean, "niche" games are gonna be niche games. That's not to say that historical games don't have broader crossover appeal, and there have definitely been strides toward making historical games more approachable to that wider audience.

I'm sure that this will continue to be the case. It's just not something I'm particularly interested in, and I have the luxury of just doing whatever the heck I want.

DM: Do you have any advice for aspiring designers and publishers?

TR: I make weird, brittle, abrasive games that alienate and frustrate people, so I'm not sure if anyone looking to be successful in this field should be listening to my advice.
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Sat Nov 21, 2020 1:00 pm
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The Spice Definitely Flows in Dune: Imperium

Candice Harris
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Board Game: Dune: Imperium
I'm a late bloomer to the Dune-iverse and to all things Arrakeen, but as I've gotten deeper and deeper into it the past few months, I was thrilled to hear about Dire Wolf's upcoming release of Dune: Imperium, designed by Paul Dennen, the creator of Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure.

While on the lighter side of my gaming spectrum, I've always enjoyed playing all versions of Clank!, especially Clank! Legacy. You throw Dune, deck-building, worker placement, and Paul Dennen into a blender, and before I even experience what comes out, my ears are perked and my eyes are wide. Thus, I had to reach out to Dire Wolf expressing my interest in a review copy of Dune: Imperium, which they graciously hooked me up with so that I could navigate folded space, taste the spice firsthand, and share my initial impressions.

Dune: Imperium is a hybrid deck-building and worker placement game for 1 to 4 players that plays in about 60-120 minutes. Each player represents a leader of one of the Great Houses of the Landsraad, competing to earn the most victory points by defeating rivals in combat, forming alliances with the four powerful factions on Dune (Emperor, Spacing Guild, Bene Gesserit and Fremen), and cleverly establishing your political influence.

Each player starts the game with a leader board corresponding to their particular leader, which has two different abilities, unique from other players. You also have two agents (workers), a starting deck of cards (same for all players), some wooden cubes representing troops, and a few other components to form your supply. There's also a card market as expected in a deck-building game, and a general supply area of the main resources of the game: spice, solari, and water.

From gallery of candidrum
From gallery of candidrum
Leader board examples

Dune: Imperium is played over a series of rounds, with each round consisting of five phases: 1) Round Start, 2) Player Turns, 3) Combat, 4) Makers and 5) Recall. At the end of a round, if any player has reached 10 or more victory points or if the conflict deck is empty (after ten rounds), the game ends and whoever has the most victory points wins.

Round Start

You start each round by first revealing a new conflict card, then each player draws a hand of five cards. Conflict cards show the rewards you'll be competing for during the current round should you decide to deploy troops to the conflict.

From gallery of candidrum
Player Turns

Next you jump into the player turns phase, which is the meat and potatoes of Dune: Imperium, or shall I say, the cinnamon and nutmeg. In this phase, players take either an agent turn or a reveal turn in clockwise order until all players have completed their Rreveal turn. This is where the cards in your deck come into play, and you have to decide which cards (if any) you'll use to place agents on the board, versus which cards you'll save to reveal in order to gain resources and/or combat bonuses.

During an agent turn, you play a card from your hand face-up in front of you and use it to send one of your available agents to an unoccupied space on the board where you gain access to that particular location's effects. The location icons on the left side of the cards indicate which locations you can send an agent to with that particular card. Then the agent box on the card may grant you some additional bonus effects as well when you use that card for an agent turn. When you use the "Worm Riders" card for an agent turn, you gain two spice.

There's a decent variety of locations on the board with various effects that allow you to pursue a plethora of strategies as you play, especially when combo'd with different card effects. Like most worker placement games, there will be many moments where someone beats you to a spot you were hoping to use, but considering several cards have multiple location options, you're likely to find a clever back-up plan and work around it.

From gallery of candidrum

Some card and location effects allow you to gain resources, draw extra cards, trash cards, and recruit troops. There's a spot where you can spend solari to gain a Mentat (extra temporary worker) for the round, and if you're able to pony up even more solari, you can grab your third agent.

From gallery of candidrum

You can also gain devious intrigue cards from certain location effects in addition to other ways. The intrigue cards add a healthy dose of spice to otherwise familiar mechanisms and are one of my favorite elements of Dune: Imperium. There are plot, combat, and endgame intrigue cards that come into play at various points in the game, but the best part is that your opponents have no clue what type of card(s) you have and when and how it will impact them; it's so fun to keep everyone guessing. You might have a plot card that lets you spend a certain amount of spice to gain a victory point. If you reveal that at the right time, that one card could push you over the edge to win the game. On the other hand, you could have a beasty combat card that you reveal to push you ahead of your opponents during combat when someone else thought they were going to take it. The intrigue cards are mighty juicy...mighty juicy!

From gallery of candidrum
Intrigue card examples

When you place your agent on one of the four factions' board spaces, you gain the location and agent box card effects as usual, but you also gain an influence bump on the corresponding influence track. You gain a victory point when you hit the second space on each of the influence tracks, then if you're the first person to get to the fourth space on a given influence track, you gain the corresponding alliance token and get another victory point...but don't celebrate too fast.

From gallery of candidrum
If one of your opponents ever moves past you on an influence track where you currently hold the alliance token, they steal it from you — which makes you lose a victory point while they gain one. Dun-Dun-Duuuun! In a game with such a tight victory point system, this can be a literal game changer and in some cases, could cost you the game, so watch out.

You can manipulate faction influence quite a few different ways, and it adds an interesting layer to Dune: Imperium. Some players might focus on a single influence track and try to rush to the fourth space before everyone to snag an alliance token quickly, while others might try to just get to the second spot on all four tracks to lock in those 4 victory points. Some card effects are very powerful if you have an alliance token with a particular faction, and there's even a space on the board that you must have at least two influence with the Fremen in order to use. Gaining influence always seems pretty important, but how you approach it and how competitive it gets will vary from game to game and lend itself to exciting moments.

While you're thinking about gaining influence, try not to slip too much on the combat front. This is another excellent way to gain resources, influence, and most importantly, victory points.

Certain locations allow you to recruit troops from your supply to your garrison area, and also locations that will allow you to deploy troops from your garrison area into the conflict area. If a location has the combat icon in the bottom right corner, you can always deploy up to two troop cubes from your garrison to the conflict area. In addition, some locations with the combat icon allow you to recruit, and in those cases, you can move as many of the newly recruited troops from your supply directly to the conflict area, which is a great way to get more troops ready for combat. This can sometimes scare off your opponents, but if you deploy a ton of troops and your opponents decide not to deploy any, you're basically wasting troops that you could have saved in your garrison for future conflicts where they'd be better served. Figuring out when to deploy troops and how many troops to deploy is a tough decision.

From gallery of candidrum
After you finish your agent turns, you'll take a reveal turn, revealing the remaining cards in your hand and gaining the effects shown in the reveal box (beneath the agent box). The revealed effects on cards vary, but many give you persuasion that you can immediately use to acquire new cards from the Imperium Row (card market). Persuasion will be familiar if you've played Clank! as it's just like spending skill to acquire new cards. When using the "Shifting Allegiances" card for a reveal turn, you gain 2 persuasion.

During your reveal turn, you also set your combat strength for the round if you have at least one troop in the conflict area. Each troop cube has a strength of 2, and you'll add any additional strength for each sword on your revealed cards. Then you set your strength on the combat track and place all the cards you played and revealed into your discard pile. After all players have completed their reveal turns, let the battle begin!

Combat

From gallery of candidrum
At the start of the combat phase, you already know everyone's base combat strength as it's been marked on the combat track, but now players have a chance to play any number of combat intrigue cards to sneakily beef up their combat strength, so even though a player might be behind strength-wise at the start of combat, they could swoop ahead if they have combat cards that they choose to use. Once all players pass consecutively, you resolve combat. The player with the highest strength wins the first reward, second highest wins the second reward, etc.

From gallery of candidrum
Conflict card example
The conflict card deck is tiered, so the rewards get juicier and juicier as the game progresses. I dig the variety of combat rewards, so you can decide for yourself each round how much (or little) a particular combat round is worth fighting for.

Makers

After combat is resolved, in the makers phase spice accumulates on certain board spaces if no one moved an agent there that round. This is similar to some other worker placement games like Agricola, where it entices players to move to those spaces in future rounds.

From gallery of candidrum
I'm pretty sure there were multiple moments across my plays where The Great Flat piled up with bonus spice over several rounds, and you already get a base of three spice there, but it requires two water to even move there, so you're looking around at everyone's water situation, and no one has two water at the start of the round and you're feeling confident that you'll be able to swoop in to snag all that spice. You're considering turn order, looking at your hand, hoping no one else noticed the spice accumulation, and mapping out a plan to grab all that spice, but then out of nowhere, your opponent who goes before you plays a plot card which lets them gain water and they beat you to the spice mountain. Noooooooo! ...another reason I love that intrigue deck!

Recall

If the game end hasn't been triggered, you take all your agents back and rotate the first player market clockwise — but if a player has 10 or more victory points or the conflict deck is empty, you resolve any endgame intrigue cards, then whoever has the most victory points wins.

I do wish there was a better system for determining turn order other than just rotating the first player marker clockwise, with player turns going in clockwise order. It's certainly simple and perhaps that was the intention since there's already a lot to think about in the game, but for worker placement games I tend to prefer more interesting decisions when it comes to determining turn order. Turn order is really important, as you read above in my Great Flat spice pile-up story, so I do wish the players had more control over it.

I managed to play Dune: Imperium at all players counts and enjoyed them all, but if I had to pick, I preferred the two-player game the least. Solo and two-player games are played with AI opponents driven by a deck of cards with minimal rules that are easy to pick up, and therefore pretty smooth to play. There's also a handy app available that streamlines solo and two-player games, but regardless whether you use the deck or app, you'll be zipping along after a round or two with your subtly, intrusive AI rivals.

My two-player game just lacked a bit of the tension I felt playing with three and four players — and even solo. In the solo game, you play against two AI opponents and they can score points in various ways, which made me feel the pressure I feel playing three- and four-player games. The two-player game, on the other hand, adds a single AI opponent that doesn't score victory points, so you're competing for victory points only against your human opponent, which was fine, but not as exciting to me. I liked it; I just didn't love it as much as the other player counts.

From gallery of candidrum

Overall, I'm really digging Dune: Imperium. There aren't necessarily any ground-breaking, new mechanisms, but the way these familiar mechanisms are blended together is awesome and works well. I would say this is only a few clicks above the complexity level of Clank!, but it offers such a different and deeper strategic experience. No disrespect to Clank!, of course; I love me some Clank!, but Dune: Imperium feels more mature and sophisticated gameplaywise.

From gallery of candidrum
Everything is tied in well thematically, so fans of Dune will feel right at home, yet don't need to know a single thing about Dune to dig into Dune: Imperium and feel fully immersed in the gameplay.

I enjoyed the decision space of figuring out which cards to use for agent turns versus which cards to save for reveal turns, especially as you start incorporating fancier cards with juicier effects into your deck. Lots of cards synergize well together or with your level of influence with different factions, so it's fun to see what kind of card combos people pull off. I also like that you have a lot of different opportunities for drawing cards mid-round. That can open some exciting opportunities during agent turns or seriously boost your reveal turn.

I've already touched on how much I love what the intrigue cards bring to the table, but I also really love the tight victory point system and having combat rewards to consider each round. Each and every victory point is important and meaningful, and everyone knows it, so it makes the game feel tense. It's great that there are several different ways to score victory points, too, so players can pursue different strategies for scoring and it feels equally competitive in a really fun way.

There were multiple games in which I had a steady lead in the early game, then as newer players got the swing of it, their scoring discs crept closer and closer, gradually closing the gap, making me feel all sorts of anxious and stressed, but in the best way possible, all up until a climatic ending. There were many "Ohhhhhhh!" moments as we each tried to outwit each other with intrigue cards or by stealing alliance tokens. I love when a game sucks me in and makes me feel that way.

Kudos to Paul Dennen and Dire Wolf for taking control of the spice, then packing it into Dune: Imperium!
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Fri Nov 20, 2020 3:00 pm
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Wiz-War, Dragonland, and Coconuts Return to the Table

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Wiz-War (9th Edition)
• In October 2020, U.S. publisher Steve Jackson Games announced a new edition of Tom Jolly's classic beer-and-pretzels game Wiz-War, with this title — Wiz-War (9th Edition) for those keeping score — featuring art by Phil Foglio and additional development by Steve Jackson.

SJG hasn't yet revealed how this edition will differ from others, instead noting that it plans to run a Kickstarter to fund this release and that it's doing all of the tooling with the manufacturer beforehand to ensure smoother fulfillment (barring all the usual complications for such things).

An excerpt from SJG's announcement: "We'll tool everything as if all project stretch goals are unlocked, in the hope that there's enough interest in the game to allow us to produce the game as Steve envisions it. Part of our prep work with the factory has been planning out how the stretch goals impact the finished game; this will allow us to reverse steps if some of the stretch goals remain locked at the end of the campaign."

• In September 2020, U.S. publisher Gamelyn Games joined the vast group of publishers with one Knizia title in their catalog thanks to a new edition of Dragonland, which initially appeared from Ravensburger in 2002. Here's an overview of this 2-4 player game for ages 9 and up:
Quote:
Adventure in Dragonland! The dragons store their treasure in the numerous volcanoes, but their treasure is in danger because the volcanoes will soon erupt! To save the treasure, the dragons have asked the dwarves, elves, humans, and magicians for help. Each group competes with the others to be the most successful at gathering treasure for the dragons.

Board Game: Dragonland

Using strategy and cunning in Dragonland, each player moves their group of companions from volcano to volcano to collect sets of dragon eggs and gemstones. Each player scores points for each gemstone and egg, but extra points for a complete set: egg, ruby, emerald, and sapphire. All their movements are under the control of the tower of destiny, which sometimes arranges for a companion to reach their destination a bit too late. When the last egg is collected, the game ends and the player with the most points wins.

For this edition of Dragonland, some new features have been added, specifically a unicorn mechanism and token and a witch mechanism and token.
Board Game: Coconuts
• U.S. publisher Underdog Games has released a new edition of Walter Schneider's Coconuts with — get this — green coconuts. Yes, the brown coconuts of editions past have been replaced with something that won't have players snickering about monkeys flinging poo at one another.

For those not familiar with the game, which originated from Korea Boardgames in 2013, in Coconuts you use a plastic monkey to launch coconuts into cups, which can be in the center of the table or on another player's tableau. When you land a coconut in a cup, you claim it, placing it on your tableau or on top of two cups you already have. If you build a six-cup pyramid, you win instantly; otherwise the game ends when all the coconuts have landed in cups, and whoever has the most coconuts in their cups wins.

One change in this edition is that instead of having special ability cards that can be dealt out to players, once per game each player can choose one of four special actions. This change reduces the number of components, while also giving you control over exactly what you want to do when.

If you want to see how this all works, you can watch this overview video that I recorded in 2014, with my then five-year-old son. I made some nice shots during this explanation! On the down side, I showed my wife this video while preparing this post so that she could go "Awwwwww" over our son, and she said, "Wow, you look so much younger here!" Divorce proceedings are now underway.

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Fri Nov 20, 2020 1:00 pm
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Getting The Crew Back Together, This Time for a Trip on Earth

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Die Crew: Mission Tiefsee
German publisher KOSMOS has started to tease its early 2021 line-up, with the buzziest title likely to be Die Crew: Mission Tiefsee (Mission Deep Sea), a co-operative trick-taking game that's a standalone sequel to Thomas Sing's The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine, which won the 2020 Kennerspiel des Jahres and many other awards.

Details are sketchy — these announcements being only teases for now — but here's what we know about this release, which like The Crew is for 3-5 players with special rules for two players:
Quote:
In Die Crew: Mission Tiefsee, you and the other players are on the trail of a great secret. Do your best to lead the entire team to the destination. With each card, you dive deeper and deeper into the darkness of the deep sea. Have you completed another mission? Let's go further!
So, more of the same? If so, that would be fine by me as my time playing The Crew during BGG.CON 2019 was the highlight of the show. (Admittedly, I spent half my waking hours at BGG.CON 2019 playing The Crew, so I had little time for anything else.)

Die Crew: Mission Tiefsee has a release date of March 1, 2021, based on listings on multiple retail sites.

Other titles teased by KOSMOS, with approximate release dates listed, include:

Raffi Raffzahn, a children's game from Gunter Baars about using a dragon to grab gems from a castle occupied by a wizard bear - 18 January 2021
Adventure Games: Die Akte Gloom City ("The Gloom City Files") - 30 January 2021
Jäger der Nacht, a new edition of Yasutaka Ikeda's Shadow Hunters, which KOSMOS first released in 2010; this new edition features new art and small changes to some cards, but otherwise identical gameplay - 8 March 2021

Board Game: Raffi Raffzahn
Board Game: Adventure Games: Die Akte Gloom City
Board Game: Shadow Hunters

Harry Potter: Verteidigung gegen die Dunklen Künste, which is a German edition of the two-player dueling and deck-building game Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle – Defence Against the Dark Arts - 8 March 2021
Welcher Dino leuchtet da? ("Which Dino Shines Here?"), a children's game for which we have only a title - 8 March 2021
Catan: Das Duell – Finstere & Goldene Zeiten ("Dark & Golden Times"), this being a collection of six theme sets to expand Rivals for Catan, allowing you to fend off barbarians, discover new islands, and more - 8 March 2021
Die Geschichte vom kleinen Siebenschläfer, der nicht einschlafen konnte ("The Story of the Little Dormouse Who Couldn't Sleep"), a children's game by Heinz Meister - 8 March 2021
Monster 12, which has no details other than being authored by Peter Wichmann, best known for NMBR 9 - 15 March 2021
Ubongo! Brain Games, with this being a collection of solitaire placement puzzles by Grzegorz Rejchtman - 10 May 2021

From gallery of W Eric Martin
From gallery of W Eric Martin
From gallery of W Eric Martin
Board Game: EXIT: Das Spiel – Das verfluchte Labyrinth

Das NEINhorn, a reveal-cards-and-say-the-right-things-quickly design based on the children's book by Marc-Uwe Kling - 10 May 2021
EXIT: Das Spiel + Puzzle – Das dunkle Schloss, another jigsaw puzzle and game combination - 10 May 2021
Harry Potter: Der Aufstieg der Todesser, a German edition of Harry Potter: Death Eaters Rising - 11 May 2021
EXIT: Das Spiel – Die Entführung in Fortune City ("The Abduction in Fortune City") - 12 May 2021
EXIT: Das Spiel – Das verfluchte Labyrinth ("The Cursed Labyrinth") - Q2 2021
EXIT: Das Spiel - Adventskalender - 6 September 2021
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Thu Nov 19, 2020 1:00 pm
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Game Preview: Star Wars: Unlock!, or "It's a Trap!"

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Star Wars: Unlock!
The Unlock! series of escape room games from Cyril Demaegd and Space Cowboys has had huge success since it debuted in February 2017, being beat to market by only a few months by the Exit: The Game series of escape room games from Inka and Markus Brand and KOSMOS. Apparently everyone wanted to escape from things starting in late 2016, and the trend hasn't stopped yet.

Space Cowboys has released eight Unlock! collections, with each collection having three independent "escape room" scenarios, and now the publisher has grabbed one of the IP granddaddies on the market to release Star Wars: Unlock!, a trilogy of escape room scenarios set in a galaxy far, far away, with Jason Little providing design work.

Each of the scenarios puts you in the role of one of the three Star Wars "factions" — Rebels, Imperial forces, scum & villainy — and you're given a lodestar mission and a few details on the situation, then placed on a bantha that's slapped and sent on its way.

The scenarios all use the Unlock! game engine: You combine blue and red objects by summing their numbers, then seeing whether the sum matches a card in the deck; you use machines by entering their number in the Star Wars: Unlock! app that you must download, then doing...something; and you must find four-digit codes to get you past certain obstacles and make your final escape. You're confronted by logic puzzles and observation puzzles of all types, with the app providing hints as needed as well as challenges that would be difficult or impossible to present in a paper format.

I know some folks hate games that require apps, but some designers are using them in smart ways to provide an experience you couldn't have otherwise. That said, while the box lists this game for 1-6 players, you will need at least two players to complete one of the challenges in scenario #2 in the manner intended. (If you're playing solo, you'll get the answer immediately and miss out on silly app fun.)

Board Game: Star Wars: Unlock!
Starting cards for "Escape from Hoth"; choose three advantage cards to get clues for future puzzles

Knowledge of Star Wars is not required to play out these scenarios, but if you have it, you'll likely lean on that knowledge in ways both good and bad. In the second scenario, you're searching for your astromech droid (among other things), and the person I was playing with said, "Well, if you have an astromech droid, that means you probably need to [INFORMATION REDACTED]." His assumption was correct, which probably saved us time getting past a certain obstacle.

In another scenario, however, we had a vehicle, and I thought, "Oh, we can just use it to move to X" — but when I looked at the remaining cards once we had finished that scenario, I discovered that my assumption had jumped us past many things that we should have revealed with in-game clues. Oops.

The nature of escape room games is fascinating in that you start with the rules of how they work and a (possibly vague) goal, with all the stuff between your starting point and that goal being a foggy muddle, yet after you finish, you realize (yet again) that exactly one path existed between that starting point and that goal. You just had to do the work of sweeping that path clean, then following it.

Games are weird.

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Wed Nov 18, 2020 2:00 pm
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Orcs Invade Caverna, and Mr. Jack Returns to New York

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Caverna: The Cave Farmers
• During SPIEL.digital 2020, Lookout Games hosted a Twitch stream (now gone) in which it revealed first details of a new expansion for Uwe Rosenberg's Caverna: The Cave Farmers, an expansion called Frantic Fiends that's scheduled to debut in October 2021.

Lookout's Hanno Girke says, "There is a horde of Orcs invading, and you better take care of them before they enter your dwellings. Now adventuring gets a new twist as you can go out and hunt Orcs." BGG user Niklas Thomas watched the German stream, and he offers a translated summary in English here.

Girke adds, "[W]e can't tell at the moment if we're going to develop it into full balance with the first expansion [The Forgotten Folk]. It might work out, but no promises. It might be too much on some accounts."

• Another SPIEL.digital 2020 revelation was the announcement of a new 2021 edition of Mr. Jack in New York, a design from Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc that Swiss publisher Hurrican first released in 2009.

The material below shows the new, not-yet-final look from Pierô. Cathala has stated that nothing has changed regarding the gameplay.

Board Game: Mr. Jack in New York

From gallery of W Eric Martin

From gallery of W Eric Martin
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Tue Nov 17, 2020 1:00 pm
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Take Charge as a Monarch in Brazil: Imperial, Then Explore Paper Dungeons

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Brazil: Imperial
• While working on the BGG livestream during SPIEL.digital 2020, I missed many game announcements, and I'm still catching up on them to this day, slowly removing open tabs from my browser as I resolve them one by one.

One of those items involves Brazil: Imperial from designer Zé Mendes, a game that was first announced in 2018 as a potential crowdfunding project titled "Brazil: Mundus Imperial". The game has been in development for a while and has now been given a SPIEL '21 release date, with the game being released in Brazil by MeepleBR and MUNDUS and in Germany by Hans im Glück.

Here's an overview of this 1-4 player game, which I've seen listed with competing playing times of 60-90 minutes and 120-150 minutes:
Quote:
Take on the role of one of the great monarchs of the past, and show your valor! You will arrive in a vast and rich territory, but the road to the prosperity is filled with challenges.

In Brazil: Imperial, you need to construct buildings, manage resources, explore the land, create trade, acquire the support of the greatest personalities of the country, and recruit a powerful army to protect your interest against the rival states. If you make the right choices, you can complete missions to progress to a more advanced era, receiving new interesting options of development and victory points. In the end, the best monarch receives the title of Brazilian Emperor and constructs a new era of prosperity, enlightenment and peace!

In more detail, while playing on a modular board, you use a combination of worker placement, area majority, and individual powers to construct an empire in Brazil between the 16th and 19th centuries. You start by choosing one of the available monarchs and its personal game board and components; some monarchs are strong in combat, while others prioritize science or exploration. You receive tasks that advance you to a new era when you complete them, giving you access to more power constructions as you move into the second and third eras of the game, then you choose a starting point on the shared map.

Board Game: Brazil: Imperial
Prototype components

On each turn, you can participate in an action phase and a movement phase. You manage actions on your individual game board, and you have these seven choices:

—Summon: Summon one military unit to explore and defend your territory.
—Frame: Buy cards that represent famous historic figures to receive special powers and victory points.
—Build: Construct farms, mines, cities, and other structures to generate resources and do other things.
—Renovate: Overhaul an old building to produce new resources.
—Manufacture: Produce basic resources — wood, sugar cane, cotton, or coffee — to receive victory points, improve your "action arches", and have raw material for more valuable products.
—Port: Go to the port to receive a small amount of basic resources.
—Market: Sell your basic resources to receive gold and special cards to improve your empire.

During the movement phase, you can explore hidden places or attack other players. For combat, you check the power of the troops involved in the conflict to determine the winner, with cards being able to modify these values. Once a player completes their goals in the third era, the game ends and players tally their scores.

Board Game: Brazil: Imperial
Prototype components

Brazil: Imperial was developed with the concept of it being "Euro X", a new style of game that combines Eurogames (in which you collect and manage resources) and 4x games (in which you explore, expand, exploit and exterminate). Each game you can focus on resource management, combat, or a combination of both, depending on your choice of monarch and the interaction with other players.
Board Game Publisher: MeepleBR
• Another title out from MeepleBR is Paper Dungeons: A Dungeon Scrawler Game, a Leandro Pires design for 1-8 players that is available in Portuguese and that will be released in English in (approximately) Q3 2021, according to distributor Alley Cat Games.

Here's an overview:
Quote:
Prepare your adventurers for a challenging dungeon exploration in Paper Dungeons, a roll-and-write game that seeks to reproduce the feel of a dungeon-crawler.

Board Game: Paper Dungeons: A Dungeon Scrawler Game

In the game, you control a classic group of medieval adventurers: warrior, wizard, cleric, and rogue. In each of the nine rounds, you select three of the six rolled dice and use these results to raise the level of your characters, produce magic items, obtain healing potions, and explore the dungeon to face challenges and collect treasure. You'll also find three large monsters waiting in the dungeon, and you can fight them for glory.

In the end, whoever collects the most glory wins.

Board Game: Paper Dungeons: A Dungeon Scrawler Game
Player sheet
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Mon Nov 16, 2020 1:00 pm
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Defeat the Villains, Run the Court, and Become the Dark Knight

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: KAPOW! Volume 1
Board Game: KAPOW! Volume 2
Game publishers are launching crowdfunding projects left and right during November 2020, something that seems to happen every year once the convention season comes to a close, so I thought I'd skim some of these games-to-be while trying to empty my inbox.

• At SPIEL '19, U.S. publisher White Wizard Games announced that it had picked up KAPOW!, a dice-building game in which superheroes and supervillains beat up one another that was originally Kickstarted in November 2017 by L4 Studios.

One year later, White Wizard is now funding a KS campaign (link) of its own for delivery of KAPOW! Volume 1 and KAPOW! Volume 2 in December 2021. Each game is a two-player-only title that includes three heroes and three villains, with the combined sets allowing for games with up to four players. Here's an overview of the game from SPIEL '19:


• And here's another game that first appeared from one publisher, then was reborn from another: Atlantis Rising, which debuted in 2012 from Z-Man Games to a decent reception, but which has received far more acclaim for the second edition released by Elf Creek Games in 2019. Now designer Galen Ciscell is upping the challenge of saving your island people from sinking beneath the waves in Atlantis Rising: Monstrosities, with new threats like Medusa and harpies, new tools like magic items and allies, and new content for games with 1-3 players. (KS link)

Board Game: Atlantis Rising: Monstrosities


Board Game: Vabanque
• Let's continue the pattern established: In 2001, the German branch of Winning Moves released Vabanque, a bluffing and gambling game from Leo Colovini and Bruno Faidutti. Over four rounds, 3-6 players increase the amount of money available at the casino tables, trying to grab the cash without falling into an opponent's trap and giving them the money instead.

Here's an overview of the new edition being released by Igiari in 2021 from a preview BGG got at FIJ 2020:


Hoop Godz is the second title from designers Hamu Dennis and Omari Akil and publisher Board Game Brothas, with this two-player game being a simulation of 3-on-3 street basketball, with players spending juice to move, pass, boost, play action cards, and grab G.O.A.T. rule-breaking cards — although juice you spend on these latter cards is locked until you score, so if you spend fruitlessly, you'll need to rest more to keep your juice in circulation.

The Kickstarter campaign (link) is also helping to fund a reprint of Rap Godz, BGB's first release in 2020.

Board Game: Hoop Godz

• To swing into news of titles just announced, here's a trio of games that Cryptozoic Entertainment is bringing to market, with the concepts for these designs apparently being based on the work of Australian illustrator Steven Rhodes, who creates parodies of children's books from the 1970s and 1980s, then sells those designs on T-shirts and other items.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

• To end with the same subject matter with which we began, Cryptozoic is also planning to run a Kickstarter in early 2021 for Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Board Game, a solitaire game designed by Morgan Dontanville (a former editor at DC Comics) and Daryl Andrews.

Here's a summary of the game's setting, which seems to come directly from the Frank Miller comic book series The Dark Knight Returns from 1986, a series that together with Alan Moore's Watchmen upended the superhero genre:
Quote:
In Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Board Game, you play "The World's Greatest Detective", who's been pulled back from retirement into a gritty Gotham. Do everything you can to beat back a relentless tide of ruthless mutants, cops, and press looking to bring you down. Instead of traditional leveling up, this is a game of attrition. An old Batman tries to survive one final gauntlet, facing old and new villains — such as Two Face, Billy Berserk, and The Joker — and even his most powerful ally, The Man of Steel himself.

Board Game: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Board Game

The game is playable as standalone "missions" or one epic playthrough in which the results of each mission carry over to the next.
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Sun Nov 15, 2020 1:00 pm
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